Naval Fiction Glossary

This is a glossary of terms often found in naval fiction novels.

Glossary

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Word Definition
Able Seaman One who can hand, reef and steer; well acquainted with the duties of a seaman.
Back/Backing Wind changing direction anticlockwise. To turn a sail or a yard so that the wind blows directly on the front of a sail, thus slowing the ship's forward motion.
Backed sail One set in the direction for the opposite tack to slow a ship.
Backstays Similar to shrouds in function, except that they run from the hounds of the topmast, or topgallant, all the way to the deck. Serve to support the mast against any forces forward, for example, when the ship is tacking. (Also a useful/spectacular way to return to deck for topmen.)
Running backstays A less permanent backstay, rigged with a tackle to allow it to be slacked to clear a gaff or boom.
Barkie/Barky (Slang) Seaman's affectionate name for their ship.
Beetle headed (Slang) Dull, Stupid.
Belaying pins Pins set into racks at the side of a ship. Lines are secured to these, allowing instant release by their removal. Sometimes used as a handy weapon to throw at or club someone.
Bight Loop made in the middle of a line or an indentation in a coastline.
Bilboes Leg irons, or iron garters secured to a deck below and used to restrain seamen who have offended.
Binnacle Cabinet on the quarterdeck that houses compasses, the log, traverse board, lead lines, telescope and speaking trumpet
Biscuit Hard Tack
Also small hammock mattress, resembling ships rations.
Bitter end The very end of an anchor cable.
Bitts Stout horizontal pieces of timber, supported by strong verticals, that extend deep into the ship. These hold the anchor cable when the ship is at anchor. Also Jeer bits
Blab (Slang) Gossip.
Block Article of rigging that allows pressure to be diverted or, when used with others, increased. Consists of a pulley wheel, made of lignum vitae, encased in a wooden shell. Blocks can be single, double (fiddle block), triple or quadruple based on the number of pulley wheels.
Fiddle block see: Block
Boat fall Line that raises or lowers a ship's boat.
Falls see: Boat fall
Boatswain (pronounced Bosun) The petty officer who is in charge of the seamen and superintends the sails, rigging, canvas, colours, anchors, cables and cordage, committed to his charge. He is also responsible for the stores of spare cordage etc..
Bosun see: Boatswain
Bolt rope/line Line sewn into the edge of a sail, at the bolt.
Boom Lower spar which the bottom of a gaff sail is attached to.
Bootnecks (Slang) Marines.
Gallouts (Slang) Marines
Guffies (Slang) Marines.
Jollies (Slang) Marines.
Lobsters (Slang) Marines.
Bower The name of the ship's two largest anchors located in the ship's bows. The 'best bower' to starboard and the 'small bower' to larboard.
Best Bower see: Bower
Bowline Line attached to the middle of the leech that keeps the leading edge of a sail forward when sailing close to the wind or a type of knot, producing a strong loop of a fixed size
Brace A rope attached to the end of a yard used to adjust the angle between the yard and the fore and aft line of the ship. Mizzen braces, and braces of a brig, lead forward.
Breach rope/line Heavy line to stop the recoil of a cannon, (7" for 32 lber).
Brig Two masted vessel square-rigged on both masts, having an additional fore-and-aft sail on the gaff and a boom on her mainmast.
Broach/Broach-to When running down wind to veer, or inadvertently to cause the ship to veer to windward, out of control bringing her broadside to meet the wind and sea. A potentially dangerous situation where the ship may roll over, usually due to the ship being driven too hard, carrying too much canvas.
Bulkhead A wall or partition within the hull of a ship.
Bulwark The planking or wood-work around the sides of a vessel, above the level of the weather deck, forming a barrier to falling overboard.
Bumboat (Slang) A shore based vessel that approaches large sea going ships to sell luxuries etc. Often contains money lenders (who will give a mean return in cash for a seamen's pay ticket). Frequently crewed by large masculine women, who employ far more fetching girls to carry out the bargaining with the seamen.
Bunt Middle upper part of a sail, next to the mast.
Bunting Material from which signal flags are made.
Button Button Top of a mast or extreme end of a cannon, (on Blomefield model, carrying a loop to take the breach rope). see: Cascabel.
Cascabel Part of the breach of a cannon.
Canister Type of shot, also known as case. Small iron balls packed into a cylindrical case.
Case see: Canister
Carronade Short cannon firing a heavy shot. Invented by Melville, Gascoigne and Miller in late 1770's and adopted in 1779. Often used on the upper deck of larger ships, or as the main armament of smaller vessels. Mounted on a slide or swivel platform.
Caulk (Taking a) (Slang) to sleep.
Caulking A process to seal the seams between strakes or deck planking with oakum and tar.
Channel A horizontal ledge projecting from a ship's side, abreast a mast, used to widen the base of the shrouds which are affixed using deadeyes, originally chain-whales (or chains).
Chain-whales. see: Channel
Channel Gropers The Channel Fleet, when under blockading duties.
Cleat A retaining piece for lines attached to yards, etc.
Close hauled Sailing as near as possible into the wind. A square rigged ship could usually sail no closer than 5 to 7 points to the wind.
Coaming A ridged frame about hatches to prevent water on deck from getting below.
Companionway A staircase or passageway.
Counter The lower part of a ship's stern.
Course A large square sail, hung from the lowest yard on a mast, with sheets controlling, and securing it. Specific sail may be referred to by adding the relevant mast such as Main Course Or The direction that the ship is to sail in.
Crimp (Slang) A person who procures pressed men for the service.
Crown and Anchor A popular shipboard dice game.
Crows of iron "Crow bars" used to move a gun or heavy object.
Cutter Fast small, single masted vessel with a sloop rig. Also a seaworthy ship's boat, broader in proportion compared to the longboat
Cutting out The act of taking an enemy vessel while it is in a supposedly safe harbour or anchorage.
Deadeyes A round, flattish wooden block with three holes through which a lanyard is reaved. Used to tension shrouds and backstays.
Ditty bag (Slang) A seaman's bag. Derives its name from the dittis or Manchester stuff of which it was once made.
Dollond The name of a maker of optical instruments. A telescope was referred to as a Dolland glass
Glass A Telescope. Also a barometer. Also abbreviation of any sandglass, an instrument for measuring time such as an hourglass.
Hourglass A sandglass used for measuring time
Flogging the glass Being early for an appointment or doing anything earlier than planned. Originated from the half-hour sandglass used during sea watch to measure time "Flogging the glass" was when the glass was shook in order to shorten the watch.
Aback In a position to catch the wind on the forward surface. A sail is aback when it is presses against the mast by a headwind
Abaft Toward the stern, relative to some object
After cabin The cabin in the stern of a ship used by the captain, commodore or admiral.
Aide-de-camp An officer acting as a confidential assistant to a senior officer.
Alee see: Leeward
Leeward On or toward the sheltered side of a ship, away from the wind.
Athwart Across from side to side, transversely.
Back and fill To manage the sails of a ship so that the wind strikes them alternately in front and behind, in order to keep the ship in the middle of a river or channel while the current or tide carries the vessel against the wind.
Ballast Any heavy material placed in a ship's hold to improve her stability such as pig iron, gravel, stones or lead.
Barbary States Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. All except Morocco were under the nominal rule of the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople. Captured Christian's and held them in slavery or for ransom. Were paid tribute by many nations with mercantile ships so that they would not be attacked.
Bark see: Barque
Barque A three-masted vessel with the foremast and mainmast square-rigged, and the mizzen fore-and-aft rigged.
Bar-shot Cannon shot consisting of two half cannonballs joined by an iron bar, used to damage the masts and rigging of enemy vessels.
Before the mast Term to describe common sailors.
Before the wind Sailing with the wind directly astern.
Belay To secure a running rope used to work the sails. Also, to disregard as in "Belay that last order"
Bend To make fast. To bend on a sail means to make it fast to a yard or stay or A knot used to join two ropes or lines
Bollard A short post on a ship or quay for securing a rope.
Bowsprit A spar running out from the bow of a ship, to which the forestays are fastened.
Small bower see: Bower
Brace up To bring the yards closer to fore-and-aft by hauling on the lee braces.
Brail up To haul up the foot or lower corners of a sail by means of the brails, small ropes fastened to the edges of sails to truss them up before furling.
Bristol Fashion Shipshape, neatly.
Buntline A line for restraining the loose centre of a sail when it is furled.
By the wind As close as possible to the direction from which the wind is blowing.
Open order In a fleet sailing, 3 - 4 cables apart.
Cable A strong, thick rope to which the ship's anchor is fastened. Also a unit of measure equalling approximately one-tenth of a sea mile, or two hundred yards.
Cable-tier A place in the hold where the cables are stored.
Camboose A term of Dutch origin adopted by the early US Navy to describe the wood-burning stove used in food preparation on a warship. Also the general area of food preparation now called the Galley.
Capstan A broad, revolving cylinder with a vertical axis and bars that can be inserted at the top for the crew to push on to wind a rope or cable, such as when weighing an anchor.
Caravel built A vessel whose outer planks are flush and smooth.
Clinker built A vessel whose outer planks overlap.
Cartridge A case made of paper, flannel or metal that contains a measure of gunpowder for a firearm or cannon.
Catharpings Small ropes that brace the shrouds of the lower masts.
Cathead/Cat A horizontal beam at each side of a ship's bow angled outward at roughly 45 degrees used to support the anchor during raising or lowering and to which it is secured when not in use by the cat stopper.
Cat the anchor To hoist the anchor to the cathead and pass the stopper securing it.
Cat o' nine tails/Cat A multi-tailed whip used to punish crew members
Cat See: Cathead or Cat o' nine tails
Chains see: Channel
Clap on To add on, as in more sail or more hands on a line.
Clewgarnet Tackle used to clew up the courses or lower square sails when they are being furled.
Clew up To raise the courses or lower square sails up to the yards using tackle when they are being furled.
Commodore The senior captain within a squadron of ships appointed to their overall command
Companion An opening in a ship's deck leading below via a companionway.
Cordage Ropes or lines, especially those used in the rigging of the ship.
Corvette A warship, smaller than a frigate, with a flush deck and a single tier of guns.
Crosstrees A pair of horizontal struts attached to a mast to spread the rigging, particularly at the head of a topmast.
Cutwater The forward edge of the stem or prow that divides the water before it reached the bow.
Daisy-cutter (Slang) A swivel gun.
Deadlight A protective cover fitted over a porthole or window on a ship.
Dead reckoning The process of calculating the ship's position at sea using direction and estimates of distance, leeway, surface water currents etc. Usually used during storms or at other times when sightings of the sun or stars can not be made.
Dog watch Either of two short 2 hour watches used to rotate the crew so that they are not on duty at the same time each day.. First Dog Watch from 4 pm to 6 pm or Last (Second) Dog Watch from 6 pm to 8 pm.
Doxies (Slang) Shore based prostitutes or temporary wives.
Driver Large fore-and-aft sail set on the mizzen in light winds. The foot is extended by means of a boom.
Dunnage The packaging around cargo. Also (Slang) Seaman's baggage or possessions.
Eight bells The end of a normal 4 hour watch. The bell is rung every half hour, the number of rings increasing with the passage of time.
East Indiaman A large and heavily armed merchant ship built by the East India company. Considered the ultimate sea vessels of their day in comfort and ornamentation.
Ensign The flag carried by a ship to indicate her nationality.
Fathom A measure of six feet (1.8m) in depth (of water) or length (of a rope/line)
Fall The loose end of a lifting tackle on which the men haul.
Fat head (Slang) The feeling one gets from sleeping below on stuffy nights.
Fife rail A rail around the mainmast of a ship that holds belaying pins.
Fetch To arrive, or reach a destination. Also the distance the wind blows across the water. The longer the fetch the bigger the waves. To reach a mark without tacking.
First Luff (Slang) First lieutenant.
Flag Lieutenant An officer acting as aide-de-camp to an admiral.
Flexible rammer Gun serving tool made of thick line, with rammer to one end and sponge to the other. The flexibility of which allows a gunport to remain closed while the gun is served.
Footrope A rope beneath a yard for sailors to stand on while reefing or furling.
Forecastle A partial deck, above the upper deck and at the head of the vessel; traditionally the sailors' living quarters.
Forereach To gain upon, or pass by another ship when sailing in a similar direction.
Forestay Stay supporting the masts running forward, serving the opposite function of the backstay. Runs from each mast at an angle of about 45 degrees to meet another mast, the deck or the bowsprit.
Frapping/Frapped To make secure by binding.
Frizzen Striking plate of a flintlock mechanisum.
Furl To roll up and bind a sail to it's yard or boom.
Futtock shrouds Rigging that projects away from the mast leading to, and steadying, a top or crosstrees. True sailors climb up them, rather than use the lubbers' hole, even though it means hanging backwards.
Gaff The spar that holds the upper edge of a four-sided fore-and-aft mounted sail.
Gangway The light deck or platform on either side of the waist leading from the quarterdeck to the forecastle, often called a gangboard in merchant ships. Also, narrow passages left in the hold, when a ship is laden. Also an opening in the bulwark of the ship to allow passengers to board or leave the ship.
Gammoning Wrapping line about a mast or spar such as the lashing that holds the bowsprit against upward pressure, to the knee of the head.
Gasket Line or canvas strip used to tie the sail when furling.
Gig A light, narrow ship's boat normally used by the vessels captain when going ashore or visiting other ships.
Go-about To alter course, changing from one tack to the other with the bows passing through the direction from which the wind is coming.
Tacking the ship see: Go-about
Change/Changing tack see: Go-about
Grape/Grapeshot Small cast-iron balls, bound together by a canvas bag, that scatter like shotgun pellets when fired. Mainly used to kill enemy crew when about to board their ship or about to be boarded by them.
Grappling hook see: Grapnel
Grapnel A device with four or five iron claws that is attached to a rope and used for dragging or grasping. Commonly used for throwing at enemy bulwarks or rigging so that the ships can be pulled together for boarding or to be thrown over fortress battlements to enable them to be scaled during an attack.
Grating(s) An open wood-work of cross battens and ledges forming a cover for the hatchways, serving to give light and air to the lower decks. In nautical phrase, he “who can’t see a hole through a grating” is excessively drunk. Also used, lashed upright on its edge, to secure a sailor during a flogging.
Grog Rum mixed with water (to ensure it is drunk immediately, and not accumulated). Served twice a day at ratios differing from three to five to one.
Gunpowder A mixture of charcoal, salt peter and sulphur used to fire pistols or the ships cannon.
Half-seas over (Slang) Drunk
Half deck Area immediately between the captain's quarters and the mainmast.
Halyard A line which raises a yard, sail or signal.
Handspike A long lever usually used to move a cannon from sideways.
Hanger A fighting sword, similar to a cutlass, used by officers.
Hawse Area in bows where holes are cut to allow the anchor cables to pass through.
Hawser A large heavy rope used for hauling, towing, warping or mooring.
Seat of ease see: Head
Head Toilet, or seat of ease. Those for the common sailor were sited in the beakhead at the bows to allow for a clear drop and the wind to carry any unpleasant odours away.
Head braces Lines used to adjust the angle of the upper yards.
Head rope/line Line sewn into the edge at the head of a sail.
Headway The amount a vessel is moved forward, (rather than leeway: the amount a vessel is moved sideways), when the wind is not directly behind.
Heave to To halt a ship and keep it relatively stationary by backing certain sails to counteract others, a tactic often employed to ride out storms.
Holystone (Slang) Block of sandstone roughly the size and shape of a family bible. Used to clean and smooth decks. Originally salvaged from the ruins of a church on the Isle of Wright.
Hounds Top of a section of mast, where the shrouds run from.
Hulled Describes a ship that, when fired upon, the shot passed through the hull into the ship.
Hull-down Referring to another ship being so far away that only her masts and sails are visible above the horizon.
Idler A crew member who does not keep a watch such as the cook or carpenter.
Interest Backing from a superior officer or one in authority, useful when looking for promotion to, or within, commissioned rank.
Impress To force someone to serve in the navy
Press see: Impress
Press gang A group of seamen commanded by an officer seeking to force people to enlist in the navy.
Jack A small flag flown from the jack-staff on the bowsprit of a vessel, such as the British Union Jack.
Jolly boat A clinker built ship's boat, smaller than a cutter, used for small work.
Jape (Slang) Joke.
Jeer bits Stout timber frame about the mast, these extend deep into the ship.
Jeers An assemblage or combination of tackles, for hoisting or lowering the yards of a ship.
Jeer capstan An extra capstan usually placed between the foremast and mainmast.
Jib-boom Boom run out from the extremity of the bowsprit, braced by means of a Martingale stay, which passes through the dolphin striker.
Junk Old line used to make wads, etc. Also a sailing vessel of Chinese design.
Jury mast/rig A temporary mast and rigging used to restore a vessels sailing ability following storm or battle damage.
Keelhaul To punish by dragging someone through the water from one side of the ship to the other under the keel. In extreme cases from the Bow to the Stern.
Lading The act of loading. Also a general term for cargo that has been loaded - 'The ship's lading'.
Landsman The rating of a crew member who has no experience at sea.
Lanthorn A lantern.
Lanyard A short piece of line to be used as a handle or to fire the flintlock mechanism of a cannon. Also decorative tassel to uniform.
Larboard The left side of the ship when facing forward (now called the port side).
Port (side) see: Larboard
Launch A large ship's boat with a crew of 40-60 or To dispatch a ship down a slipway.
Leeway The amount a vessel is pushed sideways by the wind, (as opposed to headway, the forward movement, when the wind is directly behind).
Wings (Slang) Arms removed by the surgeon.
Liner (Slang) Ship of the line – Ship of the line of battle (later battleship).
Langrage Case shot with jagged pieces of iron, useful in damaging rigging and sails or killing men on deck
Lateen sail A triangular sail set on a long yard at a 45 degree angle to the mast.
Laudanum An alcoholic solution of opium used to ease the pain of patients.
Lee The side of a ship, land mass, or rock that is sheltered from the wind.
Leech The free edges of a sail, such as the vertical edges of a square sail and the aft edge of a fore-and-aft sail.
Lighter A boat or barge used to ferry cargo to and from ships at anchor.
Lobscouse A mixture of salted meat, biscuit, potatoes, onions and spices, minced small and stewed together.
Loblolly boy An assistant who helps the Surgeon and his mates.
Lubberly/Lubber (Slang) Unseamanlike behaviour; as a landsman.
Luff Intentionally sail closer to the wind, perhaps to allow work aloft. Also the flapping of sails when brought too close to the wind. The side of a fore and aft sail laced to the mast. Also (slang) abbreviation of Lieutenant.
Dolphin striker A small downward vertical or near vertical spar spanning between the bowsprit and martingale stay.
Martingale stay A line that braces the jib-boom, passing from the end, through the dolphin striker, to the ship. Opposes the upward pull of the forestay on the end of the boom.
Main tack A line leading forward from a sheave in the hull allowing the clew of the maincourse to be held forward when the ship is sailing close to the wind.
Master-at-Arms Senior hand, responsible for discipline aboard ship.
Midshipman Junior, and aspiring, officer undergoing training to become a lieutenant.
Manger A small triangular area in the bow of a warship in which animals are kept.
Muster book The official log of a ship's company recording those who join and leave the crew.
Laid up in Ordinary see: Ordinary
Ordinary Term used to describe a ship laid up; left in storage, with principle petty officers aboard, but unfit for immediate use.
Orlop The lowest deck on a sailing ship having at least three decks, directly above the hold, and below the lower gun deck. A lighter deck that the gun deck (no cannon to support) and usually level with or below the waterline. Holds warrant officers mess, and midshipmen's berth, also carpenters and sail makers stores. Used as an emergency operating area by the Surgeon and his mates in action as below the water line it is shielded from shot.
Over threes (Slang) Referring to a post captain of over three years seniority, and entitled to wear both epaulettes (after the uniform changes of 1795)
Ordnance Mounted guns, mortars, munitions and the like.
Pariah-dogs (Slang) Men who change mess so often they are forced to mess alone, or with others of their kind. They are usually unpopular for a variety of anti-social reasons.
Parole Word of honour, especially the pledge made by a prisoner of war, agreeing not to try to escape, retake the ship or, if released, to abide by certain conditions such as not fighting again until formally exchanged with prisoners your own country holds.
Peach Peach (Slang) To betray or reveal as an informer; from impeach.
Peter Warren (Slang) Petty Warrant Victuals, fresh food sent from the shore to ships staying in harbour.
Petty Officer A naval officer with rank corresponding to that of a non-commissioned officer in the Army.
Pig An oblong mass of metal, usually of iron, often used as ballast in a ship.
Pinnace Ship's boat powered by oars or sail. Smaller than a barge.
Barge A ship's boat carried by larger warships such as frigates and ship's of the line and mainly used to convey the captain or Admiral ashore or to other ships. A frigate's barge was probably only 28' long and was smaller, lighter and quite a bit narrower than the ship's launch.
Pissdale A basic urinal fixed to the ship's side.
Pointing the ropes The act of tapering the end of a line to allow it to pass easily through a block.
Poop A short, raised aftermost deck found only on very large sailing ships above the quarterdeck.
Pooped A ship is pooped when a following sea breaks over her stern in a gale.
Post Captain A rank in the Royal Navy indicating the receipt of a commission as officer to command a post ship, that is, a rated ship having no less than 20 guns.
Pox (Slang) Venereal Disease, common on board ship. Until 1795 a man suffering had to pay a 15/- fine to the surgeon, in consequence, many cases went unreported. Treatment was often mercurial, and ultimately ineffective.
Privateer see: Letter of Marque
Letter of Marque A privately owned armed ship with a government commission authorising it to act as a warship enabling it to capture enemy vessels without being accused of piracy. The commission was a Letter of Marque and privateers were therefore also called this. See Letter of Marque for more information
Prize A captured enemy vessel and it's cargo.
Protection A legal document that gives the owner protection against impressment.
Provisions Naval rations.
Pumpdale Gully carrying water cleared by a pump.
Purser An officer responsible for keeping the ship's accounts and for provisions, clothing and other items on board not forming part of the ships fabric, rigging or armament such as candles. The purser received no pay, but was expected to make a profit by their sharp practices. In the 18th century a purser paid two sureties, totalling as much as 2100 pounds, to the Admiralty, and in addition had to buy a warrant costing about 65 pounds, a considerable sum at the time and an indication of the profit they expected to make at the seamen's expense.
Purser's dip The smallest of tallow candles, one that would be recognizable on a modern birthday cake, in a lantern allowed to crewmen below deck.
Pusser (Slang) Purser.
Beakhead The protruding part of the foremost section of a sailing ship. It served as a working platform by sailors working the sails of the bowsprit and located directly underneath was the figurehead. The beakhead also housed the crew's toilets (head)
Quadrant An instrument that measures angles. Either used on heavenly bodies for navigation or to measure the angle between two points such as the top and bottom of an enemy's mast to establish it's distance.
Quarterdeck That part of a ship's upper deck near the stern, traditionally reserved for the ship's officers. On larger ships the rear end may be covered by a the poop.
Queue A pigtail
Tie mate A seaman's best friend who ties his pigtail for him.
Quay A dock or landing place, usually built of stone.
Quoin A wooden wedge with a handle at the thick end used to adjust the elevation of a cannon by inserting it below the barrel.
Ratlines Lighter lines, untarred, and tied horizontally across the shrouds at regular intervals, to act as rungs and allow men to climb aloft.
Reef A horizontal portion of a sail that can be rolled or folded up to reduce the amount of canvas exposed to the wind. Also an area of rock or coral below the sea's surface over which there is insufficient depth of water for a ship.
Reefing points Light line on large sails which can be tied to reduce sail area in heavy weather.
Reefing tackle Line that leads from the end of the yard to the reefing cringles set in the edges of the sail. It is used to haul up the upper part of the sail when reefing.
Reefing The act of folding or rolling a sail to reduce the area exposed to the wind.
Rig/Rigging The arrangement of a vessel's masts and sails made up of standing (static) and running (moveable) rigging, blocks etc. The two main categories are square-rigged and fore-and-aft rigged. (Slang) Clothes.
Roach The lower edge of a sail, usually scalloped, in the case of a main or fore course. In warships the roach is deeper (more round). Also abbreviation of Cockroach.
Rode A rope securing an anchor.
Rondey (Slang) The Rendezvous where a press gang is based and organised.
Running Sailing before the wind.
Round shot Balls of cast iron fired from smooth-bore cannon.
Royal A small sail hoisted above the topgallant that is used in light and favourable winds.
Sailor's joy (Slang) A home made drink so potent that even men accustomed to drinking grog on a regular basis soon become intoxicated.
Schooner A sailing ship with two or more masts, typically with the foremast smaller than the mainmast, and gaff-rigged lower masts.
Sconce Candle holder, made of tin, usually large and flat for stability.
Scotch coffee An infusion of burnt biscuit thought, by some, to resemble coffee.
Scran (Slang) Food.
Scupper An opening in a ship's side that allows water to run from the deck into the sea.
Sennight Seven days (a week).
Shako Marine's headgear.
Sheet A line controlling the foot of a sail used to extend it or to alter it's direction.
Sheet home To haul in a sheet until the foot of the sail is as straight and as taut as possible.
Sheet anchor Heaviest anchor (although often not much bigger than the bower). Also (slang) A seaman's last hope - if the sheet doesn't hold...
Ship-rigged Carrying square sails on all three masts.
Shipwright A shore based person employed in the construction or repair of ships.
Shrouds Lines supporting the masts athwart ship (from side to side) which run from the hounds (just below the top) to the channels on the side of the hull. Upper run from the top deadeyes to the crosstrees.
Sick Bay/Berth An area set aside for the accommodation of sick and wounded.
Skylarking (Slang) Unofficial exercise aloft, often in the form of “follow my leader”, or other games.
Slab line Line passing up abaft a ship’s main or fore sail, used to truss up the slack sail.
Sloop(-of-war) Small warship with less than 20 guns, usually the command of a commander or junior captain.
Slops (Slang) Ready made clothes and other goods sold to the crew by the purser.
Slow-match A very slow burning fuse used to ignite the charge in a large gun.
Slush (Slang) Fat from boiled meat, sold by the cook to the men to spread on their biscuit. The money made was known as the slush fund. Also used to grease things when needed.
Slushy (Slang) The cook.
Snow Type of brig, with an extra trysail mast stepped behind the main.
Spring Hawser attached to a fixed object that can be tensioned to move the position of a ship fore and aft along a dock, often when setting out to sea. Breast lines control position perpendicular to the dock. Also a cable passed out of a rear gunport and attached to the anchor cable so that when heaved in the stern of the ship swings to one side allowing the guns to bear on a target.
Sprit sail A square sail hung from the bowsprit yards, less used by 1793, as the function had been taken over by the jibs, although the rigging of their yards helps to brace the bowsprit against sideways pressure.
Stag (Slang) To turn against your own.
Stay A rope that that supports a mast.
Stay sail A quadrilateral or triangular sail with parallel lines, usually hung from under a stay.
Stem The curved upright bow timber of a vessel.
Stern sheets Part of a ship's boat between the stern and the first rowing thwart, used for passengers.
Stood/Stand The movement of a ship towards or from an object as in 'stand towards'.
Strake A plank forming the side of a vessel or ship's boat.
Sheer The upward slope of a ship's lines toward the bow and stern.
Studdingsail An extra sail suspended from a boom run out from the end of a yard to extend the area of sail in fair wind.
Stunsail/Stuns'l see: Studdingsail
Swab Cloth often used in cleaning as in Swabbing the deck, or (Slang) officers' epaulette.
Sweep A large oar, often used to move bigger vessels, such as brigs or cutters.
Swivel-gun A small cannon mounted on a swivel so that it can be fired in any direction.
Hard tack/Hardtack A simple type of cracker or biscuit, made from flour, water, and sometimes salt. Inexpensive and long-lasting, it was used for sustenance in the absence of perishable foods
Tack see: Go-about. Also a direction or leg of a journey; relates to the direction of the wind. If from starboard, a ship is on the starboard tack. Also the part of a fore and aft loose footed sail where the sheet is attached or a line leading forward on a square course to hold the lower part of the sail forward.
Quarter galleries Originally partly open balconies protruding from the side of the ship at the stern where sharpshooters were stationed during combat. By the time of the Napoleonic wars they were an enclosed, glazed projection giving the captain two small extra spaces which could be used for a number of purposes but most often as the captain's private Head.
Taffrail Rail around the stern of a vessel on the uppermost deck.
Tampion see: Tompion (alternate spelling)
Tompion A wooden stopper for the muzzle of a cannon
Tarpaulin Tarred cloth or (plural) waterproof garment made of such material for stormy weather or (Slang) used to describe a commissioned officer who originally went to sea as an ordinary seaman.
Tattletale (Slang) Gossip.
Thwarts The seats or benches athwart a boat whereon the rowers sit to manage their oars.
Thole/Tholepin One of a pair of pegs set in the gunwale of a boat to hold an oar in place.
Three sheets to the wind (Slang) Very drunk.
Tight ship In good order: watertight.
Top A platform constructed at the head of each of the lower masts of a ship to extend the topmast shrouds. Also used as a lookout. See also Fighting top.
Topgallant The third mast, sail or yard above the deck.
T'gans'l see: Topgallant
Tophamper Literally any unnecessary weight either on a ship’s decks or about her tops and rigging, but often used loosely as a general term for the ship's masts, sails and rigging.
Topsail The second sail above the deck, set above the course and below the topgallant.
Tow To pull another vessel or be pulled or (Slang) Cotton waste.
Touchhole A vent in the breech of a firearm through which the charge is ignited
Traverse board A temporary log used for recording speed and headings during a watch.
Trick (Slang) Period of duty, most often used in relation to serving a period as helmsman.
Tumblehome The inward inclination of a ship's upper sides that causes the upper deck to be narrower than that at the waterline.
Under threes Referring to a captain of under three years seniority, and only allowed to wear one epaulette, on the right shoulder (after 1795).
Veer/Veering A clockwise change in wind direction or the act of allowing out more cable such as lengthening an anchor cable.
Waist Area of main deck between the quarterdeck and forecastle.
Gunroom The junior officers' mess. It was occupied by the officers below the rank of lieutenant, but who are not warrant officers such as Midshipmen and Master's mates.
Wardroom The officers mess for the commissioned officers and senior warrant officers.
Wales Reinforcement running the length of the ship, under the gunports.
Watch Period of four (or in the case of dog watch, two) hours of duty see The Watch System for more information. Also describes the two or three divisions of a crew.
Watch list List of men and their assigned stations during action, sail handling, anchoring etc. usually carried by lieutenants and divisional officers.
Wearing To change the direction of a ship from one tack to the other by turning away from the wind direction and putting the stern of the ship through the eye of the wind.
Weather helm A tendency to head up into the wind. A well trimmed ship is often said to have slight to moderate weather helm. The opposite of lee helm.
Well A deep enclosure in the middle of the ship where bilge water can gather, and be cleared by the pumps.
Wherry A shore boat used to carry passengers.
Windward The side of a ship facing the wind or something on that side.
Wormed, parcelled and served Standing rigging, which has been protected by a wrapping of canvas and line.
Yard A cylindrical spar slung across a ship's mast from which a sail is hung.
Xebec A three-masted Mediterranean vessel with lateen sails used for trading and by corsairs.
Yardarm The outer extremity of a yard.
Abaft the beam Further aft than the beam: a relative bearing of greater than 90 degrees from the bow.
Abeam On the beam, a relative bearing at right angles to the centerline of the ship's keel.
Absentee pennant Special pennant flown to indicate absence of a commanding officer whose flag is flying.
Absolute bearing The bearing of an object in relation to north.
Hulk A ship no longer capable of going to sea used as accommodation, for stores, as a prison etc. see also Sheer hulk and Powder hulk
Sheer hulk An old ship, no longer capable of going to sea, used in shipbuilding and repair as a floating crane, primarily to place or remove the lower masts.
Powder hulk An old ship, no longer capable of going to sea, used as a floating warehouse to store gunpowder. It was brought alongside warships to simplify the transfer of gunpowder. Its location, away from land, also reduced the possible damage from an explosion.
Receiving ship A ship that is used in harbor to house newly recruited or impressed sailors before they are assigned to a crew.
Admiral Senior naval officer of Flag rank. In ascending order of seniority, Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral, Admiral. See Admirals for more information
Adrift Afloat and unattached in any way to the shore or seabed, but not under way.
Afore In, on, or toward the front of a vessel or In front of a vessel.
Aft The portion of the vessel behind the middle area of the vessel or Towards the stern of the vessel or Behind the vessel.
Afternoon Watch From noon to 4 pm.
First Watch From 8 pm to midnight
Middle Watch From midnight to 4 am.
Morning Watch From 4 am to 8 am.
Forenoon Watch From 8 am to noon.
Careening Intentionally grounding a ship on a sandy or muddy shore, after it has been emptied of stores, so that it can be pulled down onto one side enabling cleaning or repair of the hull at low water.
Ahoy A cry to draw attention. Term used to hail a boat or a ship, as "Boat ahoy!"
Ahull Lying broadside to the sea. To ride out a storm with no sails and helm held to leeward.
All hands Both (all) watches on duty.
Aloft In the rigging of a sailing ship. Above the ship's uppermost solid structure; overhead or high above.
Alongside By the side of a ship or pier.
Amidships In the middle portion of ship or along the line of the keel or as a helm order to align the rudder with the keel.
Midships see: Amidships
Anchor A large metal double hook designed to prevent or slow the drift of a ship by gripping the bottom under water.
Sea anchor A stabilizer deployed in the water for heaving to in heavy weather. It acts as a brake and keeps the hull in line with the wind and perpendicular to waves. Often in the form of a large bag made of heavy canvas in the shape of a cone.
Drogue see: Sea anchor
Anchorage A suitable place for a ship to anchor. Area of a port or harbor.
Aweigh Said of an anchor when just clear of the bottom during raising.
Anchor buoy A small floating buoy secured by a light line to an anchor to indicate position of anchor on bottom.
Anchor watch The crewmen assigned to take care of the ship while anchored or moored and the normal full watch is not on duty. Charged with such duties as making sure that the anchor is holding and the vessel is not drifting.
Articles of War Regulations governing the conduct of the crew. See Articles of War for more information.
Avast Stop, cease or desist from whatever is being done.
Handsomely Handsomely: With a slow even motion, taking care, as when hauling on a line "handsomely".
Aye, aye Reply to an order or command to indicate that it, firstly, is heard; and, secondly, is understood and will be carried out. Also the proper reply from a hailed boat, to indicate that an officer is on board.
Azimuth compass An instrument employed for ascertaining position of the sun with respect to magnetic north. The azimuth of an object is its bearing from the observer measured as an angle clockwise from true north.
Bailer A device for removing water that has entered the boat.
Bar Large mass of sand or earth, formed by the surge of the sea. They are mostly found at the entrances of great rivers or havens, and often render navigation extremely dangerous, but confer tranquility once inside.
Barca-longa A two- or three-masted lugger used for fishing on the coasts of Spain and Portugal and more widely in the Mediterranean Sea in the late 17th century and 18th century. The British Royal Navy also used them for shore raids and as dispatch boats in the Mediterranean.
Barquentine A sailing vessel with three or more masts; with a square-rigged foremast and all other masts fore-and-aft rigged.
Batten down the hatches To prepare for inclement weather by securing the closed hatch covers with wooden battens so as to prevent water from entering or to secure an enemy crew below.
Beaching Deliberately running a vessel aground to load and unload, or to prevent a damaged vessel sinking, or to prevent it's capture by an enemy.
Beam The width of a vessel at the widest point, or a point alongside the ship at the midpoint of its length.
Beam ends The sides of a ship. "On her beam ends" may mean the vessel is literally on her side and possibly about to capsize; more often, the phrase means the vessel is listing 45 degrees or more.
Bear Large squared off stone used with sand for scraping clean wooden decks or, derived from bearing, a direction as in "How does she bear".
Bear away Turn away from the wind
Bearing The horizontal direction of a line of sight between two objects on the surface of the earth.
Beating Sailing as close as possible towards the wind in a zig-zag course (tacking) to attain an upwind direction to which it is impossible to sail directly.
Beat to quarters Prepare for battle
Becalmed Unable to move due to lack of wind.
Berth A location in a port or harbour used specifically for mooring vessels while not at sea or A safety margin of distance to be kept by a vessel from another vessel or from an obstruction, hence the phrase, "to give a wide berth" or A bed or sleeping accommodation.
Between wind and water The part of a ship's hull that is sometimes submerged and sometimes brought above water by the rolling of the vessel. In action if enemy shot enters this area when the ship is heeled it will take on water when it rolls back and this area is therefore a priority for the ship's carpenter.
Bilge The area at the bottom of the hull of a ship or boat where water collects and must be pumped out of the vessel.
Blue Peter A blue and white flag (the flag for the letter "P") hoisted at the foretrucks of ships about to sail.
Boat hook A pole with a hook on the end, used to reach into the water to catch buoys or other floating objects or to secure a ship's boat alongside a larger vessel.
Bobstay A stay which holds the bowsprit downwards, counteracting the effect of the forestay.
Booms Masts or yards, lying on board in reserve.
Bear up To put the helm up (or to windward) and so put the ship before the wind
Bore up/away Past tense - see: Bear up or Bear away
Bore The diameter of the inside of a firearms barrel.
Bow The front of a ship.
Bow chaser A gun placed in the bows of a ship in a position where it can fire directly ahead when in pursuit of an enemy vessel.
Stern chaser A gun placed at the stern of a ship in a position where it can fire directly behind when being pursued by an enemy vessel.
Bowse To pull or hoist.
Brigantine A two-masted vessel, square-rigged on the foremast, but fore-and-aft-rigged on the mainmast.
Brightwork Exposed varnished wood or polished metal
Bring to Cause a ship to be stationary by arranging the sails.
Broadside All the guns on one side of a warship or the simultaneous firing of all the guns on one side.
Weight of broadside The combined weight of all the cannonballs a ship can fire in a broadside.
Buoy A floating object anchored to the seabed to mark a position or to which a ship can be moored.
By the board Anything that has gone overboard.
Cabin An enclosed room on a deck
Camels Loaded vessels lashed tightly, one on each side of another vessel, and then emptied to provide additional buoyancy that reduces the draught of the ship in the middle.
Capsize To list or roll too far and turn over exposing the keel.
Carpenter A warrant officer responsible for the hull, masts, spars, and boats of a vessel, and whose responsibility was to sound the well to see if the vessel was making water.
Centreline An imaginary line down the centre of a vessel lengthwise.
Chafing Wear on line or sail caused by constant rubbing against another surface.
Chafing gear Material applied to a line or spar to prevent or reduce chafing.
Chain shot Cannon balls linked with chain used to damage rigging and masts.
Chronometer A timekeeper accurate enough to be used to determine longitude by means of celestial navigation.
Box-haul To put a vessel on a new tack by bracing the head yards aback and backing onto the new heading.
Club-haul The ship drops one of its anchors at high speed. When the anchor bites the forward momentum causes the ship to swing round the anchor. As the ship comes on to the required bearing the cable is cut allowing the ship to sail away on the new heading. A tactic used in an emergency to avoid the ship running aground when there is insufficient room or time to tack or wear.
Commission To formally place a naval vessel into active service, after which the vessel is said to be in commission or a document appointing an officer to a rank or post.
Compass Navigational instrument showing the direction of the vessel in relation to the Earth's magnetic poles.
Convoy A group of ships traveling together for mutual support and protection.
Corsair Any privateer or pirate or a ship used by them.
Counter The part of the stern above the waterline that extends beyond the rudder stock culminating in a small transom.
Coxswain The helmsman or crew member in command of a boat.
Cringle A rope loop, usually at the corners of a sail, for fixing the sail to a spar.
Cro'jack see: Crossjack
Crossjack A square yard used to spread the foot of a topsail where no course is set, such as on the foremast of a topsail schooner or above the driver on the mizzen mast of a ship rigged vessel.
Cut and Run When wanting to make a quick escape, a ship might cut lashings to sails or cables for anchors, causing damage to the rigging, or losing an anchor, but shortening the time needed to make ready by bypassing the proper procedures.
Davits Two short spars projecting from the sides or stern of a larger warship used to carry, raise or lower a ship's boat
Decommission To formally take a naval vessel out of active service and pay off the crew.
Dhow The generic name of a number of traditional sailing vessels with one or more masts with lateen sails used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean region
Displacement The weight of water displaced by the immersed volume of a ship's hull, exactly equivalent to the weight of the whole ship.
Dockyard A facility where ships or boats are repaired.
The Doldrums An equatorial region of the ocean where long periods of calm or light winds may be expected.
Draught see: Draft
Draft The depth of a ship's keel below the waterline.
Drydock A narrow basin for the repair of ships fitted with gates to seal it off from a river or the sea enabling the water to be drained for working on the outside of the hull.
Earings Small lines, by which the uppermost corners of the largest sails are secured to the yardarms.
Bonnet A strip of canvas secured to the foot of the course (square sail) to increase sail area in light airs.
Drabbler An extra strip of canvas secured below a bonnet further to increase the area of a course
Sounding Measuring the depth of the water using a Lead. See Taking Soundings for more information.
Lead A plummet or mass of lead attached to a marked line, used in sounding depth at sea.
Leadline An instrument used in navigation to measure water depth; the line attached to a lead
Leadsman A sailor who takes soundings with a lead, measuring the depth of water.
Rate/Rating A system used for the classification of warships based on their number of guns. See The Rating System for more information.
Embayed The condition where a sailing vessel is confined between two capes or headlands by a wind blowing directly onshore.
Eye splice A closed loop or eye at the end a line, rope, cable etc. It is made by unraveling its end and joining it to itself by intertwining it into the lay of the line.
Fairlead A ring, hook or other device used to keep a line running in the correct direction or to prevent it rubbing or fouling.
Fall off To change the direction of sail so as to point in a direction that is more down wind. To bring the bow leeward. See also Bear away.
Fast Fastened or held firmly (fast aground: stuck on the seabed; made fast: tied securely).
Fid A tapered wooden tool used for separating the strands of rope for splicing or A bar used to fix an upper mast in place.
Fighting top An enlarged top designed to allow gunfire downward onto an enemy ship. A fighting top could have small swivel guns installed in it and/or could serve as a platform for snipers armed with muskets or rifles.
Figurehead A symbolic image at the head of a sailing ship below the beakhead.
Fire ship A ship loaded with flammable materials and/or explosives and sailed into an enemy port or fleet either already burning or ready to be set alight by its crew (who would then abandon it) in order to collide with and set fire to enemy ships. Some vessels were specifically designed as Fire ships but any vessel could be used.
First Rate see: Rate/Rating
Second rate see: Rate/Rating
Third rate see: Rate/Rating
Fourth Rate see: Rate/Rating
Seventy Four A ship of the Line rated at 74 guns.
Thirty Six A Frigate rated at 36 guns.
First lieutenant The senior lieutenant on board, responsible to the captain for the ships readiness, efficiency and crew. The officer who assumes command if the captain is absent, sick or killed in action.
First mate The second-in-command of a commercial ship.
Fitting-out The period after a ship is launched or put into commission during which all the remaining construction and rigging of the ship is completed.
Flag hoist A number of signal flags strung together to convey a message
Flag officer A commissioned officer senior enough to be entitled to fly a flag to mark the ship or installation from which he exercises command, namely an admiral or in some cases a commodore.
Flagship A vessel used by the commanding officer of a group of naval ships flying a distinguishing flag to mark his presence.
Flare A curvature of the topsides outward towards the gunwale or A pyrotechnic signalling or illuminating device.
Flemish To coil a line that is not in use so that it lies flat on the deck.
Flotsam Debris or cargo that remains afloat after a shipwreck.
Fluke The arm of an anchor that digs into the bottom.
Flush decked A vessel with a single unbroken upper deck that extends unbroken from stem to stern.
Following sea Wave or tidal movement going in the same direction as a ship
Foot The lower edge of any sail or The bottom of a mast.
For'ard Towards the bow or The front part of a vessel.
Fore-and-aft rig A sailing rig consisting mainly of sails that are set along the line of the keel rather than on yards at right angles to the keel.
Forefoot The lower part of the stem of a ship.
Foul Having freedom of motion interfered with by collision or entanglement. For instance, a rope is foul when it does nor run straight or smoothly, and an anchor is foul when it is caught on an obstruction. Also an area of water treacherous to navigation or anchoring due to many shallow obstructions such as reefs, sandbars, or many rocks, etc.
Frame A transverse structural member which gives the hull strength and shape to which the planking is fastened.
Freeboard The height of a ship or boats hull above the waterline. The vertical distance from the waterline to the lowest point on a ships highest continuous watertight deck.
Frigate A large three masted square rigged warship with a single continuous gun deck, typically used for patrolling, blockading, scouting etc., but not in line of battle.
Full and by Sailing into the wind (by), but not as close-hauled as might be possible, so as to make sure the sails are kept full. This provides a margin for error to avoid being taken aback in a tricky sea. Figuratively it implies getting on with the job but in a steady, relaxed way, without undue urgency or strain.
Full-rigged ship A sailing vessel with three or more masts, all of them square-rigged.
Gaff rigged A boat rigged with a four-sided fore-and-aft sail with its upper edge supported by a spar or gaff which extends aft from the mast.
Galleon A large, multi-decked sailing ship used primarily by European states from the 16th to 18th centuries.
Galley The kitchen of a ship or A type of ship propelled by oars used especially in the Mediterranean for warfare, piracy, and trade.
Gammon iron The bow fitting which clamps the bowsprit to the stem.
Gangplank A movable bridge linking a ship to the shore used in boarding or leaving.
Entry Port In smaller ships a gap in the bulwarks below which battens are fixed to the side of the ship (like a ladder) enabling someone to ascend from a small boat and come aboard. In larger multi decked ships the battens may lead to an access door in a lower deck.
Garboard The strake closest to the keel
Ghost To sail slowly when there is apparently no wind (as in 'Ghost along').
Gybe see: Jibe/Jibing
Jibe/Jibing To shift a fore-and-aft sail from one side of a vessel to the other while sailing before the wind so as to sail on the opposite tack.
Give-way Where two vessels or ship's boats are approaching one another so as to involve a risk of collision to halt or change course to keep out of the way of the other. Also an order to the crew of a ship's boat to commence rowing.
Gooseneck Fitting that attaches the boom to the mast, allowing it to move freely.
Goosewinged Of a fore-and-aft rigged vessel sailing directly away from the wind, with the sails set on opposite sides of the vessel—for example with the mainsail to port and the jib to starboard, to maximize the amount of canvas exposed to the wind.
Gripes A ship gripes when it turn it's head to the windward more than is requisite. Often caused by incorrect lading unbalancing the ship fore and aft.
Weather Gauge A ship has the Weather Gauge when it is to the Windward of another.
Ground The bed of the sea.
Grounding When a ship (while afloat) touches the bed of the sea, or goes "aground"
Aground see: Grounding
Growler A small iceberg or ice floe which is barely visible above the surface of the water.
Gun deck In larger vessels a deck that was primarily used for the mounting of cannon to be fired in broadsides. On smaller vessels (of frigate size or smaller) the completely covered level under the upper deck, even though in such smaller ships it carried none of the ship's guns.
Gunport The opening in the side of a ship through which a gun fires or protrudes.
Kissing the gunner's daughter Being bent over the barrel of a gun for a punitive beating with a cane.
Gunner's daughter see: Kissing the gunner's daughter
Gunwale The upper edge of a hull.
halliard see: Halyard
Hammock Canvas sheets, slung from the deckhead in messdecks, in which seamen slept. When not in use (typically) kept in nettings inboard of the ship's side to protect crew from splinters from shot and provide a ready means of preventing flooding caused by damage.
Lash up and stow A piped command to tie up hammocks and stow them (typically) in nettings inboard of the ship's side to protect crew from splinters from shot and provide a ready means of preventing flooding caused by damage.
Hand To furl a sail.
Hard A section of otherwise muddy shoreline suitable for mooring or hauling out.
Harden up Turn towards the wind; sail closer to the wind.
Hatchway A covered opening in a ship's deck through which cargo can be loaded or access made to a lower deck.
Hatch The cover for a hatchway.
Head rail A curved rail that extends from the figurehead to the bow of a ship.
Head sea A sea where waves are directly opposing the motion of the ship.
Headsail Any sail flown in front of the most forward mast.
Heave down see: Careening
Heeling The lean caused by the wind's force on the sails of a sailing vessel or in reaction to the firing of a broadside..
Helm A ship's steering mechanism. The area where the ship's wheel is located.
Helmsman A person who steers a ship.
Hitch A knot used to tie a rope or line to a fixed object.
Hogging When the peak of a wave is amidships, causing the hull to bend so the ends of the keel are lower than the middle (the opposite of sagging). Also refers to a permanent distortion of the hull in the same manner caused, over time, by the bow and stern of a ship being less buoyant than the midships section.
Hold In earlier use, below the orlop deck, the lower part of the interior of a ship's hull, especially when considered as storage space, as for cargo. In later merchant vessels it extended up through the decks to the underside of the weather deck.
Hull The shell and framework of a ship.
Icing A serious hazard where cold temperatures (below about -10°C) combined with high wind speed result in spray blown off the sea freezing immediately on contact with the ship. The weight of the ice in rigging causes the ship to become top heavy and in danger of capsizing.
In irons A ship that was tacked had insufficient momentum to pass through the eye of the wind and is now headed into the wind with the sales aback.
Jib A triangular staysail at the front of a ship.
Jonah A crew member or a passenger whose presence on board brings bad luck and endangers the ship.
Kedge A relatively light anchor.
Kedging A technique for moving or turning a ship by using a relatively light anchor known as a kedge. The kedge anchor may be dropped while in motion to create a pivot and thus perform a sharp turn. The kedge anchor may also be carried away from the ship in a smaller boat, dropped, and then weighed, pulling the ship forward. Used to move a ship directly against the wind for example when unable to leave port or to move a ship that has run aground.
Ketch A two-masted fore-and-aft rigged vessel with the aft mast mounted in front of the rudder.
Knee A shaped piece of wood connecting two parts of the hull roughly at right angles, e.g. deck beams to frames.
Knighthead Either of two timbers rising from the keel and supporting the inner end of the bowsprit.
Knot A unit of speed: 1 nautical mile (1.8520 km; 1.1508 mi) per hour. Measured by paying out a line from the stern of a moving boat; the line had a knot every 47 feet 3 inches (14.40 m), and the number of knots passed out in 30 seconds gave the speed through the water in nautical miles per hour.
Ladder On board a ship, all "stairs" are called ladders
Lazaret/Lazarette A small stowage locker at the aft end of a boat.
League A unit of distance normally equal to three nautical miles.
Lee shore A shore downwind of a ship. A ship which cannot sail well to windward risks being blown onto a lee shore and grounded.
Let go and haul An order indicating that the ship is now on the desired course relative to the wind and that the sails should be trimmed ('hauled') to suit.
Shore leave A relatively short period when a sailor is allowed ashore for recreation.
Line The correct nautical term for the majority of the cordage or "ropes" used on a vessel. A line will always have a more specific name, such as mizzen topsail halyard, which describes its use.
Ship-of-the-line A major warship with more than one gun deck capable of taking its place in the main line of fighting ships in a battle.
List A vessel's angle of lean or tilt to one side. Typically refers to a lean caused by flooding or improperly loaded or shifted cargo.
Long stay A description for the relative slackness of an anchor cable. This term means taught and extended.
Lubber's hole A port cut into the bottom of a top by the shrouds allowing easy entry and exit. It was considered "un-seamanlike" to use this easier method rather than going over the side from the futtock shrouds, and few sailors would risk the scorn of their shipmates by doing so (at least if there were witnesses).
Luff and touch her To bring the vessel so close to wind that the sails shake.
Lugger A small sailing vessel with lugsails set on two or more masts and perhaps lug topsails, widely used as traditional fishing boats, particularly off the coasts of France, England and Scotland.
Lugsail A four-sided fore-and-aft sail supported by a spar along the top that is fixed to the mast at a point some distance from the center of the spar.
Banyan Day Term for a day when no meat is served as part of the main meal
Mainbrace One of the braces attached to the mainmast.
Making way When a vessel is moving under its own power.
Main/Mainmast The tallest mast on a ship.
Man-of-war/Man o' war A warship.
Man overboard! A cry let out when a crew member has gone 'overboard' (fallen from the ship into the water).
Royal Marines see: Marines
Marines Soldiers intended to serve aboard ship , with many and varied duties including providing a guard to ship's officers should there be mutiny aboard, preventing desertion in port and a disciplined force in land operations.
Marlinspike A tool used in ropework for tasks such as unlaying rope for splicing, untying knots, or forming a makeshift handle.
Mast A vertical pole on a ship which supports sails or rigging.
Mast step A notch in the keel into which the base of a mast is lowered to stop forwards or sideways movement with the aid of wedges.
Mast stepping The process of raising the mast in boats and small vessels or in larger ships passing a mast through holes in the deck until the base rests on the mast step. Traditionally a coin is placed on the mast step during this process.
Masthead The top of a mast or to send someone to the top of a mast as a punishment.
Master The captain of a commercial vessel or a senior warrant officer of a naval sailing ship in charge of routine seamanship, navigation and the placement of stores to maintain trim.
Merchantman Any non-naval passenger or cargo-carrying vessel.
Mess An eating place assigned to a group of people aboard ship. A group of crew who live and feed together.
Master's mate A senior petty officer who assists the master. Usually selected from the ranks of the quartermasters, who they supervised, or from the ranks of midshipmen who wanted more responsibility aboard ship. They mess in the gunroom with the other warrant officers.
First Class Volunteer Someone who joins a ship aspiring to be a midshipman. In practice they will be called and be treated as midshipmen from the outset.
Turned before the Mast An officer who has fallen out of favour with the captain and is stripped of all power and privilege and is forced to become an ordinary seaman.
Captain's servant A member of the crew who looks after the Captain. Also where a captain wished to have aboard more midshipmen than were allowed to the ship he would enter them in the ship's books as a captain's servant.
Mizzenmast/Mizzen The third mast, or mast aft of the mainmast, on a ship.
Moor To attach a boat to a mooring buoy or to a post when alongside a dock, pier etc.
Nautical mile 1.8520 km; 1.1508 mi
Messenger A continuous long loop of moving line propelled by the capstan.
Nipper A short rope used to bind a cable to the messenger (a moving line propelled by the capstan) so that the cable is dragged along too. Used where the cable is too large to be wrapped round the capstan itself most often during the raising of an anchor. The nippers were attached and detached from the messenger by the ship's boys. Hence the term for small boys: "nippers".
No room to swing a cat (Slang) Lack of room. The entire ship's company was expected to witness floggings, assembled on deck. If it was very crowded, the bosun might not have room to swing the "cat o' nine tails".
Picking Oakum Picking hemp from old untwisted ropes, sometimes used as a punishment. See also Oakum.
Oakum Material used for caulking hulls. Often hemp picked from old untwisted ropes.
Offing The more distant part of the sea as seen from the shore and generally beyond anchoring ground.
Oilskins Foul-weather clothing worn by sailors
Old salt (Slang) An experienced mariner.
On station A ship's destination, typically an area to be patrolled or guarded.
Blockade/Blockading The act of patrolling an enemy port to stop enemy ships, or war materials in neutral vessels, arriving or leaving.
Inshore Squadron Part of a blockading fleet that stays close to an enemy port.
Fleet A large group of warships commanded by an admiral.
Squadron A small group of warships.
Outward bound To leave the safety of port, heading for the open ocean.
Overhaul Hauling the buntline ropes over the sails to prevent them from chafing.
Overhead The bottom of the deck above you.
Over-reaching When tacking, holding a course too long.
Overwhelmed Capsized or foundered.
Packet A vessel employed to carry post office mail packets to and from British embassies, colonies and outposts. May also carry passengers and Admiralty or Army orders to remote commanders on such voyages.
Parley A discussion between enemies, over terms of a truce or other matters.
Cartel A vessel authorised to visit an enemy port in time of war to facilitate negotiations, exchange of prisoners, etc.
Parbuckle A method of rolling a roughly cylindrical object such as a spar or gun barrel up an inclined plane. One end of a rope is made fast above the object, a loop of rope is lowered and passed around the object, which can be pulled up the slope by hauling on the free end of the loop.
Pay off To let a vessel's head fall off from the wind (to leeward).
Paying Filling a seam, lubricating the running rigging, protecting from the weather by covering with slush.
Pennant A long, thin triangular flag flown from the masthead of a military ship.
Broad pennant A pennant flown from the masthead of a ship to indicate the presence of a commodore on board.
Pilot An experienced seaman and navigator qualified to navigate a vessel through difficult waters unknown to a ships crew, for example when entering a foreign port.
Pintle The pin or bolt on which a ships rudder pivots. The pintle rests in the gudgeon.
Gudgeon A socket fixed to the ships sternpost into which the pintle for the rudder fits.
Pipe A whistle used by Bosuns to issue commands. The pitch of the notes can be changed by partly covering an aperture with a finger of the hand in which the pipe is held. Also a general term for such calls.
Piping the side A salute on the bosun's pipe(s) performed in the company of the deck watch on the starboard side entry port or at the head of the gangway, to welcome or bid farewell to the ship's Captain, senior officers and honoured visitors.
Salute The firing, one at a time, of a set number of the ships guns to honour a person or a countries flag.
Piracy An act of robbery or criminal violence at sea by the occupants of one vessel against the occupants of another vessel. Piracy is distinguished from privateering, which is authorized by national authorities and therefore a legitimate form of war-like activity by private persons.
Pirate One who engages in an act of piracy.
Pitch The motion of a vessel, caused by a wave passing between the bow and stern, by which the bow and stern rise and fall repetitively.
Point A unit of bearing equal to one thirty-second of a circle, i.e., 11.25°. A turn of 32 points is a complete turn through 360°.
Starboard The right side of the ship when facing forward .
Starboard tack When sailing with the wind coming from the starboard side of the vessel.
Port tack When sailing with the wind coming from the port side of the vessel.
Magazine see: Powder magazine.
Powder magazine A small room in the hull of the ship used for storing gunpowder in barrels, or, "kegs", and for preparing and storing cartridges.
Puddening Fibres of old rope packed between spars, or used as a fender.
Purchase A mechanical method of increasing force, such as a tackle or lever.
Quartermaster A petty officer whose duty is to supervise the helmsman and who will take the wheel himself at critical times.
Ram To intentionally collide with another vessel with the intention of damaging or sinking her or To accidentally collide bow-first with another vessel.
Razeed A sailing ship that has been cut down to reduce the number of decks.
En flute A warship that has had the majority of it's cannon removed to increase space, for example when being used as a troopship.
Reaching Sailing across the wind: from about 60° to about 160° off the wind. Reaching consists of "close reaching" (about 60° to 80°), "beam reaching" (about 90°) and "broad reaching" (about 120° to 160°).
Ready about An order to the crew to prepare to tack the ship.
Rove see: Reeve
Reeve (Past tense rove) To thread a line through blocks in order to gain a mechanical advantage.
Relative bearing A bearing relative to the direction of the ship: the clockwise angle between the ship's direction and an object.
Roll A vessel's motion rotating from side to side caused by the passage of waves.
Rope's end A short length of rope used as a summary punishment device.
Rudder A flat upright moveable device fixed to the stern of a vessel, the movement of which to one side causes a vessel to turn.
Running rigging That part of a ship's rigging used to manipulate sails, spars, etc. in order to control the movement of the ship.
Standing rigging That part of a ship's rigging which is used to support masts and spars, and is not normally manipulated during normal operations.
Sail A piece of fabric attached to a vessel and arranged such that it causes the wind to drive the vessel along or The power harnessed by a sail or sails to propel a vessel or To use sail power to propel a vessel.
Sail loft A large open space ashore used by sailmakers to spread out sails.
Sailmaker A petty officer in charge of maintaining and repairing the ship's sails or a craftsman who makes and repairs sails ashore in a sail loft.
Scandalize To reduce the area and efficiency of a sail by expedient means (slacking the peak and tricing up the tack) without properly reefing, thus slowing the ship's speed.
Scantlings The dimensions of ships structural members, e.g. frame or beam.
Scudding A term applied to a vessel when carried furiously along by a tempest.
Scuttle A small opening, or lid thereof, in a ship's deck or hull or To deliberately sink a vessel.
Sea chest A wooden box used to store an officer's personal effects.
Seacock A valve in the hull which can be used to let water in.
Seaman Generic term for sailor.
Seaworthy Capable of safely sailing at sea
Sextant A navigational instrument used to measure the sun's altitude to establish it's latitude.
Brig sloop A two masted warship.
Ship sloop A smaller three masted warship.
Ship's bell Striking the ship's bell is the traditional method of marking time and regulating the crew's watches.
Shipyard A facility where ships or boats are built and repaired.
Shoal Shallow water that is a hazard to navigation.
Short stay A description for the relative slackness of an anchor cable; this term means somewhat slack, but not vertical nor fully extended.
Shot across the bow A shot fired close to and in front of a moving vessel to warn her to stop, often for boarding.
Skysail A sail set very high, above the royals. Only carried by a few ships
Skyscraper A small, triangular sail, above the skysail. Used in light winds on a few ships.
Slop chest A ship's store of merchandise, such as clothing, tobacco, etc. for sale to the crew.
Sou'wester A storm from the south west or A type of waterproof hat with a wide brim over the neck, worn in storms.
Spanker A fore-and-aft or gaff-rigged sail on the aft-most mast of a square-rigged vessel and the main fore-and-aft sail (spanker sail) on the aft-most mast of a (partially) fore-and-aft rigged vessel such as a schooner, a barquentine, and a barque.
Spars A generic term for the masts, yards and booms of a vessel.
Spindrift Finely divided water swept from crest of waves by strong winds.
Splice To join lines (ropes, cables etc.) by unravelling their ends and intertwining them to form a continuous line.
Square the yards To brace the yards so they are at right angles with the keel.
Starter A rope used as a punitive device.
Steerageway The minimum speed at which a vessel will answer the helm, below which she cannot be steered.
Stern The rear part of a ship, technically defined as the area built up over the sternpost, extending upwards from the counter to the taffrail.
Sternpost An upright post rising from the rear end of the keel to which the rudder is fixed.
Making a stern board. To sail the ship backwards by backing the sails.
Strike To haul down or lower (a flag, mast, etc.) or To surrender a vessel to the enemy, from 'strike the colours'.
Stove/Stove in Smashed inward as in when the hull planks are pushed inward and broken for example when hitting a submerged rock.
Stow To store, or to put away e.g. personal effects, tackle, or cargo.
Stowaway A person aboard a ship without permission and/or without payment, and usually boards undetected and tries to remain hidden.
Straggler In a convoy, a ship that is unable to maintain the speed of other vessels and falls behind.
Swinging the lead see: Sounding
Taken aback A sudden change of wind direction which blows on the front side of the sails.
Timoneer see: Helmsman
Tiller A horizontal post used for steering, attached to the top of the rudder post. Used directly on smaller vessels such as ship's boats. In larger vessels the ships wheel is used to control it via ropes and pulleys.
Tiller flat A compartment within a ship housing the tiller.
Relieving Tackle Ropes and pulleys used by seamen to ease the strain on the ropes connecting the tiller to the steering wheel in heavy weather or to steer the ship if such ropes break or are shot away in action.
Topmen The youngest and fittest seamen whose duty is to go aloft and handle the sails.
Topmast The second mast above the deck, below the topgallant mast, carrying the topsails.
Transom The aft “wall” of the stern of a boat or a vessel.
Trice To haul and tie up by means of a rope.
Trim Relationship of ship's hull to waterline or Adjustments made to sails to maximize their efficiency.
Shanty A song sung by seamen with a set rhythm so that all pull or heave together.
Weigh To raise an anchor from the sea bed.
Under way A vessel that is moving under control
Unship To remove. As in an oar or ship's boat mast from its normal position.
Up-and-down A description for the relative slackness of an anchor cable; this term means that the cable is slack and hangs vertically down from the hawse. The state just before the anchor is aweigh.
Vang A line leading from a gaff to either side of the deck, used to prevent the gaff from sagging.
Wake Turbulence behind a vessel caused by it's passage through the water.
Warp To move a vessel by hauling on a line or cable that is fastened to an anchor or pier; especially to move a sailing ship through a restricted place such as a harbour. A line or cable used in warping a ship.
Waterline The line where the hull of a vessel meets the water's surface
Way Speed, progress, or momentum as in 'Under way'.
Weatherly A ship that is easily sailed and maneuvered; makes little leeway when sailing to windward.
Whaler A specialised vessel designed for catching or processing whales or A person engaged in the catching or processing of whales.
Wheel The usual steering device on larger vessels: a spoked wheel with a horizontal axis, connected by cables to the tiller.
Whipstaff A vertical lever connected to a tiller, used for steering on larger ships before the development of the ship's wheel.
Ship's wheel see: Wheel
Bell see: Ship's bell
Windbound A condition wherein the ship is detained in one particular location by contrary winds.
Windlass A winch mechanism, usually with a horizontal axis. Used where mechanical advantage greater than that obtainable by block and tackle was needed (such as raising the anchor on small ships without a capstan).
Yawl A fore-and-aft rigged sailing vessel with two masts, main and mizzen, the mizzen stepped abaft the rudder post.
Sheave A wheel or disk with a grooved rim, especially one used as a pulley.
Breech The rear closed end of a cannon's barrel.
Log An official record kept by an officer of day to day activity.
Log line A device used to measure the speed through the water of a vessel.
Casting the log The act of measuring the ship's speed using a log line.
Barometer A device to measure the barometric pressure. A rising barometer suggests good weather whereas a falling barometer indicates increasing storms.
Clew The lower corners of a square sail or the lower aft corner of a fore and aft sail.
Clewlines Lines used to haul up the lower corners of a sail prior to furling. see also Clew up
Compass points A compass is divided into 32 points, each of 11.25 degrees. The points are named, such as WNW for 'West North West', the point half way between 'West' and 'North West'.
Downhaul A line used to pull down a sail or yard.
Flying jib A sail outside the jib on an extension of the jib-boom
Fo'c'sle see: Forecastle
Foresail The fore course, the lowest square sail on the foremast.
Foremast The forward-most mast.
Furious fifties (Slang) The name given to the region of the Southern Hemisphere between the latitudes of 50 and 60 degrees where strong westerly winds are often expected.
Gantline A line rove through a block for hoisting rigging, spars, provisions or other items.
Hatch coaming see: Coaming
Hove to Past tense, see Heave to
Jackstay A rope, bar, or batten placed along a ship's yard to bend the head of a square sail to.
Latitude A measure of the north-south position on the Earth's surface. Lines of latitude, or parallels, run east-west as circles parallel to the equator. Latitude ranges from 0 degrees at the equator to 90 degrees at the poles. In description North or South are added to indicate whether the latitude described is above or below the equator such as '35 degrees North'.
Parallel see: Latitude
Longtitude A measure of the east-west position on the Earth's surface. Lines of longtitude run north-south as circles from pole to pole. By international convention the Prime Meridian of 0 degrees Longtitude passes through the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, England. The longtitude of other places is measured as plus or minus from the Prime Meridian up to 180 degrees such as '+35 degrees East' or '-35 degrees West'. In historical times countries could navigate based on their own Prime Meridian. For example, during the Napoleonic wars France used a prime Meridian that passed through Paris.
Meridian A line of Longtitude, half of an imaginary circle around the Earth's surface terminating at the North and South poles, connecting points of equal longtitude.
Mainstay The stay supporting the mainmast leading forward on the centreline of the ship.
Main sail The main course, the lowest square sail set on the mainmast.
Pannikin A small metal pan or cup
Roaring Forties (Slang) The name given to the region of the Southern Hemisphere between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees where strong westerly winds are often expected.
Rogue wave A large wave, much larger than expected, sometimes at a different angle to others being experienced, that occurs well out to sea. They are a threat even to large ships as they can reach over 100 feet in height. In historical times many thought that the reports of those who had experienced them were just tall stories.
Salt horse (Slang) Salted beef
Serving see: Wormed, parcelled and served
Parcelling see: Wormed, parcelled and served
T'gallant see: Topgallant
Screaming Sixties (Slang) The name given to the region of the Southern Hemisphere between the latitudes of 60 and 70 degrees where strong westerly winds are often expected.
Shrieking Sixties. see: Screaming Sixties.
Portable Soup (To quote Julian Stockwin) In the 1750s the Royal Navy began issuing portable soup to ships embarking on long voyages, following recommendations by the naval surgeon James Lind that it should be supplied for the sick. It was also seen by some of their Lordships as an anti-scorbutic, which we now know was erroneous. But indirectly it helped; it made ‘greens’ more palatable... Portable soup was the forerunner of the modern stock cube. Meat and offal were boiled until the mixture formed a thick glue-like paste, then it was dried to be cut or broken into pieces.
Barky (Slang) A seaman's affectionate name for their vessel
Burgoo Meal made from oats, usually served cold, and occasionally sweetened with molasses
Spirketting The interior lining or panelling of a ship
Stingo (Slang) Beer
Wedding Garland A garland that would be raised when a ship was expected to remain at anchor for some while. It signified that the ship was not on active duty and that wives (a term loosely interpreted) were allowed aboard. This was considered a preferable alternative to granting shore leave therefore avoiding desertion etc.

Naval Fiction Glossary

© 2008-2017 David Hayes (Astrodene)