Ships are watercraft used in the Known World. They range from smaller fisher boats and raider vessels, various warships and trade ships, up to the huge war dromonds and the magnificent swan ships that cross the Summer Sea.
Ships in the World
The major fleets of the Seven Kingdoms are the Iron Fleet and the fleets of the ironborn, based in the Iron Islands; the royal fleet, based at King's Landing and Dragonstone; and the Redwyne fleet, based at the Arbor. The North has had no strength at sea since King in the North Brandon the Burner put Brandon the Shipwright's remaining ships to the torch hundreds of years ago.
In the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, lords whose lands abut the coast might keep a war galley or three for coastal defense against pirates, but only major houses like the Lannisters have larger and grander fleets of twenty to thirty ships. Usually for major battles, the lords call the ships of their various bannermen. While the Greyjoys' main force is the Iron Fleet, they can also raise hundreds of ironborn ships. However, most of those will be longships made for raids rather than battle. Other Westerosi lords are more likely to have larger and more formidable ships like cogs, carracks, and war galleys of various sides, up to the great dromonds with scorpions and catapults on deck.
The Tyrells are in more or less the same position as the Lannisters, though they depend even more on their bannermen, especially the lords of the Shield Islands off the mouth of the Mander. The Hightowers have only a few warships, but control Oldtown, home to numerous trading vessels.
In Qarth, the Thirteen control about 1,000 ships, the Ancient Guild of Spicers own about 1,200 or 1,300, and the Tourmaline Brotherhood has about 800. In Braavos, the Sealord commands a fleet of warships second to none, and a mercantile fleet whose purple hulls and purple sails have become a common sight throughout the known world. The Arsenal of Braavos can reportedly build a war galley in a day.
Ibben makes use of fat-bellied whaling ships. People of the Summer Islands use great swan ships, which sail farther and faster than the vessels of any other nation, to the very ends of the earth; but they have no warships and prefer trade and exploration to conquest.
Ships are used in small skirmishes, raids, and full-scale naval engagements, such as the Battle of Fair Isle. Lords whose lands abut the coast might need to maintain a few war galleys to defend against piracy. Ships are also use for support roles, such as providing provisions and transporting troops.
The basic tactic of naval battles is to get the ship close enough to ram the other ship, board her, and fight the rest of the battle on the deck. Up until they close, longbows and crossbows can be used. Sometimes siege weapons are carried on the largest war galleys.
- Longships of the Iron Fleet are used as fast raiding ships. They can travel twice as swiftly as a merchant cog and are three times the size of standard longships. The standard tactic for engaging is to board the enemy ship. The whole crew being doubling as both marines and oarsmen, as well as the ironborn preference for wearing armor despite the risk of drowning, gives the ironborn an advantage when boarding.
- War galleys or dromonds are larger than normal galleys and carry more tonnage as a result of being equipped with a ram, and they may equip siege weapons like ballista or catapults. They also have a larger compliment of oarsmen and soldiers onboard. The standard tactic for engaging is to ram the enemy ship, causing it to sink, or to board it if the attacking ship has a greater number of soldiers and wishes to capture the enemy ship intact. They are presumably the kind of ship that George R. R. Martin has compared to Venetian/Byzantine dromonds of war. The standard war galley in Westeros has 100 oars and oarmen, with the larger ships adding more decks of 100 oarsmen. Myrish war galleys appear to have no more than 80 oars. During boarding actions, oarsmen equipped with boarding axes, shortswords, and other weapons are expected to fight, though only 1/10 of the crew (marines, rather than oarsmen) are wearing armor. Given Martin's comparison of these ships to Byzantine/Venetian war dromonds, there should be roughly 35 marines, archers, and artillery crews for every 100 oarsmen.
- Swan ships are known to have red archers with goldenheart bows, companies that help defend the vessel from attack. Women serve on swan ships and can command the red archers.
Types of ships - Specifications
Some of the descriptions are based on real world parallels.
- Galleys, vessels larger than boats, are propelled by sail or oar power. They are used for warfare, trade and piracy. Due to their low setting they are primarily coastal ships, preferring to thread through archipelagos rather than risking even a moderate sea. Their large rower crew makes them maneuverable and swift but also require frequent stops for food and water. The galley has supplemental sails to replace or augment the effort of the rowers, particularly during long journeys. The ability to travel swiftly without regard to the direction or strength of the wind becomes invaluable for daylight expeditions across open water. The real world, practical upper limit for a galley fast and maneuverable enough for warfare was around 25-30 oars per side. By adding another level of oars, the galley could be made shorter with as many rowers, while making them strong enough to be effective ramming weapons. The flagship of House Hightower, Honor of Oldtown, and the flagship of the royal fleet, King Robert's Hammer, are the two largest known galleys in Westeros.
- Longships are a smaller type of galley primarily used by the ironborn. They are long, narrow, light, wooden boat with a shallow-draft hull designed for speed. The ship's shallow draft allows navigation in waters only one meter deep and permits beach landings, while its light weight enables it to be carried over portages. Longships are also double-ended, the symmetrical bow and stern allowing the ship to reverse direction quickly without having to turn around. This trait proves particularly useful in northern latitudes where icebergs and sea ice pose hazards to navigation. Longships are fitted with oars along almost the entire length of the boat itself. Later versions sport a rectangular sail on a single mast which is used to replace or augment the effort of the rowers, particularly during long journeys. Martin has compared them to Viking longboats.
- Cogs are mostly propelled by sails, which make them difficult to sail, especially upwind, and they are hostage to breezes and currents in a way that the swift galley is not. However, it can better manage rough seas and its small crew and ample storage space give it greater freedom of movement, making it perfect for trade or equipment transport.
- Carracks are large ocean-going vessels. They are stable in heavy seas, and roomy enough to carry provisions for long voyages.
- Swan ships, so called in the Seven Kingdoms for their great white sails and figureheads which are often carved in the shape of birds, are large ocean-going vessels designed and built in the Summer Islands. With a good wind behind them they can outrun any galley. However, they are helpless when becalmed. They have high masts and high forecastles.
- Whalers are fat-bellied ships from Ibben, with hulls black with tar, used to hunt and process whales in the Shivering Sea. Ibbenese ships, though ungainly and smelly, are renowned for their strength, as they are built to weather any storm and withstand the assaults of the largest whales.
A Clash of Kings
A Feast for Crows
A Dance with Dragons
Victarion leads the Iron Fleet to Slaver's Bay.
- So Spake Martin: The Lannister fleet (September 26, 1999)
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 16, Bran II.
- So Spake Martin: Re: Greyjoy fleet (February 09, 1999)
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 63, Daenerys V.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Free Cities: Braavos.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 6, Arya I.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 18, Catelyn IV.
- The World of Ice & Fire, Beyond the Free Cities: The Summer Isles.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 11, Theon I.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 29, The Reaver.
- Medieval Ships. Naval Encyclopedia. "In general, the Dromon, a bireme, was propelled by 80 oars (for the biggest ones like the one represented above, of 50 by 7 meters), and could total 240 rowers, not counting the 80 soldiers, archers, officers, and crew for balisters and catapults."
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 35, Samwell IV.
- The World of Ice & Fire, Beyond the Free Cities: Ib.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 15, Davos II.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 29, Davos IV.