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Nautical Terms A-D

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'''Bloods:''' A term used by stewards (certainly on Cunard) to denote passengers who gave them tips or were likely to do so. '''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:''' 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".

Revision as of 14:25, 14 November 2009



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

Abaft: - Behind and in the direction of the stern as in 'abaft the beam'.

AB: Able Seaman.

Aft: A place in the direction of the stern from a particular point or the rear end of the ship.

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.

Alleyway: Corridor on a ship.

Amidships: Anywhere in the middle of the ship.

Anchor aweigh: When heaving in the anchor, the time when the anchor is clear of the sea floor

Armstrong Patent: Not fitted with any mechanical device and worked with man-power only. Same as "Norwegian Steam"

Atta-boy: Praise given for a job well done on a vessel.

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)

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 sprially-wrapped (against the lay) on any halliard or sheet that may otherwise chafe a hole in a sail. (Ashley's #3484, "railroad" sennit, is another name for this.)

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.

Barbariz(s)ing: Cleaning wooden decks with a coconut mat with fire bars for weight.

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.

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 (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.

Bear: A piece of coconut matting about 1 foot square in a frame on a long handle formerly used to scrub decks.

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.

Benches: Seats in a boat running fore and aft. (See also Thwarts).

Bendix: As it "put it in the Bendix" - Dispose of something by throwing it overboard.

Bibby Alleyway: Cul de sac.

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.

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.

Bitts: 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.

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

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.

Board of Trade acquaintances: Shipmates

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.

Bollards: Substantial posts used to secure a boat or ship to a jetty (Also called Bitts).

Boss (The boss): Chief Steward

Boomie: A ketch-rigged sailing barge rigged with gaff and boom to both main and mizzen sails.

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

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.

Box boat: Container ship.

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.

Breast Hook: Shipbuilding term: Joining piece at bow.

BRS: Bedroom Steward.

Bucko Mate: Refers to an exceptionally hard-nosed of bullying Chief Officer.

Bully beef: Rhyming slang for Chief = Chief Engineer.

Bulkhead: Internal "walls" in a ship - e.g. between cabins or compartments.

Bulwarks: The raised sides round the decks of a vessel

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.

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.

By and Large: to sail before the wind with all sails set is to sail "Large", to sail with wind before the beam is to sail "By". Hence, "By and Large" means both, ie, "In general".

Nautical Terms C

Camel: A heavy float used to keep a vessel off a wharf, usually consisting of one or more logs secured together.

Captains Tiger: Captain's steward

Caulk: Make watertight especially deck planking

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'.

Channels: 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.

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.

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.

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".

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.

Commis: Trainee waiter.

Companionway: Internal stairway on a ship.

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.

Cowboys: Tourist class waiters

Cutwater: The point where the ships stem meets the waters surface.

Nautical Terms D

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.

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 pupmed over the ship's side, when perhaps it shouldn't be and there are wagging ears who may casue problems if it is realised that this is happening. Generally used to confuse those not knowledgeable in nautical matters.

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.

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

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 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'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.

Down by the head: An expression meaning that a ship's bow is lower in the water than the stern.

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 (ing)- decription of a vessel' draft e.g. how much will she draw or was she drawing?

Dropsy: Tips.

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.

Nautical Terms

Terms A-D Terms E-H Terms I-L Terms M-P Terms Q-T Terms U-Z

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