Pinnace (ship's boat)

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Plans of a 28ft Royal Navy pinnace 28 ft Pinnace RMG J0848.png
Plans of a 28ft Royal Navy pinnace

As a ship's boat, the pinnace is a light boat, propelled by oars or sails, carried aboard merchant and war vessels in the Age of Sail to serve as a tender. The pinnace was usually rowed but could be rigged with a sail for use in favorable winds. A pinnace would ferry passengers and mail, communicate between vessels, scout to sound anchorages, convey water and provisions, or carry armed sailors for boarding expeditions. [1] The Spanish favored them as lightweight smuggling vessels while the Dutch used them as raiders. In modern parlance, "pinnace" has come to mean an auxiliary vessel that does not fit under the "launch" or "lifeboat" definitions.



The word pinnace, and similar words in many languages (as far afield as Indonesia, where the boat "pinisi" took its name from the Dutch pinas [2] ), came ultimately from the Spanish pinaza c. 1240, from pino (pine tree), from the wood of which the ships were constructed. The word came into English from the Middle French pinasse. [3]

Original designs

Drawing of a pinnace under full sail Pinnace drawing.jpg
Drawing of a pinnace under full sail

Identification of some pinnaces in contemporary historical documents is often difficult because there was no standardization of pinnace design, be the type "small" or "large". The term seems to have been applied to variants of what may be called the full-rigged pinnace, rather than the alternative use of the term for a larger vessel's boat. Furthermore, several ship type and rig terms were used in the 17th century, but with very different definitions from those applied today.

Often decked over, the "small" pinnace was able to support a variety of rigs, each of which conferred maximum utility to specific missions such as fishing, cargo transport and storage, or open ocean voyaging. The mature "small" pinnace design emerged as versatile with several different options and rigs possible. The expected popularity of the pinnace in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the first half of the 17th century is documented. By the 1630s, historical records mention many ships trading or fishing with the Massachusetts Bay Colony, some of which were also built in-colony. Above all, the fishing trade had taken hold off the shores of New England, and was immediately successful. The pinnace may have been the preferred, multi-use small ship of the first decades of English settlement in "Virginia". [4]

Steam pinnace

A steam pinnace from HMS Royal Oak The Royal Navy during the First World War Q18000.jpg
A steam pinnace from HMS Royal Oak

With the introduction of steam propulsion came the steam pinnace. Coal burning warships were particularly vulnerable when at anchor, immobile until they could get a head of steam. Steam pinnaces were designed to be small enough to be carried by the capital ships they were allocated to and in addition to other duties were armed to act as picket boats. [5] [6] The Royal Navy pinnace Steam Pinnace 199 is preserved at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. [7]

One example of a ship utilizing many steam pinnace (ship's boats) was HMS London in Zanzibar while suppressing the slave trade in the region:

Slavery was legal in all Muslim countries, and HM ships could only become involved with slaving when it took place on the high seas. The boats of HMS London were kept at five minutes' notice, ready equipped with water, salt pork, biscuits, arms, local currency and a small cask of rum. Manned by eight or nine sailors, with a midshipman or junior lieutenant in command, a boat was often away from the London for two or three weeks, normally anchoring every night, the men off watch sleeping along the thwarts. [8]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brig</span> Sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts

A brig is a type of sailing vessel defined by its rig: two masts which are both square-rigged. Brigs originated in the second half of the 18th century and were a common type of smaller merchant vessel or warship from then until the latter part of the 19th century. In commercial use, they were gradually replaced by fore-and-aft rigged vessels such as schooners, as owners sought to reduce crew costs by having rigs that could be handled by fewer men. In Royal Navy use, brigs were retained for training use when the battle fleets consisted almost entirely of iron-hulled steamships.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bermuda sloop</span>

The Bermuda sloop is a historical type of fore-and-aft rigged single-masted sailing vessel developed on the islands of Bermuda in the 17th century. Such vessels originally had gaff rigs with quadrilateral sails, but evolved to use the Bermuda rig with triangular sails. Although the Bermuda sloop is often described as a development of the narrower-beamed Jamaica sloop, which dates from the 1670s, the high, raked masts and triangular sails of the Bermuda rig are rooted in a tradition of Bermudian boat design dating from the earliest decades of the 17th century. It is distinguished from other vessels with the triangular Bermuda rig, which may have multiple masts or may not have evolved in hull form from the traditional designs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Warship</span> Ship that is built and primarily intended for naval warfare

A warship or combatant ship is a naval ship that is built and primarily intended for naval warfare. Usually they belong to the armed forces of a state. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are typically faster and more maneuverable than merchant ships. Unlike a merchant ship, which carries cargo, a warship typically carries only weapons, ammunition and supplies for its crew. Warships usually belong to a navy, though they have also been operated by individuals, cooperatives and corporations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sloop-of-war</span> Type of warship

In the 18th century and most of the 19th, a sloop-of-war in the Royal Navy was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. The rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above; thus, the term sloop-of-war encompassed all the unrated combat vessels, including the very small gun-brigs and cutters. In technical terms, even the more specialised bomb vessels and fireships were classed as sloops-of-war, and in practice these were employed in the sloop role when not carrying out their specialised functions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cutter (boat)</span> Type of boat

A cutter is a name for various types of watercraft. It can apply to the rig of a sailing vessel, to a governmental enforcement agency vessel, to a type of ship's boat which can be used under sail or oars, or, historically, to a type of fast-sailing vessel introduced in the 18th century, some of which were used as small warships.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Full-rigged pinnace</span> Type of ship in use in the 16th and 17th centuries

The full-rigged pinnace was the larger of two types of vessel called a pinnace in use from the sixteenth century.

This glossary of nautical terms is an alphabetical listing of terms and expressions connected with ships, shipping, seamanship and navigation on water. Some remain current, while many date from the 17th to 19th centuries. The word nautical derives from the Latin nauticus, from Greek nautikos, from nautēs: "sailor", from naus: "ship".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Launch (boat)</span> Type of boat

Launch is a name given to several different types of boat. The wide range of usage of the name extends from utilitarian craft through to pleasure boats built to a very high standard.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hoy (boat)</span> Small sloog-rigged coasting ship

A hoy is a small sloop-rigged coasting ship or a heavy barge used for freight, usually with a burthen of about 60 tons (bm). The word derives from the Middle Dutch hoey. In 1495, one of the Paston Letters included the phrase, An hoye of Dorderycht, in such a way as to indicate that such contact was then no more than mildly unusual. The English term was first used on the Dutch Heude-ships that entered service with the Royal Navy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pinisi</span> Type of rigging of Indonesian sailing vessels

Literally, the word pinisi refers to a type of rigging of Indonesian sailing vessels. A pinisi carries seven to eight sails on two masts, arranged like a gaff-ketch with what is called 'standing gaffs' — i.e., unlike most Western ships using such a rig, the two main sails are not opened by raising the spars they are attached to, but the sails are 'pulled out' like curtains along the gaffs which are fixed at around the centre of the masts.

<i>Virginia</i> (pinnace) Pinnace built in 1607-08 by colonists at the Popham Colony

Virginia or Virginia of Sagadahoc was a pinnace built in 1607 and 1608 by English colonists at the Popham Colony. The ship was a project of the Plymouth Company, branch of the proprietary Virginia Company, on land England claimed as belonging to the Virginia Colony. She was the first English ocean-going vessel built in the New World, and a demonstration of the new colony's ability to build ships. The second and third "local" pinnaces were built soon afterwards in Bermuda following the loss of Sea Venture during the Third Supply.

HMS <i>Calypso</i> (1883) Cruiser of the Royal Navy

HMS Calypso was a corvette of the Royal Navy and the lead ship of its namesake class. Built for distant cruising in the heyday of the British Empire, the vessel served as a warship and training vessel until 1922, when it was sold.

<i>Calypso</i>-class corvette Type of Royal Navy ship

The Calypso class comprised two steam corvettes of the Royal Navy. Built for distant cruising in the heyday of the British Empire, they served with the fleet until the early twentieth century, when they became training ships. Remnants of both survive, after a fashion; HMS Calliope in the name of the naval reserve unit the ship once served, and HMS Calypso both in the name of a civilian charity and the more corporeal form of the hull, now awash in a cove off Newfoundland.

<i>Sparrow Hawk</i> (pinnace)

The Sparrow-Hawk was a 'small pinnace' similar to the full-rigged pinnace Virginia that sailed for the English Colonies in June 1626. She is the earliest ship to participate in the first decades of English settlement in the New World to have survived to the present day.

<i>Excelsior</i> (smack)

Excelsior is an authentically restored fishing smack of the Lowestoft fishing fleet and a member of the National Historic Fleet. She was built by John Chambers of Lowestoft in 1921 and worked until 1936 before being converted into a motor coaster.</ref> In 2021 Excelsior will celebrate her 100th birthday. During her time as a motor coaster she was known as Svinør and worked mainly in Norwegian waters before returning to Lowestoft in 1972.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ship's boat</span>

A ship's boat is a utility boat carried by a larger vessel. Ship's boats have always provided communication with the shore and with other ships. Other work done by such boats has varied over time, as marine technology has changed. In the age of sail, especially for warships, an important role was the collection of drinking water. A large enough boat may be needed to carry an anchor to some distance away from the ship, so as to kedge out of a harbour or away from a hazard - and also to recover such an anchor afterwards. Warships have always used their boats as an extension to their military role. This includes the provision of a means of escape for the crews of fireships, the landing of troops, or the "cutting out" raids that were used by the Royal Navy, especially during the Napoleonic Wars. All these requirements competed with the need to be able to stow the boats on board in a way that did not interfere with the normal operation of the ship.

<i>Rose Hill Packet</i>

Rose Hill Packet, was a marine craft built in Australia to serve the second place of European settlement in Australia, "Rose Hill", the furthest navigable point inland on the Parramatta River. When launched the vessel was named Prince William but was later named the Rosehill Packet by the convicts. The boat design was later called a packet boat, because its use was that of running the first Parramatta River trade ferry, passenger, cargo, and mail service between the Sydney Cove and the Rose Hill (Parramatta) First Fleet settlements after she was launched in Sydney Cove in September and commissioned on 5 October 1789. She was the first purpose-built sailing vessel constructed in Australia. She later earned the nickname 'The Lump'. Some authorities believe that a 1790 drawing by First Fleet MIdshipman George Raper shows the vessel in the centre of Sydney Cove.

This glossary of nautical terms is an alphabetical listing of terms and expressions connected with ships, shipping, seamanship and navigation on water. Some remain current, while many date from the 17th to 19th centuries. The word nautical derives from the Latin nauticus, from Greek nautikos, from nautēs: "sailor", from naus: "ship".


  1. Cf. Knox, Dudley, ed. (1940). Naval Documents Related to the Wars with Barbary Powers, Naval Operations from 1802 to 1803. Vol. II. U.S. Gov't Printing Office. pp. 267, 270. (examples: "[a]t 5 sent our pinnace alongside of a French Man of War (lying at Tunis) with a letter to Consul Eaton ..."; "[a]t 8 the pinnace returned from the island, she found no bottom within 20 or 30 yards of the shore."; "[a]t 2 lower'd down our pinnace alongside of an American vessel lying in the bay. When the pinnace returned Lieu't Stewart gave us the following interesting news ...")(extracts from journal of U.S. frigate Constellation , Captain Alexander Murray, U.S. Navy, 6 Sept. 1802).
  2. Sailing the Asian Seas - Phinisi Schooners - Part 2 Archived April 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  3. Oxford English Dictionary 2nd ed, "pinnace"
  4. "The Sailing Ships of New England, 1607-1907", by John Robinson and George Francis Dow, Marine Research Society, Salem, Massachusetts: 1922, pp.10-11. A house carpenter at the Plymouth Colony in 1624 or 1625 constructed a pinnace from a shallop, an "extreme make over" that is occasionally noted throughout the 17th century. He sawed a large shallop in half, then lengthened and decked it over to make a pinnace that did "good service for seven years".
  5. Steam Pinnace 199
  6. Pinnace Gun
  7. "Name Steam Pinnace 199 | National Historic Ships". Retrieved 2022-05-25.
  8. An illustrated history of the Royal Navy by John Winton, Thunder bay press, 2000