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

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
Toward the stern, relative to some object
Abaft the beam
Further aft than the beam: a relative bearing of greater than 90 degrees from the bow.
On the beam, a relative bearing at right angles to the centerline of the ship's keel.
Able Seaman
One who can hand, reef and steer; well acquainted with the duties of a seaman.
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.
Senior naval officer of Flag rank. In ascending order of seniority, Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral, Admiral. See Admirals for more information
Afloat and unattached in any way to the shore or seabed, but not under way.
In, on, or toward the front of a vessel or In front of a vessel.
The portion of the vessel behind the middle area of the vessel or Towards the stern of the vessel or Behind the vessel.
After cabin
The cabin in the stern of a ship used by the captain, commodore or admiral.
Afternoon Watch
From noon to 4 pm. See The Watch System
A cry to draw attention. Term used to hail a boat or a ship, as "Boat ahoy!"
Lying broadside to the sea. To ride out a storm with no sails and helm held to leeward.
An officer acting as a confidential assistant to a senior officer.
see: Leeward
All hands
Both (all) watches on duty.
In the rigging of a sailing ship. Above the ship's uppermost solid structure; overhead or high above.
By the side of a ship or pier.
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.
A large metal double hook designed to prevent or slow the drift of a ship by gripping the bottom under water.
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.
A suitable place for a ship to anchor. Area of a port or harbor.
Articles of War
Regulations governing the conduct of the crew. See Articles of War for more information.
Across from side to side, transversely.
Stop, cease or desist from whatever is being done.
Said of an anchor when just clear of the bottom during raising.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
A device for removing water that has entered the boat.
Any heavy material placed in a ship's hold to improve her stability such as pig iron, gravel, stones or lead.
Banyan Day
Term for a day when no meat is served as part of the main meal
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.
Cannon shot consisting of two half cannonballs joined by an iron bar, used to damage the masts and rigging of enemy vessels.
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.
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.
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.
see: Barque
(Slang) Seaman's affectionate name for their ship.
(Slang) A seaman's affectionate name for their vessel
A device to measure the barometric pressure. A rising barometer suggests good weather whereas a falling barometer indicates increasing storms.
A three-masted vessel with the foremast and mainmast square-rigged, and the mizzen fore-and-aft rigged.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
Bear up
To put the helm up (or to windward) and so put the ship before the wind
The horizontal direction of a line of sight between two objects on the surface of the earth.
Beat to quarters
Prepare for battle
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.
Unable to move due to lack of wind.
Beetle headed
(Slang) Dull, Stupid.
Before the mast
Term to describe common sailors.
Before the wind
Sailing with the wind directly astern.
To secure a running rope used to work the sails. Also, to disregard as in "Belay that last order"
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.
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
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.
Best Bower
see: Bower
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.
Loop made in the middle of a line or an indentation in a coastline.
Leg irons, or iron garters secured to a deck below and used to restrain seamen who have offended.
The area at the bottom of the hull of a ship or boat where water collects and must be pumped out of the vessel.
Cabinet on the quarterdeck that houses compasses, the log, traverse board, lead lines, telescope and speaking trumpet
Hard Tack
Also small hammock mattress, resembling ships rations.
Bitter end
The very end of an anchor cable.
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
(Slang) Gossip.
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.
The act of patrolling an enemy port to stop enemy ships, or war materials in neutral vessels, arriving or leaving.
Blue Peter
A blue and white flag (the flag for the letter "P") hoisted at the foretrucks of ships about to sail.
Boat fall
Line that raises or lowers a ship's boat.
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.
(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..
A stay which holds the bowsprit downwards, counteracting the effect of the forestay.
A short post on a ship or quay for securing a rope.
Bolt rope/line
Line sewn into the edge of a sail, at the bolt.
A strip of canvas secured to the foot of the course (square sail) to increase sail area in light airs.
Lower spar which the bottom of a gaff sail is attached to.
Masts or yards, lying on board in reserve.
(Slang) Marines.
The diameter of the inside of a firearms barrel.
Bore up/away
Past tense - see: Bear up or Bear away
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.
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.
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

© 2008-2024 David Hayes (Astrodene)