Battle at sea was a dangerous event, not only did you have to face shrapnel from shots hitting the ship but you had to actually fire the guns aboard your own ship. The dangers of firing a gun aboard a ship were numerous but if the crew was well trained they were able to minimize this. A gun crew aboard a ship varied in size from 4 to 14 and could consist of even more on larger guns with available crew.
A well trained gun crew could achieve 7 shots in a 5 minute period. Though this heavily depended on the crews training and size, a 4 member gun crew would only achieve 2-3 shots in the same period. Gun crews did not operate by names but by number. Each member had a number that related to their appointed task. A typical 5 man gun crew had #1 gun captain, #2 who turned and raised the gun barrel, #3 who loaded the gun, #4 who cleared the barrel and damped out any sparks, #5 who moved the gun barrel and passed the shot. There would also be numerous powder monkeys who were often the youngest ranging in age from 10 to 12 years old.
Regardless of the size of the crew the same tasks were performed. Someone had to clear the barrel, then load the powder and shot, then the gun had to be run out into position to fire, this was the most laborous job due to the weight of the guns which could be over 2 tons. The fuse vent had to be cleared and then a fuse inserted and lit. The gun captain would be in charge of the vent and fuse and controlled the firing of the gun working with the roll of the ship to fire. A powder monkey as they were called would run back and forth supplying powder from another deck where a gunner would make the powder cartridges as needed and hand them out through a wet curtain to keep them protected from sparks and flame. The handling chamber for the powder was usually in the center of the ship making it hard to breach.
The dangers faced by a gun crew were numerous, the kick back of the gun when fired could break bones and throw men across the deck, lighting of the fuse was another danger due to the eruption of fire when the powder cartridge ignited. If the barrel was not properly cleaned out prior to loading the new powder cartridge you could have an early ignition when putting it in which could take out several crew. These are just a few of the dangers faced during the operation of the gun. In battle you were faced with the danger of gun fire from the other ship you confronted, shrapnel from the planks of your own ship, and the bones of your fellow crew.
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Biesty, Stephen, and Richard Platt. Corss-sections Man-of-War. New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc. 1993.
Burney, C.. The Boy’s Manual of Seamanship and Gunnery. London: Trubner & Co. 1871. An ancestry.com community, 25 April 2009