Types of Ships

History of Ships

Before the 8th century: Started out with Egyptian and Greek galleys, which had only oars, then began to add central posts with a square sail as they started travelling further from shore(2).

8th to 11th century: Viking boats in the north became the major northern style of ships. They were long and narrow, with oars and a square sail in the center. They were clinker built, had no decks and rode low in the water. Most useful for very fast travel, not carry around lots of cargo in rough waters(2).

Around 11th century: The round ships of the Mediterranean came from roman ships with a 3:1 ratio of width to length. They were constructed with caravel-built hulls and no oars, but instead 1-3 masts often with lateen sails. They were used for transport and trade, and were know in the later 12th and 13th centuries to add castles, for and aft, to the ship, which later became part of the hull design. These were more decorative and helped hold more cargo and passengers; the aft castle often held the captain's quarters(3).

Around the 14th century: A mixture of the northern and southern ships which had 2-5 masts with a mixture of square and lateen sails. They would have a few decks(3). These could then traverse oceans without much need for repair, and herald in the age of exploration(2).

16th and early 17th century: A change to larger and larger ships with more deck space so as to hold cannons and other ammunitions. This transformed into the major ship of these years, the galleon(2). Later ships made this proportion longer and longer to around at least 9:1, before steel came in and they could make the ship hulls more like box frames, making them even longer(1).

Back to top.

Muslim Ships

Major Ports: Clysma, Alexandria, Syria, Tarsus.

Timber: Lebek - Egypt, best wood for hulls, cost 50 dinars per plank. Acacia (sant), Fig, Palm, Lotus.

Metals: Iron - very hard to find in the Muslim world, so often imported from Spain. Copper - from Spain and Cyprus.

Interesting historical facts: Muslims took over the Egyptian ports and then built up naval power. By 10th century the Mediterranean sea power (including many islands) was firmly in Muslim control. The warships changed over into two-mast lateen sail ships.

Cost of materials (in solidi): Around 710 AD:

  • sailor 1 2/3 per month
  • carpenter 1 1/4
  • shipbuilder 2
  • palm/fig trunks 1/3 per 11
  • unrefined iron 5 1/2 per quintal
  • copper chains 7 per quintal
  • tin 1 per litrae
  • felt 3 1/3 per quintal
  • yarn 5 per quintal
  • passport 5 dinars

Back to top.



  • Hull: Carved, single-deck ship with a rudder on one side. Some of the late Roman ships might have two decks of rowers.
  • Sail: Might have one sail in the center but was primarily propelled by oars.
  • Oars:
  • Size:

Number of people:

Time period: Greeks and Romans.

Back to top.

The Galleass

Description: A mixture of the galley and later round ship.

  • Hull:
  • Sail: Would have at least one mast with sails to move around the sea, but would also use oars for propulsion.
  • Oars: Would have a full set of oars. Used mostly during battle and tight spots for turning fast.
  • Size: Venetian galleasses in 1400 were around 130 ft long, 16 ft wide, with 25 rowers on each side and lateen sails.

Number of people:

Time period: From the end of the Roman era until round ships became popular, and sometimes used after.

Back to top.

Viking Ships


  • Hull: Viking ships were oared and very thin and long, coming to points on both ends, with a keel (an edge on the bottom of the boat). They were very fast and very good at cutting through waves, yet could not carry very much. They were made in clinker style and joined with vegetable fiber. Low lying in the water. Often had a ram at the front end, which later became a mast figure(2).
  • Sail: One square sail on a central mast.
  • Oars:
  • Size: Between 20-50 meters long, 5.5-7 meters wide(2).
  • Materials: Made of oak and pine with caulking material (tar)(3).

Number of people: 26-30 rowers on each row(2). Later larger ships held 200-300 men, with 2/3 rowing, many convicts.

Time period: 9th to 11th century.

Back to top.

Round Ships


  • Hull: Around 1:3, 1/2 width:length:height. Known for adding castle to the front and back(2).
  • Sail: One to two masts with, at first, square sails and then added lateen sails.
  • Oars: No oars.
  • Size: Were larger than the fighting galleys to hold more cargo and passengers (often used for shipping men to the crusades).
  • Materials: Keel, stern, rudder and floor timbers made often of oak, with the planks of white oak. Fin (soft wood) used for the castles and pine for the masts. Hemp rope was used for the rigging(2).

Number of people:

Time period: 11th to 15th century.

Back to top.


Description: First mostly a small merchant ship but slowly grew in size.

  • Hull: High sides and fortified bow and stern castles. Often were clinker built with a stern-hung rudder and a more flush bottom(3). Still made in the shell shape(4).
  • Sail: Was mostly propelled by sails. Grew larger later on, adding more sails.
  • Oars: Did have oars, around 16 on each side.
  • Size: Could cary 200 tons of cargo, around 10 times that of a viking ship(4).

Number of people:

Time period: A Nordic ship that came into the Mediterranean in the early 14th century(2). In 12th century added more decks(3).

Back to top.



  • Hull: Squat, massive, wide ships to hold a large cargo.
  • Sail: Used both sails and oars.
  • Oars:
  • Size:

Number of people:

Time period: Created soon after the galley and often escorted by one for protection.

Back to top.


Description: Portuguese in origin.

  • Hull: High sides and large decks. Skeleton structure.
  • Sail: Had more lateen sails instead of square sails, so faster.
  • Oars:
  • Size: Smaller version of a nef.

Number of people:

Time period: That of the famous early exploration period in the 1400s. Da Gama, Diaz and Columbus all used caravels.

Back to top.


Description: Often used for war, but was not as good in stromy sea, so not as good for travel and trade.

  • Hull: Large skeleton-constructed hulls made like caravels, with at least four mast. A few decks and a full arsenal of cannons went on board.
  • Sail: Mixture of square sails on the center masts and lateen sails on the front and back ones. Many smaller sails on each mast instead of a few large ones.
  • Oars: No oars.
  • Size: Had 50-80 guns on each ship.

Number of people: 500-800 men.

Time period: 17th century to the Restoration.

Back to top.



  • Hull: A type of galleon, but much faster and easier to steer, with six decks. Covered in lead and bronze strips.
  • Sail:
  • Oars:
  • Size: Could carry 3000 tons of storage and held 50 guns.

Number of people: 300-400 crew.

Time period: Started by the Knights of Malta.

Back to top.

Other Interesting Facts:

  • In England, the Rules of Oleron (maybe by Richard I) in 1200 set the fines for ships. These were measured in wine barrels - "tuns". The volume of a cask, or tun, was 252 gallons(3).
  • There was a major group in the north called the Hanseatic League - a group of German merchants in cogs that sailed around the seas to stop piracy(3).
  • Measured ships in how much cargo it could hold - getting rid of unused volume (the space between barrels that was lost)(3).
    • (Keel length*depth*berth)/(97.5)

Back to top.

Go back to Shipping Systems!

Go on to Hulls!


  • (1) Fahmy, Aly Mohamed. Muslim Naval Organization. National Publication and Printing House, Cairo: 1966.
  • (2)MIT book!!
  • (3)Marshall, Michal. Ocean Traders. Facts of File, NY: 1990. VM15.M368
  • (4)Greenhill, Basil. The Evolution of the Wooden Ship. Facts of File, NY: 1988. VM144.G74