Viking Ship Design


A Viking’s ticket to foreign parts was the latest evolution of the ship design first shown in Bronze Age rock carvings.

The drakkar

was called a dragon ship by its enemies. The drakkar was a warship designed to carry fearless Viking warriors on their raids across Europe over a millennium ago.

The prows at either end were the extremities of a keel made out of a single oak. It could twist like a tree in the wind, hence its immense strength.

The prow, or bow, was sometimes tipped with a very ornate carving of a snake or dragonhead, thus earning it the nickname “dragon ship”. The prow ornament was removed while the ship was at sea. Replacing such a finely carved piece would be expensive and losing it might be a bad omen.

The Vikings named their longships according to the number of pairs of oars they carried and the purpose the ship served.

The most common drakkar had thirty rowers and were the pride of Vikings earls and kings. These were the best built in the Viking fleet. These appeared only in the biggest wars during the last years of the Viking age.

A fighting ship of the type found in Gokstad in Norway was 25 meters (82ft) long, 6 meters (19ft) wide, and carried a crew of 70, Clinker-built, caulked with tarred animal hair or wool.

The clinker  Viking ship design used two-centimeter thick oak boards, which were overlapped slightly and then nailed together with iron nails. The spaces in-between the boards were caulked with tarred wool or animal fur to make the ship watertight. The planks were also nailed to support ribbing that ran from the gunwale to the keel.

The keel, which ran the full length of the ship, was made of one solid piece of oak. It added stability and made the ship travel straight through the water

The average length of a longship was 28 meters. The largest ever excavated was seventy meters long.

The drakkar could hold around 400 warriors, and there were about 300 longships in a Viking fleet
which were owned by a king who could afford to build it.The ships could also travel inland via rivers.

It had a hinged steering oar that swung out of the way so the ships could be aimed at a beach at full speed. An important innovation was the use of sail.

The sail was very expensive, costing more than the ship itself. It was made of wool from sheep or linen from the flax plant. Viking women made the sails

First, small diamond-shaped pieces were woven and then trimmed with leather. The leather helped the wool or linen pieces to keep their shape, especially when wet. All of these diamond pieces were then carefully sewn together to make one large square sail, the leather strips giving them the crosshatched pattern. Red dye was added to the leather trim to give the sail the vivid crosshatched pattern. Sometimes the whole sail was dyed a solid red color. The color was supposed to strike fear in their enemies.

The sails of Viking ships were usually as wide as half the ship’s length. The sail was held on the center mast with ropes likely made from walrus hide. Once it caught a steady breeze the sail could move the ship at a steady 12 knots.

If the winds were calm twenty or thirty oarsmen could move the ships briskly through the sea at around 5 knots. Viking ships could cross the North Sea to England in 72 hours.

Read more about Viking ships here.