But actual pirates DID exist!... and they were especially dangerous for Atlantic and Caribbean merchant vessels during the European colonial expansion era of the1600's and 1700's. Much of the lore surrounding these real-life troublemakers was in fact true; Prior to becoming pirates and embarking on their chosen lives of lawlessness, many had already been skilled, professional sailors... many with formal naval training and years of experience in seamanship, navigation and weaponry. And so notwithstanding the apparent informalities of a carefree, drunk and disorderly kind of sailor/outlaw lifestyle, pirates had their own kind of disciplines and incentives. They were were often described as "cunning, formidable, and potentially lethal adversaries who would stop at nothing to employ their boundless acts of high seas treachery." Some even functioned as a collective, organizing themselves into small flotillas or groups of ships to inflict maximum terror upon their prey... a sort of trade union of rum guzzling baddies.
- Pirate (or sometimes, "pyrate"): Outlaw of the sea. Thief, robber, kidnapper... sometimes smuggler. The word "piracy" is still the legal and most current term to describe any act of attacking and forcefully robbing another ship. Some of the most notorious real-life pirates from history would include Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Capt. John Rackham (Calico Jack), Stede Bonnet (The Gentleman Pirate), Bartholomew Roberts (Black Bart) as well as femme fatales' Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
- The term Buccaneer was specifically meant to describe a pirate rampaging the Caribbean during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Buccaneers were criminal freebooters, mostly preying upon Spanish ships and settlements.
- Privateers were state-sanctioned pirates, mostly English or French ship captains who were licensed by their respective monarchies to pillage and plunder enemies of the Crown without penalty or repercussions. Essentially these were private paramilitary contractors, granted the right to raid enemy ships and keep a cut of the spoils. The likely most notorious (and successful) privateer was Captain Francis Drake... later knighted as Sir Francis Drake... and who commanded an equally famous ship named Golden Hind.
- The term Corsair was originally known to be a French privateer, but later became a romanticized name depicting most any pirate or privateer regardless of nationality. The most famous French corsair was probably Robert Surcouf of St. Malo (Brittany, FR), and whose illustrious career also included shipbuilding, mercantilism and... banking!