Top Ten Pirate Punishments


This was a popular tactic used on both victims of pirate attacks and for fellow pirates that had fallen out of favour, especially deserters. Victims were typically deposited on remote islands where they stood little hope of surviving or being rescued. They were often allowed a pistol with which to commit suicide in preference to starvation or death from wild animals.


The victim was simply pitched over the side of a moving ship and left for dead. Alternatively, the accused was towed by a rope behind the ship until he died from hypothermia and exhaustion.


This form of flogging was ironically a punishment that rarely led to death, despite its extreme barbarity. The cat o’ nine tails was usually an unwound rope whip of nine strands, the ends of which varied. Sometimes the ends were tarred knots, and sometimes fish hooks or musketballs. After the beating, the raw skin was sometimes covered with salt and vinegar to inflict additional pain and suffering.


Victims, often with lead weights secured to their legs, were tied to a rope hanging from the ship mast’s yardarm. The rope and the unfortunate subject were then subsequently tossed into the sea and dragged under the ship’s keel on one side and then brought up on the other side to the corresponding yardarm. Aside from drowning torturously slowly, the victim was sure to be cut to bits by the inevitable scores of painfully sharp barnacles glued to the keel and hull of the ship.


Rarely used, despite its widespread notoriety, this punishment involved pirates forcing captives or members of their own crew to be blindfolded, before walking across a plank hanging from the side of the ship, and plunging into the ocean. One of the only known accounts of such an occurrence featured the crew of a Dutch ship that was captured by pirates in 1829. Pirates fastened shot, cannon and musket balls to the victims’ legs and then forced them to walk the plank one at a time.


It was not uncommon for those crew members who broke the often strict pirate code of discipline to be sold as slaves. The proceeds would be shared amongst the remaining shipmates.


This punishment entailed being endlessly dunked in the ocean while suspended from the Yard Arm.


Victims were locked in wrist and leg irons and thrown into the ship’s hold. Alternatively, they would be held on the ship’s deck or in the rigging where they would be exposed to extreme weather conditions.


A particularly cruel form of ‘play’, this punishment involved the pirate crew poking and prodding the victim with cutlasses, swords and various sharp instruments while he tried to dodge the blows. This was made rather difficult as he was attached to a mast by a short rope. The victim’s only option was to run or ‘dance’ around the mast all the time accompanied by the sound of the ship’s fiddle.


The ultimate form of punishment for captured and convicted pirates was to be hanged. They were often executed by hanging on a gibbet erected close to the low-water mark by the sea or a tidal section of a river. Their bodies would be left dangling until they had been submerged by the tide three times. ‘Execution Dock, located on the north bank of the River Thames, in London, was the final resting place for men such as Captain Kidd, who suffered this fate in 1701. So that the public display might be prolonged, bodies were sometimes coated in tar and/or bound in chains. Sometimes, body-shaped iron cages were used to contain the decomposing corpses.

Search the Seven Seas

Enter the nature of your search/treasure hunt above to find that which you seek...