What Were the Different Types of Ships the Vikings Used?

Written by robert allen | 13/05/2017
What Were the Different Types of Ships the Vikings Used?
Viking longships had sails as well as rowers. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The Vikings are well known as a seafaring people. They sailed to the New World long before Columbus, and their 793 raid on the island of Lindisfarne off northeast England is considered the dawn of the Viking Age. Many of their well built ships were fast and light, used for attacking. But the Vikings were also merchants, and in addition to their longships they produced many heavier vessels for carrying cargo.

Viking Ship Construction

Famously, Viking ships are constructed as "clinker-built" vessels -- sometimes known as lapstrake construction. In this style, the planks of the ship overlap one another, so that the ship appears from a head-on view to have a stair-step pattern. This method of construction produced ships that were light and flexible -- a useful property in the rough northern seas the Vikings traversed. On the other hand, clinker-built ships aren't rigid enough to support a large amount of sail, so Viking ships relied heavily on oars for propulsion.


One of the smallest classically Viking ships is the faering, a small vessel of a basic design still used today. Looking like a traditional rowboat, the faering gets its name from the number of oars used as motive power -- four in total, mounted in two pairs. Its Old Norse name, "feraeringr," means "four-oared." A slightly larger version, the sexaering, used six oars in three pairs.


The Viking knorr, sometimes called a knarr, was a trading ship that saw use all along the British Isles, the Baltic, the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic. They were larger than faerings, more than 50 feet long and about 15 feet wide. Knorrs had a deep draft and a high degree of freeboard (the vertical area of the hull above the waterline) for oceangoing applications. They had a fixed mast and a single square sail. They also were called hafskips or ocean ships.


The iconic Viking ship is the longship. It was long and narrow and capable of great speeds, up to 15 knots, the result of a crew of powerful oarsmen. Like the knorr, the longship had a sail, but its mast was retractable and generally not used during combat. The longship was ornamentally decorated, and larger variants frequently had a dragon's-head prow; as a result, these longships are sometimes known as drakkars.

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