What it was like to travel on a Viking ship back then?

Please, focus on these points:

  • How long it would take for a Viking raider group to get to their favorite destinations using a Viking warship?
  • How long it would take to transport the goods to their most common trade partners for a Viking merchant using a Viking trade ship?
  • What was the average speed of a Viking warship and Viking trade ship?
  • What factors affected the speed of Viking warships and trade ships and how much?
  • What is the greatest distance they could travel and what would be the limiting factors?
  • 1
    I'm no expert on this topic and can't answer your questions, but I think you can find some answers in the reports about the Sea Stallion, a Viking ship rebuilt in 2007. It travelled from Roskilde to Dublin in 44 days. There are several videos about the voyage on YouTube. See here or here
    – gdir
    Mar 24, 2015 at 20:06
  • 1
    Here's more about the Sea Stallion. They even travelled back from Dublin to Roskilde. A lot of information including the logbook here: vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/en/the-sea-stallion-past-and-present
    – gdir
    Mar 24, 2015 at 20:15
  • 4
    This does not look like a specific question but a broad assignment for a research paper, especially the demands "give as many examples...".
    – Alex
    Mar 24, 2015 at 22:04
  • 1
    The trip described in gdir's reference (2008) they made in more than 5 weeks. Modern sailboat (under sail only) does this in 2 weeks, with some overnight rests in the harbors.
    – Alex
    Mar 24, 2015 at 22:31
  • 1
    @Mark C. Wallace - I believe so. I've read somewhere that the raiding ships were thin, uncomfortable and built for speed. Traiding ships, on the other hand, were naturally built for cargo, they were slower and wider.
    – sjaustirni
    Mar 26, 2015 at 19:21

2 Answers 2


How long it would take for a Viking raider group to get to their favourite destinations using a Viking warship?

To go from Scandinavia to Ireland including various stops and diversions might be approximately 900 nautical miles. Good rowers can make about 60 nautical miles per day in ocean conditions. Assuming no stops are made it would therefore take about 15 days to make the trip. To get to Iceland from Norway took about 10 to 12 days.

How long it would take to transport the goods to their most common trade partners for a Viking merchant using a Viking tradeship?

Assuming the merchant is relying on sail it would depend entirely on the route, the winds and other factors.

What was the average speed of a Viking warship and Viking trade ship?

I already answered for an oared warship. Sailing speed varies enormously depending on the winds, the season, cargo etc. An unladen, very trim ship could make as much as 100 nautical miles per day. A laden knorr might be more like 20 nautical miles per day. The more cargo it has, the slower it goes.

What factors affected the speed of Viking warships and tradeships and how much?

The winds, the trim of the vessel, the skill of the crew, the skill of the captain, the currents. In practice, a ship would make many stops. The number and duration of these stops would significantly affect the degree of progress.

What is the greatest distance they could travel and what would be the limiting factors?

In the open ocean, the limiting factor is fresh water for the crew. An active crew member will require about 1 gallon of water per day. A big 60-foot longship might easily carry 1200 gallons, enough for 100 men for 12 days. In a hostile area, or exploring long distances, or making a long military campaign, food will be a factor. It is much easier to find fresh water on land than food.

  • 1
    I doubt very much that you can make 60 miles per day by rowing in the ocean conditions:-) Rowing is a hard labor, especially in the ocean conditions, and rowers need a rest. They cannot row 24 hours a day for several days. And you cannot fit to a Viking ship 3 full shifts of rowers, to row continuously.
    – Alex
    Mar 24, 2015 at 22:10
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    @Alex With an attitude like that, you will never get accepted to the next raiding expedition. Mar 24, 2015 at 22:13
  • 3
    I find the style of your comments impolite. I am not going to continue any discussions with you.
    – Alex
    Mar 25, 2015 at 2:21
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    In many cases the rowing would have been complementary to the propulsion of the sail. not instead of. This has a dramatic effect on VMG even with a minor reduction of the leeway angle, and allows even longships without much natural upwind capability a reasonable upwind sailing angle. Mar 25, 2015 at 4:40
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    @alex average speed of viking longship was between 5-10 knots an hour which is about between 5.5-11 miles an hour. so traveling 60 miles a day is extremely reasonable, with favorable conditions they could obtain speeds closer to 15 knots, which would be about 16.5 mph. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viking_ships theirs no point arguing with tyler since hell never post sources... ever.. but heres a source to sadly,.. back up his estimates.
    – Himarm
    Mar 25, 2015 at 20:21

I can add some comments to Tyler Durden's answer. Viking ships were not optimized for the open sea sailing performance. But they were good for rowing, travel near the shore and in the rivers. They were relatively long and narrow and had a shallow draft. As a result they could not carry much sail. The rudder was not invented yet, they used a steering paddle. The single small square sail they had is a poor performer except downwind. As I already said in my comments, rowing in the open ocean is not an effective way of transportation, especially in the presence of waves, wind and current. Of course, some ocean travels in these ships are known and well recorded. They certainly colonized Greenland and probably had a colony in North America. But I suppose these trips depended on favorable winds and a lot of luck.

Sailing boats, which are optimized for sailing have very different hull shape and different sails and rigging.

On the other hand, travel range near the shore (the thing they mostly did) was unlimited, assuming you can refill water and food on shore. And we know from history that they traveled thousands miles along the shore.

One also has to take into account that open sea travel in antiquity and Middle age was only possible in summer in most cases.

EDIT. Here is a book that analyses performance of modern replicas of ancient and medieval ships: Sailing into the Past: Learning from Replica Ships By Jenny Bennett (2009). It is not freely available but can be searched on Google books. It mentions a sea trial of a replica of a longship. The speed achieved windward was about 1 knot, downwind from 4 to 8, rowing about 3 knots. Of course, the speeds achieved in a trial are not the average speeds over long trips.

ADDED on Aug 12, 2015. Yesterday, I saw an excellent movie:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8jhnrNHk3g which documents a trip from Denmark to Ireland on a replica of a large Viking longship. The movie very well confirms what I wrote. 1. Rowing in the ocean waves is not an option. 2. Sailing against the wind was impossible or useless. 3. Even in the best season, you cannot be sure how long will the travel be.

Few modern people would survive such a trip under true "Viking-time conditions", I mean without modern high-tech cloths and radio weather forecast.

Perhaps the correct question would be not "how long does it take", but "what was the survival rate in these travels". Were the loss of life in sea larger or smaller than in combat ?

  • 1
    Note my comment to Tyler's answer - rowing would have substituted for rudder and keel while undersail, and could have made a substantial difference in VMG even with a moderate reduction in leeway angle. Mar 25, 2015 at 4:42
  • 2
    Since Tyler was accused of not posting sources, it would be nice if at least the other answer did…
    – o0'.
    Mar 26, 2015 at 8:35
  • @Alex Thanx for the source: it's a kind of book I've been looking for for my travel collection.
    – Zither13
    Apr 15, 2015 at 14:00

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