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Nautical Terms A-D
From SN Guides
This entry provides simple layman's explanations of nautical terms for the benefit of those that come across them and do not understand them.
Contributions are encouraged from all SN members as the more people that contribute the more successful this will be.
As SN Members you are all encouraged to make your own entries here but if you do not feel confident to do this you can send a PM to one of the Moderators who will arrange for your contribution to be added.
Nautical Terms A
Aback: A sail is said the be aback when the wind blows upon the reverse side. The condition of a headsail which is held to windward by the weather sheets; usually an intentional action to bring the bows round quickly - to back the Jib.
Abaft: - Behind and in the direction of the stern as in 'abaft the beam'.
AB: Able Seaman.
Abeam: Usually abreast of the middle or centre-line of the craft; at right angles to the fore-and-aft line. See also Abreast
Aboard: Upon or in the vessel; to go aboard. A sail is aboard when it fails to fill with wind.
About: The status of of a sailing vessel after it has tacked; 'She's gone about'; or the order prior to tacking "Ready About!"
About Ship: The order to prepare to tack.
Above Board: Above the board, on deck, clear and visible; not obscured or hidden.
Abreast: Side-by-side but not necessarily touching. See also Abeam
A-cockbill: Anchors with stocks can not be stowed in a hawse pipe, so are hung from a cathead. The fluke points upwards or a-cockbill. Fully braced yards which have one end raised and the other lowered to prevent them fouling a vessel alongside.
Acorn: The carved or shaped wood block atop the mast for a wind vane.
Adrift: Floating free, broken from its moorings; to cut adrift is to cut loose. Gear unlashed and moving freely is also adrift.
Advantage: A purchase is rigged to advantage when its hauling part leads from the moving block and so gives maximum power available.
Afloat: Obviously when floating in water but also in a personal sense when aboard a boat: "I'm afloat".
Afore: The opposite of abaft, so on the forward side of anything.
Aft: A place in the direction of the stern from a particular point or the rear end of the ship.
After: Being aft; the 'after hatch' - opposite of fore hatch. The after-body is the shape of the after portion of the hull.
Aftermost: The farthest aft of all.
After Part: The rear or hinder part of a vessel.
After Peak: A small locker located in the aftermost extremities of a boat. Also the aftermost tank aboard larger vessels. See also Lazerette
Ahead: Anything which is in front of the vessel or her course; opposite of astern.
A'hull: Lying under bare poles; a tactic used in bad weather.
Air Draught: The vertical distance between the water line and the highest point of the ship. The air draught is measured from the water line in any given draft condition. Air draft can be reduced in some cases by the addition of ballast.
Aldis lamp: A fixed or portable plug-in, high-powered Morse Code signalling lamp. According to Wikipedia, named after its inventor A.C.W. Aldis.
A'Lee: On the lee side. Usually meaning that the helm is 'put down' to leeward to bring the ship's head to windward. The term is little used nowadays being strictly opposite to "a'weather".
All: This, prefixed before any command or statement, means 'everything': All Hands –the whole ships company
All in the Wind: As a vessel tacks she passes through the wind and her sails flog and shiver; she is then "all in the wind"
All Standing: Everything in its correct position; so to Gybe all-standing is to do so unprepared. So to be "brought up all-standing" is to be stopped or checked suddenly by the anchor with too much sail set and probably going too fast
Alleyway: Corridor on a ship.
Alongside: Next to; lying alongside the pier or another vessel
Amidships: The area midway between bow and stern; middle part of the vessel. To have the helm amidships means that it and the rudder are lying in line with the keel.
Anchor Aweigh: When heaving in the anchor, the time when the anchor is clear of the sea floor
Andrew: Navy slang for the Royal Navy, usually 'The Andrew'.
Answer the Helm: A vessel answers the helm when she responds to the action of her rudder
Apeak: When the anchor cable is up-and-down as the anchor is being weighed.
Apron: The shaped timber fitted abaft the stem post
Apostles: See Knightheads
Ardent: The tendency to come to; fly up or gripe against weather helm.
Armstrong Patent: Not fitted with any mechanical device and worked with man-power only. Same as "Norwegian Steam"
Arse: The bottom of a wood block opposite to the crown; also the space between sheave and shell through which the fall does not pass.
Astern: Behind; outside the vessel, the opposite of ahead. To drop astern is to be left behind or to drift sternwards.
Athwartships: See Athwart
A-Trip: The anchor is a-trip when it has just broken out of the ground.
Avast: Stop!; 'avast hauling' - stop heaving.
Awash: With water just running over the top; a rock is awash when its top is breaking the surface.
A'Weather: On the weather side, towards the wind. An infrequently used opposite of a'lee.
A'Weigh: When the anchor is clear off the ground when heaving in; you have the 'weight' of it.
Azimuth Circle: A small prism mounted on a brass rotating ring that fits onto (usually) a flying bridge compass allowing simultaneous viewing of land, ship or star with the compass bearing.
Nautical Terms B
Baby Doc: Assistant Doctor (used on P & O ships)
Back (to) 1: To back the jib means to haul it out to weather and catch the wind on its lee side in order to blow the bow round.
Back (to) 2: To give added or extra support to something under pressure
Back and Fill (to): A series of short tacks by which progress is made up a narrow channel aided by a favourable tide against the wind. The helm is put slowly down until the craft almost luffs. While the tide pushes the craft back to windward, the head-sails are backed and the boat gathers way again on the same tack. Also to remain in one place by backing and filling sails on the same tack.
Backboard: The board across the stern of an open boat separating the small stowage area (between it and the transom) from the seating area or Sternsheets.
Backing: The opposite of veering, usually meaning the alteration of the winds direction in an anti-clockwise direction. More correctly the wind is moving back against the sun.
Backstays: Standing rigging which supports the upper portion of the mast, in particular from the pressure of a beam or following wind. They are led aft to the sides of the craft.
Backwater: To row or move the oars backwards so that the boat moves stern-first.
Baggywrinkle ("baggy-winkle"): Chafing gear comprised of (appx.) eight inch lengths of old rope yarns larks-headed around two standing parts of marline or small tarred twine. This is made up in twenty to thirty foot sections, then is spirally-wrapped (against the lay) on any halliard or sheet that may otherwise chafe a hole in a sail.
Bagpipe (to): A sail set to weather, so forming a bag when lying head to or nearly head to wind. Can be used to induce sternway or move the stern to leeward.
Bail (to): To remove water from a small boat with buckets or bailers.
Balance Lug: Similar to a standing lugsail but with the addition of a boom.
Balance Reef: Taking a reef which turns a gaff into a three cornered sail. The reef crosses the sail diagonally from throat to clew but is not common practice today.
Ballast: Weight to counter the heeling pressure of wind on the sails and provide a safe righting moment. When carried internally in the bilges may be either fixed or movable, or externally attached to the keel.
Balloon Canvas: Large lightweight sails which are used in light airs.
Banjo: A brass frame in which the propeller on early steam/ sailing ships worked and was hung for hoisting to the deck when under sail alone. This frame was fixed in the inner and outer stern frames, and rested in large carriages firmly secured to same. This was probably the origin of the term banjo fleet.
Banjo Fleet: A reference to a difficult job ie, awkward painting . Originally in canvas work a "Banjo Fleet" was the line of hand stitched cut outs along a boat cover. So named because of the resemblance to a banjo, a line of them being "A fleet" These being very difficult and awkward to sew.
Bar: The area of shallow water formed by the ebb and flow of the tide across the entrance to a harbour, river mouth or estuary
Bar (Cross the): A polite euphemism for death.
Barbariz(s)ing: Cleaning wooden decks with a coconut mat with fire bars for weight.
Bare Poles: A craft which is either lying or scudding under bare poles and has no sails set. A heavy weather tactic when conditions are too bad to sail or man the cockpit.
Bark: See Barque
Barque: A three or more masted sailing vessel, square rigged on all but the after mast (mizzen or jigger) which is fore-and-aft rigged.
Barquentine: Also three or more masts like the Barque, but square rigged only on the foremast, with the main, mizzen and jigger masts rigged fore-and- aft.
Barricoe: A small wood barrel or cask used to carry or store water. (The word is pronounced 'breaker' in English but originates from the French "barrique" - a cask)
Base Line: The upper side of a flat plate keel. Most of the vertical dimensions of a ship's hull are measured from this point.
Batten Down: To ensure that all openings are secured, shut and watertight, especially when bad weather approaches.
Beam 1: Width of a vessel. i.e "her beam was 50 feet".
Beam 2: A support (wood or steel)running cross-ways under the deck planking or plating to support the deck and give added strength to the ship.
Beam 3: A beam bearing - see Abeam.
Beam (on the): At right-angles to the direction of the ship's head. "Before the beam" is that arc of the horizon between the beam or midships point and 4 points off the bow. Abaft the beam has a similar meaning aft
Beam (Moulded): - Sometimes written as Beam (mld). Any moulded dimension is the distance between two points measured from the inside of the shell plating. This was originally from the outside of the frames, to which the plates were riveted. The frames were shaped using patterns that were made from the full size hull lines drawn on the Mould Loft floor. BEAM (MOULDED) is the greatest moulded breadth of a ship measured from side to side at the outside of the frames but inside the shell plating. This is the usual technical dimension given to express the width of a ship.
Beam Ends: A ship is on her beam-ends, when laid right over at almost 90 degrees - so that her deck beams are nearly vertical.
Bear: A piece of coconut matting about 1 foot square in a frame on a long handle formerly used to scrub decks. or a broom with heavy metal frame(abt 40 lbs) into which heads consisting of ordinary or metal bristles can be inserted and changed when worn
Bear (to): The bearing or direction of an object from a vessel either relative to the ship [i.e. 30 degrees to port] or as compass bearing.
Bear Away (to): To sheer away from; to take action to avoid or to move away. To bear away is also to put the tiller to weather and move in a leeward direction; free-off the sails and sail away from another vessel or object. [similar to BEAR UP]
Bear Down On: To bear down means to approach another vessel from windward, also to head directly for or to move towards.
Bear Off: To fend off or shove away.
Bear Up (to): Logically to bear up should be the opposite of bear away, but in fact refers to the tiller being moved and so has the same meaning.
Beating: To sail close to the wind, working to windward in a series of tacks - hence beating to windward.
Becket: The eye at the bottom of a block to which the standing part of the purchase is made fast. A loop usually spliced into a short length of rope which is then used for securing objects in their stowed position (see Lizard)
Becueing: See Scowing an Anchor
Bee Blocks: Sheaves or blocks for the reef earings to render through; fitted on either side of the boom end
Before: Forward or in front of; before the mast.
Belay (to): To make fast; a rope which has been hauled in will be made fast.
Belaying Pins: Wood or metal pins fitted to a Pin or Fife rail to which ropes are secured; the pins are usually removable to aid release.
Bell boy: Junior Catering Rating from Gravesend Sea School who would be given various jobs in catering, running messages and operating lifts until the age of 18 when they progressed further.
Belly: The curve or arching of a full sail.
Belly Band: A strengthened section across the belly of a square sail.
Belly Halyard: An additional halyard rigged to the middle of a long gaff.
Benches: Seats in a boat running fore and aft. (See also Thwarts).
Bend: To secure one rope to another or to bend a sail onto its spar. (see hitch).
Bendix: As it "put it in the Bendix" - Dispose of something by throwing it overboard.
Beneaped: A vessel left aground during the period between two successive spring tides is beneaped.
Berth: The place were a craft lies in harbour either alongside or rides to her anchor - a safe berth. Also the bunk or bed where a sailor sleeps.
Bibby Alleyway: Cul de sac.
Bibs: Wood chocks or supports on mast hounds to support Trestle Trees
Bight: The loop of rope hanging down in a coil or that part between its two ends. Also the single coil lying on deck "Don't stand in the bight!"
Bilge or Bilges: The curved part of the ship where the sides and bottom meet; the bottom of the hull.
Bilge pump: Pump to remove excess water that has collected in the various cavities between the frames in the floor of the hold or bilges.
Bilge Water: Water and other liquids that collects in a ship's bilges.
Bill: The point of an anchor or hook.
Binnacle: Protective housing for ship's compass
Bitter End (the): The Bitter End is the last link in an anchor cable which is attached to a removable pin called the Bitt on the side of the chain locker. There should be a large sledge hammer stowed by this pin so that it can be knocked out quickly if need be. The term Came to the Bitter End means there isn't any more left.
The pin was taken out of the bitter end, the attachment in the chain locker, in dry dock to lower the last of the anchor cable / chain to the dry dock bottom when changing the first three shackles of cable and putting it to the bitter end. Out came the cable and half a ton of muddy rust flakes. Then dig the other several tons out of the chain locker and recoat with bitumen.
Bitting: To secure to the Bitts
Bitts: Used for securing warps and cables; a pair of strong upright timbers rising through the deck around which the cable was wound. Aboard craft bitts would also serve as the Knightheads to support the bowsprit. Also, substantial posts used to secure a boat or ship to a jetty (Also called Bollards).
Black draught: A senna based laxative that was in use from around 1800 and doled out when required on ship.
SN Member Old Janner says: Black draught was a black clove and bayleaf smelling liquid that was used for constipated persons. It was much sought after by Indian crew members and we had to ration it to them.
Black gang: The feared British Customs and Excise rummage squad empowered to take a ship apart in search of contraband booze, drugs or cigarettes. Not always skilled at putting the vessel back together again. Also, on American ships, refers to the unlicensed members of the Engine Department. Alternative use for anyone from the engine department (from the days of coal-fireed ships).
Black pan: Raw food left out at night for cooking at shift change etc.
SN member Dom quotes an alternative: A fry up for 4-8 fireman/greasers
"Blimpmerchant": Someone always looking through portholes.
Block: A pulley. The number of sheaves indicate the capacity; a single block has one sheave a double block two sheaves etc.
Block and Block: See Two Blocks.
Block to Block: See Two Blocks
Bloods: A term used by stewards (certainly on Cunard) to denote passengers who gave them tips or were likely to do so.
Blowing Tubes: Term describing blowing the boiler tubes through to remove soot.
Blue Unction: A medical treatment consisting of a 2% solution of mercuric chloride (aka corrosive sublimate) in alcohol and water formerly used to treat pubic lice or "crabs".
Blue unction has only one function:
It's used for the killing of crabs
Which some calls the mechanised dandruff
And others the Sandy McNabs.
Blues: Blue uniform.
Bluff: A steep-to shore, a blunt or wide-bowed vessel
Board: The course line or distance which a vessel covers between one tack and the next, when working her way to windward. To make short boards is to tack frequently as in a narrow river or channel.
Board (to): To go aboard a craft.
Board and Board: On the same tack.
Board of Trade acquaintances: Shipmates
Boat Boom: A boom rigged outboard when at anchor to which the ship's boats are secured by their painter ready for use but not allowing them to alongside.
Bob: A sailing barge term meaning a flag mounted on the topmast truck, bearing owner's colour scheme or other device. Sometimes termed bob-fly, or in Kent vane-fly. It is made up both of the flag itself and a wooden or steel frame. It is also used to indicate wind direction like a burgee on racing yachts.
Bobstay: Standing or running rigging under the bowsprit which stops it lifting - usually chain or heavy wire between the end of the bowsprit the stem. Together with mast shrouds and stays, keeps the luff of the headsails taut.
Body Hoop: Iron or metal bands fitted around a built or made mast. Also to strengthen a grown mast with shakes or scarphs
Bollards: Substantial posts used to secure a boat or ship to a jetty (Also called Bitts).
Bollock Blocks: The pair of blocks in the centre of a yard through which the hauling part passes to the foot of the mast; it may be for the sheets of the sail above or to hoist the yard
Bolsters: Hardwood cheeks or chocks bolted to the mast for the rigging to rest on and prevent chaffing.
Bolt Rope: The rope sewn into the edge of a sail to prevent wear to the sail by chafe. Also strengthens small heavy weather or storm sails which are often set flying, so lacks support from mast hoops or lacing to the spars
Bonnet: Extra sail area laced to the bottom of a loose-footed sail, to increase the sail's size in light winds. If to a square sail then usually no more than a third its area
Boom: The name usually given to a spar with one end secured to the mast along which the foot of a fore-and-aft sail is set. The foot of the sail may be secured only at the tack and clew, or laced for the full length.
Boomkin: A small spar extending from the gunwale or ship's side to give the sheets a fair lead (see also Bumkin).
Boom Crutch: A removable version of the boom gallows usually mounted at the stern in which to stow the boom. (see Gallows and Scissor Crutch)
Boomie: A ketch-rigged sailing barge rigged with gaff and boom to both main and mizzen sails.
Boot-topping: Formally the paint or treatment used on the waterline area of a vessel's hull. In particular on those vessels with a significant difference between their loaded and light waterlines.
Boss (The boss): Chief Steward
BOT Lime: Board of Trade Lime Juice - standard issue in the tropics.
BOT Acquaintances: Shipmates
BOT Olympics: The act of performing fortnightly lifeboat or emergency drill.
BOT Sports or Sportsday: Alternative to BOT Olympics
Bound: "Where are you bound?" means "where are you going to"; also held, as in wind-bound; prevented from sailing.
Bouse: See Bowse
Bow: The forepart of the vessel, while "on the bow" means anything visible or sighted between 4 points on either side of the bow
Bower Anchors: The normal working anchors, "best bower" being that anchor on the port side, North of the Equator. The wind usually veers in the northern hemisphere; consequently, if a 2nd anchor is needed, the starboard can be dropped without fouling or crossing over the port cable. The reverse applies in the southern hemisphere
Bowlines: Lines used to steady and tauten the weather leech of a square sail, secured to cringles by a Bowline knot.
Bowse (to): To pull on anything with a tackle; the luff of a sail is bowsed to stop it sagging off.
Bowsing Line: A line used when painting over the side with stages. It was run from one side of the 'break' of the f'oc'stle around the stem to the other and was pulled tight to enable the stages to be pulled in and overcome the flare of the bows, the same method was used for getting under the stern.
Bowsprit: The spar which projects forward of the stem. In modern terms it enlarges the fore triangle so enabling more sail to be set.
Bowsprit Cap: See Cranse
Box (to): To repeat all the points, half, quarter and three-quarter points of the compass in rotation.
Box boat: Container ship.
Box Haul: To bring a vessel quickly round from one tack to the other when for one reason or another she will not tack through the wind - similar to wearing. When rigged fore-and-aft, the vessel is brought up into the wind but, as the seas force her to pay off, the helm is put to windward and the mainsail scandalized. The full pressure of wind upon headsails brings the stern quickly up into the wind. Once the wind has passed onto the opposite quarter the main is reset as the craft gathers way on the opposite tack. Aboard a square-rigger, fore squares are put aback so that the gathers sternway, the tiller to leeward, and drives the stern up into the wind as the pays off. This is a heavy weather tactic.
Box Off: To pay off a ships head quickly by hauling the headsail sheets a'weather.
Brace (to): To alter or adjust the angle of the square-sail yards
Braces: The ropes secured to the ends of the yard arms by which the yards are braced to port or starboard.
Brails: The ropes which gather up a boomless mainsail spankers or spritsails. It encircles the sail via lead blocks on the mast and through the leach cringles to draw the sail towards the mast for stowing.
Brassbounder: Nickname for a merchant service apprentice in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Breadth: See Beam
Breadth overall: The maximum width of the ship measured from the outer hull on the starboard side to the outer hull on the port side, including rubbing bars, permanent fenders or other structures, including overhanging bridge wings, aircraft carrier flight decks and the like.
Break Out (to): To unstow for use; to break out the sails from their lashings, also to break out the anchor from either its stowage or hold on the bottom.
Breaker: See Barricoe
Breast Hook: Shipbuilding term: a shaped piece of timber fitted in the bows to strengthen the join between stem and side timbers.
Breast Rope: A short mooring line between vessel and shore at right angles to the fore-and-aft line.
Bridle: A length of chain, rope or wire, purpose-made for connecting two objects; a mooring bridle between ship and buoy
Brig: A two-masted vessel, square-rigged on both but with a fore-and-aft Mainsail, Driver or Spanker in place of the Main Course.
Brigantine: Also two-masted but square-rigged only on the foremast.
Bring Home: A vessel is said to "bring home" her anchor when it does not hold - slightly different from a dragging anchor which initially held before losing its grip.
Bring-to: To bring a messenger or warp to the capstan or winch.
Bring Up: See Brought Up
Broach (to): To open or to use; to broach a cask. It can also mean to open cargo in order to steal its contents.
Broach-To: To fly across the wind against the action of the tiller when running before it, usually in a heavy sea. It is often the result of poor steering or too much sail. To suddenly turn broadside on the face of a following steep sea- if the sea breaks then the boat can be swamped or overwhelmed. A broach might be the only alternative to surfing down the face of wave and pitch poling.
Broad Reach: Sailing with the wind abaft the beam, between reaching and running.
Broadside-on: Sideways-on to the sea with the full weight of the wind and waves against the hull.
Brought Up: A vessel is brought up when she lies settled to her anchor. After dropping astern on wind and tide, tautening her cable, she then slowly works her way back up to ride to the cable.
Brought To: See Brought Up.
Brought by the Lee: An involuntary gybe, being caught with the wind suddenly on the lee side.
Brow: The gang plank
BRS: Bedroom Steward.
Bucko Mate: Refers to an exceptionally hard-nosed of bullying Chief Officer.
Bully beef: Rhyming slang for Chief = Chief Engineer.
Bulkhead: Either temporary or permanent divisions separating sections of the vessel, perhaps into watertight compartments
Bull Rope: A rope used to stop a mooring buoy from fouling the bobstay and bow. A line secured to the buoy, led through a bullseye at the end of the bowsprit and so when hauled inboard keeps the buoy clear
Bullseye: A round thimble made of hardwood through which a rope may render freely.
Bulwarks: The sides of a vessel above the deck - of solid construction as opposed to rails.
Bumkin: A wooden spar pointing aft over the stern of a Yawl or even Ketch to take the mizzen sheet and to help stop the boom lifting.
Bumpkin: See Bumkin
Bunch of Bastards: A well tangled rope, line, halyard etc.
Bung up and bilge free: Descriptive term related to the stowage of barrels. The correct way, according to all those now dusty books, was to stow the lowest tier of barrels on dunnage such that their bilges (the fattest part) were not resting on the deck or tank top and their bungs were pointing upwards. Subsequent tiers then fitted neatly on top without stressing the barrel bilges. The whole stow was then secure and the load was taken in the strong barrel quarters.
Bunt: The middle of a furled sail or the belly of a full-cut one.
Buntline: The buntlines work like the brails on sails with very full bunts, usually square sails. The lines gather up the sail so that it may be furled.
Bunting: The material or fabric used to make flags, a strong but open weave. Slang for flags.
Burgee: A very narrow tapering flag flown at the top of the mast of a sailing boat used to determine wind direction. Typically it will indicate membership of a sailing club by the design.
Burma way: Passage on a RN ship.
Burton: A tackle made up of two single blocks.
Buttock: The curved underbody of a vessel parallel to her keel.
Button: See Truck
By: Close on the wind; "full-and-by"; close-hauled on the wind but with the sails full.
By and Large: Sailing slightly free but still within 6 points of the wind.
By the Board: Over the side.
By the Head: A vessel trimmed so that her forward draft is greater than the after draft.
By the Lee: Sailing free with the boom on the same side as the wind
By the Wind: Sailing as close to the wind as possible.
Nautical Terms C
Cable: The rope or chain secured to the anchor and by which a craft is moored. Also being one tenth (100 fathoms or 600 feet) of a nautical mile.
Cable-laid: Heavy three-stranded rope formed by laying up right-handed three lengths of left-handed hawser-laid rope; traditionally used as a ship's cable due to its strength and elasticity.
Camber: The upwards arch of ship's deck towards centreline - the athwartships version of sheer.
Camel: A heavy float used to keep a vessel off a wharf, usually consisting of one or more logs secured together.
Cant: To turn or twist anything out of square, also to turn the ships head to port or starboard.
Cap: An iron band shaped like the figure '8' used for attaching the extension of a mast bowsprit. The lower cap is sometimes called the Yoke.
Capsize: To turn over a boat or a coil of rope.
Captains Tiger: Captain's steward
Careen: To heel a vessel over on the hard in order to clean or repair her bottom.
Carry Away: To break anything, usually rigging or cordage.
Carry On: To press on; to hang onto sails perhaps longer than is safe or prudent.
Carry Way: To continue moving forward due to momentum rather than any means of propulsion.
Cast (to): Usually to "cast the lead" but also an anchor. To use the sails to pay off the ship's head when weighing anchor so that the sails start to draw.
Cast Off (to): To let go.
Cat (to): To hang the anchor off the Cathead
Cat's Paw: The very small ripples on the sea surface caused by a very light breeze.
Catch a Crab (to): To miss a stroke when rowing, often with dramatic consequences for the oarsman!
Catch a Turn: To take a turn around a capstan or bitts so that the strain may be held on a rope
Cathead: The iron or timber davit used to stow the anchor at the rail. Used before stockless anchors which stow in the hawse pipe.
Caulk: Material used when Caulking.
Caulking: The action of sealing the seams between a ships planks or decking also the term for the oakum fibre used to seal those seams.
Cat Davit: Device for lifting an anchor on board.
Ceiling (1): Spar ceiling - pine planks about 6"x 2" laid fore and aft around 18" apart on the faces of the hold frames to keep general cargo off the steel and allow good ventilation.
Ceiling (2): Tank Top ceiling - generally a harder timber laid in the hatch square of general cargo vesselsd to protect the tank top from falling cargo. Unless maintained in good condition, this was a problem when loading bulk grain as the surveyors normally wanted it removed as it harboured insects and old cargo residues
On one I was on we put in a layer of cars, false deck, layer of cars, tween deck, layer of cars etc. The false decks were the 'ceilings'.
Chafe: To rub or wear against.
Chain Plate: Plates bolted outboard, taking the lower ends of the shrouds and other principal standing rigging.
Channels (1): Timber attached outboard between the hull and chain plate to give the shrouds a greater spread.
Channels (2): As it "the channels" or "channel fever" - A state of excitement when homeward bound, doubtless related to the English Channel through which passed many homeward bounders.
Check (to): To steady or stop the rate at which a rope is being slacked; away even to take a turn and so use the friction to slow down.
Check Her (to): To stop or reduce the swing of the ship's head when altering course quickly.
Cheeks: The sides of a wood block.
Cheek Blocks: A sheave fitted on the side of a spar; the topsail sheet passes through a cheek block on the gaff.
Chief Pantryman: Head of Goan crew on P&O ships - this job title is no longer in use.
Chinese Watch: Carry on working even if your watch has ended until the job's finished as there's no-one else to take over.
Chinse: To caulk a seam lightly either as a temporary measure or because it is not strong enough for full caulking.
Chippy: (shipwright a timeserved tradesman in a shipyard) Carpenter - this expression is also common in the building trade.
Christmas Tree (1): The stub mast on the monkey island which carried the NUC lights, red light for dangerous cargo, etc., plus, on some ships, the mast head light & a morse light. Also on some vessels, where the Suez Canal lights were mounted.
Christmas Tree (2): In the Offshore industry, a series of steelworks and pipelines on the seabed around a fixed platform.
Christmas Tree (3): On some tankers, refers to the series of crossovers, spectacle blanks, valves, pipeing, etc. in the pumproom which cross connected the cargo stripping lines from various tanks.
Chock-a-block: See Two Blocks.
Chock-up: A gaff or sail is chock-up when hauled up as far as it will go. The sails are chock when they are full of wind.
Choke the Luff: To prevent the fall of a tackle from rendering by putting the bight or end of the hauling part across the mouth of the sheave to jam the block.
Clamp: See Bee Blocks.
Clap On: To catch hold of or to man a rope.
Claw (to): To tack or work to windward off a lee shore. To claw to windward is to work slowly to windward.
Clean and Full: The sails are filled by the wind, sailing slightly freer than close hauled.
Clear (to): To clear the decks is to remove all unnecessary gear; to clear a locker is to empty it and to clear the land is to get away from it into open water.
Cleat: A broad based "T" made of metal or wood,around which ropes can be secured.
Clench (to): To turn over the point of a nail (so Clencher or Clinker built;) also to jam a rope.
Clew: The two lower corners of a square sail or the after corner of a fore-and-aft sail. The sheets of loose-footed sails are secured to the clew.
Clew Lines: The lines used to lift or release the clews of square sails. They are led from the clew to the yard-arm, along the yard and down to the deck.
Clinker: (Also Clencher or Clincher) A method of construction usually on small boats - built with overlapping planks and secured to ribs or frames, originally with the nails just turned over but later using roves (washers).
Close (to): To draw near to another craft or the coast.
Close Hauled: When sailing hard on the wind with all sails sheeted hard home.
Close Reefed: With all possible reefs in.
Clump Block: A heavy duty wood block.
Coamings: The sides or framework of a hatchway or cockpit above deck level
Cockpit: The well in the after deck from which a yacht is steered.
Cockspur: A piece of shaped steel fitted to the windlass underneath the cable-lifters to ensure that the anchor cable does not gather under but goes straight down the spurling pipe into the chain locker. This device is seldom noticed until it becomes defective but when it is not there weighing an anchor becomes a problem.
Cofferdam: The empty space between cargo tanks in oil tankers designed as a safety "buffer".
Coil (to): To lay a rope or wire down on deck in a circle with one turn on top of the previous, to coil up is to make a rope up into bights and hang from a cleat or belaying pin.
Cold Ironing: Originally a term from the days of steam-powered ships - cold ironing then meaning that the iron engines were allowed to cool down in port to save fuel. The term later came to refer to connecting the ship to shore-based electrical power supplies when in port to reduce emissions.
Combe: See Bee Blocks.
Come (to): To bring the craft nearer the wind
Comes Home: When the anchor refuses to bite and is dragged across the bottom as the vessel drifts or is blown downwind.
Commis: Trainee waiter.
Companion: The sliding hatch which gives access to the accommodation below via the Companionway.
Companionway: Internal stairway on a ship.
Con (to): To pilot the vessel by directing the person on the helm - usually in close quarters situations and often with reference to a course.
Coni-Oni or Conny Onny: Condensed Milk.
Copper-bottomed: Copper sheathing used to prevent boring worms from damaging the hull of wooden sailing ships. This technique has a long history and mention is made of copper sheathing on HMS Bounty.
Counter: The overhang of the hull abaft the stern post.
Course: The compass direction in which the craft is to be steered.
Courses: The lower sails aboard a square rigged-ship.
Covering Board: Outboard deck plank which covers the top of the hull timbers.
Cowboys: Tourist class waiters
Coxswain: The man in charge of a small boat, often steering it himself. Together with the Boatswain comprised three such duties aboard large ships as there was also the now redundant term Skiffswain
Crab Fat: See Blue Unction
Crabbing: Going sideways; making a lot of leeway.
Crack On (to): To make good speed, to push on hard, to carry on
Crance: The iron band with eyes fitted to the outboard end of the Bowsprit to which the rigging is secured.
Crank: A very tender craft that can be heeled easily and therefore potentially dangerous. (see Tender)
Cranse: See Crance.
Cranze: See Crance.
Cringle: An eye or metal thimble worked into the corner or edge of a sail.
Crossing the line: A ceremony paying tribute to King Neptune on one's first voyage across the Equator. It fell out of use then was resurrected for the tourists on the liners in the 6o's and 70's.
Crow's nest: A small shelter on the foremast - originally made from a cask. It was used as a lookout point and particularly for sighting whales and breaks through the ice. It was also used as a punishment where you could be sent to do a double watch in severe weather and some nasty Captains were rumored to lash a man to the rails going round The Horn .
Crown: The top of a block.
Crutch: A single removable support for the boom to rest in. (see Gallows).
Cutter: A single-masted Bermudian or Gaff rigged vessel with two headsails. Earlier cutters also carried a large yard and square sail on the mast.
Cutwater: The point where the ships stem meets the waters surface. The finely shaped knee or forward facing curve of the stem supporting the figure head
Nautical Terms D
Dandy: Another name for a Yawl (also Dundee and Dandis Fr.) with the mizzen sail lug-rigged rather than gaff but never Bermudian.
Dash: A local term used in certain African ports refering to gifts or gratuities given to shore workers.
Davits: Small cranes with steel arms for holding and lowering lifeboats
Dead Lights: Big metal covers that were screwed down over the port holes in extreme bad weather.
Deadeye: A round block of hardwood with sheaveless holes which is seized into the eye of a shroud. A lanyard is rove through these holes and a second deadeye fastened to the chain plates so as to set the shrouds up taut.
Deaden the Way (to): To slow down the boat by luffing up etc.
Dead on End: A wind which blows from the exact direction in which the vessel wants to steer.
Deadwood: Timber fixed forward and aft to strengthen or reinforce the joint between stern post and keel.
Deckhead: Ceiling on a ship.
Deckhead Survey: Sleeping.
Deckie learner: A term used on deep sea trawlers for a deckhand new to the job and without any qualifications.
Decky: Diminutive term for a Deck Boy.
Deep sea holding tank: Term used to indicate that something is pumped over the ship's side, when perhaps it shouldn't be and there are wagging ears who may cause problems if it is realised that this is happening. Generally used to confuse those not knowledgeable in nautical matters.
Depth moulded: The vertical distance between the top of the keel and the underside of the deck, at the ship's side. Also called 'moulded depth'.
Derrick: A spar fixed on board a ship used for hoisting cargo, boats etc. The name Derrrick comes from a 17th Century hangman of that name who plied his trade at Tyburn in London - a place of public execution close to the current location of Marble Arch.
Desmond: Decca Navigator (from Jamaican reggae singer Desmond Dekker)
Deucer: Second Steward
Devils Claw: Safety device for the anchor cable.
Devil Seam: The Devil Seam is the topmost seam in the hull next to the scuppers between the edge of the deck and the hull. This makes it the longest seam on a vessel and not being flush was often the seam most likely to spring a leak.
Devil and the deep blue sea (between the): A sailor who had been knocked over by a wave was SCUPPERED lying at the edge of the deck Between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Dhobi: Doing the laundry.
Dhobi Dust: Washing powder
Dhobi Engine: Washing machine
Dhobi Wallah: Laundry Steward
Dip: "The Dip" was a Cunard term for the purser.
Dipping Lug: A dipping lug sail must always be set to leeward and so during each tack the spar must be shifted to the leeward side of the mast. Aboard large luggers this meant lowering the gear.
Dismasted: Masts lost in consequence of an accident, gale or breakage.
Displacement: The amount of water displaced by the hull of the ship at a particular draft.
Doc: term for a ship's cook.
Dog Down: To hammer the dogs home securily to make exterior doors watertight (see entry for Dogs).
Dog steps: Angle bars used as climbing rungs
Dog Vane: A small piece of bunting or yarn tied to the shrouds or topsail yard to indicate the direction of the wind.
Doggy/Doggie: Bin for storing raw veg or potatoes after preparation by KPs. ie "a doggie of chips".
Dogs: Steel door catches on exterior watertight doors.
Dog's Leg: See Gazinta.
Dolphin Killer: See Dolphin Striker.
Dolphin Striker: A small vertical spar attached under the bowsprit to provide support for it and the jib boom. Unfortunate for the dlolphins that got in the way of it in front of a sailing ship in rough seas.
Donkey-man: Senior greaser
Donkey's Breakfast: This was a sack of dry hay for sleeping on purchased by all first trippers prior to signing on. Still practised in the 1930s.
SN member Trotterdotpom adds: "Donkey's Breakfasts" were still in use in the late '60s on trawlers in Grimsby and Hull. They had a different filling but the same name and were bought, usually on credit, along with everything else needed for the trip, from a store on the fishdock. The store was operated by the Trawler Owners so any purchases were paid for out of the "settlings" at the end of the trip. This was quite a profitable sideline for the companies as the fishermen had to equip themselves with everything from knives to oilskins. I seem to recall a cost of about a pound for a mattress - quite a sum when the basic wage was about 11 pounds per week. Remember the old song: "I owe my soul to the company store"? On my first trip, I found out that I was supposed to supply my own mattress not long after rounding Spurn Head! One of the old hands managed to find me a discarded one somewhere, for which I was eternally grateful. Unfortunately, on returning to Grimsby three weeks later, I had to spend more money on DDT powder! As far as I know these practices continued until the demise of the industry in the mid-70s.
Double Sheet Block: See Bollock Blocks
Doubling: To pass a headland; it refers to the means of fixing the boat's position by doubling the angle on the bow.
Double Up (to): To use extra, or to increase the numbers used, for reasons of safety; to double up mooring warps because of bad weather.
Douse (to): To stop using or douse the staysail is to lower it quickly and stop it drawing.
Down by the head: An expression meaning that a ship's bow is lower in the water than the stern.
Down Helm: To put the tiller to leeward and so luff up into the wind.
Downhaul: A line to haul down a sail; the opposite of a halyard.
Drabbler: A small light-weather sail laced onto the foot of a Bonnet, itself additional sail area.
Drag (to): Slightly different from "coming home" as in this case the vessel has brought up and been riding to her anchor, which has then broken out due to the increased pressure of wind and sea.
Draft: See Draught.
Draught: The amount of the vessel which is under water.
Draught Forward: The vertical distance between the summer load line and the underside of the keel measured at the forward perpendicular (an imaginary vertical line at the intersection of the stem and the waterline).
Draught at the Stern: The vertical distance between the summer load line and the underside of the keel measured at the after perpendicular (an imaginary vertical line drawn through the centre of the rudder stock.
Draught - Mean: The arithmetic mean of the vertical distance between the summer load line and the underside of the keel at each of the two perpendiculars.
Draught - Maximum: The vertical distance between the summer load line and the underside of any permanently protruding structure or equipment, for example a Sonar dome.
Draw (to): A sail draws when it catches the wind - while a boat which draws 3 feet has a three foot draught.
Draw (ing)- decription of a vessel' draft e.g. how much will she draw or was she drawing?
Drift: The distance between the two blocks of a purchase or tackle. The direction of a current.
Drift (to): To float free under the influence of current or tide.
Drive (to): To be forced bodily to leeward when the wind is too strong to retain control with the sails and rudder. Also when the anchor drags is to be driven ashore.
Driver: See Spanker.
Drogue: Another term for a sea anchor.
Drop: To drop anchor is to let the anchor go, while to drop astern is to fall back or be left behind.
Duct-board stew: Stew allegedly made from the bits and pieces found under the boards when the fridges were cleaned.
Dunnage: Pieces of wood, matting, or similar material used to keep a cargo in position in a ship's hold
Dutch Cleat: A type of stag-horn bollard set into pockets along the hull of certain passenger vessels to assist mooring craft used in tendering passengers to and from shore. They can also be used in mooring by taking a line from bow or stern and leading it around a suitable bollard and dropping the eye over this cleat.
Dutch Pennant: A length of line "Flying" in the breeze.
Dutchman: - An open spectacle spacer installed on tankers between pipe flanges where the flanges don't quite meet.