Business lessons learned from … pirates? Research reveals that pirates were one of the first groups to establish a democracy, create “common funds” and develop incentive plans!
Seeking legendary or historical instances of the captain protecting the crew proved difficult for this journalist, and led from pre-imagined Maritime Laws to the conclusive fact that it was not the naval force of the time that led to these stories, but instead, Codes of Conduct established and adhered to by …PIRATES!
The ultimate, highest authority on the ship was the pirate council, a group that included every man on the ship.
By contrast, on merchant and Navy vessels, there was a hierarchy with captains holding the highest authority, then officers and at the bottom, ordinary sailors. On these ships, a captain had complete control over every aspect of life on his ship, including the division of food, wages, labor assignment and discipline. Thus, it was easy for a merchant or Navy captain to become abusive and use his authority to take advantage of his crew.
Articles of Agreement or Pirate Code
Determined the Division of Plunder Among the Crew as Well as Other Rules.
Before setting out on their expedition, pirates wrote their articles alongside the election of a captain or quartermaster.
The articles needed the consent of every crew member, and “all [pirates] swore to ‘em” sometimes on a Bible or whatever was at hand and determined where to go for the best prizes!
These articles of agreement served these four purposes:
- DESIGNATED SHARES OF THE PLUNDER for each crew member. Shares of the plunder were spelled out based on each crew member’s skills and duties.
- If the value of the plunder was questionable, they would sell it before dividing the money among themselves. This prevented conflict between crew members and prevented the quartermaster from hoarding the most valuable items.
- Some of the plunder went into a “common fund” to provide for severely injured men (who had lost their sight or their limbs). This, in turn, promoted loyalty among the crew because they knew they would be taken care of.
- Described incentives like bonuses for productive crew members and thus prevented each man from allowing everyone else to pick up the slack
- Captain and quartermaster typically received 1 and 1/2 or 2 shares.
- Gunners, boatswains, shipmates, carpenters, and doctors typically received 1 and 1/4 or 1 and 1/2 shares.
- All others 1share each.
- PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES THAT WOULD CAUSE CONFLICT between crew members, such as excessive drinking, gambling, stealing and bringing women (or boys) on board; and how arguments were to be resolved.
- OUTLINED PUNISHMENTS for various offenses, included marooning, whipping, slitting of ears and noses, and for severe crimes, death.
- Discipline was dealt out based on “what Punishment the Captain and the Majority of the Company” believed fit.
- CREATED RULES FOR THE GENERAL SAFETY
- Usually requiring members to keep their weapons in good working order.
- Also, since fire was especially dangerous on ships, forbade activities such as firing guns or smoking in areas of the ship that carried flammable goods, such as gunpowder.
Major Roles – The Crew
The CAPTAIN was elected by all the men in the crew and could be replaced by a majority vote by the same.
- Cowardly or brutal captains were quickly voted out of their position.
- Pirates took their democracy beyond their ship as well. Upon seizing a prize, pirates administered the “distribution of justice” and asked the crew of the captured ship about their Captain’s nature. If the crew complained that their Captain had been cruel, the pirates tortured and then executed the captain. A kind captain was often released and rewarded.
- They were also expected to be bold and decisive leaders making important decisions including how to engage a target, how to pursue prey, how to escape the authorities and how to deal with an attack. In the latter situations, there was no time for taking a vote and settling conflicting opinions
The QUARTERMASTER had the same authority as a captain (except during battle). The crew elected him to represent their interests.
- He commanded the captain and the rest of the crew.
- His other jobs included keeping order, settling conflicts between crew members and determining the amount of food and drink distributed to each crew member in equal shares, with the captain receiving no more than the rest..
The SAILING MASTER oversaw the navigation and sailing of the ship.
The BOATSWAIN took care of the boat by supervising supplies, inspecting the ship every morning and reporting the condition of the ship to the captain. He also supervised deck activities including the handling of the sails and the weighing and dropping of the anchor.
The CARPENTER, under the boatswain and quartermaster’s directions, repaired the ship. Sometimes, oftentimes, the carpenter would also be the surgeon on the ship.
The MASTER GUNNER ensured that the cannons and weapons were in working order.
1ST MATE and 2nd MATE – worked under the ship’s master, boatswain, gunner or carpenter as an apprentice and outfitted the ship with ropes, pulleys, sails and other rigging as needed.
The COMMON SAILOR – Rigged the sails and steered the ship. Kept watches and handled cannons during battle.
A RIGGER -Worked the running rigging and furled and released sails.
CABIN BOYS – Were young boys or men, often servants
POWDER MONKEYS – Ran gunpowder from below deck to cannon crews and relayed messages during battle.
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