Anatomy of a Man-of-War in Aubrey’s Royal Navy

Most if not every edition of every novel in our beloved series has a useful little diagram of a typical British man-of-war somewhere in the front or back. However, I thought it might be useful to have an online reference as well. In a way this doubles as a vocab list because it includes a diagram of the different decks. I hope it proves edifying :)


Horizontal cut through views
of the decks of a Man-of-war

Poop Deck of an English Man of WarPoop deck

The highest deck on the ship, the unarmed poop deck was used mainly by officers. From here, the signal lieutenant hauled up flags to signal to nearby vessels.

Quarter Deck of an English Man of WarQuarter deck

At the stern of the ship, the quarter deck was also normally reserved for the officers. The Captain slept in a cabin at the stern of ths deck so he could be on hand quickly in an emergency. The quarter deck was armed with 12 cannons. They were called 12 pounders because they each fired an orange sized cannonball weighing approximately 12 pounds (5.5 kg).

Forecastle Deck of an English Man of WarForecastle

This raised deck covered the main deck at the bows. Gangways linked it to the quarter deck. Many of the ship’s sails were controlled from here, and there were four guns as well. Two were cannonades, or “smashers”, a type of short gun firing a heavy shot. They were most effective at short range. This man-of-war carried two huge 68-pounder (31 kg) carronades.

Upper Gun Deck of an English Man of WarUpper gun deck

Unlike the lower and middle decks, this deck was open to the weather in the middle. Three of the man-of-war’s small boats sat on cradles attached to the beams which crossed over the open space. It was armed with the 24-pounder guns – 15 along each side! The admiral had his day cabin located on this deck at the stern of the vessel.

Middle Deck of an English Man of WarMiddle deck

The lighter 24-pounder guns on the middle deck fired smallish 11 kg balls, the size of a grapefruit. There were 14 guns on each side, and many of the crew slept and ate here. The galley, the ship’s kitchen, was located here, too. At the stern the officers had their cabins and wardroom (dining/living room).

Lower Deck of an English Man of WarLower deck

This was the lowest gun deck. Down eac side there were fifteen 32-pounder cannons, which fired 14 kg balls the size of a coconut. When the ship was not fighting in a battle, many of the seamen hung their hammocks between the beams of this deck.

Orlop Deck of an English Man of WarOrlop deck

The orlop deck got its name from a Dutch word meaning “overlap”, because this deck overlapped the hold. This deck was primarily used for storage, and for the offices of some of the ship’s crew who needed access to the hold, such as the purser and carpenter.

Hold of an English Man of WarHold

Located at the very bottom of the ship, the hold was like a giant warehouse. Here the crew stored provisions for the voyage, such as all the food and drink they would require, iron cannonballs, spare ropes and sails, and materials for repairing any damages experienced while at sea.

Originally created by Stephen Biesty, Cross-Sections Man-of-war. London, Dorling Kindersley, 1993. Courtesy of Rob Ossian’s Pirate Cove.

Dr. Maturin suggests further reading

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3 Comments on Anatomy of a Man-of-War in Aubrey’s Royal Navy

  1. fantastic site! I love it!!

  2. What was the food that was on a man of war before the protest at Spithead?

  3. alan bailey // May 20, 2012 at 6:18 pm //

    I want to get a set of plans of HMS Orpeus suitable for constructing a model. Can anybody help?

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