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List of common nautical terms and phrases PDF Print E-mail
Written by Carlos Alvarez   
Tuesday, 01 June 2010 15:51


  • Above board – On or above the deck, in plain view, not hiding anything.
  • Abaft – Toward the stern, relative to some object ("abaft the fore hatch").
  • Abaft the beam – Further aft than the beam: a relative bearing of greater than 90 degrees from the bow: "two points abaft the port beam".
  • AbeamOn the beam, a relative bearing at right angles to the centerline of the ship's keel.
  • Adrift – Afloat and unattached in any way to the shore or seabed, but not under way. It implies that a vessel is not under control and therefore goes where the wind and current take her (loose from moorings, or out of place). Also refers to any gear not fastened down or put away properly. It can also be used to mean "absent without leave".
  • Aft – Towards the stern (of the vessel).
  • Aground – Resting on or touching the ground or bottom (usually involuntarily).
  • Ahead – Forward of the bow.
  • Ahoy – A cry to draw attention. Term used to hail a boat or a ship, as "Boat ahoy!"
  • Aid to Navigation – (ATON) Any device external to a vessel or aircraft specifically intended to assist navigators in determining their position or safe course, or to warn them of dangers or obstructions to navigation.
  • Aloft – In the rigging of a sailing ship. Above the ship's uppermost solid structure; overhead or high above.
  • Alongside – By the side of a ship or pier.
  • Amidships (or midships) – In the middle portion of ship, along the line of the keel.
  • Anchor – An object designed to prevent or slow the drift of a ship, attached to the ship by a line or chain; typically a metal, hook-like or plough-like object designed to grip the bottom under the body of water (but also see sea anchor).
  • Anchorage – A suitable place for a ship to anchor. Area of a port or harbor.
  • Anchor ball – Round black shape hoisted in the forepart of a vessel to show that it is anchored.
  • Anchor buoy – A small buoy secured by a light line to anchor to indicate position of anchor on bottom.
  • Anchor light – White light displayed by a ship at anchor. Two such lights are displayed by a ship over 150 feet (46 m) in length.
  • Anchor rode – The anchor line, rope or cable connecting the anchor chain to the vessel. Also Rode.
  • Arc of Visibility – The portion of the horizon over which a lighted aid to navigation is visible from seaward.
  • Ashore – On the beach, shore or land.
  • Astern – towards the stern (rear) of a vessel, behind a vessel.
  • Asylum Harbour – A harbour used to provide shelter from a storm.
  • Athwart, athwartships – At right angles to the fore and aft or centerline of a ship
  • Avast – Stop! Cease or desist from whatever is being done.
  • Awash – So low in the water that the water is constantly washing across the surface.
  • Aweigh – Position of an anchor just clear of the bottom.


  • Backstays – Long lines or cables, reaching from the stern of the vessel to the mast heads, used to support the mast.
  • Batten down the hatches – To prepare for inclement weather.
  • Beaching – Deliberately running a vessel aground, to load and unload (as with landing craft), or sometimes to prevent a damaged vessel sinking.
  • Beacon – A lighted or unlighted fixed aid to navigation attached directly to the earth’s surface. (Lights and daybeacons both constitute beacons.)
  • Beam – The width of a vessel at the widest point, or a point alongside the ship at the mid-point of its length.
  • Beam ends – The sides of a ship. "On her beam ends" may mean the vessel is literally on her side and possibly about to capsize; more often, the phrase means the vessel is listing 45 degrees or more.
  • Bearing – The horizontal direction of a line of sight between two objects on the surface of the earth. See also "absolute bearing" and "relative bearing".
  • Bend – A knot used to join two ropes or lines. Also see hitch.
  • Bight (pronounced /ˈbaɪt/) –
  • Bilge – The bilge is the compartment at the bottom of the hull of a ship or boat where water collects so that it may be pumped out of the vessel at a later time.
  • Bimini top – Open-front canvas top for the cockpit of a boat, usually supported by a metal frame.
  • Binnacle – The stand on which the ship's compass is mounted.
  • Bitt – A post mounted on the ship's bow, for fastening ropes or cables.
  • Bitter end – The anchor cable is tied to the bitts, when the cable is fully paid out, the bitter end has been reached. The last part of a rope or cable.
  • Block – A pulley or set of pulleys.
  • Boat-hook – A pole with a hook on the end, used to reach into the water to catch buoys or other floating objects.
  • Boatswain or bosun (both pronounced /ˈboʊsən/) – A non-commissioned officer responsible for the sails, ropes and boats on a ship who issues "piped" commands to seamen.
  • Bollard – From 'bol' or 'bole', the round trunk of a tree. A substantial vertical pillar to which lines may be made fast. Generally on the quayside rather than the ship.
  • Booby – A type of bird that has little fear and therefore is particularly easy to catch.
  • Booby hatch – A sliding hatch or cover.
  • Bow – The front of a ship.
  • Bowline – A type of knot, producing a strong loop of a fixed size, topologically similar to a sheet bend. Also a rope attached to the side of a sail to pull it towards the bow (for keeping the windward edge of the sail steady).
  • Bowsprit – A spar projecting from the bow used as an anchor for the forestay and other rigging.
  • Bow thruster – A small propeller or water-jet at the bow, used for manoeuvring larger vessels at slow speed. May be mounted externally, or in a tunnel running through the bow from side to side.
  • Breakwater — A structure built on the forecastle of a ship intended to divert water away from the forward superstructure or gun mounts.
  • Bridge – A structure above the weather deck, extending the full width of the vessel, which houses a command centre, itself called by association, the bridge.
  • Bulkhead – An upright wall within the hull of a ship. Particularly a watertight, load-bearing wall.
  • Bulwark (pronounced /ˈbʊlək/ in nautical use) – The extension of the ship's side above the level of the weather deck.
  • Buoy – A floating object of defined shape and color, which is anchored at a given position and serves as an aid to navigation.
  • Burgee - A small flag, typically triangular, flown from the masthead of a yacht to indicate yacht-club membership.
  • By and largeBy means into the wind, while large means with the wind. "By and large" is used to indicate all possible situations "the ship handles well both by and large".


  • Cabin – an enclosed room on a deck or flat.
  • Cable – A large rope.
  • Canoe stern – A design for the stern of a yacht which is pointed, like a bow, rather than squared off as a transom.
  • Capsize – When a ship or boat lists too far and rolls over, exposing the keel. On large vessels, this often results in the sinking of the ship.
  • Capstan – A large winch with a vertical axis. A full-sized human-powered capstan is a waist-high cylindrical machine, operated by a number of hands who each insert a horizontal capstan bar in holes in the capstan and walk in a circle. Used to wind in anchors or other heavy objects; and sometimes to administer flogging over.
  • Cardinal – Referring to the four main points of the compass: north, south, east and west. See also "bearing".
  • Careening – Tilting a ship on its side, usually when beached, to clean or repair the hull below the water line.
  • Catamaran – A vessel with two hulls.
  • Cat o' nine tails – A short nine-tailed whip kept by the bosun's mate to flog sailors (and soldiers in the Army). When not in use, the cat was kept in a baize bag, hence the term "cat out of the bag". "Not enough room to swing a cat" also derives from this.
  • Chafing – Wear on line or sail caused by constant rubbing against another surface.
  • Chafing gear – Material applied to a line or spar to prevent or reduce chafing.
  • Chain locker – A space in the forward part of the ship, typically beneath the bow in front of the foremost collision bulkhead, that contains the anchor chain when the anchor is secured for sea.
  • Chine – Where a vertical hull section meets a horizontal section sharply.  On planing hulls these are strategically placed to create lift.
  • Chock – Hole or ring attached to the hull to guide a line via that point
  • Cleat – A stationary device used to secure a rope aboard a vessel.
  • Coaming – The raised edge of a hatch, cockpit or skylight to help keep out water.
  • Companionway – A raised and windowed hatchway in the ship's deck, with a ladder leading below and the hooded entrance-hatch to the main cabins.
  • Compass – Navigational instrument showing the direction of the vessel in relation to the Earth's geographical poles or magnetic poles. Commonly consists of a magnet aligned with the Earth's magnetic field, but other technologies have also been developed, such as the gyrocompass.
  • Corrector – A device to correct the ship's compass, for example counteracting errors due to the magnetic effects of a steel hull.
  • Counter – The part of the stern above the waterline that extends beyond the rudder stock culminating in a small transom. A long counter increases the waterline length when the boat is heeled, so increasing hull speed.
  • Cuddy – A small cabin in a boat.
  • Cunt splice or cut splice – A join between two lines, similar to an eye-splice, where each rope end is joined to the other a short distance along, making an opening which closes under tension.


  • Daggerboard – A type of light centerboard that is lifted vertically; often in pairs, with the leeward one lowered when beating.
  • Day beacon – An unlighted fixed structure which is equipped with a dayboard for daytime identification.
  • Dayboard – The daytime identifier of an aid to navigation presenting one of several standard shapes (square, triangle, rectangle) and colors (red, green, white, orange, yellow, or black).
  • Deadrise – The design angle between the keel (q.v.) and horizontal.
  • Decks – the structures forming the approximately horizontal surfaces in the ship's general structure. Unlike flats, they are a structural part of the ship.
  • Directional light – A light illuminating a sector or very narrow angle and intended to mark a direction to be followed.
  • Displacement – The weight of water displaced by the immersed volume of a ship's hull, exactly equivalent to the weight of the whole ship.
  • Displacement hull – A hull designed to travel through the water, rather than planing over it.
  • Draft or draught (both pronounced /ˈdrɑːft/) – The depth of a ship's keel below the waterline.


  • Echo sounding – Measuring the depth of the water using a sonar device. Also see sounding and swinging the lead.
  • Extremis – (also known as “in extremis”) the point under International Rules of the Road (Navigation Rules) at which the privileged (or stand-on) vessel on collision course with a burdened (or give-way) vessel determines it must maneuver to avoid a collision. Prior to extremis, the privileged vessel must maintain course and speed and the burdened vessel must maneuver to avoid collision.


  • Fair – Make a surface smooth and/or flush, or a line that runs clear of obstructions or surfaces.
  • Fairlead – A ring, hook or other device used to keep a line or chain running in the correct direction or to prevent it rubbing or fouling.
  • Fast – Fastened or held firmly (fast aground: stuck on the seabed; made fast: tied securely).
  • Fathom (pronounced /ˈfæðəm/) – A unit of length equal to 6 feet (1.8 m), roughly measured as the distance between a man's outstretched hands. Particularly used to measure depth.
  • Fender – An air or foam filled bumper used in boating to keep boats from banging into docks or each other.
  • Fid – A tapered wooden tool used for separating the strands of rope for splicing.
  • Fixed propeller – A propeller mounted on a rigid shaft protruding from the hull of a vessel, usually driven by an inboard motor; steering must be done using a rudder. See also outboard motor and sterndrive.
  • Flank – The maximum speed of a ship. Faster than "full speed".
  • Flare
1. A curvature of the topsides outward towards the gunwale.
2. A pyrotechnic signalling device, usually used to indicate distress.
  • Flotsam – Debris or cargo that remains afloat after a shipwreck. See also jetsam.
  • Fluke – The wedge-shaped part of an anchor's arms that digs into the bottom.
  • Folding propeller – A propeller with folding blades, furling to reduce drag on a sailing vessel when not in use.
  • Following sea – Wave or tidal movement going in the same direction as a ship
  • Fore, foreward (pronounced /ˈfɒrərd/, and often written "for'ard") – Towards the bow (of the vessel).
  • Forestays – Long lines or cables, reaching from the bow of the vessel to the mast heads, used to support the mast.
  • Foul – The opposite of clear or fair. For instance, a rope is foul when it does nor run straight or smoothly, and an anchor is foul when it is caught on an obstruction.
  • Founder – To fill with water and sink → Founder (Wiktionary)
  • Freeboard – The height of a ship's hull (excluding superstructure) above the waterline. The vertical distance from the current waterline to the lowest point on the highest continuous watertight deck. This usually varies from one part to another.
  • Furl – To roll or gather a sail against its mast or spar.


1. The spar that holds the upper edge of a four-sided fore-and-aft mounted sail.
2. A hook on a long pole to haul fish in.
  • Galley – the kitchen of the ship
  • Gangplank – A movable bridge used in boarding or leaving a ship at a pier; also known as a "brow".
  • Gangway – An opening in the bulwark of the ship to allow passengers to board or leave the ship.
  • Give-way (vessel) – Where two vessels are approaching one another so as to involve a risk of collision, this is the vessel which is directed to keep out of the way of the other.
  • Global Positioning System – (GPS) A satellite based radionavigation system providing continuous worldwide coverage. It provides navigation, position, and timing information to air, marine, and land users.
  • Grog – Watered-down pusser's rum consisting of half a gill with equal part of water, issued to all seamen over twenty. (CPOs and POs were issued with neat rum) From the British Admiral Vernon who, in 1740, ordered the men's ration of rum to be watered down. He was called "Old Grogram" because he often wore a grogram coat), and the watered rum came to be called 'grog'. Often used (illegally) as currency in exchange for favours in quantities prescribed as 'sippers' and 'gulpers'. Additional issues of grog were made on the command 'splice the mainbrace' for celebrations or as a reward for performing especially onerous duties. The RN discontinued the practice of issuing rum in 1970. A sailor might repay a colleague for a favour by giving him part or all of his grog ration, ranging from "sippers" (a small amount) via "gulpers" (a larger quantity) to "grounders" (the entire tot).
  • Groggy – Drunk from having consumed a lot of grog.
  • Ground – The bed of the sea.
  • Grounding – When a ship (while afloat) touches the bed of the sea, or goes "aground" (qv).
  • Gunwale (pronounced /ˈɡʌnəl/, "gun'll") – Upper edge of the hull.


  • Halyard or halliard – Originally, ropes used for hoisting a spar with a sail attached; today, a line used to raise the head of any sail.
  • Harbor – A harbor or harbour, or haven, is a place where ships may shelter from the weather or are stored. Harbours can be man-made or natural.
  • Hard – A section of otherwise muddy shoreline suitable for mooring or hauling out.
  • Hatchway, hatch – A covered opening in a ship's deck through which cargo can be loaded or access made to a lower deck; the cover to the opening is called a hatch.
  • Hawse pipe, hawse-hole or hawse (pronounced /ˈhɔːz/) – The shaft or hole in the side of a vessel's bow through which the anchor chain passes.
  • Hawser – Large rope used for mooring or towing a vessel.
  • Head – The toilet or latrine of a vessel, which in sailing ships projected from the bows
  • Heave – A vessel's transient, vertical, up-and-down motion.
  • Heaving to – Stopping a sailing vessel by lashing the helm in opposition to the sails. The vessel will gradually drift to leeward, the speed of the drift depending on the vessel's design.
  • Heeling – Heeling is the lean caused by the wind's force on the sails of a sailing vessel.
  • Helmsman – A person who steers a ship
  • Hitch – A knot used to tie a rope or line to a fixed object. Also see bend.
  • Hull – The shell and framework of the basic flotation-oriented part of a ship.
  • Hull-down – Of a vessel when only its upper parts are visible over the horizon.
  • Hull speed – The maximum efficient speed of a displacement-hulled vessel.


  • Inboard motor – An engine mounted within the hull of a vessel, usually driving a fixed propeller by a shaft protruding through the stern. Generally used on larger vessels. Also see sterndrive and outboard motor.
  • Inboard-Outboard (I/O) drive – See sterndrive.
  • In-water survey – a method of surveying the underwater parts of a ship while it is still afloat instead of having to drydock it for examination of these areas as was conventionally done.


  • Jacklines or jack stays – Lines, often steel wire with a plastic jacket, from the bow to the stern on both port and starboard. The Jack Lines are used to clip on the safety harness to secure the crew to the vessel while giving them the freedom to walk on the deck.
  • Jetsam – Debris ejected from a ship that sinks or washes ashore. See also flotsam.


  • Keel – The central structural basis of the hull
  • Keelhauling – Maritime punishment: to punish by dragging under the keel of a ship.
  • Knockdown The condition of a sailboat being pushed abruptly to horizontal, with the mast parallel to the water surface.
  • Knot – A unit of speed: 1 nautical mile (1.8520 km; 1.1508 mi) per hour. Originally speed was measured by paying out a line from the stern of a moving boat. The line had a knot every 47 feet 3 inches (14.40 m), and the number of knots passed out in 30 seconds gave the speed through the water in nautical miles per hour.
  • Know the ropes – A sailor who 'knows the ropes' is familiar with the miles of cordage and ropes involved in running a ship.


  • Land lubber – A person unfamiliar with being on the sea.
  • Lanyard – A rope that ties something off.
  • Lateral system – A system of aids to navigation in which characteristics of buoys and beacons indicate the sides of the channel or route relative to a conventional direction of buoyage (usually upstream).
  • Lay – To come and go, used in giving orders to the crew, such as "lay forward" or "lay aloft". To direct the course of vessel. Also, to twist the strands of a rope together.
  • Lee side – The side of a ship sheltered from the wind (cf. weather side).
  • Lee shore – A shore downwind of a ship. A ship which cannot sail well to windward risks being blown onto a lee shore and grounded.
  • Leeway – The amount that a ship is blown leeward by the wind. See also weatherly.
  • Leeward (pronounced /ˈluːərd/ in nautical use) – In the direction that the wind is blowing towards.
  • Length overall, LOA – the length of a ship.
  • Lifebelt, lifejacket, life preserver or Mae West – A device such as a buoyant ring or inflatable jacket which keeps a person afloat in the water.
  • Lifeboat
1. Shipboard lifeboat, kept on board a vessel and used to take crew and passengers to safety in the event of the ship being abandoned.
2. Rescue lifeboat, usually launched from shore, used to rescue people from the water or from vessels in difficulty.
  • Lifeline – A metal cable, usually coated with vinyl, which surrounds the vessel and helps keep crew from falling overboard.  Similar to a railing.
  • Liferaft – An inflatable, covered raft, used in the event of a vessel being abandoned.
  • Line – the correct nautical term for the majority of the cordage or "ropes" used on a vessel. A line will always have a more specific name, such as mizzen topsail halyard, which describes its use.
  • List – The vessel's angle of lean or tilt to one side, in the direction called roll. Typically refers to a lean caused by flooding or improperly loaded or shifted cargo (as opposed to 'heeling', which see).
  • Loaded to the gunwales – Literally, having cargo loaded as high as the ship's rail; also means extremely drunk.
  • Lubber line – A vertical line inside a compass case indicating the direction of the ship's head.


  • Mae West – A Second World War personal flotation device used to keep people afloat in the water; named after the 1930s actress Mae West, well-known for her large bosom.
  • Magnetic bearing – An absolute bearing using magnetic north.
  • Magnetic north – The direction towards the North Magnetic Pole. Varies slowly over time.
  • Making way – When a vessel is moving under its own power.
  • Marina – a docking facility for small ships and yachts.
  • Marlinspike – A tool used in ropework for tasks such as unlaying rope for splicing, untying knots, or forming a makeshift handle.
  • Master – Either the commander of commercial vessel, or a senior officer of a naval sailing ship in charge of routine seamanship and navigation but not in command during combat.
  • Mess – An eating place aboard ship. A group of crew who live and feed together.
  • Monkey's fist – a ball woven out of line used to provide heft to heave the line to another location. The monkey fist and other heaving-line knots were sometimes weighted with lead.
  • Moor – to attach a boat to a mooring buoy or post. Also, to a dock a ship.


  • Nautical mile – A distance of 1.852 kilometres (1.151 mi). Approximately the distance of one minute of arc of latitude on the Earth's surface. A speed of one nautical mile per hour is called a knot.
  • Navigation rulesRules of the road that provide guidance on how to avoid collision and also used to assign blame when a collision does occur.


  • Outboard motor – A motor mounted externally on the transom of a small boat. The boat may be steered by twisting the whole motor, instead of or in addition to using a rudder.
  • Outdrive – The lower part of a sterndrive.
  • Outward bound – To leave the safety of port, heading for the open ocean.
  • Overwhelmed – Capsized or foundered.


  • Pennant – A long, thin triangular flag flown from the masthead of a military ship (as opposed to a burgee, the flags thus flown on yachts).
  • Pilot – Navigator. A specially knowledgeable person qualified to navigate a vessel through difficult waters, e.g. harbor pilot etc.
  • Pitch – A vessel's motion, rotating about the beam/transverse axis, causing the fore and aft ends to rise and fall repetitively.
  • Pitchpole – To capsize a boat end over end, rather than by rolling over.
  • Planing – When a fast-moving vessel skims over the water instead of pushing through it.
  • Pontoon – A flat-bottomed vessel used as a ferry, barge, car float or a float moored alongside a jetty or a ship to facilitate boarding.
  • Pooped
1. Swamped by a high, following sea.
2. Exhausted.
  • Port – Towards the left-hand side of the ship facing forward (formerly Larboard). Denoted with a red light at night.
  • Porthole or port – an opening in a ship's side, esp. a round one for admitting light and air, fitted with thick glass and, often, a hinged metal cover, a window
  • Port tack – When sailing with the wind coming from the port side of the vessel. Must give way to boats on starboard tack.
  • Propeller walk or prop walk – tendency for a propeller to push the stern sideways. In theory a right hand propeller in reverse will walk the stern to port.


  • Quarterdeck – The aftermost deck of a warship. In the age of sail, the quarterdeck was the preserve of the ship's officers.
  • Quayside – Refers to the dock or platform used to fasten a vessel to


  • Radar – Acronym for RAdio Detection And Ranging. An electronic system designed to transmit radio signals and receive reflected images of those signals from a "target" in order to determine the bearing and distance to the "target".
  • Radar reflector – A special fixture fitted to a vessel or incorporated into the design of certain aids to navigation to enhance their ability to reflect radar energy. In general, these fixtures will materially improve the visibility for use by vessels with radar.
  • Railing – A metal tube on powerboats and some sailboats that keeps crew from falling overboard.  Similar function to lifelines on a sailboat.
  • Range lights – Two lights associated to form a range (a line formed by the extension of a line connecting two charted points) which often, but not necessarily, indicates the channel centerline. The front range light is the lower of the two, and nearer to the mariner using the range. The rear light is higher and further from the mariner.
  • Reef
1. Reef: To temporarily reduce the area of a sail exposed to the wind, usually to guard against adverse effects of strong wind or to slow the vessel.
2. Reef: Rock or coral, possibly only revealed at low tide, shallow enough that the vessel will at least touch if not go aground.
  • Relative bearing – A bearing relative to the direction of the ship: the clockwise angle between the ship's direction and an object. See also absolute bearing and bearing.
  • Rigging – The system of masts and lines on ships and other sailing vessels.
  • Rode – The anchor line, rope or cable connecting the anchor chain to the vessel. Also Anchor Rode.
  • Roll – A vessel's motion rotating from side to side, about the fore-aft/longitudinal axis. List (qv) is a lasting tilt in the roll direction.
  • The ropes – the lines in the rigging.


  • Sampson post – A strong vertical post used to support a ship's windlass and the heel of a ship's bowsprit.
  • Scuppers – Originally a series of pipes fitted through the ships side from inside the thicker deck waterway to the topside planking to drain water overboard, larger quantities drained through freeing ports, which were openings in the bulwarks.
  • Scuttle – A small opening, or lid thereof, in a ship's deck or hull.
  • Scuttling – Cutting a hole in an object or vessel, especially in order to sink a vessel deliberately.
  • Sea anchor – A stabilizer deployed in the water for heaving to in heavy weather. It acts as a brake and keeps the hull in line with the wind and perpendicular to waves. Often in the form of a large bag made of heavy canvas.
  • Seacock – a valve in the hull of a boat.
  • Seaworthy – Certified for, and capable of, safely sailing at sea.
  • Sheer – The upward curve of a vessel's longitudinal lines as viewed from the side.
  • Sheet – A rope used to control the setting of a sail in relation to the direction of the wind.
  • Sextant – Navigational instrument used to measure a ship's latitude.
  • Shoal – Shallow water that is a hazard to navigation.
  • Shoal draught (draft) – Shallow draft, making the vessel capable of sailing in unusually shallow water.
  • Shrouds – Standing rigging running from a mast to the sides of a ships.
  • Skeg – A downward or sternward projection from the keel in front of the rudder. Protects the rudder from damage, and in bilge keelers may provide one "leg" of a tripod on which the boat stands when the tide is out.
  • Skipper – The captain of a ship.
  • Slush fund – The money obtained by the cook selling slush ashore. Used for the benefit of the crew (or the cook).
  • Sonar – A method of using sound pulses to detect, range and sometime image underwater targets and obstacles, or the bed of the sea.
  • Sounding – Measuring the depth of the water. Traditionally done by swinging the lead, now commonly by echo sounding.
  • Spring – A line used parallel to that of the length of a craft, to prevent fore-aft motion of a boat, when moored or docked.
  • Splice – To join lines (ropes, cables etc.) by unravelling their ends and intertwining them to form a continuous line. To form an eye or a knot by splicing.
  • Square meal – A sufficient quantity of food. Meals on board ship were served to the crew on a square wooden plate in harbor or at sea in good weather. Food in the Royal Navy was invariably better or at least in greater quantity than that available to the average landsman. However, while square wooden plates were indeed used on board ship, there is no established link between them and this particular term. The OED gives the earliest reference from the U.S. in the mid 19th century.
  • Squared away – Yards held rigidly perpendicular to their masts and parallel to the deck. This was rarely the best trim of the yards for efficiency but made a pretty sight for inspections and in harbor. The term is applied to situations and to people figuratively to mean that all difficulties have been resolved or that the person is performing well and is mentally and physically prepared.
  • Stanchion – vertical post near a deck's edge that supports life-lines. A timber fitted in between the frame heads on a wooden hull or a bracket on a steel vessel, approx one meter high, to support the bulwark plank or plating and the rail.
  • Stand-on (vessel) – A vessel directed to keep her course and speed where two vessels are approaching one another so as to involve a risk of collision.
  • Starboard – Towards the right-hand side of a vessel facing forward. Denoted with a green light at night. Derived from the old steering oar or steerboard which preceded the invention of the rudder.
  • Stem – The extension of keel at the forward end of a ship.
  • Stern – The rear part of a ship, technically defined as the area built up over the sternpost, extending upwards from the counter to the taffrail.
  • Sterndrive – A propeller drive system similar to the lower part of an outboard motor extending below the hull of a larger power boat or yacht, but driven by an engine mounted within the hull. Unlike a fixed propeller (but like an outboard), the boat may be steered by twisting the drive. Also see inboard motor and outboard motor.
  • Stopper knot – A knot tied in the end of a rope, usually to stop it passing through a hole; most commonly a figure-eight knot.
  • Strake – One of the overlapping boards in a clinker built hull.
  • Swinging the compass – Measuring the accuracy in a ship's magnetic compass so its readings can be adjusted – often by turning the ship and taking bearings on reference points.


  • Tack -
1. A leg of the route of a sailing vessel, particularly in relation to tacking (qv) and to starboard tack and port tack (also qv).
2. Hard tack: qv.
  • Tacking -
1. Zig-zagging so as to sail directly towards the wind (and for some rigs also away from it).
2. Going about (qv).
  • Three sheets to the wind – On a three-masted ship, having the sheets of the three lower courses loose will result in the ship meandering aimlessly downwind. Also, a sailor who has drunk strong spirits beyond his capacity.
  • Tiller – a lever used for steering, attached to the top of the rudder post. Used mainly on smaller vessels, such as dinghies and rowing boats.
  • Toe-rail – A low strip running around the edge of the deck like a low bulwark. It may be shortened or have gaps in it to allow water to flow off the deck.
  • Topsides – the part of the hull between the waterline and the deck. Also, Above-water hull
  • Towing – The operation of drawing a vessel forward by means of long lines.
  • Traffic Separation Scheme – Shipping corridors marked by buoys which separate incoming from outgoing vessels. Improperly called Sea Lanes.
  • Transom – a more or less flat surface across the stern of a vessel. Dinghies tend to have almost vertical transoms, whereas yachts’ transoms may be raked forward or aft.
  • Trim – Relationship of ship's hull to waterline.
  • True bearing – An absolute bearing using true north.
  • True north – The direction of the geographical North Pole.
  • Turn – A knot passing behind or around an object.
  • Turtling – The condition of a sailboat's (in particular a dinghy's) capsizing to a point where the mast is pointed straight down and the hull is on the surface resembling a turtle shell.


  • Under way – A vessel that is moving under control: that is, neither at anchor, made fast to the shore, aground nor adrift.


  • Vanishing angle – The maximum degree of heel after which a vessel becomes unable to return to an upright position.
  • V-hull – The shape of a boat or ship which the shape of the hull comes to a straight line to the keel.


  • Wake – The waves created by a moving vessel.
  • Wash – Turbulence behind a vessel created by the prop(s) and/or the vessel itself.
  • Watch – A period of time during which a part of the crew is on duty. Changes of watch are marked by strokes on the ship's bell.
  • Watercraft – Water transport vessels. Ships, boats, personal water craft etc.
  • Waypoint – A location defined by navigational coordinates, especially as part of a planned route.
  • Weigh anchor – To heave up (an anchor) preparatory to sailing.
  • Wheel or ship's wheel – The usual steering device on larger vessels: a wheel with a horizontal axis, connected by cables to the rudder.
  • Wheelhouse – Location on a ship where the wheel is located; also called pilothouse or bridge.
  • Wide berth – To leave room between two ships moored (berthed) to allow space for maneuver.
  • Windage – Wind resistance of the boat.
  • Windward – In the direction that the wind is coming from.
  • Windlass – A winch mechanism, usually with a horizontal axis. Used where mechanical advantage greater than that obtainable by block and tackle was needed (such as raising the anchor on small ships).


  • Yard – The horizontal spar from which a square sail is suspended.
  • Yardarm – The very end of a yard. Often mistaken for a "yard", which refers to the entire spar. As in to hang "from the yardarm" and the sun being "over the yardarm" (late enough to have a drink).
  • Yaw – A vessel's rotational motion about the vertical axis, causing the fore and aft ends to swing from side to side repetitively.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 June 2010 17:39
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