Types of Viking Ships: A Look at the Seafaring Traditions of Scandinavia During the Viking Age

Types of Viking Ships: The Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden were home to Vikings, who were seafaring traders and raiders. They circumnavigated the European coast during the Viking Age (AD 700–1100) in order to trade with people from the Arab and eastern regions.

The Vikings purchased wheat, honey, and wool from Britain, salt and wine from France, glass from Italy, and walrus ivory, furs and animal skins, whalebone, and amber from Scandinavia. They also purchased silver, spices, and silk from eastern traders.

When they were looking for places to settle, they also went on longer journeys, traveling as far as Iceland, Canada, Greenland, and North America.

To achieve these goals, they constructed a variety of ships, from little fishing boats to longships, all made of overlapping and securely nailed oak planks.

They used animal hair, moss, or wool soaked in tar or tallow to plug the microscopic spaces between the planks of their ships to make them waterproof. The boats had shallow drafts and were long and thin.

They raided and carried their warriors aboard their renowned longships. This ship’s front was adorned with a carving of an animal head, either a dragon or a snake. Cargo ships, or knarr, transported goods. Compared to longships, they were slower and wider.

Viking ships had a huge, square sail that was often constructed of wool with leather strips crisscrossed to keep its shape when wet. Either the wind or oars powered them. A steering oar or steerboard, held in position on the right side of the ship, was used to steer ships.

The Vikings waited until spring to embark on expeditions due to the unfavorable winter weather.

Without charts, they used the velocity of the waves, the position of the sun, the stars, and the wind to determine which way was land. They might have used a sun-shadow board instead of a compass to help them navigate, though.

There are four different kinds of Viking Ships: the Faering, the Knar, the Karve, and the Longships.

The Faering

A Faering is a traditional tiny open boat from the Viking era that has two pairs of oars. It was and is still widely employed in the boat-building communities in northern and western Scandinavia.

Their hulls are made of clinker, where the boards are nailed together and overlap one another. In addition to the oars, some Faerings carried a small square sail.

It was used as a personal craft, for fishing, commerce, and coastal sailing. The initial versions only had oars for propulsion, but as time went on, they added a deployable sail.

The location of the rudder was the main distinction between the two setups. To steer the vessel, a stern-mounted rudder is required; otherwise, the oars serve as rudders to the side of the boat. These days, they are utilized for fishing and occasionally for racing.

Viking Ship Types and Designs
(Credit: ArchaeoFox)

Similar in size and look to the Faering, the Femboring is an open, clinked type of wooden boat that is a subclass of the former. It could be rowed or sailed as a fishing boat and was constructed from either fir or pine.

Archaeologists have found several Faerings, and they are now on display in naval museums all over Europe.

Numerous examples of the Vikings interring their chiefs alongside their ships have been discovered. For example, the Gokstad Faering was the smaller of the two boats used for the interment of the deceased on the renowned Gokstad ship.

The Gokstad ship burial, which takes place in the ninth century and includes a ship and two boats, is among the most amazing Viking burials ever discovered. The fact that the ships have been refurbished and were discovered to be fairly well maintained is what makes it so unique. They are on display in Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum.

The primary purpose of the Knarr Knarr ships was to carry slaves, wheat, lumber, wool, honey, and walrus ivory. Along with food and wine, it provided traders with armor and weaponry for their journeys across the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas.

These were the Viking trade vessels, measuring 16 meters or 54 feet in length and 15 meters or 4.6 meters in width. They had a displacement of 50 tonnes and a hull that could support about 24 tons.

Knarrs were powerful creatures driven by sails. On open waters, oars were only employed in the absence of wind. They worked on riskier, longer-duration expeditions. With a crew of 20 to 30 people, they could sail 121 km, or 75 miles, in a single day.

They traveled frequently across the North Atlantic carrying a variety of goods to and from Greenland and the North Atlantic Islands, including animals, furs, skins, and other items.

Viking Ships: Construction Methods, Navigation, and Sailing of Viking Ship


Knarrs were larger than Viking vessels. They also relied on sails rather than oars and had deeper and larger hulls to accommodate freight.

They were slow because they didn’t care about speed. Seaworthy vessels known as knarrs traversed enormous expanses of uncharted waters. They carried goods for trade mostly along the Scandinavian Coast and in open waters towards the west.

In 1962, archaeologists found a well-preserved Knarr in a waterway in Denmark’s Roskilde Fjord.

Known as Skuldelev 1, it stood between two vessels. Experts claim that the positioning shows that its goal was to prevent rival raiders and their vessels from using the waterway.

The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde currently houses all five of the so-called Skuldelev ships.

Classification of Viking ships
(Credit: National Geographic)

It’s also claimed that the Knarr’s design had an impact on the cog, a ship that was utilized in the Middle Ages for transportation, trade, and warfare starting in the tenth century.

It featured a single square sail, a single mast, and was constructed of oak. on northwest medieval Europe, the Hanseatic League mostly used cog for trading on the Baltic Sea.


The Vikings, who are renowned for their extraordinary boat-building and sailing abilities, which were far ahead of their time, are supposed to have constructed the best ships, longships being among them.

Longships were employed in trade, combat, and exploration. With their extended shape and sturdy construction, they could withstand even the most extreme maritime conditions. The fastest they could go was fifteen knots per hour, but their speed ranged from five to ten knots per hour. Because of their bow, which resembles a dragon, Franks called longships Dragonships.

These wooden boats were lightweight, elongated, and had a shallow draft, allowing them to function in waters as shallow as one meter.

Because of their twin ends, they could change course without going back. In addition to having oars, the later models carried a rectangular sail on a mast, however this feature was reserved for lengthy trips.

Images of longships are for representational purposes only. Longships were highly prized and represented Viking supremacy. The wealthy possessed them.

Although the Vikings used longships in battle, there are no thorough accounts of their naval strategies. We are aware, nevertheless, that occasionally these ships were connected to provide a platform for infantry combat.

There are various types of longships, and they vary in terms of dimensions, form, etc. Enumerating the number of rowing positions on board is the simplest method of categorizing them.

Let’s examine the four different kinds of longships: the Skeid, Drakker, Snekkja, and Karvi.

Viking ships. what is Viking ships, Viking ships design
(Credit: Surflegacy)

4 Types of Viking Ships (Longship)


Among the Viking longship fleet, the karvi/karve was a comparatively small vessel used for trading, fishing, and cargo transportation. It was also hardly ever employed in combat.

It had thirteen rowing benches, although any watercraft with six to sixteen benches was considered karvi. Its construction and design made it perfect for coasting and for use in shallow waters.

Similar to Knar, Karvi had a broad hull and were frequently used for transporting cargo, passengers, and even animals.

Ancient Greek Ship History: From Ancient Ships to Modern Transportation

The Gokstad Ship is the most well-known karvi that has been found thus far. It was discovered in 1880 during an excavation and is from the ninth century. Considering its length of 23 meters, it was deemed larger than the typical karvi ships.


Construction Methods, Navigation, and Sailing of Viking Ship
(Credit: Wkipedia)

The most popular Viking longship is called Snekkja or Snekke, which means “snakes” in English. Her name comes from her sleek, streamlined form, which made her an ideal vessel for at-sea fighting.

It could transport forty oarsmen and had at least twenty rowing seats. Snekkja was constructed in various dimensions. But the average length of a Snekkja was roughly 17 meters.

These boats could be used in fjords and were designed for deep waters. Their hulls had a gentle curve that allowed them to land on sandy and pebble beaches. They were very lightweight. They were well-liked during the Viking age because they were robust and able to withstand severe weather at sea.


One of the largest Viking warships is the slider, or skeid. It features at least thirty rows of benches. In Roskilde Harbour, Denmark, one of the biggest Skeids was discovered in the 1990s.

The ship, known as Roskilde 6, measured 37 meters in length. It is believed to have been built around 1025, towards the end of the Viking Age. It was one of nine ships from the Viking era that were discovered nearby.


Dragon-shaped Drakker, also called Drakar, was a longship adorned with numerous animal sculptures, including snakes and dragons, which were presumably intended to stave off sea monsters and evil spirits as well as serve as a symbol of Viking might.

Another explanation is that the ship’s heads, carved with images of dragons or snakes, were intended to terrify adversaries and bystanders during raids and pillages. The unique engravings on these ships set them apart from other ships and made their foes fearful as they approached the coast.

Draker was a Viking warship of which we know very little, but it featured more than thirty rowing benches.


Compared to the Knarr, the Byrding was a more maneuverable light freighter. It could be hauled to the coast with ease, and it could carry cargo and traders across reasonable distances. They used oars more frequently.

They were shorter, slimmer, and smaller than the Karv in addition to being smaller than the Knarr. Experts estimate that the size of Byrding was between 12 and 17 meters.

Byrding could navigate in the deep water over reasonable distances, as from Iceland to Norway. They carried food, drink, and other supplies during raids and attacks on adversaries. The Byrding lost favor with the advent of southern roundships and Christianization.

In summary

The Vikings were expert navigators, and they used cutting-edge shipbuilding methods. When it came to determining distance, estimating wind speed, and identifying land, they were highly competent.

Numerous Viking Ships that have been discovered buried in various locations throughout Scandinavia by archaeologists have provided important insights on the Vikings and their way of life. Additionally, sundials have been discovered on these vessels, suggesting that sundials were occasionally utilized throughout the early Viking period.

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