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Nautical Glossary

The maritime world uses a vocabulary that mystifies the layman for its obscurity. Below is a table listing in alphabetical order 661 Terms used in the Royal Navy of the years 1700s-1800s and their Explanations obtained from, among others:

Explanatory words in italics have their own Terms elsewere in the table.

602 Blue linkTerms have an illustrating image linked from the Internet, their Source © indicated at right.

Linked images are of 4 types:

  • D:   Drawings and Diagrams (191)
  • M:   Model ships (34)
  • P:   Paintings and Prints (244)
  • Ph: Photos (124)

For space considerations, some image Source ©s are abbreviated and marked with an asterisk (*), their meaning given in full at the bottom of this page.

Reliable source attribution is rather problematic because a given image may be shared by many sites - e.g. Pinterest - not always bothering to indicate its original authorship, in which case I preferred to add also the name of the original author in the Source © of the link whenever available.

Explanatory words in italics have their own entries under a different Term, and synonims are indicated as Also... and shown in "quotes".
Click a blue link Term using the pointer to see its illustrating image - if large, its loading may take a while, depending on your connection speed.

TERM EXPLANATION IMAGE
Source ©Type
A
AbackTo turn foresails against the wind to help the vessel turn when tacking.FAA* T. LunyP
AbaftTo the back of, in or behind the stern of a vessel. Also astern.(none)
Abandon ship!Order given by a commanding officer to leave the vessel in a situation beyond control.1st Art GalleryP
AbeamAt right angles to the vessel's keel.Transport SafetyD
Aboard, onboard, on boardOn the vessel.(none)
AdmiralThe highest rank obtainable by a Commissioned Officer. See Naval Ranks on another page.RMG*P
AdriftA vessel afloat but out of control.Folk SongP
AforeIn, on, or toward the front of a vessel. Also "ahead".(none)
AftThe rear part of a vessel.Photographers1 R.McClainD
AfloatA vessel floating freely, not aground or sunk.Afloat M.ByrnePh
AfterdeckOpen deck behind a vessel's bridge, or the its continuation aft.Daily MailM
AfterguardSeamen who work the aft sails on the quarterdeck and poop deck to attend to the aft sails.(none)
AgroundResting on or touching the sea bottom, a submerged reef or a sandbar (shoal).Ocean's Bridge R.SalmonP
Ahoy, boat ahoy, ship ahoy!Cry to hail an approaching boat or vessel.(none)
Ahull (lying)Weathering a storm with sails furled or removed, and letting the vessel drift.P PD*P
AleeTo leeward. Also "downwind".W* IxnayonthetimmayD
AloftOver the upper deck, on the rigging.Shutterstock jbutcherP
AmidshipsIn the middle of a vessel.Photographers1 R.McClainD
AnchorA metal hook-like object to grip the bottom and prevent/slow the drift of a vessel, attached by a line or chain.CdM*D
Anchor's aweighAnchor (2) just clear of the bottom.W PD* TosakaD
Anchor cattedAnchor secured to the catheads.Shutterstock 4361000358M
Anchor draggingAnchor not holding to the bottom, allowing its vessel to drift.Safety 4 SeaPh
ArmourerPetty Officer responsible for maintaining and repairing a vessel's small arms.(none)
ArmouryA small, copper-plated area close to the magazine where powder charges are prepared by the Gunner wearing felt slippers and passed through felt curtains to prevent their accidental ignition. Also powder room.Pins Daddy HMS VictoryPh
AsternBehind or to the rear of a vessel.Transport SafetyD
Athwart, athwartshipsAt right angles to the fore and aft or centreline of a vessel. Also amidships.Photographers1 R.McClainD
Avast!Order to stop whatever is being done.(none)
AwashFlooded by waves or tide.Cloudfront M. DawsonP
Aye
Aye, aye
Yes reply to an order or command to indicate that it has been heard, understood and will be carried out.
The proper reply from a hailed boat to indicate that an Officer is being rowed onboard.
(none)
B
Backing (sails) Slowing/halting a vessel's forward progress by setting her sails against the wind. Also heave to.FAA* T. LunyP
Backstays Lines or cables (red) to support the masts from their rear.Global SecurityD
BallastHeavy material in the vessel's hold to provide stability. "In ballast": having only ballast and no cargo.WP* J.R.ChildressM
Banyan daysMondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when no meat is served to the crew. See Daily Life On Board on another page.(none)
Barge Large boat (right) for transportation between a vessel and the shore or within a harbor.RMG* Magnolia SoftP
BarometerInstrument to measure atmospheric pressure and forecast short-term weather changes.L&SC*Ph
Barque, Barc, BarkVessel with 3 or more masts, a square-rigged foremast and mainmast, the mizzen mast rigged fore-and-aft.W* CasitoD
Barquentine, Barkenteen,
Schooner-Bark
Vessel with 3 or more masts: a square rigged foremast and fore-and-aft rigged main, mizzen and any other masts.W* CasitoD
Battening down (hatches)Securing closed hatch covers with battens or gratings to prevent water entry belowdecks.FAA* D.BendicksonPh
BattensWooden steps on vessels' sides to facilitate ascent to its entry port. Also reinforcements in junk sails.Media HarmonistsM
Battle damageDamage sustained by a vessel during a sea action, including fallen masts and rigging.British Battles W.L.WyllieP
BeakheadSmall deck in front of the forecastle, where the heads are located (centre right).W* RamaM
BearingAngle of an object expressed in points relative to the bow, midships or stern of a vessel.(none)
Bear up, down/awayTurn into/away from the wind.SailcheckerP
Bears, bibles, prayer booksSquared-off pieces of soft sandstone (holystone) used with sand for holystoning the deck.AmazonPh
Beating to quartersSummoning a vessel's complement to battle stations by a continuous roll played by a Royal Marine drummer boy.W PD* G.W.JoyP
Beating to windwardSailing as close to the wind as possible. Also "close hauled", see Points of sail.Cichw1 W.V.VeldeP
BecalmedA vessel unable to move through lack of wind.Steve Mayo ArtP
BeesElm planks (low right) bolted to the outer ends of the bowsprit through which forestays are reeved.Modelship BuilderM
Belay!Order to halt a current activity or to countermand a previous order before its execution.(none)
BelayingMaking a line fast around a cleat or belaying pin.W* P.S.ForesmanD
Belaying pinWooden tool with a round handle and cylindrical shaft, inserted into a hole in various strategically placed fife rails on top of bulwarks and elsewhere. Also a handy seaman's weapon at boardings.US MilitariaPh
Below decks, belowdecksAny of the spaces below the main deck of a vessel.P* HMS VictoryPh
Bend on (sails)To attach sails to the yards before hoisting them up.(none)
Berths (accommodation)Sleeping quarters on board vessels.(none)
Berths (harbour)Docking places assigned to vessels in ports. Also "slips".W PD* C.E.DixonP
BightLoop in rope or line.Working the SailsD
BilboesIron bars with sliding shackles for confining prisoners' ankles.B* US SlavePh
BilgeLowest compartment at the bottom (right) of the hull where water collects and is manually pumped out.Pirate GlossaryD
Bilge pumpsHand-operated pumps of various types to empty/lower the water level in the bilge periodically.Living in the PastM
BillsLists of the members of a vessel's entire company, specifying:
- Watch Bill: larboard and starboard watch personnel
- Quarter Bill: divisional stations to be taken in time of action or for given evolutions
- Station Bill: divisional stations to be manned for various situations. Also called "Muster List".
Slide ShareD
BinnacleStand (left) before the helm where the vessel's compass is housed.CSDS*Ph
BittsPosts (mid left) for fastening ropes or cables.Photographers1 R.McClainD
BlackstrapCheap red Spanish wine distributed to the crew in lieu of unavailable grog.(none)
BlockshipVessel deliberately sunk in a waterway to obstruct it and make it unnavigable.HGMS WorcesterPh
BlocksPulleys with single or multiple grooved wheels. Also sheaves.DreamstimePh
Blue PeterSignal flag (P) meaning that the vessel hoisting it is about to proceed to sea.Shutterstock M.ZinchenkoPh
BlunderbussA muzzle-loading firearm with a short, large-calibre barrel flared at the muzzle.W* PD*Ph
BoardingAssaulting an enemy vessel lashed alongside by grapnels, or from boats.British Battles R.HillingfordP
Boarding partyGroup of Officers, Seamen and Royal Marines assembled to assault an enemy vessel by boat.W PD*P
Boarding pike8'-long pike for boarding and to repel boarders.GithubP
Boatswain, Bo'sunA Warrant Officer in charge of deck and rigging activities.W PD*P
Boatswain's chairWooden platform to suspend a Seaman from a rope to perform work aloft.Sweethaven02D
Boatswain's pipeWhistle to issue commands to the crew.Whistle MuseumPh
BobstayStay (C) holding the bowsprit downwards.W* RefundpoliticsD
BollardPost on a wharf to which mooring ropes are tied.DreamstimePh
BoltropeStrong rope stitched to edges of a sail.Navy Administr.D
Bomb ketch, bombVessel with 1 or 2 large-calibre mortars on a revolving platform, firing explosive or incendiary shells.W* RamaM
Bombay MarineA naval force established in 1612 to protect the the East India Company's land territories and merchantmen.W PD*D
Boom (obstacle)Chained logs or similar material strung across a stretch of water to control or block its navigation.W PD*D
Boomkin, bumpkinShort spar (centre) projecting either fore or aft on a sailing vessel.W* BrokenSpherePh
Boom vangLine (67, lower left) used to downhaul the mizzen boom and control the shape of the gaff sail Also kicking strap.SchoonermanP
BoomsSpars (right) attached to yards that can be extended outwards to hoist stunning sails.DreamstimeD
Bow, bowsThe front part of a vessel.W* HalfbluePh
Bower, best bowerA vessel's main anchor(s), normally carried in the catheads at the bow, best bower being the larger.B* HMS VictoryPh
BowspritLong spar extending forward from the vessel's prow.DreamstimePh
BoxhaulingTacking a vessel by backing the sails and going astern until the wind is on the other side. Also coming about.*HNSAD
Boxing the compass (wind)Wind that is constantly shifting its direction.(none)
Boy, cabin boyServant, attendant. Usually a very young man. See Naval Ranks on another page.ULD* M.SteinP
BracesRunning rigging (left) used to control the yards.Classic SailingD
Brail up (sails)To haul up the foot of a sail to make it spill the wind and stop drawing.SMA*D
Breeches buoyRescue device to extract people from wrecked vessels, or to transfer people in danger.W* W. HomerP
BridgeRaised deck (centre) behind the mizzenmast, its windward side reserved to the Officer on duty. Also quartedeck.W PD*P
BrigVessel with 2 square-rigged masts.W* CasitoD
Brig of warUnrated flush-decked, 2-masted fighting vessel. See Ships' Rates on another page.W* RamaM
Brigantine2-masted vessel with a square-rigged foremast and gaff-rigged mainsail with upper square rig on the aft mainmast.FAA* J. WilliamsonP
Brig-Schooner, Schooner-Brig, Hermaphrodite Brig2-masted sailing vessel with square sails on the foremast and a schooner rig on the mainmast (triangular topsail
over a gaff mainsail).
W* CasitoD
BroachA vessel turning sideways to high waves, thus liable to being swamped by the seas and capsize.Cloudfront M.HaywoodP
BroadsideThe simultaneous firing of all the cannon on one side of a vessel.GR Assets Derek GardnerP
BrowPlatform of joined wooden planks to board or leave a vessel at a pier. Also "gangplank" or "gangway".B* Brandi LynnPh
Buccaneers, boucaniersCaribbean pirates preying on passing merchant vessels of any nationality. Also "picaroons".Buccaneers' ReefP
BulkheadsPartitions separating areas belowdecks, removed when preparing for battle.(none)
BulwarksExtensions (1) of a vessel's or boat sides above the level of the deck.Ship ModelingM
BumboatsBoats selling goods of all sorts to anchored vessels.WP* CPP*P
BuntThe middle part of a sail.AncestryD
BuntingAll the available vessel's flags hoisted in celebration of some event or occasion. Also "dress overall".Daily MailP
BuntlinesLines (centre) tied to the bottom of a square sail to haul it up to the yard when furling.Classic SailingD
BurgooPorridge or gruel of oatmeal. Also "dog's body".W* PragmaticPinupPh
C
CableThick anchor line. Also measure of length (200 yards).W* ANMM*Ph
Cable tierThe dark compartment belowdecks (33) where cables and ropes are stored.Pirates RP WeeblyD
Caïque Traditional Mediterranean fishing boat.Estran Cité de la MerM
CamberSlight convexity (top left) to a vessel's deck.W* Rémi KauppD
CamelsLoaded barges lashed on each side of a vessel, then emptied to provide additional buoyancy and reduce the draught of the vessel in the middle.W* C. BentamM
Canister shotCannon ammunition (right) similar to grapeshot but with more and smaller balls. Also "cartouches".QuoraPh
CannonThe smoothbore main armament of a sailing vessel, also guns. See Naval Cannon on another page.W* KDS444D
CapsizeTo turn over. Also on beam ends.History NetP
CapstanA broad revolving cylinder with vertical axle through the deck, used for winding a rope, cable or hawser and turned round by Seamen with bars to raise anchors or spars. Also "winch".WP ClipartD
CaptainThe Commissioned Officer in command of a rated ship. See Naval Ranks on another page.ULD* M.SteinP
Captain's ClerkCivilian hired to help the Commanding Officer manage a vessel's paperwork.(none)
Captain's MastFormal disciplinary hearing conducted usually before the mainmast by a Captain or a lower-ranking Commissioned Officer
to examine and dispose of cases involving defaulters under their command, concluded by either dismissing the charges or imposing an appropriate punishment.
(none)
Captain's StewardCivilian (left) hired by a vessel's Commanding Officer as a personal servant.Project Gutenberg HoughtonP
CarcassesIncendiary mortar bombshells, hollow cast-iron spheres weighing 190 pounds.W PD*D
CareenBeaching a vessel at high tide to perform maintenance on its normally submerged parts.W PD*P
CarpenterWarrant Officer responsible for the maintenance of a vessel's hull, masts, spars and boats. Also "Chips".ULD* M.SteinP
CarronadesShort smoothbore cannon usually mounted on a sliding carriage, first produced by the Carron Company of Falkirk.WPD*D
Carvel-builtVessel's hull with planks (right) fastened edge to edge, forming a smooth surface.W PD*D
Cast offTo free a vessel from its docking lines in order to get under way.(none)
Cat-o'-nine-tailsWhip with 9 knotted ends, prepared anew and kept in a red baize bag by a bosun's mate,
to give lashes to Seamen defaulters. Also "Captain's daughter".
W* S.ForesmanD
Catharpins, cat-harpinsShort ropes or iron clamps used to brace in the shrouds toward the masts for a freer sweep to the yards.Sail BlogsD
CatheadsBeams extending laterally at the bow, to raise anchors without hitting the hull and to secure them.St. Vincent CollegePh
Cats' pawsIrregular wavelets cause by light variable winds on calm waters. Also "ripples".Tate Henry MooreP
CaulkerPetty Officer responsible for maintaining and repairing the caulking of a vessel's hull.W PD*P
Caulking, calkingSealing the seams bertween planks with fibers of cotton and oakum (hemp fiber soaked in pine tar), then covering them over with a putty in the case of hull seams, or with melted pine pitch in deck seams.Q-FilesP
CaySmall, low-lying tropical island. Also "key".Fine Art America D.PerryP
ChainplateMetal strap bolted to the hull (centre right) to which the shrouds are secured. Also "tang".St. Augustine LighthouseD
Chains (iron)Ropes or chains running from the outer edges of a top downwards and inwards to a point on the mast or lower shrouds, to prevent the top from tilting relative to the mast. Also futtock shrouds.UoSF*D
Chains (wooden)Lateral outboard platforms to spread the shrouds, also used by leadsmen to take soundings.MNHD
Chain shotTwo round shot linked by a length of chain or a solid bar (also "angels"), to cut enemy rigging. Also langridge.W PD*P
ChartingSurveying a coastal location for depths and prominent features.3d1000P
Chase guns, chasersSmall cannon in the bow or stern, used to damage a target or evaluate its range.Modelship WorldM
Chasse-maréesOriginally Breton 2- or 3-masted luggers, many were converted to coast-patrol duty for the French navy.P* C.F.SwenssonP
ChocksDevices (top) to guide a line.Photographers1 R.McClainD
CiviliansPersonnel like Captain's Clerk, Cook, Steward hired and paid directly by a vessel's Commanding Officer
to assist him in various non-military duties. See Naval Ranks on another page.
(none)
Church pennantPennant flown at the gaff during religious services aboard.HMS RichmondD
Claw offTo beat away from a lee shore.National Maritime MuseumP
Clear the deck!Command to Seamen to prepare for battle by removing anything on deck that is in the way.(none)
CleatsDevices (mid right) to secure ropes aboard a vessel.Photographers1 R.McClainD
ClewsThe lower corners (13) of sails, to which sheets (2) are attached.MA* J. WhitewrightD
Clew linesLines (right) attached to the clews of sails, used to reduce their drawing area.Classic SailingD
Clinker- built, lapstrakeVessel's hull with planks (left) that overlap.W PD*D
ClippersVery fast 3- or 4-masted merchant sailing vessels of the mid 1800s, carrying cargo and/or passengers.CalisphereP
Close reefingShortening sails to their last line of reef points.Biola UniversityP
CoamingRaised edge around hatches to keep water out.Indiana EduD
CoasterVessel for coastal trade.B* A.VannerPh
Club haulingDropping an anchor while sailing at speed, to turn the vessel abruptly.(none)
CockbillTo suspend an anchor vertically in preparation to letting it go.ErnestinaP
Cocked hatThe bicorne or bicorn was widely adopted in the 1790s, the shorter front brim called "the cock" hence "cocked hat" and the rear brim termed "the fan", forming a semi-circular fan shape. Worn in the side-to-side "athwart" style during the 1790s, the bicorne was normally seen fore-and-aft from about 1800 on.W PD*P
CockpitBerth for Midshipmen and Petty Officers in the stern or bow (lower left, red) of a vessel.W* Kaye DacusD
ColoursA nation’s or a service flag flown at the mainmast and/or the mizzen mast in daytime, and lowered at sunset.
See also Daily Life on Board on another page.
PWH*P
Coming aboutTurning a vessel's bow toward the wind so that it will blow from the opposite side. Also "tacking".Meridian 360P
Come-up, coming-up glassTelescope permitting to determine whether another pursued/pursuing vessel is getting nearer or farther.(none)
CommanderFormerly "Master and Commander", a Commissioned Officer in command of a vessel. See Naval Ranks on another page.W PD*P
CommissionAppointment to Officer's rank made by the Admiralty.Parade AntiquesPh
Commission/decommissionTo formally place in/take a vessel out of active service.(none)
Commissioned OfficerAn Officer who has received the Admiralty's commission. See Naval Ranks on another page.P* M.HowardP
CommodoreCaptain in command of a group of vessels. See Naval Ranks on another page.FAA* P
CompanionwaysStairways (centre right) leading from one vessel's deck to another.B* Scott's WorkshopM
ConningTo direct the steering a vessel, performed by the Commanding Officer or the Watch Officer on duty.P* ULD* M.SteinP
CookCivilian hired to prepare food in the vessel's galley.P* ULD* M.SteinP
Cooper Petty Officer responsible to the Purser for the maintenance of a vessel's casks and barrels.Freelance HistorianP
CorsairsPrivateers issued with a "Letter of Marque and Reprisal", thus authorised to wage the "Guerre de course".CybercydePh
Corvette, sloop of warUnrated flush-decked, 2-masted fighting vessel. See Ships' Rates on another page.W PD*P
CotsSwinging beds for Officers, similar to but more comfortable than crew hammocks.HMS VictoryPh
CounterThe part of the stern (a,b top left) over the deck transom and sternpost (a,b bottom).OHO*D
CouttsA private bank and wealth manager founded in 1692 with offices in the Strand, where many RN Officers had their pay and prize money deposited for safekeeping and investment.W*P
CoursesThe lowermost sails on the foremast and mainmast. Also "foresail" and "mainsail".Jans SajtD
Coxswain, Cox'nSailor in charge of a boat, Petty Officer commanding the Captain's gig or barge.British Tars R.HoustonP
CrewA vessel's complement of Seamen.(none)
CringlesSmall holes (top) rimmed with stranded cordage in the corners of a sail to reef it. Also grommets.MC JazzD
CrossjackThe lowest sail (25) on the mizzen mast.EB* D
CrosstreesTwo horizontal spars at the upper ends of the topmasts or royal masts. Also "spreaders".W* P.S.ForesmanD
Crow's nestShelter for lookouts at a masthead.B* Karla AkinsP
CuddyInexperienced young crewman. Also a nickname for Midshipmen.(none)
Cubby, cubby-holeSmall cabin at the stern. Also "cuddy".(none)
Cut-out expeditionBoat action in an anchorage to capture enemy vessels lying there.W* ArteisM
CutterA single-masted, fore-and-aft rigged sailing vessel with at least 2 headsails.W* GalleryP
D
DavitDevice for hoisting and lowering a boat.Media HarmonistsM
Dead reckoningNavigation based on log entries of a vessel's directions, speeds and times.(none)
DeadeyesThree-holed blocks.W PD*Ph
DeadriseAngle (bottom right) between a vessel's side and its keel.OHO*D
DeckheadThe ceiling of an enclosed space below decks, the bottom of the deck above. Also overhead.G StaticPh
DeckhandOrdinary Seaman who performs routine labor on board.VendioP
DeckhouseEnclosed structure (left) on the vessel's quarter or main deck.MC JazzD
DecksThe various horizontal wooden surfaces between the sides of a vessel.Global SecurityD
DefaulterCrewman guilty of some misdemeanour, offense or crime, destined to appear before the Captain's Mast.(none)
DerelictAn abandoned sunken vessel.Detsky NabytekPh
DhowSailing vessel with 1 or more masts and lateen sails used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.ShutterstockPh
DinghyVessel's boat with 6 or more oars.Art Reserve Geoff HuntP
DismastedVessel which has lost one or more of its masts in action or bad weather.B* T. WhitcombeP
Distress (signal)Colours set upside down to signal that a vessel is in a dangerous situation.FAE* T.Buttersworth Sr.P
Ditty bagSailor's hold-all bag for personal belongings. Also "sea bag".Etsy StaticP
Division (crew)Group of Seamen working a battery of 6-8 guns, commanded by an Officer assisted by a Petty Officer.W PD*P
DockA harbour quay, a stone platform lying alongside or projecting into water for loading and unloading ships.
Also berth, "wharf, pier, jetty".
Swansea DocksPh
DockingMooring a vessel to a dock.W* Georgian EraP
DoldrumsEquatorial region of the Atlantic between the Trades and the Westerlies, noted for its lack of wind.Military ArtP
Dolphin strikerA small vertical or near vertical ancillary spar (B) between bowsprit and martingale.W* RefundpoliticsD
DorySmall, shallow-draft boat with high sides, a flat bottom and sharp bows.Building Wooden BoatPh
DoubloonA Spanish gold coin worth 2 "escudos", minted in the Americas.The Pirate EmpirePh
Draught, draftThe vertical distance (centre right) between the waterline and the deepest part of the keel.W* Rémi KauppD
DriftUnwanted movement of a vessel due to its anchor or moorings no longer holding it fast.Keith HastingsP
DriverGaff sail (26) set on the mizzennmast. Also spanker.EB* D
Drydock, dry dockNarrow basin for the construction, maintenance and repair of vessels, that can be flooded then drained. Also "cofferdam".Cornwall-EnglandPh
DrogueDevice attached to a vessel's stern to slow it down in a storm. Also sea anchor.Sailing ScuttlebuttD
DunnagePersonal baggage, like an Officer's sea chest.Vallejo GalleryPh
E
East IndiamenSailing ships operating under charter or licence to any of the East India Companies of the 1600s-1800s.W PD*P
En flûteShip with some or all of her guns removed.Tumblr Geoff HuntP
EnsignThe main, largest flag or banner flown by a vessel to indicate its nationality. Also colours.W* CommonsD
Entry portOpening in a vessel's bulwarks or side to allow access onboard.Media HarmonistsM
EpaulettesShoulder boards on Officer's coats.Maritime AloftD
EscutcheonPart of vessel's stern where its name is displayed.FAA* HMS VictoryPh
F
FairleadDevice to keep a line or chain running in the correct direction or to prevent it rubbing or fouling.KatradisPh
FantailThe deck on the poop that forms the roof of a cabin in the aft part of the superstructure of a vessel. Also poop deck.Global SecurityD
FathomMeasure of depth (6').(none)
FeluccaA small lateen-rigged sailing vessel with a narrow beam, common in the Mediterranean area.Fine Art AmericaP
FiddlesRaised strips of wood on table or desk to keep objects from falling off during ship rolls. Also cheap "violins".SuddenlinkPh
Fife railsHorizontal strips of wood joined to the tops of stanchions to belay the vessel's halyards of a mast.W* KDS444D
FifesFlutes in a military band.Heinz History CenterP
Fighting topsPlatforms at the upper end of each lower mast, holding musket and swivel sharpshooters.Gilkerson ArtP
FigureheadA carved bust or full-length figure at the prow of a vessel under the bowsprit.W* Remi JouanPh
Fire ship, fireshipA ship filled with combustibles, set on fire and steered or allowed to drift into an enemy port.W PD*P
FishingRepairing a damaged mast or spar with a fillet of wood.HNSA* LuceD
Flag officerCommissioned officer entitled to fly a flag on the vessel or installation from which he commands.W PD*P
FlagshipThe ship in command of a fleet of naval or a convoy of commercial vessels.RMG* HMS VictoryP
FlemishedLine coiled to lie flat on the deck.Modelship WorldPh
FlintlockFiring mechanism (animation) for muskets, pistols and rifles, later adopted also on naval cannon.W* BBODOD
Flush deckedVessel with upper deck extending from bow to stern.W* JM PlumbeyP
Flying jibOutermost jib (1) on the bowsprit.EB* D
Flying jib boomSpar (C) over the jib boom (B) further extending the length of the bowsprit (A).W* KDS444D
FootropesLines under the yards to support topmen handling sails.Global SecurityD
Fore-and-aft rigSails (right) arranged parallel rather than perpendicular to the line of the keel.NJSD*D
Forecastle, foc's'lRaised forward section of a vessel, housing crew quarters.RDS*M
ForedeckDeck over the forecastle.RMG*M
ForefootLower part (bottom right) of the stem of a vessel.QuoraD
ForemastThe mast nearest to a vessel's bow.P PDP*Ph
ForepeakThe part of a vessel's hold (left) within the angle of the bow.Sailing MonsterPh
ForesailsSails (left) on the foremast and the bowsprit, the latter also jibs, headsails.EB*P
ForestayStay (F) to support a vessel's foremast.Global SecurityD
FotheringCovering a leaking hole in the hull by tying a sail or other canvas over it.RMG*P
Fouled anchorAn anchor which has become hooked on some impediment on the bottom or has its cable wound round its stock or flukes.
The latter also the seal of the Lord High Admiral and the Admiralty.
CRW FlagsD
FounderTo fill with water and sink.FAA* Patti LaneP
FramesCurved structural elements of a vessel's hull. Also "ribs".TMS*D
FreeboardDistance (right) from the waterline to the upper deck level.W* Rémi KauppD
FrigateA 5th-rate fighting vessel. See Ships' Rates on another page.W* Commons G.F. St. JohnD
Full and by(e)Sailing as close to the wind as possible yet with full-drawing sails.EurekapediaP
Full rig, full riggedA vessel (bottom left) with square sails. Also square rig, square rigged, "tall ship".PMM*D
FurlingTo roll up the sails and secure them to their yards with gaskets, so they will no longer draw. Also "dousing".SWoTWP
Futtock shroudsRopes or chains running from the outer edges of a top downwards and inwards to a point on the mast or lower shrouds, to prevent the top from tilting relative to the mast.UoSF*D
FuttocksStructural elements (mid top) of a vessel's stem. Also frames.QuoraD
G
Gaff sail4-cornered, fore-and-aft rigged sail, controlled at its peak and, usually, its entire head by a gaff spar (3).W* Tomasz RojekD
GalleonLarge, multi-decked armed Spanish merchant ship carrying home precious cargo from the colonies.FAA* M.LacasseP
Galley (kitchen)Space under the forecastle where the Cook prepares food for Officers and crew. Also "caboose".W* TET* Ph
Galley (vessel)Since Greek times and until the advent of square-rigged ships, the most widely used type of war vessel in the Mediterranean, powered by sweeps and lateen sails. Later used by Barbary corsairs and pirates.W* Myriam ThyesM
GamblingAlthough strictly prohibited on board, a favourite secretive crew pastime involving dice, cards, cockfights, rat and cockroach races, etc. often performed in the cable tier.W* PDP
GangwaysNarrow open-air corridors joining the quarterdeck to the forecastle.W* MonkbarnsPh
GarboardPlank (lower left) on a vessel’s bottom next to the keel.Rpm NauticalD
GasketsCords (H) to secure a furled sail to its yard.Ocean NavigatorD
GingerbreadDecorative carvings .Painted ShipsPh
GlassA telescope (also called "spyglass", "bring'em near"), or the barometer.Le CompendiumPh
Grape, grapeshotCannon ammunition consisting of small metal balls or slugs packed tightly into a canvas bag.Treasure NetPh
GrapnelSmall anchor for dragging or grappling. Also "grappling hook", "grapple"".InstructablesPh
GratingsWooden frames used as hatch covers, and as vertical supports for lashings.ClipartD
Great cabinThe Captain's cabin located under the poop deck, spanning the width of the stern with large windows.Daily MailPh
GrogDiluted Jamaicam rum given to the crew by the Purser at the cry "Up spirits!" or "Splice the mainbrace!".Drinking CupP
GrommetsSmall holes (top) rimmed with stranded cordage in the corners of a sail to reef it. Also cringles.ShutterstockP
Gun brigSmall brig-rigged vessel, generally carrying 2 chase long guns and 10 carronades.CloudfrontP
Gun calibresExpressed in shot pound weight, depending on the vessel's rate they can vary from small 6-pounder chase guns to heavy 68-pounder carronades. See also Naval Cannon on another page.Venice BoatsD
Gun carriageA wooden frame supporting the gun barrel of a cannon, movable on 4 wheels called "trucks".History of WorldD
Gun deck(s)Decks where vessel's cannon are housed.500px Trevor WintlePh
Gun lashingsRopework to secure guns and contain their recoil when fired.Go2gboD
Gun portsOpenings in the sides of the vessel through which cannon can be fired.W PD*M
Gun raftRaft fitted with a lartge-calibre cannon or mortar for bombardment.CerberusP
Gun toolsTools used by gun crews to service a vessel's cannon.Global SecurityP
Gunner Warrant Officer responsible for the vessel's cannon and ammunition, magazine and powder room.ASLFM*P
GunpowderMix of charcoal, sulphur and saltpeter that burns very quickly and propels cannon shot out.Wise GeekPh
GunroomJunior officers' mess (lower left) on the lower deck.ImgurD
GunwaleThe upper planking on the side of a vessel, an extension of the bulwark over the gun deck.IstockimgPh
GunsThe smoothbore main armament of a sailing vessel, also cannon. See Naval Cannon on another page.W* KDS444D
Gybing, jibingTurning a vessel's stern through a following wind. Also wearingW PD*P
H
HailA shout or call to attract attention.(none)
Halyards, halliardsLines used to raise a sail, flag, yard or ladder.Jans SajtPh
HammocksSince 1597, the sleeping accomodations for the crew: fabric slings suspended between 2 points.ASLFMP
Hammock nettingStowage on gunwales for hammocks, to protect deck crew from sharphooters and impede boarders.Media HarmonistsM
HanceThe steps (centre) from a vessel's quarterdeck to its main deck.W PD*D
HangerNaval sword with a 28" blade. Also "cutlass".Nelson's NavyPh
HanksRings (right) or clips for attaching a jib or staysail to a stay.Radek ShipModelsD
Hard tackA type of biscuit made from flour, water, and salt. Inexpensive and long-lasting, used for sustenance in the absence of perishable foods during long sea voyages.NBHS*Ph
HatchesOpenings in the main deck allowing access below deck.W* F. MarryatP
HaulTo pull a line. Also heave.W PD*P
Hawse, hawseholeHole in a vessel's bow side through which the anchor cable passes. Also "hawsepipe".W* ANMM*Ph
HawsepiperFormer Seaman risen to the rank of Petty Officer or Officer, having "come up through the hawsehole".(none)
HawserThick rope or cable for mooring or towing a vessel.PixabayPh
Head, headsSeamen's open-air privies at the bows.W* Kaye Dacus M
Head seaA sea where waves directly oppose the motion of the vessel.Deviantart temma22P
HeadgearRigging ahead of the foremast (low right).Schooner CoastPh
HeadsailsSails (1,2,3,4) set forward of the foremast of a vessel. Also jibs.EB* D
HeaveTo pull a line, to lift or move with effort. Also haul.W PD*P
Heave toTo adjust rudder and sails to stop a vessel's forward motion. Also "lay to", "lay by", "luff up".Find Boat Pics W.ClarkP
HeelThe inclination or canting of a vessel to one side under the influence of the wind on its sails. Also list.Mary RoseP
HelmThe single or multiple, 8- or 10-spoked steering device, connected by cables to the rudder. Also wheel.ShutterstockPh
HelmsmanAble Seaman (left) who steers the vessel.ULD* M.SteinPh
HitchKnot (4,5) to fasten a rope or line to a fixed object.Skipper TipsD
HikingReducing a vessel's heel by positioning crewmembers on its weather side.(none)
HMS/H.M.S.Acronym/abbreviation for His/Her Majesty's Ship.(none)
Hobby horsingTo pitch repeatedly in short seas.Sotheby'sP
HogsheadLarge cask (centre) for liquids, with a capacity of 64 gallons.HubstaticD
HoistTo raise, or the device for lifting/lowering a load.HNSA* LuceD
HoldStorage space (16) in the lower part of a vessel's hull below the orlop deck.Pirate Diary C.RiddellD
HolystoningScrubbing the decks with bears of sandstone to ensure their smoothness, followed by swabbing them.Q-FilesP
HoundsProtrusions high on a mast onto which blocks are hung for the halyards.Modelship WorldD
HoyHeavy barge used for freight.W* PDP
HulksDecommissioned vessels afloat, providing living, office, training, storage, or prison space.P* W.L.WyllieP
HullThe body of a vessel, meeting the water surface at the waterline.All ModelD
Hull downA vessel (extreme left) whose upper parts only are visible over the horizon.Sailboat ModelP
Hung in staysFailed tacking maneuvre, with the vessel not turning through the eye of the wind. Also in irons, in stays.Findboatpics J.SpurlingP
I
IdlersCrewmen not required to serve watches, like Cooks, Carpenters, Boatswains, Pursers, Sailmakers, Coopers and their mates.(none)
In irons, in staysFailed tacking maneuvre, with the vessel not turning through the eye of the wind. Also hung in stays.Findboatpics J.SpurlingP
InshoreNear, in sight of the shore.Artnet Jacob KnyffP
J
Jack, jack tarA Seaman, the second nickname from dirtying his slops after handling tarred rigging.Spiderpic D.WalkerP
JackUnion flag worn at the jackstaff.AmazonD
Jackass-barque,
jackass bark
Vessel with 3 or more masts, the foremast square-rigged and the main partially square-rigged
and partially fore-and-aft rigged, the mizzen fore-and-aft rigged.
W* CasitoD
Jackstaff, jack staffSmall vertical pole (right) on the bow of a vessel to hold the national flag.RMG*P
Jib boom, jibboomSpar (B, green) extending the length of the bowsprit (A).W* Rémi KauppD
JibsTriangular staysails (1,2,3,4) between the foremast and bowsprit of a sailing vessel. Also headsails.EB* D
Jolly boatBoat (top left) used mainly to ferry personnel to and from a vessel.W PD*P
JonasA person bringing bad luck, from Biblical prophet Jonah.PravoslavieP
JunksTraditional Chinese lug sail vessels of varying size, with battens spanning the full width of the sails.UoM*P
Jury rigMakeshift repairs made at sea to a vessel (at left) damaged by enemy action or weather.The Library of CongressP
K
KedgingDropping a relatively light anchor as a pivot to perform a turn.Steve Mayo ArtP
KeelThe lowest structural member at the bottom of a vessel.Wood MagazineM
KeelhaulingPunishment by dragging under the keel for serious defaulters in some navies other than the RN.W* PD
Kelson, keelsonStructural member (17) fastened to the keel for additional longitudinal stiffness and to bind the longitudinal members (keel and hog) to the transverse members (frames and floors).W* BoatbuilderD
Ketch2-masted vessel.Michael KastenD
Kicking strapLine (67, lower left) used to downhaul the mizzen boom and control the shape of the gaff sail. Also boom vang.SchoonermanP
Kiss the Gunner’s DaughterUnruly Midshipmen are bent over the breech of a cannon and caned on their bare buttocks. Also over the barrel (of a gun).CorpunP
KneesStructural support elements.NJSD*D
KnotMeasure of speed: 1 nautical mile (1.8520 km, 1.1508 mi) per hour.(none)
KnotsVarious ways of tying cordage securely.Ask IdeasD
L
Laid up in ordinaryVessels out of active service for repairs, maintenance or other non-seagoing uses, typically with no sails and uncrossed or no yards on their masts.RMG* Magnolia SoftP
Lanthorns, horn lanternsLanterns for candlelight illumination belowdecks, its windows of thin ox-horn foil. Also "battle lanterns".P* Antique AssociationPh
Landlubbers, landsmenCrewmen with no previous sailing experience, usually assigned to waisters.CNU*Ph
LangridgeTwo round shot linked by a length of chain or a solid bar (also "angels"), to cut enemy rigging. Also chain shot.W PD*P
LanyardCord worn around the neck or wrist. Also a rope to fire cannon equipped with flintlocks.W* M.BärlocherPh
LarboardFacing the bow, the left-hand side of a vessel. Also port.(none)
Lashing, lashesFlogging Seamen defaulters with a cat-o'-nine-tails at the gratings before the assembled crew.HMS VictoryP
Lateen sailsFore-and-aft triangular sails set on a long yard mounted at an angle to the mast.Simple SailM
LaunchA boat (top right) propelled by 8 oars or a sail, usually a vessel's largest.W PD*P
Lazy jacks, lazyjacksCordage (blue) on a fore-and-aft rigged vessel to help in its reefing and furling.W* MangoeD
LeadDevice to take soundings: a lead plummet attached to a long line with marks made of leather, calico, serge and other materials at intervals along the line, so shaped and attached that it is possible to "read" them by eye during the day or by feel at night.RMG*Ph
LeadsmanSeaman who takes soundings with a lead.W PD*P
Leach, leechThe lateral sides of a sail. See Sail parts.(none)
LeagueDistance of 3 statute miles.(none)
LeechlinesLines running inwards and upwards from the central edges (leeches) of a sail.W PD*Ph
LeewardDownwind of a point of reference.W* IxnayonthetimmayD
Lee shoreShore leeward of a vessel.FAA* P
LieutenantA Commissioned Officer designated 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th depending on his vessel's rate.ULD* M.SteinP
LighterFlat-bottomed barge moved/steered with sweeps, to transfer goods and passengers to/from vessels.RMG*P
LighthousesAids to navigation with low visibility installed on coasts and islands and managed by Trinity House.Thomas KinkadeP
List (angle)Lean or tilt (roll) of a vessel to one of its sides. Also heel.Ruby Lane E.S.NucumP
Living spacesThe inhabited areas (white) below deck in a vessel.Daily MailM
Lloyd's of LondonEstablished in 1686 on Tower Street by Scots Edward Lloyd as "Lloyd's Coffee House", a popular place for sailors, merchants, and ship-owners to exchange shipping news, it soon became recognised as an ideal place for obtaining marine insurance. In 1774 it became a group of insurance-underwriting syndicates, who obtained a monopoly on maritime insurance related to the slave trade and maintained it until the early 19th century.LloydsP
Loblolly boysAssistants to the Surgeon. Also surgeon's mates.B* ULD* M.SteinP
Log (device)Measures the speed of a vessel, based on the number of knots passing through a given period of time.AncestryD
Log, logbook (document)Official daily record of important events in the management, operation, and navigation of a vessel.W PD*Ph
LookoutCrewman stationed high on a vessel's rigging to watch for other vessels, land, navigational hazards, etc.W PD*P
Lower deckDeck of a vessel below the main deck and above her hold.Global SecurityD
Lower deck (crew)The non-officer members of a vessel's company.HMS VictoryP
Lubber's holesOpenings in a masthead allowing easy entry to and exit from it.Cent pour Cent AnglaisM
LuffSteering a vessel closer to the wind.P* Montague DawsonP
Lug sailsFour-sided sails supported by a yard (top) set diagonally to their mast.CLC BoatsD
LuggerSmall sailing vessel with lug sails set on two or more masts.BoC*P
M
MagazineStoreroom for gunpowder below the waterline, usually copper-sheathed to prevent accidental sparks.Techno-FandomPh
Main deckUppermost continuous deck from bow to stern. Also "weather deck".Pirates Missile DineD
Mainmast, mainThe tallest mast on a vessel.TribalityD
Make and mendTime allowed to Seamen on Sunday or Wednesday afternoons to attend to their clothing and looks. Also rope yarn.Sea ThievesPh
Man-of-war, man o' warA rated fighting vessel.Art Reserve Geoff HuntP
Man overboard!Emergency call alerting that someone has gone overboard and must be rescued if possible.Ebay W.StöwerP
MangerSmall foredeck enclosure (right) for livestock, overseen by a Seaman nicknamed "Jemmy Ducks".ImgurD
ManifestList of cargo, passengers and crew of a vessel, for customs and other inspecting officials.Brown Uni. LibraryPh
Man the side!Order to assemble the side party.WikiaPh
Manropes, man-ropesRopes used as a handrails.Stair RopesPh
MarlinspikeTool used in marine ropework.W PD*Ph
MartingaleStay (A) between the tip of the bowsprit and the dolphin striker.W* Rémi KauppD
MasterThe captain of a commercial merchantman.Christie's Joshua ReynoldsP
Master and CommanderSee Commander. Also the title of an extremely well-researched 2003 film written and directed by P. Weir.Battle scene on
Master, Master-at-armsPetty Officer responsible for the vessel's security and small-arms training of the crew.ULD* M.SteinP
Master, Sailing MasterWarrant Officer appointed by the Navy Board, responsible for the vessel's navigation and its fitting out.WigowskyP
MastheadsPlatforms partway up the masts just above their main yards.Cent pour Cent AnglaisPh
MastsVertical poles to hold yards and sails. On large sailing vessels they are built from up to 5 sections (also called masts), known in order of rising height as lower, top, topgallant, royal and skysail masts.PMM*D
MerchatmenAny non-naval passenger- or cargo-carrying vessels.Liverpool MuseumsP
MessThe space below deck where Seamen have their meals and off-watch leisure activities.La Perouse MuseumP
Mess kidWooden bucket (upper left) to hold a mess's ration of food.St. Vincent CollegePh
Mess tablesFoldable wooden plank tables, usually accomodating 6 Seamen.ANMM*Ph
MidshipmenOfficer candidates, so named because accommodated amidships. See Naval Ranks on another page.ULD* M.SteinP
Midshipmen's cockpit. Used as action station for the vessel's Surgeon and his mates during battle. Also cockpitP* G.DeBerengerP
Mizzen mast, mizen mastThe aftmost mast (left) of a full-rigged vessel.PMM*P
MonkeysYoung boys (left) carrying gun charges from the powder room to the gun decks. Also powder monkeys.W PD*P
Moonraker mastTopmost section of a mainmast, rarely on square rigged vessels other than clippers.W* Milan.luxemburskyPh
Moonraker sails,
moon sails
Sails on the moonraker masts of a square rigged vessel.UoM*P
MooringMaking a vessel fast to a harbour quay, and its location.Art Majeur V.VoitehovicP
MusketThe Sea Service Musket (1778 model) also called "Brown Bess", main weapon of the Royal Marines.Military HeritagePh
Muster bookMaster record of the personnel in a vessel's complement.W* IndefatigablePh
MutinyTo overthrow forcefully the shipboard Officers and take over control of the vessel.WP* Mike RendellP
N
NarrowsNarrow part of a waterway.B* T. ChambersP
Naval blockadePreventing vessels from entering/exiting enemy ports by seizing them as prizes or sinking them.W PD*P
Naval-blockaded portsRed line on the map shows the area with ports interdicted to the British and in turn blockaded by them.NetdnaD
NayNo, negative reply.(none)
O
OakumTarred fibre for caulking the joints of planks.Home DepotPh
OfficersCommissioned Officers, Warrant Officers (WOs) and Standing Officers, and Petty Officers (POs).
See Naval Ranks on another page.
TMP*P
Officers' hatThe bicorne or bicorn was widely adopted in the 1790s, the shorter front brim called "the cock" hence "cocked hat" and the rear brim termed "the fan", forming a semi-circular fan shape. Worn in the side-to-side "athwart" style during the 1790s, the bicorne was normally seen fore-and-aft from about 1800 on.W PD*P
Officers' quartersAccomodation (lower left) for Commissioned Officers.Daily MailD
OffingDistant area of the sea as seen from the shore.BC BitsP
OilskinsWaterproof foul-weather garment. Also "foulies".Tumblr J.FountainPh
On beam endsVessel listing 45° or more, in danger of capsizing.British Battles N.PocockP
Orlop deckThe lowest deck in a ship, usually below the waterline, where cables are stowed.Global SecurityD
OuthaulsLines used to extend a sail and control the shape of the curve at its foot.Modelship WorldD
Over the barrel (of a gun)Unruly Midshipmen are bent over the breech of a cannon and caned on their bare buttocks. Also kiss the gunner's daughter.CorpunP
OverboardObject or person gone into the water from a vessel. Also Man overboard!Malcolm ArmstrongP
OverheadThe ceiling of an enclosed space below decks, the bottom of the deck above. Also deckhead.G StaticPh
P
Packet, packet boatVessel carrying mail packets to and from British colonies, outposts and vessels.W PD*P
PainterRope attached to the bow of a boat to tow it or make it fast.Raju KaleP
ParrelBand (8,top) fastening a yard to a mast.MA* J.WhitewrightD
Paying offLetting a vessel's head fall off from the wind.P* HMS SurpriseP
PaymasterA Warrant Officer appointed by the Victualling Board to manage provisions and crew accounts. Also Purser, pusser.ULD* M.SteinP
Pea jacket, pea coatShort double-breasted overcoat of coarse woollen cloth.CloudfrontPh
PennantLong triangular flag flown from the masthead of a vessel.W PD*D
Petty OfficersMaster-at-arms, Quartermaster, Ship's Corporal, Coxswain, Sailmaker, Yeoman, Armourer, Caulker, Ropemaker, Cooper and their Mates (if any). See Naval Ranks on another page.ULD* M.SteinP
Picket boatSmall 1-masted boat on sentry, harbour patrol or close-inshore duty.Web4 HobbylincM
PigtailA plaited lock of hair worn at the back of the head by Seamen. Also "queue".Art Print ImagesP
Piece of eightA Spanish silver coin worth 8 reals, also called "Spanish Dollar". It could be cut into 8 pieces used as currency or change.The Pirate EmpirePh
PilotA maritime pilot or marine pilot or harbour pilot, an experienced, licensed Seaman who handles vessels through dangerous or congested waters such as harbours or river mouths.W PD*P
Pin railsWooden bars with vertical holes to accept the shafts of belaying pins.Brethren CoastPh
PinnaceA light boat, propelled by 8-10 oars or sails, serving as a tender.YCBA*P
Pintle and gudgeonPin or bolt (2) resting in the gudgeon (3), on which a vessel's or boat rudder (4,5) pivots for steering.W* StingD
PipeWine cask of ½ tun (240 gallons) capacity. Also "butt".W* GrolltechD
PipeclayFine white clay used by Royal Marines to whiten their crossbelts. Also "blanco".AmazonP
Piping the sideThe Bo'sun making appropriate trills with his pipe at the entry port to honour a boarding or departing dignitary.(none)
PistolMuzzle-loaded, short-range Sea Service firearm, could be used as club when discharged.Military HeritagePh
Point (angle)Arc of 11°¼ (360/32).(none)
Points of sailA sailing vessel's direction of travel under sail in relation to the true wind direction.School of SailingD
Polacre3-masted vessel with a narrow hull, a square-rigged foremast followed by 2 lateen sails.W* CasitoD
PoopEnclosed structure (right) at a vessel's stern above the main deck.W* Kaye DacusD
Poop deckThe deck on the poop that forms the roof of a cabin in the aft part of the superstructure of a vessel. Also fantail.Global SecurityD
PoopedSwamped aft by a high, following sea.Flickr Mull MuseumP
PortHarbour.Old PictureP
Port (side)Same as larboard: with a steering rudder at starboard, it was the vessel's side used to dock.Photographers1 R.McClainD
Port (wine)Sweet red Portuguese wine (Vinho do Porto from the Douro region) used on board in after-dinner toasts. It was custom to propose what was known as the "toast of the day":
  • Monday: our ships at sea
  • Tuesday: our men
  • Wednesday: ourselves, because no one else is likely to bother
  • Thursday: a bloody war or a sickly season (to ensure quicker promotion)
  • Friday: a willing foe and sea room
  • Saturday: wives and sweethearts, may they never meet
  • Sunday: absent friends
WP* HogsheadwineP
Post captainAlternative designation for the rank of Captain, implying he is appointed to command a rated ship.W* J.A.AtkinsonP
Powder hulkHulk used to store gunpowder.W PD*P
Powder monkeysYoung boys (left) carrying gun charges from the powder room to the gun decks. Also monkeys.W PD*P
Powder roomA small, copper-plated area close to the magazine where powder charges are prepared by the Gunner wearing felt slippers and passed through felt curtains to prevent their accidental ignition. Also armoury.Pins Daddy HMS VictoryPh
Presentation swordsRichly decorated swords awarded to Officers by civil authorities for appreciated naval acts of gallantry.Rau AntiquesPh
Prevailing windsWinds that blow predominantly from a single general direction over a particular area on the Earth.Photographers1D
Prison shipsHulks where condemned Seamen are confined until their sentence has expired.SLM*P
PrivateersPrivate persons or private war vessels authorised by their country's Government through a "Letter of Marque" to attack and seize foreign shipping. Also Corsair.Pirates-CorsairesP
Prize crewCrew assigned to man a vessel taken as a prize and deliver it to a friendly port.Getty ImagesP
ProwThe forward-most part of a vessel's bow that cuts through the water, above the waterline. Prow and bow are often used interchangeably.Clash of SteelPh
Punt (boat)A flat-bottomed, low- draft boat to hunt wildfowl in shallow waters, often equipped with a large bow swivel or shotgun.B* Rare Historical PhotosPh
Purser, pusserA Warrant Officer appointed by the Victualling Board to manage provisions and crew accounts. Also Paymaster.ULD* M.SteinP
Purser's bookPurser's official record of a vessel's provisions and crew earnings (pay, prize money) and charges (for slops, extra rations, etc.).RMG*Ph
Q
QuarterThe aftmost side (left), port and starboard, of a vessel's hull.Photographers1 R.McClainD
Quarter galleriesOfficers' privies.W* Kaye DacusP
QuarterdeckRaised deck (centre) behind the mizzenmast, its windward side reserved to the Officer on watch duty. Also bridge.W PD*P
QuartermasterA Petty Officer or Able Seaman (left) operating as helmsman.ULD* M.SteinP
QuayFixed structure on navigable water for loading and unloading vessels. Also "wharf".W* CommonsPh
QuoinWooden wedge (4) to adjust cannon elevation.Sea ThievesD
R
Raising the anchorSeamen using handspikes to rotate the capstan, often to the rhyhtm of a tune.W* CommonsW PD*
Raked mastsVertically inclined masts (red).The ScuttlefishP
RammingTo drive a vessel into another.Assassins CreedP
RateOrdinal number system (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th) devised by Admiral George Anson to indicate a fighting ship's type.
See Ships' Rates on another page.
(none)
RatingsCrew members who are not Officers or Warrant officers, i.e. Petty Officers and Seamen.History NotesP
Ratlines, rattlins, ratlinsLengths of thin line tied between the shrouds to form a ladder for topmen.St. Vincent CollegePh
RazeeRated vessel (right) whose number of decks has been reduced, like a smaller 2-decker to large frigate.W PD*P
ReachSee Points of Sail.(none)
Reave, reeveTo pass ropes over the wheels of a block.HNSA* LuceD
Receiving shipsHulks temporarily housing newly recruited or unemployed Sailors before their assignment to a crew.W* A. KindredP
Reducing sailReducing the number of sails aloft exposed to the wind in bad weather.Biola UniversityP
Reefing sailReducing the area of the sails aloft exposed to the wind in bad weather. Also "shortening sail".RMG* W.J.HugginsP
Revenue cuttersVessels of the King's Customs fighting smugglers, particularly in the Channel area.WP* Poole Museum SocietyP
Riding lightLight hung from the forestay when at anchor.(none)
RigA vessel's distinctive arrangement of masts and sails.G StaticD
RiggingThe complex system of cordage on a sailing vessel:
— Standing rigging: shrouds and stays to support and adjust its masts, sails and spars
— Running rigging: halyards, braces, sheets, outhauls and vangs (on mizzen masts) to trim its sails.
W* Jimfbleak, EliashcP
Ring boltA threaded metal shaft with a ring fitted in the end.Wire Rope ShopPh
Roads, roadsteadSheltered area outside a harbour where a vessel can lie at anchor safely.BWWM*P
RobandsShort pieces of spun yarn or other material, to secure a sail to a yard, gaff, or the like.W* PeteVerdonPh
RocketsSelf-propelled explosive and incediary ammunition developed in 1804 by William Congreve.W PD*P
Rogue wavesUnexpected, large surface waves.Deviant Art temma22P
Rolling broadsideThe sequential firing of all the cannon on one side of a vessel.Art Reserve Geoff HuntP
Rope yarnTime allowed to Seamen on Sunday or Wednesday afternoons to attend to their clothing and looks. Also make and mend.Sea ThievesPh
RopemakerPetty Officer responsible for maintaining and repairing a vessel's cordage.VindheimP
RoundhousesMidshipmen's enclosed privies at the bow.W* Kaye DacusM
Royal MarinesThe Corps of Royal Marines (RM) was established in 1755 as the Royal Navy's infantry troops.W*Ph
Royal mast4th upper section of a mast.W* Stan ShebsPh
RoyalsSails (6,15,22) on the Royal masts of a square rigged vessel.EB* D
RudderA vessel's primary steering device, placed aft and externally to the keel, governed by helm or tiller.BMB* D
RunningSailing with a stern wind. See Points of Sail.(none)
RutterHandbook of written sailing directions, often with illustrations and maps. Also "portolan".W PD*Ph
Ruse de guerreA ruse of war, a deception to trick one's opponent and gain an advantage - like displaying his colours.(none)
S
SailsThe wind-driven 'engines' propelling a sailing vessel.The Pirate KingM
Sail namesDifferent names identify square sails depending on their vertical position in a vessel's rigging.W PD*D
Sail partsOn a square sail: head (top), leeches (sides), foot (bottom) with clews to make it fast.W* HopsonRoadPh
SailclothMaterial used in making sails: heavy cotton, canvas or hemp. Also "genoa".(none)
SailmakerPetty Officer in charge of maintaning and repairing the vessel's sails.AlamyP
Salutes (crew)Naval etiquette contemplated various salutes on board as signs of respect and obedience:
- Officers to Officers: raising their hats on deck, removing them belowdecks
- Petty Officers and Seamen to Officers: knuckling their heads
(none)
Salutes (gun)Shot-less firing of a specific number of cannon to render homage to a Senior Officer or a friendly port.W* CommonsP
SalvageThe activity of saving people and cargo from a shipwreck, and the money earned therefrom.(none)
Scandalise (sails)To reduce the area and efficiency of sails without properly reefing them.Trailer SailorP
Scarph jointTwo wood members cut diagonally and joined end to end.W PD*D
SchoonerUnrated flush-decked, 2-masted fighting vessel. See Ships' Rates on another page.ArtnetP
ScowFlat-bottomed boat with a blunt bow, used to haul bulk freight.W PD*Ph
Scroll headDecorative carving (right) at the top of the stem post.University of South FloridaD
ScudsThe lowest clouds, mostly observed in squally weather.Eagles Nest Outf.Ph
ScuddingSailing with a strong, gale wind astern.John HortonP
ScurvyDisabling disease causing bleeding, tooth loss and painful soft gums due to vitamin C deficiency.My Healthy FeelingD
ScuttlingSinking a vessel deliberately.W* RamaP
ScuttlebuttsWater barrels with a hole from which sailors could drink. Also the rumours and gossip typically exchanged among Seamen while loitering thereabouts.NavyP
ScuppersWaterways to drain water overboard.W* TugsterPh
Seamen, Sailors, Hands, Mariners, TarsExcluding Officers, Warrant Officers, Midshipmen and Petty Officers, the rest of the crew classified as either Able Seamen, Ordinary Seamen and Landlubbers depending on their level of skill. See Naval Ranks on another page.HMS VictoryP
Sea anchorDevice attached to a vessel's stern to slow it down in a storm. Also drogue.Sailing ScuttlebuttD
Securing the gunsUnloading and lashing down the cannon so that they will not be affected by the vessel's motion.Static FlickrD
SeacocksValves in the hull to admit seawater.B* D
SheavesPulleys with single or multiple grooved wheels. Also blocks.DreamstimePh
SheerLongitudinal curvature (bottom left and right) of the main deck.W* Rémi KauppD
Sheers, sheerlegsA 2-legged lifting device.Construction ManualsD
SheetsLines, ropes, or cables (2) to control the movable corner(s) (clews) of a sail.MA* J.WhitewrightD
ShellbackA sailor who has crossed the Equator and participated in King Neptune's line-crossing ceremony.W* Commons J. de CaudinP
Ship's complement
(up to 1755)
A vessel's entire population, inhabiting and working in her - including Army soldiers.Q-FilesP
Ship's complement
(after 1755)
A vessel's entire population, inhabiting and working in her - with Royal Marines replacing Army soldiers.Age of SailP
Ship rig, ship riggedA full-rigged ship or fully rigged ship denotes a vessel's sail plan with 3 or more masts, all square-rigged.FAA* M.MoultonP
Ship's CorporalPetty Officer assistant to the Master-at-Arms.(none)
ShipyardArea where vessels are constructed or repaired.WP* Lake Champlain MMP
Shot garlandsWooden frames in the bulwarks to hold shot close to the cannon.Modelship WorldM
ShroudsRopes (yellow) to hold a mast up laterally.Global SecurityD
SickbayVessel's compartment on the orlop deck to treat medical cases, also called "lazarette".ASLFM*P
Side partyA double row of Royal Marines and Seamen at the entry port to honour a boarding or departing dignitary.WikiaPh
Signal gunSmall-calibre cannon mounted on a bulwark, firing a powder charge to draw attention to signals.The Pirate KingPh
SignallingExchanging orders or information between vessels, using flags in daytime with good visibility or flares and lanterns at night or with low visibility. Often accompanied by firing a signal gun.W* Tkgd2007, BallistaPh
SignalsSee Communications on another page.(none)
SkylarkingAntics of Midshipmen and Sailors climbing the rigging and sliding down to the deck for fun.ReadexP
Skysail mast6th upper section of a mainmast, rarely on other masts.W PD*Ph
Skysail, skys'lSails (5,14,20) on the skysail masts of a square rigged vessel.EB* D
SkyscraperA triangular rather than square moonraker sail (centre).ModellingD
Slavers, slave shipsMerchant ships specially converted for the slave trade. Also known as "Guineamen".W* CommonsP
Sloops-of-warUnrated sailing warships with a single gun deck and up to 18 guns.Fine Art AmericaP
SlopsCrew clothing issued by the Purser, sold by civilian tradesmen.Maritime AloftP
Smack1- or 2-masted fishing boat.Artnet A.T.BricherP
Small beerA beer that contains very little alcohol, typically about 0.75%, sometimes unfiltered and porridge-like.Brewing NordicPh
SnottiesNickname for Midshipmen.Antique Prints-MapsP
Snow Square rigged vessel with 2 masts, with a snow- or trysail-mast immediately abaft the mainmast.W* CasitoD
SoundingsMeasuring the depth of water below the keel of a vessel with a lead.W PD*P
Sou'westerCollapsible oilskin rain hat that is longer in the back than the front to protect the neck fully.BinnacleD
SpankerGaff sail (26) set on the mizzennmast. Also driver.EB* D
SparsPoles of wood in the rigging of a sailing vessel to carry or support its sails. They include: yards, booms, masts and bowsprit.Pirates HegewischD
Speaking trumpetLoud hailer to carry orders and messages over distances, in action or in bad weather.PMM* P
SpikingTemporarily disabling a gun by hammering a barbed steel spike into its touch-holePractical MachinistPh
SpirkettingDeck planking (23) near the bulwarks.OHO*D
SplicingJoining two ends of rope together without using a knot.HNSA* LuceD
Square rig, square riggedA vessel with square sails. Also full rig, "tall ship".PMM*D
Squared awayYards at right angles to their masts and parallel to the main deck.W PD*P
Standing OfficersWarrant Officers permanently assigned to a vessel for maintenance, repair and upkeep
like Carpenters, Gunners and Boatswains. See Naval Ranks on another page.
(none)
Starboard (side)Facing the bow, the right-hand side of a vessel - so named because it accommodated the lateral steering rudder before central rudders came into general use.Photographers1 R.McClainD
StarterKnotted rope end or rattan cane used by Petty Officers to stimulate prompt Seamen's reaction to orders.W* TortillovskyPh
StaysFore-and-aft ropes (A-O) running from the masts to the hull, deck or bowsprit for stability, with ratlines to aid the topmen's ascent aloft.Global SecurityD
Staysails, stays'lsTriangular sails (11,12,13) set between the mainmast and bowsprit.EB* D
Steerage deckThe lower deck of a vessel above the hold, where cargo and passengers are accommodated.RMG* MagnoliasoftP
SteeragewaySpeed sufficient for the rudder to "bite" and the vessel to be steered.W* Miner DescentP
StemFront vertical beam (right) of the hull.NJSD*D
Stepping (a mast)Raising a mast vertically so that it rests securely on the keelson.HurstwicD
SternThe after end of a vessel.New York Public LibraryP
SternwayA vessel moving rearwards due to wind, wave or tide action.Gutenberg PolytechnicP
Storage roomsLocked spaces (bottom left) in the hold for victuals and spirits.ImgurD
Storm sailsSails that can withstand the extra forces of high winds.StatkiP
StowageThe space available for storing cargo on board.(none)
StragglerVessel becoming separated from the others it sails in convoy with.Davidson Fine ArtP
StrakesStrips of longitudinal planking (red) along a vessel's side to keep it watertight.W* Dj245D
StrikingHauling down the national colours (right) to signify surrender to an opponent.P* Derek GardnerP
StringersLongitudinal planking (5) for structural strength.Splash MaritimeD
Stroke oarThe rower closest to the boat stern at port, setting the stroke rate and rhythm for the other rowers.(none)
Stunning sails, stuns'lsSails on booms extended out of the side of the vessel, on the top of main, lower and upper topsail yards to increase the sail area exposed to a following wind in lighter airs.Classic SailingPh
SupernumeraryAn unofficial extra passenger on board.(none)
SurgeonThe vessel's 'doctor', normally in the sickbay or in the vacated cockpit to treat action casualties.ASLFM*P
Surgeon's matesAssistants to the Surgeon. Also loblolly boys.B* ULD* M.SteinP
SwabbingCleaning the deck with a swab, i.e. a mop.Alamy Carl SchildtP
Swabby, swabbieNickname for any member of a vessel's crew with deck duties.(none)
SweepsLong oars used to row vessels with a low freeboard.HurstwicPh
Swinging the lampTelling stories, often exaggerated, while belowdecks under the light of swinging lanthorns.HMS VictoryP
Swivel gunSmall-calibre cannon mounted on bulwarks and fighting tops, firing canister shot.BoCPh
T
TabernacleBox-like structure (bottom centre) which supports the lower part of the mast.Slide ShareD
TackingTurning a vessel's bow toward the wind so that it will blow from the opposite side. Also coming about.Meridian 360P
TackleAssemblage of ropes and blocks.HNSA* LuceD
TaffrailRailing (top) at the bulwark on the sternmost deck.W PD*P
Taken abackA vessel's sails blown backwards by a wind shift or an inattentive Sailing Master.Tate GalleriesP
Tampion, tompionWooden plug (right) to close the muzzle of a cannon.Square SpacePh
TarpaulinHeavy-duty waterproof cloth of tarred canvas. Also a nickname for Sailors, like Jack tar.(none)
Tell-tale, telltaleA piece of string, yarn, or rope (centre) attached to a stay or shroud to show the local wind direction.W* Serge OuachéePh
Tholes, thole pinsPins in the bulwarks of a boat to keep the oars in place while rowing. Also "oarlocks", "dildos".B* Small Boats P.BolgerD
ThwartsStructural crosspieces (top centre) in a boat forming seats for rowers. Also "thafts".HNSA*D
TidesThe rise and fall of sea level caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces
exerted by the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of Earth, changing every 6 hours:
  • Flood tide: level rises over several hours
  • High tide: level risen to its highest
  • (Slack tide: level remains temporarily stationary)
  • Ebb tide: level falls over several hours
  • Low tide: level stops falling and reaches its lowest
Their amplitudes vary with geographical location (see map), time of day and year.
W PD*D
TillerThe steering device on smaller vessels, directly attached to the rudder.W* MaciejKaPh
TomahawkBoarding axe.Charles MillerPh
Top hamperThe upper spars and gear above the deck.The Square RiggerPh
Topmast2nd section (red) of a mast from the deck of a square rigged vessel.W* PeteVerdonD
TopmenSkilled Seamen working aloft on the yards.P* Sam CaldwellPh
Topping liftsLines (centre) that hold a yard to its mast and also allow to raise or lower its position. Also uphauls.All ModelD
TopsWooden platforms to anchor the shrouds of upper topmasts, and observation perches for lookouts.Modelship BuilderD
Topsails, tops'lsLower (9,18,24) and upper (8,17,23) sails on the topmasts of a square rigged vessel.EB* D
Topgallant mast3rd upper section (top, white) of a mast from the deck of a square rigged vessel.W* PeteVerdonD
Topgallant sailsSails (7,16,22) on a topmast of a square rigged vessel.EB* D
TowingTo draw a vessel forward by long lines attached to rowing boats.Marine Artists Geoff HuntP
TransomThe surface formimg the stern of a vessel.OHO*D
Traverse boardWooden board with peg-holes and attached pegs, a memory aid used in dead reckoning navigation to record speeds and directions sailed during a watch.Mariners MuseumPh
Trice upTo haul in and lash secure a sail with gaskets.AncestryD
TrawlersTrawling fishing vessels that could be converted for RN and Customs service use.Trinity SailingPh
Trim (sails)To adjust a vessel's sails for optimum efficiency in the prevailing wind conditions.(none)
Trim (load)To adjust a vessel's cargo and ballast for stability, or to offer the least resistance through water.Pirate Diary C.RiddellM
Trinity House
of Deptford Strond
A private entity governed under a Royal Charter, responsible for the provision and maintenance of navigational aids, an official deep sea pilotage authority and a maritime charity dispensing funds for retired Seamen, the training of young cadets and the promotion of safety at sea. It examines for and issues pilot's licenses and certificates for merchant masters and mates.W PD*P
TruckWooden cap at the top of a mast with holes through which flag halyards are passed.GNB* D
TrysailsThe main fore-and-aft sails (11,12,13) on any mast. Called "spencers" if of smaller size.EB* D
TumblehomeSloping sides (top, red) of the hull, to impede boarding and deflect cannonballs.Classic Pirates HorryM
U
Under way, underwayA vessel moving under control, with sufficient speed through water to steer with its own rudder or tiller.Art Reserve Geoff HuntP
Up and downSlack anchor cable or chain at short stay (3), hanging vertically from the hawsepipe.W* TosakaD
UphaulsLines (centre) that hold a yard to its mast and also allow to raise or lower its position. Also topping lifts.All ModelD
Upper deckThe topmost deck of a vessel. Also main deck, "weather deck".Global SecurityD
V
VanThe front of a line or convoy of vessels.Art Reserve Geoff HuntP
VolunteersCivilians joining a vessel's crew of their own free will, often enticed by recruiting posters affixed locally.W PD*P
W
Waist, well deckThe upper deck area amidships, between main and mizzen masts.W* Kaye DacusD
WakeSea turbulence left behind by a vessel's progress.Transpacific ProjectP
WaistersLess skilled Seamen employed in the waist of a vessel.G StaticP
WalesThick wooden planks (centre right) fastened to the sides of a vessel to protect them from wear.MA* J.WhitewrightD
WardroomLiving and berthing quarters for Commissioned Officers and Warrant Officers.TumblrP
Wardroom cabinsBerths for Commissioned Officers, with a cot or hammock and a table, a cloth curtain for privacy.P* HMS SurprisePh
WarpingTurning an anchored vessel on its axis by hauling on a cable fastened to fixed object or pulled by crewmen ashore.
To move a vessel, especially through a restricted place.
W PD*P
Warrant OfficersOfficers holding a King's Warrant rather than a commission for specialised duties like Carpenter, Boatswain and Gunner.ULD* M.SteinP
WashWaves created by a vessel's progress.AjhwP
WaterlineThe line (centre) where the hull of a vessel meets the surface of the water.W* Rémi KauppD
Watch (of duty)Subdivision of a vessel's working day. See Daily Life on Board on another page.(none)
Watch OfficerOfficer in charge of a watch.(none)
WaypointLocation defined by coordinates, part of a planned route.(none)
WearingTurning a vessel's stern through a following wind. Also gybing, jibing.W PD*P
Weather gauge, gageAdvantageous upwind position of a sailing vessel (right) relative to another (left).Royal Gazette D.FosterP
Whaleboat, whalerNarrow rowboat pointed at both ends and thus moving forwards or backwards equally easily.USSCM*P
WharfStructure on the shore of a harbour where vessels may dock, with one or more berths and piers, warehouses, or other facilities. Also quay, staith or staithe.Monterey WharfPh
WheelVessel's steering device. Also helm.W* KDS4444D
WhipTackle, usually on a yard (mid right), to hoist/lower weights to/from a vessel.Maritime OrgD
WhipstaffVertical lever controlling a vessel’s rudder.Q-FilesP
WindlassA horizontal revolving cylinder wound with ropes to move heavy weights.AWS*D
WindwardUpwind of a point of reference.W* IxnayonthetimmayD
WivesSeamen are not usually granted leave ashore when in port but at times can be allowed to receive their spouses, real or presumed, on board. Any resulting male offspring wouyld be a "son of a gun".ULD*P
WreckThe remains of a vessel that has gone aground and wrecked.MaritimetasP
X
XebecA Mediterranean sailing and oared vessel for trading or piracy, with a long bowsprit and lateen sails.PotBS WikiM
Y
YardarmsThe outermost tips of the yards.OmniglotPh
YardsThe horizontal poles (1-15), secured to the masts (A-K) with buntlines, holding square sails.HMS TrincomaleeD
YawlSmall vessel with 2 masts rigged fore-and-aft, its mainmast much taller than its mizzen.W* CasitoD
YeomanPetty Officer with administrative and clerical duties, or in charge of signals.(none)
Nautical Terms, illustrated by images linked from the Internet.

Abbreviations (*) Used for Image Sources

ANMM: Australian National Maritime MuseumASLFM: A Sailor's Life For MeAWS: Amazon Web Services
B: BlogspotBMB: Building Model BoatsBoC: Brethren of the Coast
BWWM: Blue World Web MuseumCNU: Christopher Newport UniversityCPP: Chelsea Public Programme
CSDS: Cool San Diego SightsCdM: Christine De MerchantEB: Encyclopedia Britannica
FAA: Fine Art AmericaFAE: Fine Art EmporiumGNB: Government of New Brunswick
HNSA: Historic Naval Ships AssociationL&SC: Land and Sea CollectionMA: Maritime Archaeology
MNH: Military Naval HistoryNBHS: New Boston Historical SocietyNJSD: New Jersey Scuba Diving
OHO: Oxford Handbooks OnlineP: PinterestP PDP: Pinterest Public Domain Pictures
PMM: Penobscot Marine MuseumPSMHS: Puget Sound Maritime Historical SocietyPWH: Portuguese World Heritage
RDS: Robin's Dockside ShopRMG: Royal Museums GreenwichSLM: Sydney Living Museums
SMA: Ship Modelers' AssociationSMG: Skipjack Marine GallerySWoTW: Shipping Wonders of the World
TET: The Eternal TravellerTMP: The Miniatures PageTMS: The Model Shipwright
ULD: Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek DarmstadtUoM: Universty of MontrealUoSF: University of South Florida
USSCM: USS Constitution MuseumW*: WikipediaW PD*: Wikipedia Public Domain
WHAWL: White Haven and Western LakelandWP: WordPressYCBA: Yale Center for British Art


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