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The Sea Rover’s Practice:
Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730

By Benerson Little

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A colorful and detailed description of how
pirates and privateers practiced their trade.

In print, trade paper, ebook, and audio book; the hardcover is out of print (but check your independent bookstores or abebooks.com).
Potomac Books, 2005

New Notes, Commentary, and Errata to
The Sea Rovers Practice 6 June 2022


“As colorful as a Howard Pyle illustration and as compelling as an Errol Flynn film, The Sea Rover’s Practice belongs on anyone’s short list of useful scholarship on the great age of piracy. Based largely on first-person accounts, the book provides a trustworthy description of how pirates, filibusters, buccaneers, and privateers went about their business, from planning and recruiting, through chasing, engaging, and boarding, to dividing the spoils. The reader, entertained as well as informed, is likely to have nearly as much fun reading this book as the author appears to have had in writing it.”

—Michael J. Crawford, naval historian and editor of The Autobiography of a Yankee Mariner: Christopher Prince and the American Revolution

Benerson Little brings a unique and powerful perspective—that of a scholarly former U.S. Navy SEAL—to a fascinating subject. The result is a remarkable book that casts much new light on the sea rovers of the Age of Sail.”

—Frank Sherry, author of Raiders and Rebels: The Golden Age of Piracy

“A remarkably complete analysis of methods used in piracy, especially in Europe and America, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The book is based on solid research and is especially valuable for understanding the language and literature of the subject. It includes useful notes and bibliographies and is a highly recommended reference work for both general and specialized libraries.”

—Norman J. W. Thrower, professor emeritus of geography at UCLA, and author of Maps and Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society

The Sea Rover’s Practice fills a long-standing void in the literature of piracy. With the trained eye and experienced hand of a sailor and maritime combatant, Benerson Little reconstructs a century of tactics and stratagems developed by pirates during the height of their operations in Spanish America and beyond. Through engaging prose and careful scholarship, Little uncovers the fascinating secrets of the ‘sweet trade.’”

—Peter R. Galvin, associate professor of geography, Indiana University
Southeast, and author of Patterns of Pillage: A Geography of
Caribbean-Based Piracy in Spanish America, 1536-1718

An English ship in action with Barbary Corsairs circa 1680

English naval action against Barbary corsairs, seventeenth century. (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.)


“Mr Little details the tactics and methods the pirates employed. The result is fascinating, and reads at times like a tactical manual for aspiring buccaneers…the reader may feel that he is listening to some grizzled old sea dog talk about how he and his mates used to conduct business on the Spanish Main.”

—Burke G Sheppard, strategypage.com, February 2009

“This is a fresh, lively approach to the subject.” The Sea Rover’s Practice is listed as part of “a selected annotated checklist of core books in a collection focusing on Caribbean pirates…”
—Robin H. Smiley, Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine, December 2008

“…The Sea Rover’s Practice provides a very useful introduction to the subject. It will probably have a wide appeal to general readers, and it may well prove helpful in connection with a range of university courses.”

—H. J. K. Jenkins, The Mariner’s Mirror 94, 2009

“This book on Golden Age piracy is as lively as its subject matter…With considerable gusto and an impressive understanding of the strategies of violence at sea, the author explores the material practices of piracy from the beginning to the end of a voyage. Little’s book is particularly strong in its description of the armaments and tactics of warfare at sea…The scholarship is also strong…Little’s achievement in The Sea Rover’s Practice is a considerable one; this well-priced and absorbing book allows the reader to appreciate the terms of engagement, and the stakes, in the much romanticized but little understood phenomena of early modern piracy.”

—Claire Jowitt, Nottingham Trent University, The Historian, Summer 2008

“. . . .rich in colourful detail, and displays impressive knowledge of sailing and fighting skills.”

—Richard Hill, The Naval Review, August 2007

“Be prepared—after reading only a few pages—to feel the wind in your face and taste the salt air.”

—Jack A. Gottschalk, Naval War College Review, Autumn 2006

“For the student of fan of early pirating days who will readily appreciate Navy SEAL officer Benerson Little’s focus on the realities and — dare we say — business practices of early sea rovers. The Sea Rover’s Practice is the only book to describe in detail their tactics, and the scholarly reader in particular will find the research solid.”

Midwest Book Review, December 2005

“[Little’s] unique insight gives us a truly practical guide on the strategies and techniques used by the successful pirate or privateer… If I were headed out a-rovin’ and were allowed only one book in my sea bag, this would be the one I’d bring.”

—Michael MacLeod, No Quarter Given

“No self-respecting sea rover should be without this manual! Reenactors and writers will find The Sea Rover’s Practice invaluable, but anyone who wishes a more in-depth look into the tactics of pirates and privateers will not be disappointed.”

—Cindy Vallar, Pirates and Privateers, 2006

“A scholarly, informative, thought-provoking work, a book that would be a welcome addition to any maritime historian’s library. Considering all the titles that have been published in the last decade on piracy, this book is an excellent resource on its true nature.”

—Louis Arthur Norton, Sea History, Spring 2006

“Former US Navy SEAL Little has delved into the first hand narratives of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe and America in order to reconstruct their tactics of buccaneers, freebooters, corsairs, and privateers.”

—Reference and Research Book News

The Sea Rover’s Practice is delightful and frightful and scholarly all at the same time . . . . The reader is enthralled with the detail of it all . . . .”

Alabama Writers’ Forum, Spring 2007

“THE SEA ROVER’S PRACTICE is an excellent review of every aspect of pirating and privateering . . . a great resource. . . .”

—JoAnne Powell, North Carolina Maritime Museum, Nautical Research Journal, Fall 2006

“THE SEA ROVER’S PRACTICE by Benerson Little, a former Navy SEAL officer, examines the tactics and stratagems deployed by privateers and pirates to ‘take wealth by force of arms at sea’ in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. It is precisesly the sort of book that some of my students crave.”

—Andrew parnaby, Cape Breton University, International Journal of Maritime History, June 2006

“[An] author of truly heroic status. Benerson Little has written a book without precedent–a small tome of combat knowledge as it applies to our pirate forebears. . . . It’s one thing for a historian to write about old naval tactics. It’s quite another when that historian is a former Navy SEAL. . . . A truly exceptional book.”

—Bilgemunky.com, 2006

“Excellent . . . This is a great backgrounder on what really was behind the privateers, buccaneers/​boucaniers, filibusters/​flibustiers, and pirates. . . . This is not a book that only looks at the past but has a surprising applicability to modernity.”

—Matt Armstrong, of the Public Diplomacy blog mountainrunner.us, June 2006

Sea fight LR

Detail from an eighteenth century chart of New Providence Island. (Library of Congress.)

From the Publisher

To read of sea roving’s various incarnations — piracy, privateering, buccaneering, la flibustela course — is to bring forth romantic, and often violent, imagery. Indeed, much of this imagery has become a literary and cinematic cliché. And what an image it is!

But its truth is by halves, and paradoxically it is the picaresque imagery of Pyle, Wyeth, Sabatini, and Hollywood that is often closer to the reality, while the historical details of arms, tactics, and language are often inaccurate or entirely anachronistic.

Successful sea rovers were careful practitioners of a complex profession that sought wealth by stratagem and force of arms. Drawn from the European tradition, yet of various races and nationalities, they raided both ship and town throughout much of the world from roughly 1630 until 1730. Using a variety of innovative tactics and often armed with little more than musket and grenade, many of these self-described “soldiers and privateers” successfully assaulted fortifications, attacked shipping from small craft, crossed the mountains and jungles of Panama, and even circumnavigated the globe. Successful sea rovers were often supreme seamen, soldiers, and above all, tacticians. It can be argued that their influence on certain naval tactics is felt even today.

The Sea Rover’s Practice is the only book that describes in exceptional detail the tactics of sea rovers of the period — how they actually sought out and attacked vessels and towns. Accessible to both the general and the more scholarly reader, it will appeal not only to those with an interest in piracy and in maritime, naval, and military history, but also to mariners in general, tall-ship and ship-modeling enthusiasts, tacticians and military analysts, readers of historical fiction, writers, and the adventurer in all of us.

New Providence Vessels higher res 1751

Victory for the privateer! Detail from the New Providence chart noted above. (Library of Congress.)

Associated Blog Posts

Buccaneer Cutlasses: What We Know

Pirate Versus Privateer

The Authentic Image of the Real Buccaneers of Captain Blood: His Odyssey by Rafael Sabatini

Pirate Books & Patereros: the Pirate’s Version of Fahrenheit 451

Piracy Defined Through the Ages

See also the blog list on The Golden Age of Piracy page or search for “piracy” on the general blog page.

Copyright Benerson Little 2005-2021

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