A Cannon is one of a ship's primary weapons. Cannons use gunpowder to propel projectiles - commonly known as "shot" - at an enemy ship, in the hopes of damaging its hull, sails, or men. Cannons are loaded onto a ship like other types of Cargo, although they are more difficult to acquire. Each Ship Type can only carry a certain amount of cannons into battle, and each cannon requires a certain number of men to reload it in a timely fashion. Cannons are fired in Broadsides, with all loaded cannons discharging in unison to maximize their effect.

General InformationEdit

How Cannons WorkEdit

Cannons are arranged along the "walls" on either side of the ship, facing outwards. When a battle begins, the Cannons are rolled forward so that their muzzles protrude through small square openings in the ship's hull known as "gun ports". These can be clearly visible on larger warships: rows and rows of holes on its side, indicating it is heavily armed.

Once the Cannon is rolled back, into the ship, gunners toil to stuff the muzzle with gunpowder, a highly-explosive substance. Next, they ram a piece of cloth or other similar material inside to hold the gunpowder in tightly. Finally, a Shot is loaded into the cannon, which will serve as a projectile. Then the cannon is ready to be run out, ready to be fired. Once the Captain gives the order, a small fuse or powder trail at the touch-hole at the back of the Cannon is lit, and the fire runs down into the gunpowder chamber, setting off the explosion. The rapidly-expanding gases are contained inside the cannon, pushing against the Shot with incredible force, sending it flying out the muzzle and towards whatever target the Cannon is pointed at. The recoil pushes the cannon back into the ship where it can be swabbed out with a wet swab and then reloaded.

Hopefully, the projectile will end up slamming into the enemy ship. The most common projectile is known as "Round Shot", or colloquially a "Cannonball". This is a ball, usually iron, but may be stone or, for very small cannons, lead. At the speeds at which it travels when fired it can often puncture through a ship's wooden hull, forming large gaping holes and sending splinters of wood flying about the insides of the enemy ship, potentially damaging both men and equipment. It can also fly straight through sails, leaving holes that make the sail less useful in catching the wind, thereby slowing the ship.

Sufficient Damage to a ship can render it unable to sail properly, unable to defend itself, or even sink it altogether. Depending on a Captain's plans for the battle, cannon fire may conclude with the deliberate sinking of the enemy, or with a Boarding to exploit the enemy's weakened state and capture the ship or its precious Cargo.

Cannons as CargoEdit

In the game, outside of Naval Combat, Cannons are considered one of several kinds of Cargo carried by a ship. They can be sold (though not bought) for a certain price at a Merchant's, and take up space in the Cargo Hold like any other type of merchandise.

This means that ships loaded with Cannons have less room for Food or other Cargo. Therefore, it is not wise to fill one's cargo hold with Cannons, as a ship cannot use more than a certain amount of Cannons in battle. Extra cannons in the cargo hold will, at most, serve as replacements, though in some games they can also be sold for a nice sum of money.

Acquiring CannonsEdit

Although Cannons behave as Cargo, they cannot be bought at a Merchant's like food or other cargo can be bought. There are only two sources for acquiring cannons, and both involve fighting battles:

  1. From enemy ships. Any ship that has been captured in Naval Combat can be looted for all its remaining cannons.
  2. From enemy Forts. Once a fortified Port has been Raided, you can strip the fort of its remaining cannons.

Again, you will need cargo space for each cannon taken.

Maximum CannonsEdit

Although most ships can potentially carry a huge number of cannons in their cargo hold, a ship can only use up to a certain amount of those Cannons in combat. This number is strictly defined by the ship's Type. For example, a Pinnace can only use 8 cannons, regardless of how many it actually has in its cargo hold. A Flag Galleon can use 40, if it has that many. This is determined by the ship's design and configuration - I.E. the number of gun ports on the sides of its hull.

Once it goes into combat, the game automatically sets up as many cannons as possible on the selected ship. If the Player's Fleet has more cannons than the ship can use, the excess cannons will remain in the Cargo Hold and cannot be used until the battle is over.

Broadsides and ReloadingEdit

Cannons are fired in "Broadsides". In other words, all cannons on the side of the ship that is facing the enemy will fire simultaneously. This is done to maximize impact: cannons are inaccurate at range, so it is better to fire all of them at once in a "spread" pattern to ensure at least a partial hit, rather than fire each gun in its own turn.

In the real world, broadsides also have an impact on the enemy's morale: it is far more frightening to have a "wall" of Shot coming at your ship than individual cannonballs!

Broadsides are fired perpendicular to the ship's heading: either 90 degrees to the left or 90 degrees to the right, depending on which side the enemy is on. This means that the captain must align his ship in a way that it is facing perpendicular to the direction of the enemy ship, in which case the broadside will fly at the enemy. The skill of doing this is paramount to all Naval Combat, even when simply anticipating an enemy's Broadside.

Once a Broadside has been fired, the crew begins reloading their cannons. Every cannon is (ideally) manned by three crewmen, each with his own responsibility. If fewer than three crewmen per cannon are available, some (or all) cannons will take significantly longer to reload.

In some of the games, you can only fire a "full" broadside, meaning you need to reload all your cannons before taking another shot at the enemy. In others, you may decide to fire a "partial" broadside with any cannons that have already been reloaded.

Note that during the changing of Sail States, all men on the ship are busy releasing and re-tying the rigging, and thus cannot reload any cannons until the Sail State has been changed. It is possible to initiate the reefing and filling of sails while cannons are being reloaded, and it is possible to fire the cannons while changing Sail States, but the act of reloading is put on hold until the change of sails is complete.


Main article: Shot

As explained above, the basic type of projectile used in cannons is a round ball, commonly referred to as "Round Shot" or simply a "Cannonball".

Ammunition is unlimited in all games. You do not need to restock on shot, nor does it take any extra cargo space. In theory, the cargo space occupied by individual cannons already takes into account the amount of space required to store ammunition, gunpowder and wadding for those cannons. You will never run out of any of these.

In the later game, you will also be able to fire different types of shot other than Round Shot. This requires installing an Upgrade on a ship (see more on this below).

Losing CannonsEdit

The primary reason for losing cannons is Combat Damage. In fact, one of the main reasons for firing at an enemy ship is to destroy its cannons so that it cannot fire back (or so that its broadsides will be less powerful, at least). This applies both to enemy ships and to your own ships.

Cannons lost during Naval Combat are not immediately replaced, even if there are extra cannons available in the cargo hold. Moving a cannon into position is a long, difficult process, which can only occur once battle has ended.

As with all other cargo, cannons can also be lost if one of the ships in your Fleet has been sunk by natural phenomena, by non-combat enemy fire (like Forts opening fire as you try to sail into a harbor), or taken away during a Munity. This is again because Cannons are considered normal Cargo when outside of battle, and so will be lost if the ship carrying them is lost. Note that it is also possible to accidentally lose cannons when selling a Scuttling a ship voluntarily, just like any other cargo.

Icon Pirates1987 Header Pirates1987Pirates! (1987)Edit

In Pirates! (1987), Cannon use is quite simplified compared to later games. The following section of the article explains only the differences between the original game and later games. For common properties, read the above section on General Information.

Acquiring and SellingEdit

As with all other games, cannons are acquired by looting enemy ships, or by raiding Forified Ports. There are no other sources for Cannons.

Cannons are always acquired and sold in pairs. The idea is that you buy one cannon for each side of the ship, thus maintaining the same number of cannons on each side. Subsequently, cannons are also lost in pairs due to combat damage. You will never have an odd number of cannons on board.

A pair of cannons takes up only 1 ton of Cargo-space. Therefore, a ship with 40 tons of cargo space can carry 80 cannons as cargo.

Unlike later games, the sale of a pair of cannons is quite lucrative. Cannons can sometimes fetch more money than any other cargo. The average price for cannons appears to be around 50 Icon GoldCoin per pair, though this depends greatly on the economy at the port where you are trying to sell them.


In Pirates! (1987), all cannons on the side of the ship pointing towards the enemy will be fired simultaneously as a broadside. Regardless of how many cannons the ship has on board, they will be shown as a group of three red dots flying towards the enemy. If these red dots hit the water in very close proximity to the enemy ship, a hit is registered.


1987 Combat CannonRange

These two ships are approximately at Maximum Cannon Range of each other.

Broadsides have a certain maximum range, which is identical regardless of Ship Type or the number of cannons on board. This range is hard to measure accurately, and there is no in-game indication as to whether a ship is within cannon-range of the other at any given time.
The approximate maximum cannon range is around 2/3 of the screen's width, as shown in the image on the right. This may be easier to determine when the ships are aligned vertically on the screen, and much harder to determine when they are at any diagonal angle to each other.
If a broadside is fired outside its maximum range, the cannonballs will disappear as soon as they have flown as far as allowed by said range. No splash will occur - the cannonballs simply vanish.


The Damage caused by the hit is based on the number of cannons the firing ship has on board. The more cannons it has, the more damage is caused.
The same amount of cannons will always cause the same amount of damage to the enemy ship's Hull, Cannons and Crew. Therefore, you can learn to anticipate how many hits your ship can take from variously-armed opponents, or how many shots it will take to sink a specific enemy Ship Type with your current load-out.


A Miss is registered when cannonballs fall too far away from the enemy ship. However, the system is slightly quirky, so on occasion a near-miss may register as a hit, and vice-versa. Low Difficulty settings and/or the Gunnery Skill can change this behavior. In particular, on low Difficulty it is more likely for enemy shots to miss your ship if they do not land directly on top of it, while hits on eenmy ships may be registered when the cannonballs land some distance away from the center of its hull.


Once a broadside is fired, the cannons will take a certain amount of time to be reloaded. With an ideal number of men (determined primarily by Ship Type and the number of cannons you have on board), the process should take about 4-5 seconds. While this process is taking place, the readout at the bottom left of the screen will read "Reloading" (just below the Damage readout for your ship), unless a change of Sail States is in progress.
While reloading, the cannons cannot be fired at all. You can only fire once all available cannons have been reloaded. This is indicated by the words "Guns Loaded" appearing in the readout at the bottom left of the screen.
Note that you do not have any indication as to whether or not the enemy ship's cannons are reloading or ready to fire. You must learn to anticipate how much time it would take for the enemy to reload all his cannons.

The Blind Zones ProblemEdit

1987 Combat BlindZones

An enemy ship in the "Blind Zone". Since broadsides always fire at 90 degrees off your heading, and there are only 16 possible headings, situations like this are common.

In this game, ships can turn towards one of 16 different headings in combat, and no more. Broadsides are always fired at 90 degrees off your heading, meaning that broadsides too only have 16 possible directions.

This presents a problem not found in later games. The limit of 16 headings means that the relative positions of both ships (yours and the enemy's) are extremely important when determining if you can hit the enemy at all. This is especially true at long range.

This "no hit" positioning is called a "blind zone". When two ships are positioned this way, neither can hit the other at all.

As a result, correct positioning is paramount before taking any shot. It is also useful to learn how to position yourself in the Blind Zone so that the enemy cannot possibly hit you if they decide to fire.

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

In Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004), cannons behave slightly more realistically than in previous games. Not only do you have the possibility to fire three different kinds of Shot, but each cannon can be fired separately (and, with some skill, using a different type of Shot!). In addition, the problem of Blind Zones has been eliminated thanks to a much more analogue measure of ship headings.

Acquiring and SellingEdit

In the 2004 game, your only source of Cannons is through the looting of enemy ships. This is because it is now impossible to loot Cargo after a Raid on a Port, fortified or otherwise.

Unlike previous games, cannons can be acquired piece-meal (I.E. one cannon sold/taken, rather than pairs of cannons). Each cannon takes up 1 ton of cargo space.

Unfortunately, cannons are extremely "cheap" when sold, normally fetching only 1 Icon GoldCoin or 2 Icon GoldCoin at most. However they are sometimes sold at 4 Icon GoldCoin in port that are low on cannons (0-50). In some locations, cannons are sold for 0 Icon GoldCoin, so watch out!


In this game, the notion of a broadside is played more realistically and less rigidly than previous games.

Each cannon on the ship fires individually, creating an individual cannonball that flies on its own trajectory. The trajectory of a shot is generally perpendicular to the heading of the ship (I.E. 90 degrees left or right, depending on where the enemy ship is), with some randomness introduced, so not all cannonballs in a broadside will fly in the same direction.

This is called a "spread". Since not all cannonballs fly at the same exact direction, there will be many points of impact. The more cannons a ship has on board, the larger its "spread" will be, increasing the probability of some cannonballs hitting the target, rather than all of them missing.

A ship will only fire half as many cannonballs as it has cannons on board. This is to emulate the idea that half a ship's cannons are aimed out one side, while half are aimed out the other side. Therefore, a Ship Of The Line carrying 48 cannons will only fire 24 cannonballs with each broadside. Note however that for reloading purposes, the ship is assumed to have fired all of its cannons in each broadside. So, if you manage to quickly turn your other side towards the enemy, you will not be able to fire a full broadside unless all cannons have been reloaded since the previous broadside.


Each individual cannonball is treated independently. It has its own trajectory, and thus can potentially hit the target even if all other cannonballs in the broadside have missed. The game tracks collisions between each cannonball and the ship models. Should such a collision occurred, the individual cannonball that did so registers a hit.
A single cannonball hit can cause one and only one of the following types of Damage, selected randomly at the moment of impact:
  1. Damage to the hull.
  2. Damage to the sails.
  3. Destruction of a single cannon.
  4. Killing one or more crew members.
The probability of inflicting each of the above types of damage depends on the type of Shot the cannonball belongs to. See more on this below.
As a result of individual damage distribution per cannonball, when several cannonballs hit the ship simultaneously they can together cause more than one type of damage as described above. However, each individual cannonball still causes only one kind, it is only together that they appear to cause diverse damage.


2004 NavalCombat Range

Approximate range comparison.
Red = Basic range.
Green = Range with Fine Grain Powder installed.

The range of cannon fire is the same for all Ship Types, regardless of how many cannons are on board. Once cannonballs have flown their maximum allowed distance without hitting the enemy ship, they will splash in the water.
Unlike previous games, this game features a range indicator. Whenever a ship is outside cannon range, the "number of cannons loaded" indicator at the bottom left of the screen will read "Out of Cannon Range". It is still possible to fire the cannons when this is displayed, but unless the enemy ship moves closer while the cannonballs are in the air, they will not strike it.
In addition, this game's cannon range is fluid. For one, it is influenced by Shot type (see below). Round-Shot's range is the longest, and serves as a basis for calculating the range of the Shot Types: Chain-Shot has about 1/2 of a Round-Shot's range, and Grape-Shot has about 1/4 of a Round-Shot's range.
Finally, once the Fine Grain Powder Upgrade has been installed on a ship, its cannons will have a significantly increased range. It is difficult to quantify exactly how much increase this gives, but it is evidently around 30-40% more than the range without this upgrade.

Spread and AccuracyEdit

2004 NavalCombat Spread

This schematic shows the accuracy bias obtained by Upgrading a ship with a set of Bronze Cannons.
Note: The Ship Of The Line is used here only because its broadsides are the most dense and visible. All ships are similarly affected.

As explained above, when each cannon is fired the trajectory of the cannonball is determined separately with a small random factor involved. The "basis" for randomization is a 90-degree angle off the ship's heading, towards whichever side the opponent's ship is on. Cannonballs will generally fly no more than 10 degrees off this base angle.
Due to this randomization, it is possible though unlikely for all (or at least most) of a ship's cannonballs to fly at the same spot, though more often they will "spread out" to hit multiple locations.
With this spreading effect, a broadside with more cannons involved will generate a larger "Splash area", meaning that if the enemy ship is within this area it will be hit by at least a few cannonballs. The larger the target, of course, the more chance there is for it to be hit by all cannonballs, assuming the spread isn't larger than the target.
In addition, the length of the firing ship has an influence on its spread. Normally, the longer a ship is, the larger the "splash area" of its broadsides will be. This is thanks to the game trying to keep the splash area no wider than the length of the ship that fired the broadside.
The Gunnery Skill has an important influence on cannonball trajectory: it gives a small "bias" to each cannonball, increasing the likelihood that its trajectory will carry it to the anticipated position of the enemy ship. While the effect itself is very small, the final result is a hefty increase in the number of cannonballs that will hit the target. It can be said that this skill "moves" the center of the splash area slightly towards the enemy's expected position, thereby increasing the likelihood of each cannonball to hit the target.
The same effect can be acquired by installing the Bronze Cannons Upgrade on a ship - that ship will fire its cannons more accurately, that is, with a small trajectory bias towards the expected location of the enemy. Unfortunately, this effect is not cumulative with the Gunnery Skill. Of course, enemy ships can have Bronze Cannons installed, while the Gunnery Skill is unique to the player's character, if chosen at all.


At the bottom left of the screen is a large bar indicator that shows the number of cannons currently loaded. When the bar is empty, no cannons are loaded and hence cannot be fired. Over time, this bar will slowly fill up. When it is fully red, a full broadside is available.
The bar itself is superimposed with a numerical count of the loaded cannons, so you can easily tell how many are currently loaded. However, if you are outside the maximum range for the currently-selected Shot Type (see below), the numerical count is replaced with the words "Out of Cannon Range".
In this game it is possible to fire a "partial" broadside, I.E. fire with all cannons that are already loaded. You do not need to wait until all cannons are loaded in order to fire. However, there are two caveats to this: A partial broadside will obviously contain less cannonballs than a full one, and also the number of loaded cannons will reset to 0 once the broadside has been fired.
Cannons are reloaded one-by-one rather than all at the same time. It will take 0.X fractions of a second to reload one cannon, 0.X fractions more to reload another, and so on until all cannons are loaded. X here is variable, and depends on the number of men you have on board compared to the number of cannons. Ideally, 3 men per cannon will give the best reload rate possible, while any less than that will cause slower reloading.
If you manage to acquire the Gunner Specialist, reload times will be considerably faster on all ships in your Fleet.
Also note that all ships have a "Minimum Crew" requirement, which indicates the number of men required to just keep the ship sailing properly. These men do not count towards the number of men you have available to reload your cannons. For example, a Sloop Of War has a minimum crew requirement of 10 Icon Crew. If the ship only has 11 men on board, it will take a long time to reload even a single cannon, since only one man is available (with the rest occupied with sailing the ship itself). If the ship has only one cannon and 13 or more men on board, that cannon will be reloaded with maximum speed thanks to having at least 3 men available to tend to it.
Finally, remember that changing Sail States puts all reloading on hold. You can still fire any loaded cannons freely while changing Sail States, but any additional reloading will not occur until the change has been completed.

Shot TypesEdit

Main article: Shot

In this game, it is possible for cannons to fire three different types of Shot:

Each type of Shot inflicts a different variety of damage on the enemy ship. Round-Shot is more likely to damage the enemy's hull or cannons rather than its sails or crew. Chain-Shot is very likely to hit the sails, somewhat likely to kill crew, and cannot damage cannons or the hull. Grape-Shot will kill crew by the dozens, but does not do any other damage.

The range of each type of shot is also different, with Round-Shot having the most range, and serving as the basis for the calculation of the other ranges: Chain-Shot has about 1/2 of that range, while Grape-Shot has about 1/4 of the Round-Shot's range.

For a ship to be able to fire Chain-Shot or Grape-Shot, it must have the appropriate Upgrade installed. A ship without these Upgrades cannot fire the appropriate Shot type at all. Round-Shot is available for all ships, assuming they are carrying at least one cannon.

2004 NavalCombat MixedBroadside

A large "mixed" broadside. Round-Shot is visible at the bottom, about to hit the English ship. Chain-Shot is on its way, seen flying high near the center.

It is possible, with some skill, to fire a single broadside with a mixture of different Shot types. This is done by switching types while the broadside is being fired! Naturally, this can be exceptionally difficult with ships that have few cannons, as the time between the first cannonball and the last is extremely short. However, larger ships such as the Ship Of The Line have so many cannons on board that it can take half a second or more to fire all of them, giving enough time to switch shot types once or even twice!

Note that the AI is exceptionally good at this sort of tactic, and will often be seen mixing Round-Shot with Chain-Shot during close-range broadsides.