Square rigged means the sails are set square to the center line of the ship not the shape

Square Rigging is a Naval Term used to describe a set of square-shaped Sails mounted one-above-the-other on a single Mast. These sails present their large surface areas to the wind, effectively "trapping" it. The resulting pressure is immense, and gives the ship a strong forward momentum. Square Rigging allows efficient translation of wind power into movement, making them extremely useful for moving very heavy ships. However, to be effective they rely on both strong winds as well as a good orientation: they work best when the wind is coming from behind the ship ("Running With The Wind").

Ships designed primarily with Square Rigging will normally be large and difficult to maneuver, but can sail very quickly when wind conditions are favourable. On the other hand, they often perform poorly when the wind is coming from the side or front of the ship. There are several such Ship Types in every version of the game.

All Square Rigged ships have at least one additional Lateen Sail installed. Such sails are not used for propulsion, but rather to retain minimal maneuverability when the Square Sails fail to catch the wind.


Santisima Trinidad

The Santisima Trinidad, one of the heaviest warships of the Age of Sail, rigged almost entirely with Square Sails.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In a Square Rigging, a large tall Mast is fitted with several yardarms - long horizontal wooden poles - arranged at specific intervals along its height. A single square-shaped Sail is hung from each yardarm, then stretched down and tied to the next lower yardarm. The stretching of the sail between the two yardarms presents the sail's large square surface area to the wind.

When wind blows into the sail from behind, it applies pressure on the fabric "filling" the sail with wind. Since the sail is connected tightly to the yardarms, the pressure translates through the yardarms, to the mast, and then directly into the ship itself, propelling it forward. In most designs, a large mast will have at least three of these square sails installed on it, with some of the larger ships in history sporting 6 sails or more on each mast! Furthermore, most Square Rigged ships have several such masts, brimming with square sails, to maximize the utilization of the wind.

As a result of this configuration, whenever the wind is blowing directly into the sails from behind, the power harnessed from it is significant, allowing fast forward motion even for a very heavy ship. Thanks to this, Square-Rigged vessels tend to be much larger, heavier, and of course more heavily-armed than Fore-And-Aft Rigged vessels.

Today, Square Rigging has been largely abandoned. Heavy vessels are usually fitted with powerful engines as their means of propulsion, while light recreational boats tend to sport sophisticated arrays of modern Fore-And-Aft Rigging. Nonetheless, in the age of sail, the most illustrious ships - and certainly the most powerful ones - were all Square-Rigged.

Sailing PropertiesEdit

The large surface area presented by Square Rigging means an efficient translation of wind power into forward motion. When the wind is blowing directly from behind the ship and into these sails, even a heavy ship will gain plenty of speed. In fact, Square-Rigged ships can attain a much higher speeds than Fore-And-Aft Rigged ships thanks to this utilization of wind power.

The problem, of course, is that this requires the wind to come in from behind the ship. But wind is fickle, and is not always heading towards your destination! If the wind blows from the front of the ship, it will push at the front side of the square sails, and subsequently the ship will begin to move backwards, or at least be held in place. A sideways wind, coming in perpendicular to the ship's heading, will fail to push against the square sails entirely, again emparting no motion whatsoever.

Part of this problem was solved by making the yardarms (the horizontal poles between which these sails are stretched) adjustable: they can be turned sideways to a certain angle. This allows presenting the large square sail surface to a wind that isn't directly behind the ship, but rather somewhat to the side. However, as the angle between the yardarms and the keel of the ship increases, the translation of wind power into forward motion is reduced.

As a result, Square Rigged vessels tend to perform poorly whenever the wind is not coming directly from behind, or at least close to that. Coupled with the frequently-large size and mass of these vessels, this makes Square Rigged ships difficult to sail in unfavourable winds, as well as difficult to maneuver altogether. In other words, they'll sail forward very quickly with the wind at their backs, but have trouble sailing in all other circumstances.

As a partial counter-measure, each and every Square-Rigged ship has at least one or more Lateen sails - small Fore-And-Aft Rigging used primarily to maintain maneuverability in unfavourable winds. Smaller, and less efficient, these triangular sails nonetheless can utilize wind at various angles, preventing the ship from becoming immobilized when winds are not optimal.

Some Square Rigged vessels sport many small Lateen sails, arranged in various positions along or between its main square-rigged masts. Others will simply have a large Lateen sail or two mounted on specialized masts at the front or back of the ship. For best effect, when winds are unfavourable, the ship's crew will "wrap" the square sails around their respective yardarms (a process knowing as "Reefing the Sails"), allowing only the Lateen sails to do their magic. This prevents the Square Sails from interfering.

Comparison with Fore-And-Aft Rigged ShipsEdit

As explained above, the primary advantage imparted by the use of Square Sails is efficient translation of wind power into forward motion. This has two notable benefits:

  1. Well-designed Square Rigged Ships can attain fantastic speeds whenever the wind is blowing from behind, or slightly off to one side. They are much faster than any Fore-And-Aft Rigged ship in such conditions.
  2. The additional power allows Square Rigged ships to be built much larger and much heavier than Fore-And-Aft Rigged ships. They often carry more cargo, more men, and most importantly - more Cannons!

On the other hand, the inability to utilize unfavourable winds is a serious issue. Square Rigged ships will sail slowly when the wind is coming from the side, and may stop dead altogether when wind is coming at an even slightly forward angle to the ship.

Fore-And-Aft ships, on the other hand, have no such problem. The alignment of their sails (Fore-and-Aft, or "parallel to the ship's heading") and shape (triangular, mostly) allows them to trap winds coming from various directions relative to the ship's heading. As such, they can often sail Close-Hauled.

In fact, Fore-And-Aft ships tend to sail fastest when the wind is coming from the side, rather than from behind, and some of them can even sail almost directly Into The Wind without stopping dead.

As a result, the two ship designs are used very differently, both when sailing around the world and in ship-to-ship combat. Square Rigged vessels tend to capitalize on their speed and stay mindful of the wind, attacking when winds are favourable and utilizing their massive firepower whenever possible. Fore-And-Aft rigged vessels tend to rely on maneuverability, circling their enemies independently of the wind, and (if necessary) retreating at an odd angle to the wind where larger enemies cannot follow.

Fore-And-Aft Rigged Ship TypesEdit

The vast majority of Ship Types featured in all games in the series are Square Rigged vessels. These tend to be the largest ships available, and many of them are prized for being powerful warships, bristling with cannons.

Icon Pirates1987 Header Pirates1987Pirates! (1987)Edit

1987 Ship Fluyt

A Cargo Fluyt.

In Pirates! (1987), the "smallest" Square Rigged ship is the Cargo Fluyt. In truth, it is actually a mid-sized trading vessel, a little larger than a Barque. The Fluyt is rarer than most other ships because it is sailed almost exclusively by the Dutch. This heavy ship's sailing characteristics are poor. It is largely unsuitable for use in serious combat, and normally serves as prey for other, faster ships.

1987 Ship Merchantman

A Merchantman.

The next-larger Square Rigged Ship is the Merchantman. This is one of the more common ships in the Caribbean. While essentially a trading vessel, it has a good capacity for both crewmen and cannons, and is substantially more maneuverable than most square-rigged ships - thanks mostly to a large Lateen sail installed on the aft mast. While it still behaves badly when heading Close-Hauled or Into The Wind, it is usually capable of outmaneuvering larger warships, and can pose a threat to smaller ships as well. Pirates can make good use of this versatility.

1987 Ship Frigate

A Frigate.

The Frigate is the smallest Square-Rigged warship in this game, but it is by no means a small ship. It has the largest number of sails installed, including two large Lateen sails at the fore and aft of the ship. This makes it both fast and maneuverable. It can usually chase down any other Square Rigged vessel it encounters, making it a very useful ship for attacking heavy enemy shipping. The Frigate's Lateen sails give it good maneuverability for its size, and allow it to bring its many cannons to bear on the enemy with ease.

1987 Ship FastGalleon

A Fast Galleon.

The Fast Galleon is a European design meant to turn a hulking Spanish Galleon (see below) into a competent warship. Slightly smaller than a Galleon, this ship is meant to combine heavy firepower with ample speed. As with all other Galleons, it sports two Lateen sails mounted on their own masts at the stern, for maneuverability in tough winds. Nonetheless, this ship is only fast when the winds are favourable, and may stop or sail backwards when sailing Close-Hauled or Into The Wind.

1987 Ship WarGalleon

A War Galleon.

The War Galleon is the largest warship in the game. While slightly smaller than a Galleon, its designation as a warship means that it is often encountered carrying a full complement of guns - its most dangerous trait. Its large square sails can propel it at great speeds when running Before The Wind, but it is slow to turn and will often sail backwards whenever wind is coming from the front. This ship relies on its ability to cripple the enemy with a single broadside or two - otherwise it will be quickly outmaneuvered by most other ships.

1987 Ship Galleon

A (Spanish) Galleon.

The Galleon, sometimes called the "Spanish" Galleon, is the largest ship in the game. It is an old design, carrying over from the 16th century, built primarily for its cargo capacity. An extremely heavy ship, it is remarkably slow in all but the most favourable winds, and easily outmaneuvered by most other ships in the game. Nonetheless, it also has the largest capacity for cannons, and a single broadside from such a ship can cripple or even sink enemies in an instant. Although it sports two Lateen sails at the aft, these have little effect thanks to the extremely large mass of the ship itself. If it loses the wind, this ship can end up stuck and unable to maneuver.

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

In Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004), there are six different Classes of ships outfitted with Square Rigging. With three Ship Types in each class, this totals 18 different Square Rigged ships. All Square Rigged ships feature at least one Lateen sail (Fore-And-Aft Rigging), but the main emphasis is nonetheless on large, powerful Square Rigging. Some ships, including the Brig Class and Frigate Class, do a good job amalgamating the two designs to enable good speed and maneuverability in a wide number of angles to the wind.

2004 Ship Sloop

A Sloop.

Ships of the Sloop Class have a large main mast bearing two Square Sails. However, the Sloop is classified as a Fore-And-Aft Rigged ship thanks to its overwhelming emphasis on its large Lateen sails, including the "Spanker" sail at its stern. Nonetheless, the combination of Square and Lateen rigging allows the Sloop to maintain good sailing speed and maneuverability in nearly all winds.

2004 Ship Brig

A Brig.

Brig Class ships are the smallest Square-Rigged warships in this game. Although it sport quite a few Square Sails at various positions on the masts, the Brig complements these with a large assortment of Lateen sails, making it more of a hybrid that spans both categories. It has triangular sails stretched between its masts, and even a "Spanker" sail at the rear, similar to a Sloop Class ship. On the one hand, the reduction in Square Riggings in favour of Lateen Riggings means that the Brig's maximum speed is low despite its smaller-than-average hull size. It makes up for this by being exceptionally maneuverable for its size. This allows the Brig to maintain versatility - its defining characteristic - allowing it to engage a wide variety of targets in many different sailing conditions.

2004 Ship Frigate

A Frigate.

Like the Brig above, the Frigate Class combines the efficiency of Square Riggings with the maneuverability of Lateen Riggings. Much larger and heavier than the Brig (with the largest Frigate variant, the Ship of the Line, being one of the largest ships in the game), emphasis is placed primarily on Square Riggings. However, the many large Lateen sails arranged between its masts allow the Frigate to maintain surprising maneuverability for its size. By momentarily Reefing its square sails, it can utilize the Lateen sails to turn rapidly, bringing its awesome broadside to bear on the enemy, then Fill the sails to regain speed and avoid the enemy's counter-attack. Given the size of its broadsides (the Ship Of The Line is the most heavily-armed ship in the game), it may not need to do this more than once or twice to end a battle entirely.

2004 Ship Fluyt

A Fluyt.

The Fluyt Class is considered the smallest "true" Square Rigged ship class. Fluyts are slow trading vessels used exclusively by the Dutch. They feature a simplistic array of sails, comprised of four large Square Sails on the masts, a single small Square Foresail, and a small Lateen sail at aft. This set-up is just enough to propel the ship forward and allow the bare minimum maneuverability. Fluyt top-speed is quite poor, and in combat it will often be out-maneuvered by the opponent. The Fluyt's only saving grace is its cargo capacity, though there are much larger ships available that will outperform it nonetheless.

2004 Ship Merchantman

A Merchantman.

Merchantman Class ships use the same simple Rigging set-up as Fluyts (above): Four large square sails, a small square foresail, and a small Lateen sail at aft. While larger and heavier than a Fluys, the Merchantman's long, thin hull allows it to develop somewhat better speed in favourable winds. Unfortunately, it is not more maneuverable than the Fluyt, and will still be in danger when attacked by warships. Nonetheless, Merchantmen often carry a larger array of cannons and crew, which will at least present a challenge to any would-be attacker. Merchantmen are extremely common, being used by the English, French and occasionally other factions.

2004 Ship MerchantGalleon

A Merchant Galleon.

Ships of the Merchant Galleon Class are by far the largest in terms of physical size. These massive trading vessels therefore require a set of massive Square sails to drive them forward through the water. These sails are carried on tall masts, and their sheer power allows the Merchant Galleon to develop reasonably good speeds despite its size - although only when running Before The Wind. Whenever the winds are not just right, these sails fail miserably, and the entire ship slows to a halt. Although it has a small Lateen sail at the stern, the Merchant Galleon can barely turn about at any wind conditions. It is a slow, lumbering target for most other ships. Nonetheless, its large hull enables it to carry a large number of Cannons with which to defend itself. It can cripple an approaching enemy with a single shot, assuming the enemy is foolish enough to forgo out-maneuvering this sluggish giant.

2004 Ship CombatGalleon

A Combat Galleon.

The Combat Galleon Class of ships includes the largest warships in the game, in terms of physical size. Although designed similarly to the Merchant Galleon, the Combat Galleon nonetheless sports a more advanced set of Square Riggings on very tall sails, allowing it to maximize the power it receives from a favourable wind. This allows the Combat Galleon to develop extremely good speed with the wind at its back. While it has two small Lateen sails at aft, it is not particularly maneuverable, and will have trouble against small, fast ships. However, Combat Galleons are amongst the most heavily-armed ships in the game, and a single broadside can cripple the target and make it easier to subdue.