People usually think that the most pirate Captains commanded by an iron fist, but in most cases, it was not true. The pirate Captains were selected because they were respected, not because they were feared. When electing a Captain, the crew looked for someone who was capable of commanding and navigating a ship. Also, it was crucial that captain has courage and skill in both, sword and pistol fighting.
Captain had absolute control only in a battle. In everyday life, Captains did not have much more rights than any other crewmember. Even sail courses were determined by voting.
In Navy, captains and officers had military rank. There was always a big gap between common sailor and officer. However, on a ship full of murderers, bandits, and thieves, most decisions were determinate by voting! It may sound strange, but the Pirates were Democrats! They had their own pirate ranks! On a pirate's ship, there was no such thing as a member of the privileged class. Everybody had same rights, and their roles and duties were appointed, only according to their abilities and knowledge.
First Mate had rank just below the Captain. He would take control of the ship if the Captain could not perform his duties any longer. However, pirate ships usually did not have First Mates; Quartermasters performed their duties.
After Captain, the most authority on a pirate ship had Quartermaster. As a Captain's right hand, he was in charge when Captain was not around. He had the authority, and he could punish men for not obeying commands.
Quartermaster was also in charge of food and water supplies.
Sailing Masters were officers in charge of navigation and piloting. It was a very hard job because charts in those days were usually inaccurate or nonexistent. Education was required and on non-pirate ships, it was a well-paid job.
Many sailing masters were forced to join the pirates.
Gunners were leaders of small man groups, who operated on the artillery. They watched for the safety of their man and usually aimed the cannons themselves.
It would take years of practice to become a good Gunner on a military ship. It was even harder on pirate ships because pirates rarely wanted to destroy other ships but rather to disable them Just for one canon to operate efficiently, four to six men was required to aim, fire, reset, swab and load. It was everything but an easy job. Also, coordination with other gunners was required.
To prevent commotion and random fire, usually the most experienced gunner was elected as a Master Gunner. He was the one who was giving orders when the captain was not around.
However, with all precautions, accidents still were an everyday thing. Canons could quickly overheat; they had excessive recoiling and people were working with powder (in dark or candle light).
Powder Monkey is British naval term used for young men who assisted gun crews. These boys, usually no older than 12-13 years, were forced to perform most dangerous work on a ship. They were treated harshly, rarely paid and were expandable. Powder Monkeys had little hope of promotion, were often deserting.
Boatswains were junior officers. They were people who supervised all activities on a ship. Depending on the size of the ship and crew, they could have one or several duties. Duties ranged from anchoring to naval provisions. They reported to the Quartermaster or the Captain.
The pirate ships usually did not have surgeons aboard. Those that had them probably pressed surgeons into service. From surgeons, crew expected, to help them with diseases and wounds. Without proper medicines, every wound could become a source of infection, so amputations were often necessary in order save patient's life.
If the ship did not have a surgeon, in cases of amputation, the carpenter would usually take his place. He was the first choice because he had necessary tools and knowledge in “cutting”. In rare cases, the cook would take the place of a surgeon. However, cooks usually were not butchers; they were just crewmembers whose assignment was food preparing.
Pirate ships did not have professional cooks. Usually, a just ordinary crewmember was in charge of food making.