My World has Dragoons, these are Dragon Riders and the riders are expert marksmen. They use magic arrows like explosive/fire/wind/homing arrows for offensive (basically magic archers) along with dragon's own offensive weapons like dragon breath. Dragons are somewhat intelligent creatures like Dolphins or Orcas in our world.

These Dragoons have no counter apart from other Dragoons, there are some anti-air magic spells but not with long range or damage, a magic archer of similar capacity like Dragoon will be able to do some damage from surface to air but these are rare as most such archers will be Dragoons themselves, thus who ever wins the air fight will dominate everything, all nation invest greatly in raising Dragons and training Dragoons.

My confusion is how would naval battles work in such a world. This world's technology is equivalent to renaissance era or early modern era, i.e. 1550s to 1800s, gunpowder does not exist. The ships will be similar to medieval ear ships but without any cannons. They mainly use sails or oars, there is no magical propulsion system.

Will an aircraft carrier like ship for Dragoons be possible?

I was thinking a large river barge like ship with flat top for ease of Dragoons to take off and land (Dragons need small space to run in order to take off). But how will this ship move? Sails will obstruct take off and landing of Dragoons, oars will take too much space as a ship of this size will need many oarsmen but a huge space will be taken by Dragon sheds.

Considering the importance that Dragoons have in my world, the navy is lacking in this aspect.

Any suggestions/ideas would be greatly appreciated.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ May I inquire the average size of the Dragons that the Dragoons ride? $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2022 at 18:22
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ (Note that calling your dragon-mounted archers "dragoons" could be confusing. "Dragoon" has a real-world meaning of "soldier who rides a horse to travel quickly, then dismounts and fights from the ground", but your soldiers appear to fight from the saddle in flight.) $\endgroup$
    – RLH
    Mar 6, 2022 at 2:10
  • $\begingroup$ @RLH The Dragoons were named after dragons, because the one-handed blunderbuss (basically a glorified sawed-off shotgun) the soldiers used threw a lot of sparks, and they seemed to spit flame. Later, the dragoons became synonymous with cavalry. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragoon $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Aug 27, 2022 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus. The first part is true, but the second part hits at why calling dragon riders “dragoons” will be confusing — dragoons are specifically not cavalry, in that they get off their horses to fight instead of fighting from the saddle, whereas the dragon riders in the question are aerial cavalry. $\endgroup$
    – RLH
    Aug 27, 2022 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ One really useful thing a dragon with rider can do is fly over an enemy ships and drop something filled with a burning petroleum product. firebombing an enemy ship from above would be incredibly effective. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 28, 2022 at 14:01

5 Answers 5


Would it be possible? Sure!

Would it be useful? That's quite a different question, and I suspect the answer is "no".

See, aircraft carriers are for projecting your air power to places where you don't have a handy airbase. Aircraft tend to be a bit fussy about the places they can land and take off from, and have exacting dietary requirements. If you want to do battle across an ocean the benefit of aircraft carriers becomes very readily apparent (or at least, the people who don't see the benefit tend to get sunk, but that's survivor bias for you).

Dragons, on the other hand, don't really need hard runways, and don't need a logistics chain with avgas and spare parts and ammunition. You haven't said what they eat, but I'm guessing you could put a dent in the local livestock population and keep your wing of dragons flying. You could probably operate dragons from tiny, rocky, hostile islands where you'd never lend and aircraft and have a job surviving without being able to fly supplies in and out.

Soay in St. Kilda


That just leaves trying to fight wars of conquest across oceans. I'm not gonna say that you can't do that with Renaissance-era logistics, but trying to fight a foe who can field the same weapons as you but doesn't need to bring supplies across an ocean? The locals will prevail. That's why the US doesn't have a Queen as head of state.

a magic archer of similar capacity like Dragoon will be able to do some damage from surface to air but these are rare as most such archers will be Dragoons themselves

You'll be able to fit quite a few people firing self-guiding exploding arrows onto a warship. You can arm them with quite different weapons from the ones that mobile troops need, and protect them better. You can probably also fit artillery of the sort that's rather harder to carry on a dragon. The ships can be well defended by surface-to-air archery, making attacking with dragons a risky sort of affair... this won't be like a WW1 or WW2 attack at all.

I was thinking a large river barge like ship with flat top for ease of Dragoons to take off and land

Instead of a carrier intended to launch dragons at sea, I'd suggest you'd do better having large transport ships capable of carrying dragons at all. There'll be a risk, being stuck on the surface and all, but it'll be so rarely that you'll need to ship dragons at all that it shouldn't be a problem other than when your colonizing a new land.

Your barges will be slow and poorly manoevrable compared to a more conventional transport, putting them at greater risk from the weather and from other ships. The dragons they carry have limited effectiveness against a prepared foe. Dragons might work well against undefended merchant ships, but history gives us things like the East Indiamen which were merchant ships but were very much able to defend themselves. The ships in your world should be no exception.

That leaves you a small window of opportunity for dragon piracy, but I don't think your carriers will work out.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't see why dragons would be ineffective defense if their trans-oceanic transport were attacked. They have "dragon breath," teeth and claws (presumably), and don't need to be intelligent to engage in self-defense. If anything, I'd expect the real trouble with a mid-oceanic ambush would be rounding up your own dragons after they have decimated the marauders. Assuming both vessels aren't destroyed in the battle. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Mar 5, 2022 at 23:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Tom as I said, they're potentially very vulnerable to magical archery and artillery fire, and you can fit more archers onto a warship than you can dragons, and operating siege crossbows or artillery from dragonback is likely to be challenging at best. $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2022 at 9:42
  • $\begingroup$ Agree with almost all of this, but I'm not convinced that warships could defend themselves as well as you suggest . You're right about how this plays out if the dragons are in range - but we're talking about a large, flammable, non-evasive target in a world with magical fire arrows. The dragons should be able to hit the ship from longer range than the ships can accurately return fire, just because of the size and manoeuvrability difference - and if you have magical incendiaries, you can kill any wooden ship you can hit. $\endgroup$
    – Toby Y.
    Aug 29, 2022 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ Seems more likely to me that this is a world where navies just aren't a decisive arm of the military - much like cavalry once machine-guns hit the battlefield, they just can't handle the weapons available so almost no-one bothers. $\endgroup$
    – Toby Y.
    Aug 29, 2022 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ Although, on reflection, that probably requires magical range-extension to be possible - both sides will be able to score hits out to maximum real-world bow range. If the Dragonriders can boost that with rocket-arrows - an especially if there's a trade-off between max range and homing capacity - the ships have a problem; otherwise the dragons do. $\endgroup$
    – Toby Y.
    Aug 29, 2022 at 12:18

Trimaran and dragon-power.

The idea would be to make use of a design of ship that would have the dragons crouched on the two outer hulls then migrating to the central-hull for take-off and landing:

A three hulled ship

Design by Earl Edwards, aeroyacht.com via web archive, 2022, photographer unknown, fair usage.

Whilst on the outer-hulls, their clawed feet grip onto specially formed perches - the wings of the creatures can be used as sails, or when becalmed can either flap for thrust or even be gently dipped in the water to row.

At the very rear of the outriggers, there would be rudders for additional trimming of direction.

If you really wanted to, you could have a couple of central sails for long trips which can be lowered on pullies to lay horizontally out of the way.

  • $\begingroup$ If the ship is built taller, rowers and supplies could be belowdecks. +1 for the photo credit, good internet citizen. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Mar 5, 2022 at 23:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I like the idea of using outriggers as launch platforms, so +1 for that. I'm not sure if shipbuilding technology between the 1600s and 1800s was up to building ocean-going trimarans with large outer hulls, though... the big polynesian boats basically had big stabilising floats. Maybe magic could solve that problem. It might be more practical to build a small catamaran with a launch platform across the boat rather than along it, but still challenging given the tech available. $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2022 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime actually the romans records indicated they likely did at least build a few doubled hulled catamarans. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 28, 2022 at 13:57

Dragons should see three big uses in naval combat.

  1. recon, because of height and range dragon can drastically improve how far a navy can see, if you can see the enemy before they see you you have a huge advantage in naval combat. depending on how far they can fly they can also be used for communication, being able to contact bases and other fleets is also a big advantage.

  2. bombers, exploding arrows are not that useful against ships incendiaries are, simply dropping containers of burning liquids would be absolutely devastating against ships, this is the reason fire ships wee so dangerous, ships are surprisingly flammable. with the ability to hit the sails this is even more devastating. as a bonus bombs can be dropped from height so counter attack is hard. this works against land targets too.

  3. anti-dragon, dragons are your best defense against other dragons, exploding arrows should be way more effective against dragons than ships.

these are the same used we see for early planes in naval combat, learn about naval combat in WW1 and WW2 so wee how aircraft become a game changer to naval combat.


Carriers for dragons should not be too difficult, even if they need a runway they should not need much, there are no flying animals that can not get airborne within a few steps. You can easily simply leave off the front few sails of a ship, will it be less maneuverable and slower ,sure, just like real carriers. The solution is the same as well, don't send them by themselves. You can add an enlarged projecting forecastle/bowsprit to make your runway longer, especially since you are leaving off the jibs.

Landing should be even easier since they should not need a runway for that. this means dragons can land a lot faster than they can take off. You will need a lot of signaling to coordinate but hand flags and wing movement should work. Worth noting there will be 2-3 ropes that need to be lowered before launch but it will take time to get dragons ready anyway. Also depending on the dragons wingspan there may be ways around this. In the real world no ships are built this way, because there is no reason to leave off these sails, why make your ships slower for no gain, but with dragons you are getting a gain. We know from damaged ships that ships could sail without these sails they are just slower.

Your other option for a landing strip is strange but would work, a runway on an outrigger. Make it light enough it barely makes contact with the water until dragons move out onto it, then the ship tips a bit and you have a runway. More awkward, your not getting help with speed or maneuverability, but you get a longer but narrower runway. you also can't use studding sails on that side while using the runway, so it gets even slower in combat.

you don't want anything like a river barge on the ocean, it will sink the first time you have bad weather. It also does not solve your propulsion problem, you still need sails, which means your ship will end up shaped like a normal ship anyway.

likewise oars are a poor choice ships powered entirely by oars are unheard of, oars are for maneuvering and combat you don't use them all the time, you still have sails.


Possible? Absolutely. Practical? No.

A ship of the line, circa 1700s

Above is a picture of a ship of the line which was more or less a common sight in warships in the 1700s. Those cannons were heavy, ranging from 450 to 1000 pounds. And most ships of the line carried dozens of them. That doesn't include the powder and cannonballs to operate them. So depending on the size and weight of your dragons, that shouldn't pose a problem for the technology level.

The runway could pose an interesting issue, mostly because of the lack of sails. But, I'll get to locomotion later. The real issue here, is the material you'll use. If these dragons have claws, wood is a poor material to use for the runway. They'd scratch and claw at it, rendering it useless before long. That means the thing that they need to run on will eventually be little more than wet sawdust. I'd recommend a layer of sand or dirt so their claws can sink into it without requiring expensive repairs.

As for the now lack of sails? Oars were still common in the age of sail, for smaller ships and lowering the crew required to travel. Because oars were not quick and certainly were not efficient.

However, galleys were known for being oar-propelled. There's an issue, though.

The galley is characterized by its long, slender hull, shallow draft, and low freeboard (clearance between sea and railing). Virtually all types of galleys had sails that could be used in favorable winds, but human effort was always the primary method of propulsion.

The two concepts--ship of the line with its multiple decks, and the galley with its oar-power--are mutually exclusive, for the most part (some exceptions have been brought to my attention). However, you literally carry your own answer. If you were to combine oars with dragons pulling like a draught animal? You could still achieve a decent speed. How good? Depends on how many oarmen and how many dragons (and how much power either can offer when contrasted with the calories they'll burn).

There is a unique advantage to having dragons as well. They can fly in more food to prolong time at sea. Granted, that means it'll be easier to track them, since they'd need regular food runs, depending on how many pounds of meat the dragons will need per day. But it offers the possibility.

However, food runs are limited by distance from the shore (or food stocks) to the ship. And there's also the limiting factor of carrying capacity for the dragons. This could be mitigated by fishing, but these are warships--they aren't designed to focus on such things, normally.

That being said. Is an aircraft carrier the most practical application? No. They'll be slow and cumbersome ships with incredibly high maintenance cost. The best I can imagine this would be used for is hit and run tactics near the coast, and that's kind of defeating the point of having dragons that can fly and land anywhere there's a stretch of land.

Why wouldn't an aircraft carrier for dragons be useful? Average speed of a ship of the line? 12 knots. That's 22 km/h. And that's with the slew of sails meant for propulsion. Average speed of a galley? 3-4 knots (5.5 - 7.5 km/h), but 2 knots (3.7 km/h) in formation. What's the average cruising speed for your dragons?

Say a dragon's speed is comparable to a bird of prey?

  • Bald eagle: 120-160 km/h
  • Golden eagle: 320 km/h
  • Red-tailed hawk: 190 km/h

"Well, yeah, but isn't that the case for planes on an aircraft carrier now?" Yes, but also no.

Average speed of a modern aircraft carrier (Nimitz class): 30+ knots (56+ km/h). With 85-90 aircraft carried and 5,000 crew. The major differences?

  • Airplanes need maintenance while not being operated, but not fuel. Dragons will need to eat regardless. While it can be argued they'd need less calories if inactive, they still need to eat.
  • Airplanes don't need to be entertained. No matter how well trained, no animal will cope well with being cooped up for long stretches.
  • Airplanes don't start fights. No matter how well trained, every animal will have moods, and sometimes being playful or even spiteful could be that mood.

Adding to all this, there's a point from Starfish Prime's answer. Carrying the dragoon themselves (without a dragon) would be more effective. And you can fit those archers in far more places than you could ever fit dragons. Granted, a ship's less maneuverable than a dragon, and slower to boot. But unless you feed a dragon a chicken and that holds them for a week (as is the case with crocodiles), then pound-for-pound, the dragoon will consume far less rations daily. And the major limiting factor for travel by ship is food.

You might get away with one or two dragons. Ten might be pushing it. So dragon piracy sounds like something that could be a thing. But realistically, getting 80-ish dragons on a ship with that level of technology with all above-mentioned issues, sounds like some serious handwaving needs to take place.

However, if there's a logistical reason why this needs to happen? A barge in the middle of a large lake or a vast sea? I can see some merit in that. They would however be much more useful as pit stops, not transportation directly. The speeds are just too slow, and landing and takeoff are just not as much of an issue when compared to airplanes. Let alone keeping them properly stocked to feed that many dragons over long periods.

  • $\begingroup$ also if the romans could feed ships each with many hundreds of rowers feeding a few dragons instead should not be too hard. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 28, 2022 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ @John, these ships were named for the number of rowers per bench or set of benches. A trireme often had three rowers on three oars, while many quinquiremes would have two doubles and one single, also three oars per set of benches. See alla sensile and a scaloccio for the medieval extremes. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Aug 28, 2022 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ @o.m. yep my bad, your right, triremes could have 1,2 or even three floors of rowers, but ships with upwards of 5 floors of rowers did exist. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 28, 2022 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ @John And what was the recorded top speed of these oar-powered ships? Comparable to a dragon in flight? $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2022 at 11:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ And again, none of that takes dragon-specific quirks into consideration. Does their manure contain anything different? More flammable/combustible? Can they land and take off vertically? This affects landing deck. Do they have a thing with salt vs fresh water? Do they drink water, or do they get their hydration from blood? Do they eat only fresh from the kill, or is older meat acceptable? There are a lot of factors in play here. And you'll have to handwave them all just for the cool factor of a dragon carrier. $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2022 at 20:37

Aircraft Carriers are older than people think. The first aircraft carrier by the best definition (Must be able to launch and recover an aircraft while underway) was the U.S.S. George Washington Parke Custis which saw active service in the United States Civil war from 1861 to 1865. The Custis launched a single hot air balloon, tethered to her deck, to conduct recon on confederate positions. A telegraph line in one of the tethers allowed the flight crew to telegraph real time troop movements to the ground crew who could then give aerial intel to the commanders on the field. It's a far cry from the capitol ship super carriers of the modern U.S. Navy, but it meets the definition. The earliest Heavier than Air carriers appeared shortly after Heavier than air flight (the development of the latter was really the most critical tech break through).

Some concerns you might want to look after are the arrangement of sails and the amount of space a dragon needs to take off and land. In the case of the former, you have to consider the sails interfering with launch and recovery operations. In real life, Carriers carry very medeiocre weapons platforms (or that is to say, mediocre weapons platforms that can't fly away from the ship). The best armed carrier in the world in terms of weapons platforms is on paper the Russian's Navies Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov (Kuznetsov for short) which, for complicated political reasons is classified by the Russians as an "Aviation Cruiser" rather than an "Aircraft Carrier" (get used to this... since the early 20th century, almost every nation has used very insistent terminology for their naval vessels to meet the letter of one treaty or another, while dancing on the corpse of it's spirit.). In effect, Kuznetsov is armed like a carrier and a cruiser. On paper sounds amazing. In practice, the Kuznetsov is terrible at being both. And the reason is that generally in naval warfare, the direction you need to aim weapons to shoot things is going to be in a general "our planes need to be flying here" direction.

One way to get around this is to consider the dragons take off as being more bird like than air plane like... and have them climb the sturdy main sails to the top to launch and land on them to recover. Remember our definition of "aircraft carrier" is "Launch and Recover Aircraft while underway" which this meets the definition. About a quarter if not more of the world's modern aircraft carriers exclusively use helicopters or VTOL air planes to achieve their carrier status. Such as Japan's new Izumo class Helicopter Destroyers (again, see my note about insistent terminology to cheat. Carriers are decidedly offensive weapons, and the Japanese Defense Force cannot by law be an offensive military. Despite the name, Destroyers are not offensive weapons in nature. Additionally, Japan's closest military ally, the United States, might have something to say to Japan making carriers again. It's out of politeness that the U.S. doesn't tell Japan they aren't fooling anyone.).

Now, since carriers are a huge investment (Most nations can only field one carrier. The U.S. is the only one that fields 11 carriers. And 20 "amphibious assault ships" that are not Super Carriers, but still have carrier capabilities as a primary feature and are fairly large by conventional carrier standards. Presumably they aren't carriers in a rare display of modesty. Nobody is fooled.). They are almost always capitol ships. In modern naval warfare, sending a carrier out by itself is a great way to get yourself a sunken carrier. To prevent this, Carriers travel with several escort ships as a collective unit called a "Carrier Group" (Battle Ships were handled similarly.). The other ships in the group will be dedicated to protecting the carrier. Modern groups typically include at least two cruisers that act to intercept air craft and missiles targeting the carrier and destroyers, which will protect the surface ships and submarines that will protect the fleet from other submarines. Finally, the Carrier will almost always have some of their aircraft compliment in the air to add additional protection against aircraft... to say nothing about supply ships which serve to resupply all the group with various needs. Carriers were game changers in naval warfare in the first two engagements they served in in a shooting war. At Pearl Harbor, the Japanese used carriers to such great effect, that it upended centuries of naval doctrine. Prior to that, all the Navies were built about Battleship doctrine. Today, Battleships as a weapons platform are all but obsolete. At the battle of Midway, the U.S. and Japan rewrote the rules of naval warfare when both were able to sink enemy ships without side laying sight on a single ship of the enemy fleet. Up until those points, carriers were seen as experimental ships and novelties.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .