Lattice hatch on ancient pirate vessels


I’m new here. Trying to write a story of medieval era battle, I was searching for some information about ancient pirate vessels, but couldn’t find answers I was looking for. Then, I stumbled upon this forum.

I was trying to find a suitable place to hold a captive in a pirate vessel in ancient times. Looking at some pictures of pirate vessels on the Internet, I noticed there was a lattice hatch on the main deck around the center of the vessel. So I guessed there must have been somewhere suitable for keeping a captive under this hatch.

I have some questions about this lattice hatch.

Are there stairs directly under this hatch so that crews can easily walk down under the deck?

Why this hatch is lattice? Rain and water should get into under-deck compartments so easily.

I imagine there must be various rooms under the deck accessible from this hatch, such as weapon storage, crew’s quarters, equipment storage, etc. So I think having a captive tied to the main mast penetrated under the deck where some ship equipment is stored would give a natural image for my story.

Your input would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!



Pirate ships are commandeered cargo vessels. The cargo was loaded through those hatches using loading boom attached to the mast. Before the container revolution virtually all cargo was packaged in barrels because they can be rolled by hand or swam to shore if the port was to shallow.


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Thank you very much, for your reply!

I now see it is for loading cargo. So it is not the entrance for human and it doesn’t have stairs or ladders because stairs would be an obstacle for cargo loading.

But does anyone know why these hatches are lattice as in the following pictures?

Now I know that crews should access under-deck compartments using stairs other than this hatch, but I simply wonder why this hatch is lattice, allowing water to get in.

To allow light and air in to the hold. Glass was very expensive and would not have been used for port lights. Those ships would constantly weep so a wet bilge would not have been much of a concern.


Ah, I see. Thank you very much!

The “lattice hatch” was called a grating. It was a temporary expedient used in warm weather and calm sea, as Rust Bucket described, if people or animals were carried in the compartment below.

In bad weather with rain, and waves breaking over the deck, the grating would be removed, and the hatch secured using a number of wooden boards running the width of the hatch, making a solid “lid”.

Then, to make things waterproof, a tarpaulin (canvas soaked in waterproofing solution) would be stretched over the hatch-boards, and secured along the edges with a a simple system of wooden or steel battens and wood wedges. Hence the term “batten down the hatches”.

As to your original question: prisoners aboard a sailing vessel of 16th-19th century type would not likely be held in the space shown in the picture you provide, because that was used either as a gun deck, or for cargo. Movies always show this space as a sort of bunk room, when in fact the whole purpose of a pirate ship was to cram this space with stolen cargo. Prisoners would be kept farther below deck in the orlop deck or the lazarette. You can google the terms.


I think to some extent the gun deck would have been considered a “wet” deck. With the deck between the gun deck and the cargo hold being the one to seal off the “interior” spaces. The covers on the gun ports wouldn’t have done too much to keep water out while hove to in heavy seas. Scuppers are visible in this image for the gun deck. The second image shows a tarped hatch.

On re-reading the OP’s question I see he was speaking specifically of medieval vessels, which are quite a different animal than the 17th-19th century-type vessels indicated in the picture he supplied. Much smaller. No cannons, no ship’s wheel.

Yeah, A ship from the middle ages would have been radically different. The rudder wasn’t even introduced to Europe till 1100 by soldiers returning from the crusades.

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These hatches served a two fold purpose. They allowed ventilation as previously described. They also served as make shift table tops. As well as to serve punisment.

Although none of us can recall… the stories I read about as a kid involved the grating being pulled against the mast and being used as a punishmentlocation. A bound sailor was lashed to it for the application of the cat, or whipping. Look up “Cat o nine tails.” The gratings were particularly effective for wiggling sailors. Small lines would be tied to wrists and ankles and you could literally pull the victim tightly to and tie them to the grating so they couldn’t squirm out of the way of their punishment.

While you’re at it look up ‘Belaying pins’. That should give you a proper back drop for literary excess.