Wood In The Water

A Study Of Viking Longships By Brontë & Sabrina


Viking navigators relied on landmarks to know where they were going. The Vikings sailed from Norway to Greenland using sightings of the Shetland and Faroe islands and Iceland as landmarks.

Early Viking navigators depended primarily on sightings of the sun and the stars to determine direction and approximate location at sea. By the late 900's, however, the Vikings had learned how to determine their latitude. They made a table of figures that showed the sun's midday height for each week of the year. By using a measuring stick and this table, a navigator could estimate the latitude of the ship.

Below in this map, the part circled in purple is scandinavia.

Made Out Of?

The Vikings built their ships out of wood cut from the vast Scandinavian forests. Viking shipbuilders improved the sailing ability of ships by adding a keel. The keel was a long, narrow piece of wood that formed the backbone of a ship. It extended into the water along the center length of the ship. The keel reduced a ship's rolling motion. By doing so, it improved the ship's speed. A faster ship could travel farther without stopping for supplies. The keel also made it easier to steer the ship.

Viking Burials & Boat Size

When very important or wealthy vikings died they would be buried in their longship with all of their possessions. These ships were varied in size and were sized depending on their purpose. Trading ships were about 50 feet long, war ships were about 65 to 95 feet long and about 17 feet wide. Viking ships were able to travel on calm water or rough seas.

Viking Longship Design

Viking Longships were usually light enough to enter shallow rivers. At sea, the Vikings depended mainly on the wind and the ship's large woolen sail for power. On a river, rowers powered the ship. A warship had from 15 to over 30 pairs of oars. The prow (front end) of a Viking warship curved upward. Many prows ended with a carving of the head of a dragon or snake. The dragon was believed to frighten away sea monsters or evil spirits during sea journeys.


- Graham-Campbell, JA 2013, 'Vikings' , World Book Student, World Book, Chicago, viewed 4 March 2013,


- Graham-Campbell, JA 2013, 'Vikings' , World Book Advanced, World Book, Chicago, viewed 6 March 2013,