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CASTOFF Naval Guide

Naval warfare in the CASTOFF Roleplay can be divided into the guerre de course, or "war of the chase," and the guerre d'escadre, or "war of the fleets." Guerre de course takes the form of commerce raiding, piracy, privateering, and generally attacking the merchant marine and trade of an enemy using light raiders and convoy escorts, while guerre d'escadre takes the form of using heavy battleships and battlefleets to decisively destroy an enemy navy and therefore enforce blockades and make way for landing operations. Colloquially, these two strategies are referred to as the commerce raiding and decisive battle theories.

Commerce raiding is often utilized by nations without a strong navy, which cannot wage a war of decisive battle due to having an inferior battlefleet; thus, they use small ships to hunt down, disrupt, and destroy the trade and shipping of an adversary. A real-life example of this was the United States in the American Revolution and War of 1812, which inflicted considerable damage upon British trade and finances. Decisive battle is utilized by nations with a strong navy, using it's battlefleet to destroy enemy resistance, blockade the enemy nation, and make ready to land troops. An example of this would be the British Empire in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, which inflicted decisive defeats upon French warships in pitched battles, and effectively blockaded America for most of both wars, while being able to effectively land and support thousands of troops.

Types of Ships:

Warships of this time (late 1700s-early 1800s) may be divided by number of cannon ("guns"), number of gun decks, and established role as part of the line of battle. Generally, all three of these correlate closely.

Ships of the Line:

Ships of the line are powerful two-decker, three-decker, or even four-decker vessels which are built to carry heavy broadsides of cannon and to take a place in the "line of battle" - the principal naval strategy of the era, where battleships of a given nation or alliance would form a long vertical line and exchange cannon fire with the battle line of the opposing nation or alliance, usually sailing in the opposite direction so that the two lines of battle would move past each other. The more guns a ship of the line carried, the more expensive, slow, and unwieldy it became. However, ships with more cannon also had thicker hulls, and so could dish out and receive much more punishment. Thus, navies of the era produced a variety of sizes of ships of the line, varying based upon how many guns, and how large guns, they carried.

First-Rate: A heavy three-decker or even four-decker vessel, First-Rate ships are extremely expensive to produce, and are usually used as flagships of powerful naval battle squadrons. First-Rate ships carry anywhere from 100 to 120 cannon, with especially heavy ships sometimes carrying up to 140 cannon, at the cost of seaworthiness. First-Rate warships are inordinately expensive and quite sluggish in battle, and are as much symbols of national pride as they are warships. Their heavy firepower and thick hulls render them formidable opponents to smaller ships of the line.

Second-Rate: Usually a three-decker but occasionally a heavy two-decker vessel, Second-Rate ships carry less cannon than First-Rates, but are still very powerful warships. They occupy a middle ground between the First-Rate flagships and the more multirole Third-Rate and Fourth-Rate warships, which could often pursue enemies and ward off frigates. Unlike First-Rate ships which are typically never deployed overseas, Second-Rates sometimes form the flagships of overseas or international squadrons. Second-Rates carry anywhere from 84 to 98 cannon, but typically mount 90 or more in three decks, with ships with less than 90 cannon typically being considered as "budget" vessels. Second-Rate vessels are fairly rare vessels, as they are only somewhat less expensive than a First-Rate vessel, and there is often a blurred line as to the difference between a 98-gun Second Rate and a 104-gun First Rate.

Third-Rate: A two-decker vessel, Third-Rate ships are the most common ships of the line, widely regarded to be the perfect compromise between sailing ability, firepower, and cost. Third-rate ships form the bulk of any naval battlefleet, being the smallest ship typically considered to be survivable in the line of battle. Third-rate vessels carry anywhere from 68 to 80 cannon, but by far the most common design is the 74-gun model, with lesser-armed ships being considered underarmed and undersized, and better-armed ships being deemed somewhat redundant in the face of simply building a second-rate warship. 80-gun two-decker vessels are typically considered to be reaching the structural limits of ship construction.

Fourth-Rate: a two-decker vessel, Fourth-Rate ships are seldom produced at this time and are quickly dying out in the battlefleet, due to their small size and lack of survivability in a line of battle. Fourth-rate ships have found new usefulness as convoy escorts and in patrolling shallow colonial or inland-sea waters, where larger vessels cannot operate effectively. Fourth-Rate vessels carry anywhere from 48 to 64 cannon, with fifty-gun and 64-gun warships being the most common.


Frigates have many uses: strategic and fleet reconnaissance; assisting the fleet in battle via harassment attacks, delaying actions, signal repetition, towing damaged ships, securing prizes, or rescuing sailors; and trade protection via convoy escort and by hunting down commerce raiders.

Frigate: A Frigate is a ship with a single complete gundeck, quarterdeck, and forecastle, as well as a complete, unarmed deck below the gundeck. This extra deck meant that the ship's freeboard - the distance from the waterline to the upper deck level - was far higher than that of a ship of the line, which gives frigates the ability to use their primary armament in much harsher weather.

Post Ship: Also called a Sixth Rate, Post Ships are small Frigates of 20 to 24 guns. Post Ships are often employed as "substitute Frigates" due to their small size and cheap cost, as well as their relatively quick construction. Post Ships are usually fairly high-up for their length and are thus not very fast compared to larger frigates. However, they are cheap and light, capable of operating in very shallow waters, and as convoy escorts.

9-Pounder Frigate: Early Frigates, sometimes labelled as Light Frigates, were armed with nine-pounder long guns, usually 28 of them. Thus, they are often called 28s. Light Frigates are now a rare build, as they are widely considered to be undergunned and too small to be effective. However, many smaller navies still operate these designs due to their cheapness. The 9-Pounder Frigate has entered somewhat of a renaissance recently with the introduction of lightweight, powerful Carronades, which can replace lighter guns and give even a small ship a powerful punch.

12-Pounder Frigate: The mainstay Frigate for much of the last century, 12-pounder Frigates were regarded as a replacement for old 44-gun two-deckers, and as a standard ship for most navies. Usually carrying 26 12-pounder cannon in their primary gundeck and six to ten lighter guns on their upper deck, 12-pounder Frigates served with distinction in the areas of patrol, commerce raiding, convoy escort, and other important roles. However, 12-pounder Frigates were overshadowed twenty years ago by the introduction of the 18-pounder Frigate, which was widely considered to be a "quantum leap" in firepower. Thus, most modern navies are in the process of switching over to the larger, more powerful 18-pounder warships.

18-Pounder Frigate: The 18-Pounder Frigate is a fairly new design, conceived of simultaneously by several major powers as a way to up-gun their Frigate fleets and gain an edge over adversaries. 18-Pounder Frigates are usually 36's or 38's, with 26 or 28 18-pounders on the primary gundeck and an array of lighter guns on the upper deck. 18-Pounder Frigates are quickly being adopted by many navies, and have seen many distinguished service records. Their fairly large size and weight has lead many to regard them as "Heavy Frigates," especially as the addition of carronades and other light guns have pushed many ships into the 40-gun classification.


24-Pounder Frigate: 24-Pounder Frigates are, as one might imagine, Frigates with a primary armament of 24-pounder cannon. These vessels are highly rare and are only just being introduced as "Super-Frigates" or true Heavy Frigates. 24-Pounder Frigates are usually seen as highly expensive for their given role, although equally highly threatening when faced in battle. These "Heavy Frigates" are distinct from the even heavier, more powerful Spar-Deck Frigates and Razee-Type Frigates, which are also typically armed with 24-pounder batteries, in that they are usually smaller and possess inferior armament, as they only have one complete gundeck.


Spar-Deck Frigate: Monstrously large Super-Frigates, Spar-Deck Frigates are warships with a complete covered gundeck and a "Spar Deck" - a complete upper deck running from the Forecastle at the front to the Quarterdeck in the rear. Spar-Deck Frigates are typically half again as heavy as 18-Pounder Frigates, and can carry anywhere from 44 to 50 cannon on their gundecks, typically with a 24-pounder gundeck battery. Spar-Deck Frigates often reach the weight of smaller ships of the line, though they carried fewer guns.

Razee-type Frigate: A razee is a ship of the line that has been "cut down" and had one or more of their gun-decks removed, to produce a highly durable, heavy frigate. Razee-type Frigates are typically made from older Third or Fourth-Rate two-decker vessels and typically carry anywhere from 44 to 54 guns. Razee-type ships are expensive to build, having the cost associated with a ship of the line, but are more durable and heavier-hitting than any comparable frigate, while still retaining superb speed and handling.

Sloop of War: A catch-all term for any warship smaller than a Frigate, Sloops of War are commonly divided into the three-masted Ship-Sloop (or simply Sloop) and the two-masted Brig-Sloop (or simply Brig). In general, both Ship-Sloops and Brig-Sloops carried up to 18 guns in a a single gundeck and on the upper deck, but Ship-Sloops were generally larger, more seaworthy, longer-ranged, and better-armed than Brig-Sloops, while Brig-Sloops were smaller and faster than Ship-Sloops. Ship-Sloops are slower than Frigates, and so are regularly used only as Convoy Escorts; Brig-Sloops are used in many capacities due to their speed and cheapness.


Gunboats, Gunvessels, and Gunbrigs: Varying types of coastal defense craft. Gunboats and Gunvessels are very small armed boats that typically carry 1-4 large cannon (up to 24-pounders) at the fore of the boat. Propelled by both sail and oar, the principle difference is in size; Gunvessels are capable of small coastal travel, while Gunboats are nearly always restricted to rivers and harbors. Gunbrigs are, in effect, small Brig-Sloops with limited seaworthiness and a primarily carronade armament.

Bomb Vessel: A specialized ship, Bomb Vessels are sloop-sized warships carrying one or two high-elevation mortars in the place of most of their cannon, giving them the unique ability to lob explosive shells (called "bombs") high over enemy coastal fortifications. Bomb Vessels are of little use against warships, but are highly useful against coastal batteries.

Smaller ships exist, such as Cutters and Schooners, that typically carry 10 or fewer cannon, and are useful as small patrol ships and piracy vessels. Gunboats and Gunvessels are small ships of only 1-4 heavy cannon that are highly useful in shallow waters and in large quantities, while Galleys are small ships propelled primarily by oars that typically carry up to 10 guns, while gundalows are small riverine craft with flat bottoms and small sails.

Naval Guns:

Naval guns in this era can be divided both by weight of shot and by type. Naval guns can either be long guns, which are long-range weapons, or carronades, which are shorter-ranged guns with heavier projectiles. Long guns have longer ranges and higher accuracy, while carronades weigh much less and project a much heavier broadside.

Long guns typically consisted of 42, 36, 32, 24, 18, 12, and 9-pounder guns, corresponding to the approximate weight of the cannon ball they fired; smaller guns, such as 8-pounder and 6-pounder guns, also exist. Larger long guns, such as 48-pounder, 64-pounder, or even 68-pounder guns, are typically restricted to coastal fortifications due to the lack of space for their ammunition on a warship, and their low rate of fire due to the difficulty of handling ammunition. Carronades are more variable, but typically varied from 32-pounder carronades all the way to 68-pounder carronades.

There are also shell-firing guns, simply called Columbiads, which can fire explosive shells instead of round cannon balls. They are rarely used, as they are extremely heavy and expensive, as are their ammunition, and have poor accuracy when mounted upon a ship. They are more often used (although still rarely) in coastal fortifications.

Typically, in a ship of the line, each gun-deck would have a different weight of gun, with the lowest deck having the heaviest cannon, and the highest deck having the lightest cannon. For example, the historical HMS Victory had three gun-decks and her gaillard (combined upper deck, composed of the Quarterdeck and the Forecastle); her lowest deck mounted 30 32-pounders, her middle deck 28 24-pounders, her upper deck 30 12-pounders, and her gaillard 14 12-pounders and 2 68-pounder carronades. For single-deck ships, typically only one weight of gun is carried, along occasionally with carronades - for example, the frigate USS Constitution carries 32 24-pounder guns and 20 32-pounder carronades, the former on her gundeck, the latter on her upper deck.

Imperio ex terrae