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Nautical Phrases and Terms

Nautical Phrases

A Square Meal – In good weather, crews’ mess was a warm meal served on square wooden platters.

Above Board – Anything on or above the open deck. If something is open and in plain view, it is above board.

As the Crow Flies – When lost or unsure of their position in coastal waters, ships would release a caged crow. The crow would fly straight towards the nearest land thus giving the vessel some sort of a navigational fix. The tallest lookout platform on a ship came to be know as the crow’s nest.

At Loggerheads – An iron ball attached to a long handle was a loggerhead. When heated it was used to seal the pitch in deck seams. It was sometimes a handy weapon for quarrelling crewmen.

Back and Fill – A technique of tacking when the tide is with the ship but the wind is against it.

Bear Down – To sail downwind rapidly towards another ship or landmark.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – The devil seam was the curved seam in the deck planking closest to the side of the ship and next to the scupper gutters. If a sailor slipped on the deck, he could find himself between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Booby Hatch – Aboard ship, a booby hatch is a sliding cover or hatch that must be pushed away to allow access or passage.

Buoyed Up – Using a buoy to raise the bight of an anchor cable to prevent it from chafing on a rough bottom.

By and Large – Currently means in all cases or in any case. From the nautical: by meaning into the wind and large meaning with the wind: as in, “By and Large the ship handled very well.”

Chock-a-block – Meaning something is filled to capacity or over loaded. If two blocks of rigging tackle were so hard together they couldn’t be tightened further, it was said they were “Chock-a-Block”.

Cut and Run – If a captain of a smaller ship encountered a larger enemy vessel, he might decide that discretion is the better part of valor, and so he would order the crew to cut the lashings on all the sails and run away before the wind. Other sources indicate “Cut and Run” meant to cut the anchor cable and sail off in a hurry.

Cut of His Jib – Warships many times had their foresails or jib sails cut thinly so that they could maintain point and not be blown off course. Upon sighting thin foresails on a distant ship a captain might not like the cut of his jib and would then have an opportunity to escape.

Dressing Down – Thin and worn sails were often treated with oil or wax to renew their effectiveness. This was called “dressing down”. An officer or sailor who was reprimanded or scolded received a dressing down.

First Rate – Implies excellence. From the 16th century on until steam powered ships took over, british naval ships were rated as to the number of heavy cannon they carried. A ship of 100 or more guns was a First Rate line-of-battle ship. Second rates carried 90 to 98 guns; Third Rates, 64 to 89 guns; Fourth Rates, 50 to 60 guns. Frigates carrying 20 to 48 guns were fifth and sixth rated.

Fly-by-Night – A large sail used only for sailing downwind and requiring rather little attention.

Footloose – The bottom portion of a sail is called the foot. If it is not secured, it is footloose and it dances randomly in the wind.

Garbled – Garbling was the prohibited practice of mixing rubbish with the cargo. A distorted, mixed up message was said to be garbled.

Give (someone) a Wide Berth – To anchor a ship far enough away from another ship so that they did not hit each other when they swung with the wind or tide.

Gone By the Board – Anything seen to have gone overboard or spotted floating past the ship (by the board) was considered lost at sea.

Groggy – In 1740, British Admiral Vernon (whose nickname was “Old Grogram” for the cloak of grogram which he wore) ordered that the sailors’ daily ration of rum be diluted with water. The men called the mixture “grog”. A sailor who drank too much grog was “groggy”.

In the Offing – Currently means something is about to happen, as in – “There is a reorganization in the offing.” From the 16th century usage meaning a good distance from shore, barely visible from land, as in – “We sighted a ship in the offing.”

Leeway – The weather side of a ship is the side from which the wind is blowing. The Lee side is the side of the ship sheltered from the wind. A lee shore is a shore that is downwind of a ship. If a ship does not have enough “leeway” it is in danger of being driven onto the shore.

Let the Cat Out of the Bag – In the Royal Navy the punishment prescribed for most serious crimes was flogging. This was administered by the Bosun’s Mate using a whip called a cat o’ nine tails. The “cat” was kept in a leather or baize bag. It was considered bad news indeed when the cat was let out of the bag. Other sources attribute the expression to the old english market scam of selling someone a pig in a poke(bag) when the pig turned out to be a cat instead.

No Great Shakes – When casks became empty they were “shaken” (taken apart) so the pieces, called shakes, could be stored in a small space. Shakes had very little value.

No Room to Swing a Cat – The entire ship’s company was required to witness flogging at close hand. The crew might crowd around so that the Bosun’s Mate might not have enough room to swing his cat o’ nine tails.

Over the Barrel – The most common method of punishment aboard ship was flogging. The unfortunate sailor was tied to a grating, mast or over the barrel of a deck cannon.

Overbearing – To sail downwind directly at another ship thus “stealing” or diverting the wind from his sails.

Overhaul – To prevent the buntline ropes from chaffing the sails, crew were sent aloft to haul them over the sails. This was called overhauling.

Overreach – If a ship holds a tack course too long, it has overreached its turning point and the distance it must travel to reach it’s next tack point is increased.

Overwhelm – Old English for capsize or founder.

Pipe Down – Means stop talking and be quiet. The Pipe Down was the last signal from the Bosun’s pipe each day which meant “lights out” and “silence”.

Pooped – The poop is the stern section of a ship. To be pooped is to be swamped by a high, following sea.

Press Into Service – The British navy filled their ships’ crew quotas by kidnapping men off the streets and forcing them into service. This was called Impressment and was done by Press Gangs.

Rummage Sale – From the French “arrimage” meaning ship’s cargo. Damaged cargo was sold at a rummage sale.

Scuttlebutt – A butt was a barrel. Scuttle meant to chop a hole in something. The scuttlebutt was a water barrel with a hole cut into it so that sailors could reach in and dip out drinking water. The scuttlebutt was the place where the ship’s gossip was exchanged.

Skyscraper – A small triangular sail set above the skysail in order to maximize effect in a light wind.

Slush Fund – A slushy slurry of fat was obtained by boiling or scraping the empty salted meat storage barrels. This stuff called “slush” was often sold ashore by the ship’s cook for the benefit of himself or the crew. The money so derived became known as a slush fund.

Son of a Gun – When in port, and with the crew restricted to the ship for any extended period of time, wives and ladies of easy virtue often were allowed to live aboard along with the crew. Infrequently, but not uncommonly, children were born aboard, and a convenient place for this was between guns on the gun deck. If the child’s father was unknown, they were entered in the ship’s log as “son of a gun”.

Start Over with a Clean Slate – A slate tablet was kept near the helm on which the watch keeper would record the speeds, distances, headings and tacks during the watch. If there were no problems during the watch, the slate would be wiped clean so that the new watch could start over with a clean slate.

Taken Aback – A dangerous situation where the wind is on the wrong side of the sails pressing them back against the mast and forcing the ship astern. Most often this was caused by an inattentive helmsman who had allowed the ship to head up into the wind.

Taking the wind out of his sails – Sailing in a manner so as to steal or divert wind from another ship’s sails.

The Bitter End – The end of an anchor cable is fastened to the bitts at the ship’s bow. If all of the anchor cable has been payed out you have come to the bitter end.

The Devil to Pay – To pay the deck seams meant to seal them with tar. The devil seam was the most difficult to pay because it was curved and intersected with the straight deck planking. Some sources define the “devil” as the below-the-waterline-seam between the keel and the the adjoining planking. Paying the Devil was considered to be a most difficult and unpleasant task.

Three Sheets to the Wind – A sheet is a rope line which controls the tension on the downwind side of a square sail. If, on a three masted fully rigged ship, the sheets of the three lower course sails are loose, the sails will flap and flutter and are said to be “in the wind”. A ship in this condition would stagger and wander aimlessly downwind.

To Know the Ropes – There was miles and miles of cordage in the rigging of a square rigged ship. The only way of keeping track of and knowing the function of all of these lines was to know where they were located. It took an experienced seaman to know the ropes.

Toe the Line – When called to line up at attention, the ship’s crew would form up with their toes touching a seam in the deck planking.

Touch and Go – This referred to a ship’s keel touching the bottom and getting right off again.

Under the Weather – If a crewman is standing watch on the weather side of the bow, he will be subject to the constant beating of the sea and the ocean spray. He will be under the weather.

Windfall – A sudden unexpected rush of wind from a mountainous shore which allowed a ship more leeway.

Nautical Terms

Abaft – Toward the rear (stern) of the boat. Behind.

Abeam – At right angles to the keel of the boat, but not on the boat.

Aboard – On or within the boat.

Above Deck – On the deck (not over it – see ALOFT)

Abreast – Side by side; by the side of.

Adrift – Loose, not on moorings or towline.

Aft – Toward the stern of the boat.

Aftercabin – In a ship with multiple cabins, the cabin closest to the stern.

Aftermast – In a sailing ship carrying multiple masts, the mast set closest to the stern. Also called the mizzenmast in a three-masted sailing vessel.

Aftermost – The farthest aft.

Aground – Touching or fast to the bottom.

Ahead – In a forward direction.

Aids To Navigation – Artificial objects to supplement natural landmarks indicating safe and unsafe waters.

Alee – Away from the direction of the wind. Opposite of windward.

Aloft – Above the deck of the boat.

Amidships – In or toward the center of the boat.

Anchorage – A place suitable for anchoring in relation to the wind, seas and bottom.

Arch – A curved architectural structure used to support suspended weight. In Great Lakes wooden shipbuilding, a wide iron- or steel-fastened strap down each side of a ship, usually fastened low in the bow and stern and rising to the level of the upper deck amidships; provides longitudinal support to the hull.

Arch Board – An arch-shaped nameboard fastened to the stern of a ship, displaying the vessel’s name and home port.

Astern – In back of the boat, opposite of ahead.

Athwartships – At right angles to the centerline of the boat; rowboat seats are generally athwart ships.

Aweigh – The position of anchor as it is raised clear of the bottom.

Backstay – Mast support running from the top of the mast to the aft deck or another mast.

Ballast – Material used to improve the stability and control of a ship. In wooden ships usually stone, lead or iron; in metal ships, often water.

Barge – A large cargo-carrying craft that is towed or pushed by a tug on both seagoing and inland waters.

Barque – (Also bark.) A sailing ship with three to five masts, all of them square-rigged except the after mast, which is fore-and-aft rigged.

Batten Dow – Secure hatches and loose objects both within the hull and on deck.

Beam – The greatest width of the boat.

Bearing – The direction of an object expressed either as a true bearing as shown on the chart, or as a bearing relative to the heading of the boat.

Below – Beneath the deck.

Bight – The part of the rope or line, between the end and the standing part, on which a knot is formed. BILGE – The interior of the hull below the floor boards.

Bilge – 1. Part of the underwater body of a ship between the flat of the bottom and the straight vertical sides. 2. Internally, the lowest part of the hull, next to the keelson.

Bitter End – The last part of a rope or chain.The inboard end of the anchor rode.

Black Gang – Nautical slang for the engineroom crew. Included the chief engineer, who ran the engine and supervised; oilers and wipers, who lubricated and maintained the engine; and firemen and coal-passers, who fed the steam boilers.

Block – A metal or wood case enclosing one or more pulleys; has a hook with which it can be attached to an object.

Board Foot – A unit of quantity for lumber equal to the volume of a board that is 12 by 12 by 1 inches.

Boat – A fairly indefinite term. A waterborne vehicle smaller than a ship. One definition is a small craft carried aboard a ship.

Boat Hook – A short shaft with a fitting at one end shaped to facilitate use in putting a line over a piling, recovering an object dropped overboard, or in pushing or fending off.

Boom – A spar extending from a mast to hold the outstretched bottom of a sail.

Boot Top – A painted line that indicates the designed waterline.

Bow – The forward part of a boat.

Bow Line – A docking line leading from the bow.

Bowsprit – A large spar that projects forward from the forward end of a sailing ship; used to carry sails and support the masts.

Breeches Buoy – A device used by lifesaving crews to extract persons from wrecked vessels, usually fired from a cannon onto the deck of the wrecked vessel.

Bridge – The location from which a vessel is steered and its speed controlled. “Control Station” is really a more appropriate term for small craft.

Bridle – A line or wire secured at both ends in order to distribute a strain between two points.

Brightwork – Varnished woodwork and/or polished metal.

Bulkhead – A vertical partition separating compartments.

Bulwark – The part of a ship’s side that extends above the main deck to protect it against heavy weather.

Bunker – A storage compartment aboard a ship for coal or other fuel.

Buoy – An anchored float used for marking a position on the water or a hazard or a shoal and for mooring.

Burdened Vessel – That vessel which, according to the applicable Navigation Rules, must give way to the privileged vessel. The term has been superseded by the term “give-way”.

Bushel – A unit of volume (dry measure) used in the United States, equal to 32 quarts or approximately 35.2 liters.

Cabin – An enclosed compartment in a ship; used as shelter or living quarters.

Camber – The arch or slope from side to side of a vessel’s weather deck for water drainage. Also known as round of beam.

Cant Frames – Angled frames in the extreme forward or aft ends of a ship which form the sharp ends of the vessel’s hull.

Capsize – To turn over.

Capstan – A vertical, spool-shaped rotating drum around which cable, hawser or chain is wound for hoisting anchors, sails and other heavy weights.

Cast Off – To let go.

Catamaran – A twin-hulled boat, with hulls side by side.

Centerboard – A metal or wooden slab housed in a casing or trunk along the centerline of a sailboat; may be lowered to increase the boat’s resistance to sideways motion and raised when the boat is in shallow water or beached.

Centrifugal – A pump that uses centrifugal force for pumping liquids. (Also, moving or tending to move away from a center.)

Chafing Gear – Tubing or cloth wrapping used to protect a line from chafing on a rough surface.

Chain Locker – A compartment in the lower part of a ship for stowing an anchor chain.

Chain Plate – A steel plate or bar by which standing rigging is attached to the hull.

Chandler – A retail dealer in supplies and equipment.

Chart – A map for use by navigators.

Chine – The intersection of the bottom and sides of a flat or v-bottomed boat.

Chock – A fitting through which anchor or mooring lines are led. Usually U-shaped to reduce chafe.

Chord – The principal horizontal member in a rigid framework. In Great Lakes shipbuilding, a heavy horizontal metal strap fastened around a hull at the level of the upper deck, supporting a framework of arches and cross bracing.

Cleat – A fitting to which lines are made fast. The classic cleat to which lines are belayed is approximately anvil-shaped.

Clipper – A sharp-bowed sailing vessel of the mid-19th century, having tall masts and sharp lines; built for great speed.

Clove Hitch – A knot for temporarily fastening a line to a spar or piling.

Coaming – A vertical piece around the edge of a cockpit, hatch, etc. to prevent water on deck from running below.

Cockpit – An opening in the deck from which the boat is handled.

Coil – To lay a line down in circular turns.

Combination Pump – A dual-purpose steam engine that conducted multiple tasks such as pumping water and hoisting.

Consort – An unpowered Great Lakes cargo vessel, usually a schooner-barge, towed by a steam barge or a steamer. A large steamer could tow several consorts, each fully loaded with bulk cargo. The consort system began in the 1860s on the Great Lakes and persisted to around 1920. “Consort” can refer to a pair of such vessels or just the towed vessel.

Course – The direction in which a boat is steered.

Covering Board – The outermost plank of the upper deck, running beneath the base of the bulwark and covering the frametops and the ends of the deck beams.

Cross Bracing – Iron or steel straps fastened diagonally across a ship’s frames to make a rigid framework.

Cuddy – A small shelter cabin in a boat.

Current – The horizontal movement of water.

Dead Ahead – Directly ahead.

Dead Astern – Directly aft.

Deadeye – A circular block of wood with three holes used to receive a shroud or stay and to adjust tension in the standing rigging.

Deadwood – Heavy longitudinal timbers fastened over the keelson. The timbers of the bow and stern are fastened to the deadwood.

DECK – A permanent covering over a compartment, hull or any part thereof.

Deck – Horizontal or cambered and sloping surfaces on a ship, like floors in a building.

Deckhouse – A low building or superstructure, such as a cabin, constructed on the top deck of a ship.

Depth Of Hold – The measurement from beneath the deck to the bottom of the hold; the vertical space in the cargo hold.

Derrick – A hoisting machine consisting usually of a vertical mast, a slanted boom and associated tackle; may be operated mechanically or by hand.

Dinghy – A small open boat. A dinghy is often used as a tender for a larger craft.

Displacement – The weight of water displaced by a floating vessel, thus, a boat’s weight.

Displacement Hull – A type of hull that plows through the water, displacing a weight of water equal to its own weight, even when more power is added.

Dock – A protected water area in which vessels are moored.The term is often used to denote a pier or a wharf.

Dolphin – A group of piles driven close together and bound with wire cables into a single structure.

Donkey Boiler – A steam boiler on a ship deck used to supply steam to deck machinery when the main boilers are shut down.

Draft – The depth of water a boat draws.

Ebb – A receding current.

Engine Bed – A structure of wooden or metal supports that make up the mounting for a ship’s engine.

Fall – A hoisting rope or chain, especially the part of rope or chain to which power is applied.

Fantail – The area of the upper deck of a ship that is nearest the stern. More specifically, a rounded afterdeck that overhangs the propeller and rudder.

Fastening – A spike, bolt or other device used to connect one piece of wood to another.

Fathom – Six feet.

Fender – A cushion, placed between boats, or between a boat and a pier, to prevent damage.

Figure Eight Knot – A knot in the form of a figure eight, placed in the end of a line to prevent the line from passing through a grommet or a block.

Fittings – Equipment and consumable goods placed on a ship in preparation for its active service and required by its allowance list or for operation.

Flare – The outward curve of a vessel’s sides near the bow. A distress signal.

Flood – A incoming current.

Floorboards – The surface of the cockpit on which the crew stand.

Fluke – The broad end of each arm of an anchor.

Following Sea – A sea in which the waves are moving in the same direction as the vessel.

Fore 1. – The front part of a ship. 2. In the direction of or toward the bow.

Fore-and-Aft – In a line parallel to the keel.

Forecastle – The section of the upper deck of a ship located at the bow forward of the foremast.

Foredeck – The forward part of a ship’s upper deck.

Foremast – The mast nearest the bow of a ship.

Forepeak – A compartment in the bow of a small boat.

Forward – Toward the bow of the boat.

Fouled – Any piece of equipment that is jammed or entangled, or dirtied.

Frames – The transverse strengthening members in a ship’s hull that extend from the keel to the deck or gunwale.

Frametops – The tops of a ship’s frames; the transverse strengthening members in a ship’s hull that extend from the keel to the deck or gunwhale.

Freeboard – The minimum vertical distance from the surface of the water to the gunwale.

Futtock – A curved or vertical timber that when paired with a floor or additional futtocks makes the frame of a wooden ship.

Gaff – A spar used to extend the top edge of a fore-and-aft sail.

Gaff-topsail – A light triangular or quadrilateral sail set over a gaff.

Gale 1. – An unusually strong wind. 2. In storm-warning terminology, a wind of 28-47 knots (52-87 kilometers or 32-63 miles per hour).

Galley – The kitchen area of a boat.

Gangway – The area of a ship’s side where people board and disembark.

Gear – A general term for ropes, blocks, tackle and other equipment.

GPS (Global Positioning System) – A navigation system that uses satellites to provide a receiver anywhere on Earth with extremely accurate measurements of its three-dimensional position, velocity and time.

Grab Rails – Hand-hold fittings mounted on cabin tops and sides for personal safety when moving around the boat.

Gross Tonnage – The overall volume of a ship’s hull, including crew cabins, storerooms and machinery spaces. A ton equals 100 cubic feet. The calculation of tonnage is complex, and a major revision in tonnage calculation laws occurred in 1864. The term “old measurement” reflects measurements before this change. See also net tonnage.

Ground Swell – A broad, deep undulation of water caused by an often distant gale.

Ground Tackle – A collective term for the anchor and its associated gear.

Gunwale – The upper edge of a boat’s sides.

Gunwale – The upper edge of the side of a boat. Also spelled gunnel.

Gusset – A brace, usually triangular, for reinforcing a corner or angle in the framework of a structure.

Hanging Knees – Vertical wooden brackets shaped somewhat like human knees; used to support deck beams.

Hank – An iron ring for hooking a staysail to a stay.

Hard Chine – An abrupt intersection between the hull side and the hull bottom of a boat so constructed.

Hatch – An opening in a boat’s deck fitted with a watertight cover.

Hawsepipes – Pipes made of heavy cast iron or steel through which the anchor chain runs; placed in the ship’s bow on each side of the stem, or in some cases also at the stern when a stern anchor is used.

Hawser – A large rope or cable — usually more than 5 inches (13 centimeters) in diameter — used to tow or moor a ship or secure it at a dock.

Head – A marine toilet. Also the upper corner of a triangular sail.

Heading – The direction in which a vessel’s bow points at any given time.

Headway – The forward motion of a boat. Opposite of sternway.

Heel – For a ship to incline or be inclined to one side.

Helm – The wheel or tiller controlling the rudder.

Helmsperson – The person who steers the boat.

Hitch – A knot used to secure a rope to another object or to another rope, or to form a loop or a noose in a rope.

Hoist – A power unit for lifting, usually designed to lift from a position directly above the load.

Hold – A compartment below deck in a large vessel, used solely for carrying cargo.

Horn Timber – A heavy longitudinal timber that angles upward from the stern to support the underside of the fantail.

Horsepower – A unit of power equal in the United States to 746 watts; nearly equivalent to the English gravitational unit of the same name that equals 550 foot-pounds of work per second.

Hull – The main body of a vessel.

Inboard – More toward the center of a vessel; inside; a motor fitted inside a boat.

Intracoastal Waterway – ICW: bays, rivers, and canals along the coasts (such as the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts), connected so that vessels may travel without going into the sea.

Jacobs Ladder – A rope ladder, lowered from the deck, as when pilots or passengers come aboard.

Jetty – A structure, usually masonry, projecting out from the shore; a jetty may protect a harbor entrance.

Jib – A triangular sail bent to a foremast stay.

keel – A steel beam or timber, or a series of steel beams and plates or timbers joined together, extending along the center of the bottom of a ship from stem to stern and often projecting below the bottom, to which the frames and hull plating are attached.

keelson – A structure of timbers or steel beams that are bolted to the top of a keel to increase its strength. Also spelled kelson.

King Post – A strong vertical post used to support a ship’s windlass and the heel of a ship’s bowsprit. Also called a sampson post.

Knot – A fastening made by interweaving rope to form a stopper, to enclose or bind an object, to form a loop or a noose, to tie a small rope to an object, or to tie the ends of two small ropes together.

Latitude – The distance north or south of the equator measured and expressed in degrees.

Launch – A small propeller-driven boat.

Lazarette – A storage space in a boat’s stern area.

Lee – The side sheltered from the wind.

Leeward – The direction away from the wind. Opposite of windward.

Lighter – A barge used to load and unload ships not lying at piers, or to move cargo around a harbor; to unload.

Line – Rope and cordage used aboard a vessel.

Log – A record of courses or operation. Also, a device to measure speed.

Longitude – The distance in degrees east or west of the meridian at Greenwich, England.

Loran – Long-range navigation system that uses radio signals transmitted at specific times. An onboard receiver computes position by measuring the difference in time of signal reception.

Lubber’s Line – A mark or permanent line on a compass indicating the direction forward parallel to the keel when properly installed.

Main Deck – The principal deck of a ship. In ships with multiple decks, the deck beneath the spar deck.

Mainchains – Heavy steel plates fastened to a ship’s sides that anchor the rigging for the mainmast.

Mainmast – The principal mast of a sailing ship.

Marlinspike – A tool for opening the strands of a rope while splicing.

Mast – A long wooden or metal pole or spar, usually vertical, on the deck or keel of a ship, that supports spars and sails. On a sailing ship, supported on the keelson.

Master – The captain of a merchant ship.

Mate – A deck officer ranking below the master on a merchant ship.

Midship – Approximately in the location equally distant from the bow and stern.

Mizzen – A fore-and-aft sail set on the mizzenmast.

Mizzenmast – The third mast from the bow or the mast aft of the mainmast in a sailing ship.

Moor – To secure a ship by attaching it to a fixed object or mooring buoy.

Mooring – An arrangement for securing a boat to a mooring buoy or a pier.

Mooring Bitt – A strong pair of iron, steel or wooden posts on a ship’s deck, around which ropes or cables are wound and held fast.

Naphtha – A petroleum distillate that was used in early internal combustion engines.

Nautical Mile – One minute of latitude; approximately 6076 feet – about 1/8 longer than the statute mile of 5280 feet.

Navigation – The art and science of conducting a boat safely from one point to another.

Navigation Rules – The regulations governing the movement of vessels in relation to each other, generally called steering and sailing rules.

Net Tonnage – The volume of cargo a ship could carry, equal to gross tonnage minus the crew cabins, storerooms and machinery spaces. One ton equals 100 cubic feet.

Northeaster – A stormy wind with waves from the northeast. Also spelled nor’easter.

Oakum – Old hemp or jute fiber, loosely twisted and impregnated with tar or a tar derivative, used to caulk sides and decks of ships and to pack joints of pipes and caissons.

Oiler – A member of a ship’s engineering crew who assisted the chief engineer with lubricating and maintaining the engine.

Outboard – Toward or beyond the boat’s sides. A detachable engine mounted on a boat’s stern.

Overboard – Over the side or out of the boat.

Pier – A loading platform extending at an angle from the shore.

Pile – A wood, metal or concrete pole driven into the bottom. Craft may be made fast to a pile; it may be used to support a pier (see PILING) or a float.

Piling – Support, protection for wharves, piers etc.; constructed of piles (see PILE)

Pilothouse – A compartment on or near the bridge of a ship that contains the steering wheel and other controls, compass, charts, navigating equipment and means of communicating with the engine room and other parts of the ship. Also known as wheelhouse.

Piloting – Navigation by use of visible references, the depth of the water, etc.

Planing – A boat is said to be planing when it is essentially moving over the top of the water rather than through the water.

Planing Hull – A type of hull shaped to glide easily across the water at high speed.

Plate – A smooth, flat, relatively thin piece of metal formed in sheets by beating, rolling or casting; used in the construction of ship’s hulls.

Pony Boiler – Variation of donkey boiler.

Port – The left side of a boat looking forward. A harbor.

Priveleged Vessel – A vessel which, according to the applicable Navigation Rule, has right-of-way (this term has been superseded by the term “stand-on”).

Put About – To change the course of a sailing vessel.

Quarter – The sides of a boat aft of amidships.

Quartering Sea – Sea coming on a boat’s quarter.

Rabbet – A joint formed by fitting one member into a groove in the face or edge of a second member.

Rail – The railing around the deck.

Refasten – The periodic replacement and repair of bolts, spikes and other fastenings that hold together the hull of a wooden vessel.

Rig – The method by which spars and sails are designed and fitted.

Rigging – Collectively, all the ropes and chains used to support and work the masts, yards, booms and sails of a vessel.

Rode – The anchor line and/or chain.

Room and Space – “Room” refers to the width of a ship’s frames, and “space” refers to the distance between frames. Often used by archaeologists to describe and identify wrecks.

Rope – In general, cordage as it is purchased at the store. When it comes aboard a vessel and is put to use it becomes line.

Rudder – A vertical plate or board for steering a boat.

Run – To allow a line to feed freely.

Running Lights – Lights required to be shown on boats underway between sundown and sunup.

Salvage – Recovery and reclamation of damaged, discarded or abandoned material, ships, craft and floating equipment for reuse, repair, refabrication or scrapping.

Satellite Navigation – A form of position finding using radio transmissions from satellites with sophisticated on-board automatic equipment.

Scantlings – The dimensions of a ship’s principle timbers, or the timbers themselves.

Scarph – An overlapping joint used to couple two timbers end-to-end without increasing their dimensions. Types include simple butt (flat) scarphs and more complicated hooked and keyed scarphs.

Schooner – A sailing vessel with two or more masts rigged fore and aft. The foremast is shorter than the other mast(s).

Schooner-Barge – A cargo vessel with a reduced schooner-rig, intended to be towed as a barge by a powered vessel but capable of sailing during emergencies.

Scope – Technically, the ratio of length of anchor rode in use to the vertical distance from the bow of the vessel to the bottom of the water. Usually six to seven to one for calm weather and more scope in storm conditions.

Scow – A large flat-bottomed boat with broad, square ends used along coastal trade routes for transporting bulk material such as ore, sand, or refuse . These shallow draft vessels were often lightly constructed and could be built quickly by small groups of coastal residents using simple materials and tools.

Screw – A boat’s propeller.

Scroll Head – A scroll-shaped figurehead attached to the bow of a sailing vessel.

Scuppers – Drain holes on deck, in the toe rail, or in bulwarks or (with drain pipes) in the deck itself.

Sea Cock – A through hull valve, a shut off on a plumbing or drain pipe between the vessel’s interior and the sea.

Sea Room – A safe distance from the shore or other hazards.

Seamanship – All the arts and skills of boat handling, ranging from maintenence and repairs to piloting, sail handling, marlinespike work, and rigging.

Seaworthy – A boat or a boat’s gear able to meet the usual sea conditions.

Secure – To make fast.

Set – Direction toward which the current is flowing.

Shaft – A cylinder used to carry rotating machine parts, such as pulleys and gears, to transmit power or motion.

Shaft Log – A heavy longitudinal timber placed over the keel in a ship’s stern through which the propeller shaft passes.

Ship – A larger vessel usually thought of as being used for ocean travel. A vessel able to carry a “boat” on board.

Shoal – A sandbar or rising bottom that forms a shallow place, which is a danger to navigation.

Shroud – A line or wire supporting a mast and running from its top to the spreaders, then down to the sides of the vessel.

Slack – Not fastened; loose. Also, to loosen.

Sole – Cabin or saloon floor. Timber extensions on the bottom of the rudder. Also the molded fiberglass deck of a cockpit.

Sounding – A measurement of the depth of water.

Spar – A long, round stick of steel or wood, often tapered at one or both ends, and usually a part of a ship’s masts or rigging.

Spar Deck – The upper deck running a ship’s full length. In a sailing vessel, the upper deck from which sails, rigging and spars are controlled.

Spiral Wood Auger – A hand drill, similar in appearance to a corkscrew, for boring holes in wood.

Spring Line – A pivot line used in docking, undocking, or to prevent the boat from moving forward or astern while made fast to a dock.

Squall – A sudden, violent wind often accompanied by rain.

Square Knot – A knot used to join two lines of similar size. Also called a reef knot.

Square Rig – A sailing-ship rig with rectangular sails set approximately at right angles to the keel line from horizontal yards.

Stanchion – An upright wooden or metal post on a ship; supports the ship’s bulwarks, railing or deck.

Standing Part – That part of a line which is made fast.The main part of a line as distinguished from the bight and the end.

Stand-on Vessel – That vessel which has right-of-way during a meeting, crossing, or overtaking situation.

Starboard – The right side of a boat when looking forward.

Stay – A large strong rope used to support a mast.

Steam Barge – A single-decked steam-propelled bulk cargo carrier ranging from 65 to 200 feet in length, used on the Great Lakes from the 1860s to the 1930s for hauling lumber, stone, coal and other bulk cargoes.

Steamer – (A steamship.) A ship propelled by a steam engine.

Stem – The forward most part of the bow.

Stem – The foremost part of a ship’s hull.

Stempost – The principal vertical timber in a ship’s bow.

Stern – The after part of the boat.

Stern Line – A docking line leading from the stern.

Stern – The aftermost part of a ship.

Sternpost – The principal vertical timber in a ship’s stern, upon which the rudder is fastened.

Stockless Anchor – An anchor that is not secured to the rail at the bow of a ship, as stock anchors are, but is pulled up into the hawsepipes until the flukes meet the hull.

Stow – To put an item in its proper place.

Stringer – A long horizontal member used to support a ship’s bottom, a building floor or an airplane fuselage.

Surfman – A member of the U.S. Life Saving Service who rescued stranded crews from shipwrecks.

Swamp – To fill with water, but not settle to the bottom.

Syphon – Variation of siphon. A tube, pipe or hose through which a liquid can be moved from a higher to a lower level by atmospheric pressure forcing it up the shorter leg while the weight of the liquid in the longer leg causes continuous downward flow.

Tackle – An assembly of lines and blocks in which the line passes through more than one block.

Tank Top – The top of a Great Lakes bulk carrier’s bilge tank; a water ballast tank forming the bottom of a freighter’s hull.

Taps And Dies – Tools for cutting metal threads into parts.

Thwartships – At right angles to the centerline of the boat.

Tide – The periodic rise and fall of water level in the oceans.

Tiller – A bar or handle for turning a boat’s rudder or an outboard motor.

Topmast – An upper, secondary mast on a sailing vessel, supported by a heavier, lower mast.

Topsides – The sides of a vessel between the waterline and the deck; sometimes referring to onto or above the deck.

Transom – The stern cross-section of a square sterned boat.

Trim – Fore and aft balance of a boat.

Triple-Expansion Steam Engine – An engine with three steam cylinders of different diameters. Steam passes from a small-diameter high-pressure cylinder to an intermediate cylinder to a large-diameter low-pressure cylinder. These cylinders power the pistons that drive the engine.

Trunk – The tall, narrow, waterproof box that houses a vessel’s centerboard and allows it to be retracted into the ship’s hull.

Tug – (Or tugboat.) A powerful, strongly built boat designed to tow or push other vessels.

Turn of the Bilge – The point where the bottom and the sides of a ship join.

Underway – Vessel in motion, i.e., when not moored, at anchor, or aground.

V Bottom – A hull with the bottom section in the shape of a “V”.

Wake – Moving waves, track or path that a boat leaves behind it, when moving across the waters.

Waterline – A line painted on a hull which shows the point to which a boat sinks when it is properly trimmed (see BOOT TOP).

Way – Movement of a vessel through the water such as headway, sternway or leeway.

Weather Deck – The uppermost deck of a ship; any deck that does not have overhead protection from the weather.

Wheel – Slang for a ship’s propeller.

Wheelsman – Another name for the helmsman; one who steers a ship via a wheel.

Winch – A machine that has a drum on which to coil a rope, cable or chain for hauling, pulling or hoisting.

Windlass – A machine designed to raise or lower an anchor.

Windward – Toward the direction from which the wind is coming.

Worm Gear – A long, rotating gear in the form of a screw, which meshes with the teeth of another gear.

Yacht -A pleasure vessel, a pleasure boat; in American usage the idea of size and luxury is conveyed, either sail or power.

Yard – A long spar, tapered at the ends, attached at its middle to a mast and running athwartships; used to support the top of a square sail.

Yaw – To swing or steer off course, as when running with a quartering sea.

Zebra Mussel – A small freshwater mollusk that was accidentally introduced to North American waters via ballast water from a transoceanic vessel. The zebra mussel has had significant negative economic and ecological effects: It clogs water intake pipes and attaches to and fouls boat hulls, dock pilings and other objects.