The Pirate Code is the set of rules most pirate captains, crews, and settlements enforce in order to keep the ships running smoothly and avoid hamstringing themselves with internal conflict. None of these rules are universal, and captains frequently pick and choose, especially when setting the punishment; some captains do not set specific penalties for offenses, but choose on a case-by-case basis, based on the historical conduct of the offender, or their own whim. It is divided into three main sections: Shipboard Conduct, the Pirate's Code, and the Privateer's Code. There is also a Code of Besmara, the pirate goddess, which has some elements in common with the pirate codes; the full statement of Besmara's code is also her holy text.12
Shipboard conduct is enforced on most ships regardless of affiliation, as they are rules for safety and good sense on seagoing vessels, though penalties for military and merchant vessels are likely to vary substantially. The Pirate's Code is enforced on most pirate vessels, and consists primarily of rules to prevent conflict between the crew over slights or disputes over dividing treasure. The Privateer's Code is primarily kept only by officers, though captains who expect their crews to be more honorable than criminal may enforce it on their ship as well. In all cases, it is nearly universal for the code the ship will follow to be written down and explicitly agreed to by every crew member at the time when they join, including crew who are pressed into service when a new ship is captured.1
Cruel captains tend to select more severe punishments than listed in the codes, and more kindly captains to select more gentle ones, but the entries in the codes are good guidelines for what to expect. Merchant captains and licensed privateers are generally more gentle than 'true' pirates, though licensed privateers may take a harsher, more military response to insubordination and conflict between the crew. In roughly ascending order of severity, the common punishments are:13
- Lashes: This may be with a whip or with a 'cat' (a many-headed whip, most commonly nine), and if using a cat, the number of lashes may be counted in swings (e.g., 30 lashes is 30 strokes with a three-headed cat) or in hits (e.g., 30 lashes is ten strokes with a three-headed cat). Lashes are painful, but rarely inflict permanent damage, though escalating to punishments in excess of 50 strokes with a many-headed cat run increasing risks of maiming or death as it grows.
- Being put ashore is done at port, with ceremonious attention-grabbing and denunciation so that word of the crew member's offense spreads rapidly and other crews know to consider it before taking them into their own crew.
- Being marooned is done on a small island near the ship's path, usually with minimal plant or animal life; it is either a long death by starvation, or a faster one by suicide.
- Keelhauling either scrapes the offender along the barnacles on the ship's underside, usually resulting in maiming and sometimes decapitation, or allows them to sink further and avoid the barnacles but with an increased risk of drowning—this is not as sure a death as marooning, but always carries the risk of death, and is painful even when it is survived.
- Death: Crew members put to death are usually simply stabbed and tossed overboard for sharks to eat, but may be tied up, weighted down, and forced to 'walk the plank', for particularly hated offenses or with overly theatrical captains.
- Amber E. Scott. (2012). Pirates of the Inner Sea, p. 30f. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-405-4
- Robert Brookes et al. (2016). Besmara. Inner Sea Faiths, p. 26. Paizo Inc. ISBN 978-1-60125-825-0
- Richard Pett. (2012). The Wormwood Mutiny. The Wormwood Mutiny, p. 66f. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-404-7