The Brig was a two-masted sailing ship with square rigging on both masts. The rear mast carries a gaff sail as well.  Brigs vary in length between 75 and 198 ft (23–60 m) with tonnages up to 480. The brig actually developed as a variant of the brigantine. By re-rigging a brigantine with two square sails instead of one it gained greater sailing power. While brigs could not sail into the wind as easily as fore and aft rigged vessels such as schooners, a trait that is common to all square-rigged ships, a skilled brig captain could “maneuver it with ease and elegance; a brig could for instance turn around almost on the spot”.  Historically most brigs were made of wood, although some latter brigs were built with hulls and masts of steel or iron (such as the brig Bob Allen). A brig made of pine in the 19th century was designed to last for about twenty years (many lasted longer). 

Brigs were used for both naval and mercantile purposes. During the 19th century the brig was a standard cargo ship.  As merchant vessels, they plied mostly coastal trading routes, but oceanic voyages were not uncommon; some brigs were even used for whaling and sealing. The brig was fast and well sailing, but required a large crew for the square yard-sails and they became uneconomical. Around the turn of the century the brigs lost in competition against the steamers, the gaff-sail schooners and the barks, which needed much smaller crew. 

Naval brigs carried a battery of 10 to 20 guns on a single deck. On the berthing deck were the sleeping quarters for the officers and crew, storeroom, sail bin and a wood stove.  Magazines for shot and gunpowder were stored in the hold below deck.  In the great European navies of the 18th and 19th centuries, they served as couriers for battle fleets and as training vessels for cadets. In the early U.S. Navy, brigs acquired distinction during the War of 1812 in small fleet engagements on the Great Lakes and as merchant raiders in the Atlantic.

“Brig” is also the term used for a vessel’s jail.

Approximate dimensions

  • Sparred length: 198 feet (60.3 meters)
  • Hull length along rail cap: 123 feet (37.5 meters)
  • Hull length along water line: 110.5 feet (33.8 meters)
  • Molded beam: 32 feet (9.75 meters)
  • Draft at stern-post: 10.5 feet (3.2 meters)
  • Displacement: 297 long tons
  • Foremast height above water line: 113.5 feet (34.6 meters)
  • Mainmast height above water line: (36.1 meters)

Armament and Crew

  • 18 – 32 pound Carronades (traditional armament)
  • 2 – 12 pound Long Guns (traditional armament)
  • 4 –  32 pound Carronades (most common armament)
  • 155 Officers and Men (Operational)
  • 40 Officers and Men (Minimal)

Boats on board

  • 2 Cutters
  • 1 Yawl boat

Famous Brigs

  • USS Oneida  (War of 1812)
  • HS Beagle (Charles Darwin)
  • HMS Badger (Horatio Nelson’s first command)
  • HMS Interceptor (fictional vessel from Pirates of the Caribbean)
  • Aris (Greek War of Independence)

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