About Ghost Pirate Ships

By Jason Chavis

Ghost pirate ship sightings have a long history among seafarers and sailors. Usually possessing common elements of glowing ships and frightful storms, people from all walks of life have reportedly seen these ships and witnessed the events that follow their sightings.


Sightings of ghost pirate ships usually have a common element of seeing glowing phenomena and are accompanied by dangerous weather. They are almost always of the sailing era of clipper ships possessing some damage or frightful imagery.
Some have reported crews of literal skeletons or ships with no crew at all, sailing under their own power to destinations unknown. Most seafarers consider them bad luck.

Time Frame

The common facts of ghost pirate ships are the era from which they are said to have descended. During colonial times and early American history, many pirates and privateers were actively attacking shipments and naval ships across the Atlantic and the Caribbean. The stories of violence and terror reigned for centuries and have given way to legends and folklore involving stolen treasure and lost ships.


Legend says that after nearly running the “Adventure” aground, Navy soldiers raided the pirate ship, shooting Edward “Blackbeard” Teach five times and stabbing him forty times. They then cut off his head and tossed his body overboard, where it is said to have swam away. Today, people say they see Blackbeard’s headless corpse sailing the “Adventure” near Teach’s Hole in North Carolina.

In the Atlantic and Caribbean, a ship called the “Nightmare” has been seen by many witnesses. It is said to have torn sails and destroyed lines and looks as if its been burned to charcoal. It flies a black flag and has a figure head of a horse that breathes fire. The ship is reportedly seen most in the Bermuda Triangle.

Perhaps the most famous pirate ghost is that of “The Flying Dutchman,” captained by Dutchman Bernard Fokke. It is said that Fokke was in league with the devil and now has to sail the oceans forever, never returning to port. Witnesses often say the ship glows and is known for bringing bad luck to anyone who bears witness to its existence. “The Flying Dutchman” is known for attempting to send row boats to meet other ships and pass letters home.


There is a long naval history of sighting ghost pirate ships, despite overwhelming evidence to disprove their existence. Many historians believe the stress of long periods at sea led to mass hysteria, or tainted foods caused delusions.

In addition, there is much evidence to prove that pirates of the time used the legends to their advantage and actually dressed their ships up as the infamous “Flying Dutchman” and used frightful imagery to scare their targets.

The plasma discharges of St. Elmo’s Fire is also considered to have scared early maritime sailors and may have contributed to the legends.


Many accounts of “The Flying Dutchman” are legitimately recorded in the British Museum Library and with the British Navy.

There is a story from an anonymous passenger ship in the early 1800s that stated a boat came from a ghost ship and left letters on the deck weighted by an iron bar, but as they rowed away, the letters blew into the ocean. The ships chaplain reportedly said they survived the terrible storm that followed because they did not take the letters.

In 1823, Captain W.F.W. Owen on board the “H.M.S. Leven” stated that a phantom ship attempted to lower a boat to send people to his ship. He ordered his men to pull away, believing the danger was posed by “The Flying Dutchman.”

Most famously, King George V sighted “The Flying Dutchman” in 1881 while working as a midshipman on the “H.M.S. Bacchante.” According to his diary, he saw a strange red phantom ship aglow off their bow. The ship was also sighted by two other ships in the squadron, the “Cleopatra” and the “Tourmaline.” One crewman died 7 hours later from a fall. George published the manuscript despite the reservations of naval authorities.