A privateer (sometimes called corsair or buccaneer) was a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign vessels during wartime, and take them as prizes. Captured ships were subject to condemnation and sale under prize law, with the proceeds divided between the privateer shipowners and crew. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors as naval auxiliaries.
Historically, the distinction between a privateer and a pirate has been blurred, sometimes depending on the source as to which label was correct. At times, pirates sought dubious government sanction to operate under a veil of legitimacy.