A Complete Guide On Grappling Hooks

Key Point: Grappling hooks were a tool used to secure the enemy ship during boarding actions, which sailors from one ship to board another for close-quarters combat.

This article will deal with grappling hooks. What were grappling hooks and how did pirates and navies use them in naval battles during the “Age of Sail”? You will get to see if grappling hooks were even effective and also the disadvantage of using them.

Now, let’s begin from the beginning. What are grappling hooks? And … How were they used?

Grappling hooks were a crucial tool in naval warfare during the Age of Sail. They were used to secure enemy vessels during boarding actions, allowing sailors to engage in close-quarters combat. The hooks were thrown by sailors from one ship to another and attached to a rope or chain to pull the two vessels together.

That’s the key takeaway from the entire article. Let’s go into a little more detail right now. Starting with the origin of grappling hooks.

The Origin Of Grappling Hooks In Naval Warfare

Grappling hooks have quite a history in naval battles that stretches back to the Ancient Mediterranean. Back then a basic tactic of ramming and then boarding the enemy ship was commonplace. And in some cases, they came alongside the ship and used grappling hooks to pull themselves close enough to board them.

This tactic of boarding the enemy ship withstood the test of time and stayed in use through the Middle Ages and the “Age of Sails”. The ships have gotten much bigger since the times of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, but the boarding process was the same.

Why Grappling Hooks Fell Out Of Use

Grappling hooks fell out of use because of the changing environment of naval warfare. Boarding the enemy ship became much less commonplace as the 19th century moved on. In partly due to the fact that naval guns have gotten much more advanced. This meant that naval battles were fought at greater and greater distances.

This greatly reduced the need for grappling hooks in naval combat.

Now, it’s time we take a look at how they were used by sailors and pirates alike. Let’s see the process.

How They Were Used

Here is a description of how the average use of grappling hooks went down. An attacking ship would position itself alongside a ship or pull up behind. Once in range, sailors on the attacking ship would throw grappling hooks with ropes attached to them onto the enemy ship’s deck or rigging.

The hooks were designed to attach or hook into a part of the enemy ship. When they did, they were secured in place with chains or ropes. Which allowed the two ships to be pulled closer. Now, all of this did not happen in quite. Often times grappling hooks were not deployed in isolation.

The attacking and defending ships were firing at each other as the grappling hooks were being deployed. The attackers wanted to clear the deck of the enemy soldiers to help with the boarding process. And the defenders tried to stop them. As you might imagine it was mayhem.

Anyways, it was mayhem and the grappling hooks were thrown and secured in place. Sailors on the attacking ship would use various means to secure the vessels together, such as using wooden planks to create a bridge between the two ships. Once the vessels were secured together, sailors would climb aboard the enemy ship and engage in close-quarters combat with weapons such as the Cutlass.

The Dimensions

The dimension of grappling hooks was never really standardized. It often depended on the size of the ship being targeted and the distance between them. The material from which the hooks were made was iron or steel but the weight of the hooks fluctuated.

During Ancient times the ships were smaller and so were the hooks they used. They were also made from brass or bronze.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Hopefully, you learned a thing or two. And if you wish to learn more about weapons used during the “Age of Sail” I suggest taking a look at my article here. Where I talk about “chain shot” and how it was used to wreak havoc on the enemy deck.

Or go here to see how mortars were used by warships. And why it was not a good idea to use mortars against other warships.

Take care!


Sources: “The Age of the Galley: Mediterranean Oared Vessels Since Pre-Classical Times” by R. Gardiner