This article is about the Ship Type known as the "Merchantman". For the family of ship known collectively as "Merchantmen", see Merchantman Class.

The Merchantman is one of the Ship Types available in all incarnations of Pirates!. It is a solidly-medium-sized trading vessel, reasonably armed and (in some games) averagely maneuverable. It is by far the most favoured trading ship for player use, and in the original game even doubles as a potent mid-sized combat vessel. It is quite common, and is also the Starting Ship in a couple of possible Era/Nation combinations.

General DescriptionEdit

Merchantman is the name used to refer to a specific type of ship or group of ships appearing in the various "Pirates!" games. It is a mid-sized trading vessel, having both a large cargo capacity as well as considerable armament to protect itself. The Merchantman is widely considered the only trading vessel worthy of player-use. The Merchantman's maneuverability and speed are somewhat lacking compared to actual combat vessels, but high enough to enable it to defend itself to some degree.


The Merchantman is has three Masts. The foremast and mainmast carry large Square Rigging, while the mizzenmast (rear mast) carries a small lateen (triangular) sail. It generally appears short in height compared to other Square-Rigged ships, making it easier to identify. The Merchantman carries a moderate Crew complement and around two dozen Cannons.

In the Real World...Edit

The term "Merchantman" is not used to describe any single ship design. It is a generalized term for mid-sized trading vessels that crossed the atlantic between the "Old" and "New" Worlds during the Age of Sail.

The in-game representation of the Merchantman resembles a unique cross between a Carrack (a pre-17th century trading ship) and a Galleon. It also bears a strong resemblence to a small, three-masted East Indiaman. In fact, in Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004), the East Indiaman is the name of the largest variant of the Merchantman Class.

Strategic UseEdit

Depending on the version of the game, the Merchantman is either a formidable trader or an interesting combination between a trading vessel and combat vessel. In all cases, however, it is a medium-sized ship with medium armament, medium maneuverability and speed, and medium crew-complement. The strategic application of a Merchantman depends on this, but in either case it usually serves as a good cargo carrier in the Player's Fleet, rather than a permanent Flagship.

In CombatEdit

Again, due to the difference in the Merchantman's statistics between games, the Merchantman's combat abilities also differ considerably. In the earlier games, the Merchantman was considered a worthy vessel for combat, out-maneuvering heavier ships with ease and dominating smaller ships with its firepower. In this capacity it was stronger than the Barque, but due to its Square Rigging it was also more difficult to control. In the later game, the Merchantman lost much of its maneuverability and became too ungainly for combat use, although certainly more defensible than a Fluyt or Trade Galleon, thanks mainly to being smaller than either of these.

For more on combat behavior, see the individual descriptions based on the specific version of "Pirates!" you are interested in, below.


The Cargo Hold of a Merchantman is quite large, at least when compared to most combat vessels. Thanks to its relatively-high speed, it is considered the smallest vessel with which you can perform profitable bulk trade (I.E., in large quantities rather than in short, fast trips). Most players consider other, heavier merchant vessels to be too slow, and not worth their increased cargo capacity, and thus prefer the Merchantman over them.

Icon Pirates1987 Header Pirates1987Pirates! (1987)Edit

Ship Type
1987 Ship Merchantman
A mid-sized trader that doubles as a competent combat ship
Best Sailing Point: Broad Reach
Best Speed (weak wind): 9 leagues
Best Speed (strong wind): 12 leagues
Max. Cannons: 24 Icon Cannon
Max. Crew: 198
Cargo Capacity: 100 tons
Basic Sale Price: 2,500 Icon GoldCoin
Draft: Deep

Due to the way ships are "Scaled" in the original game, the Merchantman doubles as both a mid-sized trader and a mid-sized combat ship. Players who are in the early stages of their campaign will often seek out merchantmen and use them in their fleet. This increases cargo capacity considerably, and in addition provides the required firepower to defeat larger ships, such as Galleons.

The Best Sailing Point for a Merchantman is Broad Reach, where it can achieve speeds of 9-12 leagues. Like all other Square Rigged ships, it has some trouble sailing Close Hauled or Into The Eye, though it will usually at least keep sailing forward even in those directions.

Enemy Merchantmen are fairly easy to subdue, especially if the player has a Barque or Sloop in his fleet. This is mainly because Merchantmen are rarely seen with more than a handful of crewmembers and cannons on board, making it easy to Board and Fence them to submission. Of course, once in the player's hands and filled with crew and guns, the Merchantman can handle all sorts of threats, from smaller vessels (which they can easily sink with their guns) to larger vessels (which they can outmaneuver and board). Coupled with the cargo space they bestow, many players end up with a Merchantman as their Flagship for several years of game-time.

Merchantmen are used primarily by the English and French, although sightings of Spanish merchantmen have also occured. Very rarely, players will face a Pirate or Pirate-Hunter Merchantmen; This can be a very challenging battle.

Icon Pirates2004 Header Pirates2004Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004)Edit

Ship Type
Smallest member of the Merchantman class
Large Merchantman
2004 Ship Merchantman
A mid-sized trader with some firepower and maneuverability
Prevalence: Common
Physical Size: Medium
Maneuverability: Medium
Durability: Medium
Best Sailing Point: Running Broad Reach to Broad Beam Reach
Comparative Speed: Medium
Best Speed: Medium
Max. Cannons: 16 Icon Cannon
Max. Crew: 125 Icon Crew
Min. Crew: 16 Icon Crew
Ideal Crew (w/ Max Cannons): 64 Icon Crew
Cargo Capacity: 100 tons
Basic Sale Price: 600 Icon GoldCoin

In Sid Meier's Pirates!, the name "Merchantman" is used to refer both to the specific Ship Type called "Merchantman", and the entire family of ships known as Merchantmen. The "Merchantman" is the smallest member of its class, and is also the most common. It is a medium-sized trading vessel.

The Merchantman carries up to 16 Cannons into battle, and can hold a Crew of up to 125 men. With 16 or fewer men available, the Merchantman becomes sluggish and difficult to use. With at least 64 men and 16 cannons on board, the Merchantman is at its maximum fighting capacity.

A Merchantman can carry up to 100 tons of cargo (including Cannon), a good capacity for trading, considering its small crew and cannon complement.

When sold, a Merchantman yields 600 Icon GoldCoin, plus 150 Icon GoldCoin for each upgrade installed on the ship. This assumes that the ship is at 100% condition, otherwise it is sold for less (down to 10 Icon GoldCoin if either sails or hull are all but gone).

Upgrades for a Merchantman cost 900 Icon GoldCoin each. Once the rank of Admiral has been attained, upgrades will only cost 450 Icon GoldCoin each.

In the Player's HandsEdit

The Merchantman appears as the player's Starting Ship in only one Nation/Era combination:

  • England, 1600

Unlike in the original game, the Merchantman is a bad choice as the player's Flagship. Its combat performance is generally poor compared to that of any actual combat vessel.

In addition, the Merchantman's cargo capacity is not significantly larger than that of a Brig Of War or a Frigate, making both those ships better choices for trading as they are better suited to defend themselves if the need arises. Naturally of course, it is much easier to capture a Merchantman than a BOW or Frigate.

Players requiring extra cargo capacity will, however, on occasion capture and add a Merchantman to their fleet, as it can keep up with larger ships especially when going east. However in this capacity, it is usually better to employ a larger variant of the Merchantman Class.

Roles and NationalityEdit

The Merchantman is one of the most common ships in the Carribbean, and can be the single most common ship in Eras or scenarios where the Non-Spanish powers have plenty of Ports. This is because it is used as the basic Trader Ship for the English and French, and the Immigrant Ship for all but the Spanish. In fact, if the player personally requests an Immigrant Mission heading for a Spanish Port, a Merchantman will be created for the task (instead of Spain's normal Immigrant Ship, the Trade Galleon).

In CombatEdit

In this version of the game, the Merchantman is a simple trade vessel, not capable of fancy maneuvers and carrying a relatively low amount of cannons. This makes it largely useless as a combat vessel in the player's hands.

However, 16 cannons can be a danger for an attacking Pinnace Class ship, and can cause some damage to a Sloop. Naturally this only means that such ships should approach with caution, as the Merchantman is not all as bad at turning its broadside as largest ships like the Trade Galleon.

Regardless, most vessels will find it rather easy to take on a Merchantman. In particular, the Brig Class of ships are almost tailored for this sort of activity, as they can withstand the Merchantman's fire, out-maneuver it, and overpower it rather easily.