So ye want te be a pirate chieftain do ye? Well getting a ship be easy. Beg, borrow or steal one. Getting the crew be the hard part!
No what? I'm tired of talking that way.
Yes Ship usually come with a crew but after the usual methods of acquisition that may not be the case. A crew might mutiny and then some refuse to to sail under the Black Flag. Add to this that some crew may pirate only briefly and then retire or be retired and you realize there is a bit of a turnover rate. How then do you recruit more pirates?
This problem is compounded by the fact that pirates need some very skilled personnel to repair and modify ships and their transponders. The Navy can just hang some posters up and man a kiosk at the port with some eye candy and attract gullible young people. Try that with piracy and see what far you get. (Spoiler: you get twenty years hard time to life.) But don't worry! If the Scouts can attract recruits anyone can!
In several posts I mention piracy starts at starports. There any savvy group of Brethren have a number of snitches and agents identifying a juicy cargo to plunder. It beats rollin stuff up on an encounter chart. But it starts well before that. Piracy arises from a number of economic issues and local politics.
Take the Brethren (nickname given by the Navy brass). The Brethren were originally a a group of crime families who prospered and expanded to several worlds and stations. They began a number of illegal mining, drug refining and slave camps. They soon found that they had to guard these operations as well as have method of punishing those managers who were derelict in their duties or worse -skimming. They quietly put the word out through smuggling ring contacts and got a number of pirate captains quite willing to follow orders for a fat and regular paycheck. With their expansion secured the Brethren realized their space forces could easily generate more income and were mostly sitting around idle!
The Brethren embarked on a highly organized system of insurance fraud. Precious cargo would be bought, insured, and loaded on ships. In the process the cargo would be switched for worthless junk and sold groundside before anyone knew it was stolen. The ship carrying the false cargo would then be attacked, boarded and looted with the pirate crew instructed to do no real damage to the merchant already part of the Brethren. The Navy would chase the pirates in many cases and a well timed wave of smugglers would descend onto the Brethren's planet.
In some clusters the brethren began trading on their reputation. representatives would approach shipping companies and introduce them to a very reasonable (compared to the alternative) rate system to assure no pirates would bother their ships. The same representatives called on a number of smuggling rings as well. Needless to say the smugglers were another source of recruits. Some merchants quit their companies to pirate as well. If they were going to endure violence and corruption the pirates had better armed ships and more leverage.
Some of the starport informants were quite skilled indeed working in traffic control, and maintenance and would make prime crew. Leverage to recruit them varied. Does that traffic controller have a gambling problem? Does the married engineer like the ladies a little too much. Any and every vice was monetized to get some hold over them. Loans and bribes to help out recruits were also used. These loans will be expensive. Just how expensive no one knows because no one ever finished paying them back. Maybe a promising recruit lacked the connections to make it into one academy or another. The Brethren obliged.
All these informants, expediters and corrupt officials had two things in common: a set of skills and a finite career groundside. They could either keep pointing out targets until they are caught or retire after they made enough to suit retire.
Except the Brethren might not want them to retire.
Now apart from their strong work ethic the Brethren usually did all right by its informants. When one got fingered they made a concerted effort to get the person offworld and onto a ship where they could be of further use. Letting them get arrested is just opening a whole other can of worms. It also made new snitches harder to recruit. So your traffic controller ended up manning a scanner on a corsair. Your engineer was set to up gun that merchant you brought in. That's how they got highly skilled labor.
Whole crews were harder. Sometimes a merchant skipped on payments and went rogue, peddling smoke stick cartons without the duty stamp and declaring himself a pirate. They usually lasted till they met a real pirate who made the crew an offer. Being outlaws already many accepted.
Privateers were another source of crews (GASP!). Once they started attacking enemy merchants some had trouble reading the print on their letters of marque and started grabbing any ship. Others wound up buying a ship for what amounted to a short war and horribly, peace! Left with no way to make payments and a warship what do you think they did?
Some crew came from prize ships. After working long hours, enduring passengers, local laws and a stratified promotion system many merchants chose a life of piracy instead of ending up a retired wage slave with a gold watch. The same held true to a lesser extent for Navy and Scouts. Some people would rather take a chance at riches if they're going to be putting their lives on the line anyway.
Moral of the story: pirates don't exist in a vacuum.