This is a glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, while some date from the 17th-19th century.


Aft: At, near, or toward the stern (back end)
Alee: To the leeward side (away from the wind)
Aloft: Above the upper deck (above)
Alongside: Side to side
Amidships: In or towards the middle of a ship in regard to length or breadth (center of)
Astern: The bearing of an object 180 degrees from ahead (behind)
Avast: An order to stop or cease hauling (stop action at once)
Awash: Level with the water (water ready to, or slightly covering decks)


Bearing: The direction of an object (with reference to you, your ship, another object)
Becket: A rope eye for the hook of a block. A rope grommet used in place of a rowlock. Also, a small piece of rope with an eye in each end to hold the feet of a sprit to the mast. In general any small rope or strap used as a handle
Belaying pin: A wooden or iron pin fitting into a rail upon which to secure ropes
Berth: A vessel’s place at anchor or at a dock. Seaman’s assignment
Bitts: A pair of vertical wooden or iron heads on board ship, used for securing mooring or towing lines. Similar to dock bollards
Black gang: Member of the engine-room force, which included the engineers, firemen, oilers, and wipers
Bollard: An upright, wooden or iron post to which hawsers or mooring lines may be secured
Bosun: Shortening of the old term “boatswain,” an unlicensed member of the crew who supervises the work of the deck men under direction of the first mate
Bow: The forward part of a vessel’s sides (front)
Bridge: The raised platform extending athwartships, the part of the ship from which the ship is steered and navigated
Bright work: Brass work, polished (also varnished wood work in yachts)
Bulkhead: Transverse or longitudinal partitions separating portions of the ship (”walls” in a ship)
Bunk: Built-in bed aboard ship


Cabin: The captain’s quarters. The enclosed space of decked-over small boat
Cable-laid: The same as hawser-laid
Cable-length: 100 fathoms or 600 feet (6 feet to a fathom)
Cable: A chain or line (rope) bent to the anchor
Calm: A wind or force less than one knot (knot: 1 nautical mile per hour)
Camel: A wooden float placed between a vessel and a dock acting as a fender
Capstan-bar: A wooden bar which may be shipped in the capstan head for heaving around by hand (to heave up anchor or heavy objects by manpower)
Capstan: The vertical barrel device used to heave in cable or lines
Captain of the Head: A guy who gets Head (toilet) cleaning detail
Cardinal points: The four principal points of the compass: North, East, South and West
Cast off: To let go
Chafe: To wear the surface of a rope by rubbing against a solid object.
Chafing gear: A guard of canvas or rope put around spars, mooring lines, or rigging to prevent them from wearing out by rubbing against something.
Chain locker: A compartment forward where the chain cable is stowed.
Charley Noble: The galley smoke-pipe (cook’s stove pipe), named after The English sea captain who was noted for the scrupulous cleanliness and shine of the brass aboard his ship.
Check: To ease off gradually (go slower and move carefully)
Chief mate: Another term for first mate
Chief: The crew’s term for the chief engineer
Chock: A heavy wooden or metal fitting secured on a deck or on a dock, with jaws, used for the lead or to guide lines or cables
Choked: The falls foul in a block. The falls may be chocked or jammed intentionally for a temporary securing (holding)
Cleat: A fitting of wood or metal, with horns, used for securing lines (tying up)
Clipper bow: A stem curving up and forward in graceful line
Coaming: The raised frame work around deck openings, and cockpit of open boats (hatch coaming)
Cockpit: The well of a sailing vessel, especially a small boat, for the wheel and steerman
Colors: The national ensign
Cofferdam: The space between two bulkheads set close together, especially between fuel tanks (two walls separated to use for drainage or safety)
Coil: To lay down rope in circular turns
Coming around: To bring a sailing vessel into the wind and change to another tack. One who is influenced to a change of opinion
Cork fenders: A fender made of granulated cork and covered with woven tarred stuff
Cradle: A stowage rest for a ship’s boat
Crossing the line: Crossing the Equator
Crow’s nest: The platform or tub on the mast for the look-out
Cut-water: The foremost part of the stem, cutting the water as the vessel forges ahead


Davit: A curved metal spar for handling a boat or other heavy objects
Dead ahead: Directly ahead on the extension of the ship’s fore and aft line
Dead light: Steel disc, that is dogged down over a porthole to secure against breakage of the glass and to prevent light from showing through
Derelict: An abandoned vessel at sea (a danger to navigation)
Dip: A position of a flag when lowered part way in salute (method of salute between vessels, like planes dipping wings)
Displacement: The weight of the water displaced by a vessel
Distress signal: A flag display or a sound, light, or radio signal calling for assistance
Ditty-bag: A small bag used by seamen for stowing small articles
Doldrums: The belt on each side of the Equator in which little or no wind ordinarily blows
Dolphin: A cluster of piles for mooring
Double up: To double a vessel’s mooring lines
Dowse: To take in, or lower a sail. To put out a light. To cover with water
Draft: The distance from the surface of the water to the ship’s keel (how deep the ship is into the water)
Drag: A sea anchor contrived to keep a vessel’s head to the wind and sea
Dressing ship: A display of national colors at all mastheads and the array of signal flags from bow to stern over the masthead (for special occasions and holidays)
Dry dock: A basin for receiving a vessel for repairs, capable of being pumped dry (to repair vessel and scrape marine growth from bottom)
Dungarees: Blue working overalls
DWAT (Deadweight All Tonnage): This is the total weight of fuel, cargo, equipment, etc., that the vessel can carry when fully loaded.
DWCC (Dead weight cargo capacity): This is most important for the Charterers (Whose cargo has to be shipped), because it gives the weight of the cargo that the vessel can carry.  The more fuel the vessel needs the lower the DWCC is.  This also depends on the water temperature and the water (Salt, brackish, etc.).  In the summer, vessels have a higher DWCC.


Eagle Flies: Pay day
Easy: Carefully (watch what you’re doing)
End-for-end: Reversing the position of an object or line
End seizing: A round seizing at the end of a rope
Ensign: (1) The national flag. (2) A junior officer
Even keel: Floating level (no list)


Fake: A single turn of rope when a rope is coiled down
Fake down: To fake line back and forth on deck
Fantail: After deck over counter. The part of a rounded stern which extends past the rearmost perpendicular
Fathom: Six feet. Comes from the Dutch word “fadom” which was the distance between fingertips of outstretched hands
Fend off: To push off when making a landing
Fender: Canvas, wood or rope used over the side to protect a vessel from chafing when alongside another vessel or a dock
Fid: A tapered wooden pin used to separate the strands when splicing heavy rope
Field day: A day for general ship cleaning
Flemish down: To coil flat down on deck, each fake outside the other, beginning in the middle and all close together
Fo’c’sle: A modem version of the old term “forecastle,” or bow section of the ship, where the crew lived
Fog horn: A sound signal device (not necessarily mechanically operated)
Fog-bound: Said of a vessel when forced to heave to or lie at anchor due to fog
Fore peak: The part of the vessel below decks at the stem
Forecastle: A compartment where the crew lives
Forefoot: The heel of the stem where it connects to the keel
Foul: Jammed, not clear
Fouled hawse: Said of the anchor chain when moored and the chain does not lead clear of another chain
Founder: To sink (out of control)
Freeboard: The distance from the surface of the water to the main deck or gunwale
Freeing port: A port in the bulwark for the purpose of freeing the deck of water
Freighter: A ship designed to carry all types of general cargo, or “dry cargo”


G.I.: Anything of Government Issue
Gantline: A line rove through a single block secured aloft
Garboard strake: The strake next to the keel (running fore and aft)
Gather way: To attain headway (to get going or pick up speed)
Gear: The general name for ropes, blocks and tackles, tools, etc. (things)
Gilguy (or gadget): A term used to designate an object for which the correct name has been forgotten
Gipsey (gypsey): A drum of a windlass for heaving in line
Glass: Term used by mariners for a barometer
Glory hole: Steward’s quarters
Go adrift: Break loose
Golden Slippers: Tan work shoes issued to U.S. Maritime Service trainees
Grapnel: A small anchor with several arms used for dragging purposes
Grating: A wooden lattice-work covering a hatch or the bottom boards of a boat; similarly designed gratings of metal are frequently found on shipboard
Graveyard watch: The middle watch
Green sea: A large body of water taken aboard (ship a sea)
Ground tackle: A term used to cover all of the anchor gear
Grounding: Running ashore (hitting the bottom)
Gunwale: The upper edge of a vessel or boat’s side


Hail: To address a vessel, to come from, as to hail from some port (call)
Half-mast: The position of a flag when lowered halfway down
Halliards or halyards: Ropes used for hoisting gaffs and sails, and signal flags
Hand lead: A lead of from 7 to 14 pounds used with the hand lead line for ascertaining the depth of water in entering or leaving a harbor. (Line marked to 20 fathoms)
Hand rail: A steadying rail of a ladder (banister)
Hand rope: Same as “grab rope” (rope)
Hand taut: As tight as can be pulled by hand
Hand: A member of the ship’s company
Handybilly: A watch tackle (small, handy block and tackle for general use)
Hang from the yards: Dangle a man from one of the yard arms, sometimes by the neck, if the man was to be killed, and sometimes by the toes, if he was merely to be tortured. A severe punishment used aboard sailing ships long ago. Today, a reprimand
Hatch: An opening in a ship’s deck for passageway or for handling cargo or stores
Hawse buckler: An iron plate covering a hawse hole
Hawse-pipes: A pipe lead-in for anchor chain through ship’s bow
Hawser: A rope used for towing or, mooring
Hawser-laid: Left-handed rope of nine strands, in the form of three three-stranded, right-handed ropes
Head: The ship’s water closet (toilet or wash-room). The upper edge of a quadrilateral sail
Head room: The height of the decks, below decks
Heart: The inside center strand of rope
Heave: To haul or pull on a line; to throw a heaving line
Heave around: To revolve the drum of a capstan, winch or windlass. (Pulling with mechanical deck heaving gear)
Heave away: An order to haul away or to heave around a capstan (pull)
Heave in: To haul in
Heave short: To heave in until the vessel is riding nearly over her anchor
Heave taut: To haul in until the line has a strain upon it
Heave the lead: The operation of taking a sounding with the hand lead (to find bottom)
Heave to: To bring vessel on a course on which she rides easily and hold her there by the use of the ship’s engines (holding a position)
Heaving line: A small line thrown to an approaching vessel, or a dock as a messenger
Hemp: Rope made of the fibers of the hemp plant and used for small stuff or less than 24 thread (1.75 inch circumference). (Rope is measured by circumference, wire by diameter)
High, wide and handsome: Sailing ship with a favorable wind, sailing dry and easily. A person riding the crest of good fortune
Hoist away: An order to haul up
Holiday: An imperfection, spots left unfinished in cleaning or painting
Hold: The space below decks utilized for the stowage of cargo and stores
Holy stone: The soft sandstone block sailors use to scrub the deck, so-called, because seamen were on their knees to use it
Horse latitudes: The latitudes on the outer margins of the trades where the prevailing winds are light and variable
House flag: Distinguishing flag of a merchant marine company flown from the mainmast of merchant ships
House: To stow or secure in a safe place. A top-mast is housed by lowering it and securing it to a lowermast
Hug: To keep close
Hulk: A worn out vessel
Hull down: Said of a vessel when, due to its distance on the horizon, only the masts are visible
Hurricane: Force of wind over 65 knots


Ice-bound: Caught in the ice
Inboard: Towards the center line of a ship (towards the center)
Irish pennant: An untidy loose end of a rope (or rags)


Jack: The flag similar to the union of the national flag
Jack Tar: Sailors were once called by their first names only, and Jack was their generic name. Tar came from seamen’s custom of waterproofing clothing using tar
Jacob’s ladder: A ladder of rope with rungs, used over the side
Jam: To wedge tight.
Jettison: To throw goods oerboard
Jetty: A landing wharf or pier; a dike at a river s mouth
Jews harp: The ring bolted to the upper end of the shank of an anchor and to which the bending shackle secures
Jolly Roger: A pirate’s flag carrying the skull and cross-bones
Jump ship: To leave a ship without authority (deserting)
Jury rig: Makeshift rig (emergency rig)


Keel: The timber or bar forming the backbone of the vessel and running from the stem to the stempost at the bottom of the ship
Keel-haul: To tie a rope about a man and, after passing the rope under the ship and bringing it up on deck on the opposite side, haul away, dragging the man down and around the keel of the vessel. As the bottom of the ship was always covered with sharp barnacles, this was a severe punishment used aboard sailing ships long ago. Today, a reprimand
Keep a sharp look-out: A look-out is stationed in a position to watch for danger ahead. To be on guard against sudden opposition or danger
King-spoke: The upper spoke of a steering wheel when the rudder is amidships, usually marked in some fashion (top spoke of neutral steering wheel)
Kink: A twist in a rope
Knock off: To stop, especially to stop work
Knocked down: The situation of a vessel when listed over by the wind to such an extent that she does not recover
Knot: Speed of 1 nautical mile per hour (1.7 land miles per hour)
Knot: A twisting, turning, tying, knitting, or entangling of ropes or parts of a rope so as to join two ropes together or make a finished end on a rope, for certain purpose


Labor: A vessel is said to labor when she works heavily in a seaway (pounding, panting, hogging and sagging)
Ladder: A metal, wooden or rope stairway
Lame duck: Term for disabled vessel that had to fall out of a convoy and thus became easy prey for submarines
Landlubber: The seaman’s term for one who does not go to sea
Lanyard: A rope made fast to an article for securing it (knife lanyard, bucket lanyard, etc.), or for setting up rigging
Lashing: A passing and repassing of a rope so as to confine or fasten together two or more objects; usuafly in the form of a bunch
Launch: To place in the water
Lay aloft: The order to go aloft (go up above)
Lazaretto: A low headroom space below decks used for provisions or spare parts, or miscellaneous storage
LDT: Light Displacement Tonnage. The weight of a ship without anything on board, used to determine the value of a ship which is to be scrapped
Lee shore: The land to the leeward of the vessel (wind blows from the ship to the land)
Leeward: The direction away from the wind
Liberty: Permission to be absent from the ship for a short period (authorized absence)
Life-line: A line secured along the deck to lay hold of in heavy weather; a line thrown on board a wreck by life-saving crew; a knotted line secured to the span between life-boat davits for the use of the crew when hoisting and lowering
Light Displacement tonnage (LDT) : Displacement is the actual total weight of the vessel. It is often expressed in long tons or in metric tons, and is calculated simply by multiplying the volume of the hull below the waterline (ie. the volume of water it is displacing) by the density of the water. (Note that the density will depend on whether the vessel is in fresh or salt water, or is in the tropics, where water is warmer and hence less dense.)
Line: A general term for light rope
Logbook: A book containing the official record of a ship’s activities together with remarks concerning the state of the weather, etc
Longitudinal: A fore and aft strength member of a ship’s structure
Longshoreman: A laborer who works at loading and discharging cargo
Lookout: The man stationed aloft or in the bows for observing and reporting objects seen
Loom: The part of an oar between the blade and handle. The reflection of a light below the horizon due to certain atmospheric conditions
Loose: To unfurl
Lubber line: The black line parallel with ship’s keel marked on the inner surface of the bowl of a compass, indicating the compass direction of the ship’s head
Lurch: The sudden heave of the ship
Lyle gun: A gun used in the life-saving services to throw a life line to a ship in distress or from ship to shore and used when a boat cannot be launched


Make colors: Hoisting the ensign at 8 a.m. and down at sunset
Make the course good: Steering; keeping the ship on the course given (no lazy steering)
Make the land: Landfall. To reach shore
Make water: To leak; take in water
Man ropes: Ropes hung and used for assistance in ascending and descending
Manhole: An opening into a tank or compartment designed to admit a man
Manila: Rope made from the fibers of the abaca plant
Marlinspike: Pointed iron implement used in separating the strands of rope in splicing, marling, etc
Maroon: To put a person ashore with no means of returning
Marry: To temporarily sew the ends of two ropes together for rendering through a block. Also to grip together parts of a fall to prevent running out. To marry strands to prepare for splicing
Mast step: The frame on the keelson of boat (does not apply on ships) to which the heel of a mast is fitted
Master: A term for the captain, a holdover from the days when the captain was literally, and legally, the “master” of the ship and crew. His word was law
Masthead light: The white running light carried by steam vessel underway on the foremast or in the forepart of the vessel
Masthead: The top part of the mast
Mess gear: Equipment used for serving meals
Messenger: A light line used for hauling over a heavier rope or cable
Messman: A member of the steward’s department who served meals to officers and crew
Mole: A breakwater used as a landing pier
Monkey fist: A knot worked into the end of a heaving line (for weight)
Monkey island: A flying bridge on top of a pilothouse or chart house
Mooring: Securing to a dock or to a buoy, or anchoring with two anchors
Mother Carey’s chickens: Small birds that foretell bad weather and bad luck
Mousing: Small stuff seized across a hook to prevent it from unshipping (once hooked, mousing keeps the hook on)
Mud scow: A large, flat: bottomed boat used to carry the mud from a dredge
Mushroom anchor: An anchor without stock and shaped like a mushroom


Nantucket sleigh ride: A term for what frequently happened to Nantucket whalers when they left the whaling ship in a small boat to go after a whale. If they harpooned the whale without mortally wounding it, the animal took off with the whaleboat in tow
Neptune: The mythical god of the sea
Net tonnage: The cubical space available for carrying cargo and passengers
Netting: A rope network
Not under command: Said of a vessel when unable to maneuver
Not under control: Same as not under command


Oakum: Material used for caulking the seams of vessels and made from the loose fibers of old hemp rope
Off and on: Standing toward the land and off again alternately
Officer of the watch: The officer in charge of the watch
Oil bag: A bag filled with oil and triced over the side for making a slick in a rough sea (to keep seas from breaking)
Oilskin: Waterproof clothing
Old man: The captain of the ship
On report: In trouble
On soundings: Said of a vessel when the depth of water can be measured by the lead (within the 100 fathom curve)
Ordinary seaman: The beginning grade for members of the deck department. The next step is able bodied seaman
Out of trim: Not properly trimmed or ballasted (not on even keel; listing)
Outboard: Towards the sides of the vessel (with reference to the centerline)
Over-all: The extreme deck fore and aft measurement of a vessel
Overhang: The projection of the stern beyond the sternpost and of the bow beyond the stem
Overhaul: Get gear in condition for use; to separate the blocks of a tackle to lengthen the fall (ready for use again)
Overtaking: Said of a vessel when she is passing or overtaking another vessel


Pad eye: A metal eye permanently secured to a deck or bulkhead (for mooring any blocks and tackle).
Painter: A short piece of rope secured in the bow of a small boat used for making her fast
Palm and needle: A seaman’s sewing outfit for heavy work
Part: To break
Pass a line: To reeve and secure a line
Pass a stopper: To reeve and secure a stopper (hold a strain on a line while transferring it)
Pass down the line: Relay to all others in order (a signal repeated from one ship to the next astern in column)
Pass the word: To repeat an order for information to the crew
Pay off: To turn the bow away from the wind; to pay the crew
Pay out: To slack out a line made fast on board (let it out slowly)
Pay: To fill the seams of a vessel with pitch
Pier head jump: Making a ship just as it is about to sail
Pile: A pointed spar driven into the bottom and projecting above the water; when driven at the corners of a dock, they are termed fender piles
Pilot boat: A power or sailing boat used by pilots (men who have local knowledge of navigation hazards of ports)
Pin: The metal axle of a block upon which the sheave revolves
Pitch: A tar substance obtained from the pine tree and used in paying the seams of a vessel. Motion of vessel
Pitting: Areas of corrosion
Planking: Broad planks used to cover a wooden vessel’s sides, or covering the deck beams
Plait: To braid; used with small stuff
Play: Freedom of movement
Plimsoll mark: A figure marked on the side of merchant vessels to indicate allowed loading depths. Named after Samuel Plimsoll, English Member of Parliament and maritime reformer
Plug: A wooden wedge fitting into a drainage hole in the bottom of a boat for the purpose of draining the boat when she is out of water
Point: To taper the end of a rope; one of the 32 divisions of the compass card. To head close to the wind.
Poop deck: A partial deck at the stern above the main deck, derived from the Latin “puppio” for the sacred deck where the “pupi” or doll images of the deities were kept
Pooped: An opening in a ship’s side, such as an air port, or cargo port
Port side: The left side of a vessel when looking forward
Port: The left side of the ship
Posh: elegant, luxurious. Originally an acronym for Port Over Starboard Home. Created by British travelers to India or Australia, describing the preferred accommodations aboard ship, which lessened effects of the tropical sun on the cabins during the voyage
Pouring oil on troubled waters: Heavy-weather practice of pouring oil on the sea so as to form a film on the surface, thus preventing the seas from breaking. To smooth out some difficulty
Pratique: A permit by the port doctor for an incoming vessel, being clear of contagious disease, to have the liberty of the port
Preventer: A rope used for additional support or for additional securing, e.g., preventer stay
Pricker: Small marlinespike
Privileged vessel: One which has the right of way
Prolonged blast: A blast of from 4 to 6 seconds’ duration
Prow: The part of the bow above the water
Punt: A rectangular flat- bottomed boat used by vessels for painting the ship’s side and general use around the ship’s water: line, fitted with oar-locks on each side and usually propelled by sculling
Purchase: A tackle (blocks and falls)
Put to sea: To leave port


Quarantine: Restricted or prohibited intercourse due to contagious disease
Quarter: That portion of a vessel’s side near the stern
Quartering sea: A sea on the quarter (coming from a side of the stern)
Quarters bill: A vessel’s station bill showing duties of crew
Quarters: Living compartments
Quay: A cargo-discharging wharf


Rake: The angle of a vessel’s masts from the vertical
Ratline: A short length of small rope “ratline stuff” running horizontally across shrouds, for a ladder step
Reef: To reduce the area of a sail by making fast the reef points (used in rough weather)
Reeve: To pass the end of a rope through any lead such as a sheave or fair: lead
Registry: The ship’s certificate determining the ownership and nationality of the vessel. Relieving tackle: A tackle of double and single blocks rove with an endless line and used to relieve the strain on the steering engine in heavy weather or emergency
Ride: To lie at anchor; to ride out; to safely weather a storm whether at anchor or underway
Rig: A general description of a vessel’s upper: works; to fit out
Rigging: A term applied to ship�EUR(TM)s ropes generally
Right: To return to a normal position, as a vessel righting after heeling over
Ringbolt: A bolt fitted with a ring through its eye, used for securing, running, rigging, etc
Rips: A disturbance of surface water by conflicting current or by winds
Rise and shine: A call to turn out of bunks
Roaring forties: That geographical belt located approximately in 40 degrees south latitude in which are encountered the prevailing or stormy westerlies
Rudder post: That part of a rudder by which it is pivoted to the sternpost
Run down: To collide with a vessel head on
Rustbucket: Sailors’ term for an old ship that needed a lot of paint and repairs


Sailing free: Sailing other than close; hauled or into the wind (wind astern)
Salty character: A nautical guy, often a negative connotation
Salvage: To save a vessel or cargo from total loss after an accident; recompense for having saved a ship or cargo from danger
Scale: To climb up. A formation of rust over iron or steel plating
School: A large body of fish
Scuppers: Openings in the side of a ship to carry off water from the waterways or from the drains
Scuttle: To sink a vessel by boring holes in her bottom or by opening sea valves
Scuttle butt: The container of fresh water for drinking purpose used by the crew; formerly it consisted of a cask
Scuttle butt story: An unauthoritative story (a tall story)
Sea anchor: A drag (drogue) thrown over to keep a vessel to the wind and sea
Sea chest: A sailor’s trunk; the intake between the ship’s side and a sea valve
Sea dog: An old sailor
Sea going: Capable of going to sea
Sea lawyer: A seaman who is prone to argue, especially against recognized authority (big mouth)
Sea painter: A line leading from forward on the ship and secured to a forward inboard thwart of the boat in such a way as to permit quick release
Seaworthy: Capable of putting to sea and able to meet sea conditions
Secure for sea: Prepare for going to sea, extra lashing on all movable objects
Secure: To make fast; safe; the completion of a drill or exercise on board ship
Seize: To bind with small rope
Semaphore: Flag signaling with the arms
Set the course: To give the steersman the desired course to be steered
Set up rigging: To take in the slack and secure the standing rigging
Settle: To lower, sink deeper
Shackle: A U-shaped piece of iron or steel with eyes in the end closed by a shackle pin
Shaft alley: Covered tunnels within a ship through which the tail shafts pass
Shake a leg: An order to make haste
Shakedown cruise: A cruise of a new ship for the purpose of testing out all machinery, etc. Shank: The main piece of the anchor having the arms at the bottom and the Jew’s harp at the top
Shanghaied: The practice of obtaining a crew by means of force. Crews were hard to get for long voyages, and when the unwilling shipmate regained consciousness, he found himself bound for some remote port, such as Shanghai. One who is forced to do something against his will
Shape a course: To ascertain the proper course to be steered to make the desired point or port. Shark’s mouth: The opening in an awning around the mast
Sheave: The wheel of the block over which the fall of the block is rove
Sheer: A sudden change. The longitudinal dip of the vessel’s main deck
Sheet: The rope used to spread the clew of head sails and to control the boom of boom sails
Shell: The casing of a block within which the sheave revolves
Ship: To enlist; to send on board cargo; to put in place; to take on board
Ships time: Ships time was counted by the half hour, starting at midnight. A half hour after twelve was one bell; one o’clock, two bells; and so on until four o’clock, which was eight bells. The counting then started over again, with 4:30 being one bell
Short stay: When the scope of chain is slightly greater than the depth of water
Shorthanded: Without sufficient crew
Shot: A short length of chain, usually 15 fathoms (90 feet). (Method of measuring chain)
Shove in your oar: To break into a conversation
Shrouds: Side stays from the masthead to the rail
Side lights: The red and green running lights, carried on the port and starboard sides respectively, of vessels under-way
Sing out: To call out
Sister hooks: Two iron flatsided hooks reversed to one another
Skids: Beams sometimes fitted over the decks for the stowage of heavy boats or cargo
Skipper: The captain
Sky pilot: A chaplain
Skylight: A covering, either permanent or removable, to admit air and light below decks
Slack: The part of a rope hanging loose; the opposite of taut
Slack water: The condition of the tide when there is no horizontal motion
Slip: To let go by unshackling, as a cable
Slop chest: Stock of merchandise, such as clothing, tobacco, etc., maintained aboard merchant ships for sale to the crew
Slush: White-lead and tallow used on standing rigging
Smart: Snappy, seamanlike; a smart ship is an efficient one
Smothering lines: Pipe lines to a compartment for smothering a fire by steam or by a chemical
Snatch: block: A single block fitted so that the shell or hook hinges to permit the bight of a rope to be passed through
Snub: To check suddenly
Sny: A small toggle used on a flag
Sound: To measure the depth of the water with a lead. Also said of a whale when it dives to the bottom
Sound out a person: To obtain his reaction to something
Southwester: An oil-skin hat with broad rear brim
Span: A wire rope or line between davit heads
Spanner: A tool for coupling hoses
Sparks: The radio operator
Speak: To communicate with a vessel in sight
Spill: To empty the wind out of a sail
Splice: The joining of two ends of a rope or ropes by so intertwining the strands, as but slightly to increase the diameter of the rope
Spring line: Usually of the best wire hawsers; one of the first lines sent out in mooring. “Springs in and springs out” a vessel
Squall: A sudden and violent gust of wind
Squeegee: A deck dryer composed of a flat piece of wood shod with rubber, and a handle. Stanchions: Wooden or metal uprights used as supports (posts)
Stack: The ship’s funnel or smokestack
Stand by: A preparatory order (wait: be ready).
Standard compass: The magnetic compass used by the navigator as a standard
Standing part: That part of a line or fall which is secured
Standing rigging: That part of the ship’s rigging which is permanently secured and not movable, such as stay, shrouds, etc
Starboard The right side of the ship
Station bill: The posted bill showing stations of the crew at maneuvers and emergency drills
Staunch: Still, seaworthy, able
Stay: A rope of hemp, wire or iron leading forward or aft for supporting a mast
Steady: An order to hold a vessel on the course she is heading
Steerage way: The slowest speed at which a vessel steers
Steering wheel: The wheel operating the steering gear and by which the vessel is steered
Stem the tide: Stemming the tide or sea means to head the vessel’s bow directly into the current or waves. Overcome adverse circumstances
Stem: The timber at the extreme forward part of a boat secured to the forward end of the keel
Stern anchor: An anchor carried at the stern
Stern board: Progress backwards
Stern: The after part of the vessel (back of)
Stevedore: A professional cargo loader and unloader
Stopper: A short length of rope secured at one end, and used in securing or checking a running rope, e.g., deck stopper, boat fall stopper, etc
Storeroom: The space provided for stowage of provisions or other materials
Storm warning: An announced warning of an approach of a storm
Stove: Broken in
Stow: To put in place
Stowaway: A person illegally aboard and in hiding
Strake: A continuous planking or plating fitted out to and from stem to stern of a vessel’s side
Strand: A number of yarns, twisted together and which in turn may be twisted into rope; a rope is stranded when a strain is broken; rope may be designated by the number of strands composing. Rope is commonly three-stranded. A vessel run ashore is said to be stranded
Strap: A ring of rope made by splicing the ends, and used for slinging weights, holding the parts of a block together, etc. A rope, wire or iron binding, encircling a block and with a thimble seized into it for taking a hook. Small straps used to attach a handybilly to the hauling part of a line
Strongback: A light spar set fore and aft on a boat, serving as a spread for the boat cover
Surge: To ease a line to prevent it from parting or pulling, meanwhile holding the strain
Swab: A mop
Swamp: Sink by filling with water
Swell: A large wave
Swing ship: The evolution of swinging a ship’s head through several headings to obtain compass errors for the purpose of making a deviation table
Swinging over: Swing of the boom from one side of the ship to the other when the tack is changed


Taffrail log: The log mounted on the taffrail and consisting of a rotator, a log line and recording device (to measure distance run through the water)
Tail shaft: The after section of the propeller shaft
Take a turn: To pass a turn around a belaying pin or cleat
Take in: To lower and furl the sails
Taking on more than you can carry: Loaded with more cargo than a ship can safely navigate with. Drunk
Tanker: A ship designed to carry various types of liquid cargo, from oil and gasoline to molasses, water, and vegetable oil.
Tarpaulin: Heavy canvas used as a covering
Taut: With no slack; strict as to discipline
That’s high: An order to stop hoisting
Thimble: An iron ring with a groove on the outside for a rope grommet or splice
Three sheets to the wind: Sailing with three sheet ropes running free, thus making the ship barely able to keep headway and control. Drunk
Throwing a Fish: Saluting
Thwart: The athwartships seats in a boat on which oars-men sit
Thwartships: At right angles to the fore and aft line (across the ship)
Toggle: A small piece of wood or bar of iron inserted in a knot to render it more secure, or to make it more readily unfastened or slipped
Top-heavy: Too heavy aloft
Tow: To pull through water; vessels towed
Track: The path of the vessel
Trades: The practically steady winds blowing toward the equator, N.E. in the northern and SE. in the southern hemisphere
Trice: To lash up
Tricing line: A line used for suspending articles
Trick: The period of time during which the wheelsman remains at the wheel
Trim: The angle to the horizontal at which a vessel rides
Trip: To let go
Tripping line: A line used for capsizing the sea anchor and hauling it in
Truck: The flat circular piece secured on the top of the mast
Tug boat: A small vessel fitted for towing
Turn in all standing: Go to bed without undressing
Turn to: An order to commence ship’s work
Turn turtle: To capsize
Turn-buckle: A metal appliance consisting of a thread and screw capable of being set up or slacked back and used for setting up on rigging
Two blocks: When the two blocks of a tackle have been drawn as close together as possible


Umbrella: The cone-shaped shield at the top of the smokestack
Unbend: To untie
Under below: A warning from aloft (heads up)
Undermanned: Insufficient number of crew; shorthanded
Undertow: A subsurface current in a surf
Underway: Said of a vessel when not at anchor, nor made fast to the shore, or aground
Unship: To take apart or to remove from its place
Unwatched: Said of a lighthouse not tended
Up anchor: Hoist or haul in the anchor


Vast: An order to cease (stop)
Veer: To slack off or move off; also said of a change of direction of wind, when the wind shifts to a different direction
Ventilator cowl: The swiveled opening at the top of a ventilator
Ventilator: A wooden or metal pipe used to supply or to exhaust air


Waist: The portion of the deck between the forecastle and quarterdeck of a sailing vessel
Wake: A vessel’s track through the water
Waste: Cotton yarn used for cleaning purposes
Watch cap: A canvas cover secured over a funnel when not in use. Sailor’s headwear, woolen type, capable of covering the ears in cold weather
Watch officer: An officer taking his turn as officer of the watch
Water breaker: A small cask carried in ship’s boats for drinking purposes
Water’s edge: The surface of the water
Water-logged: Filled with water but afloat
Waterline: The line painted on the side of the vessel at the water’s edge to indicate the proper trim
Watertight: Capable of keeping out water
Waterway: The gutter at the sides of a ship’s deck to carry off water
Weather eye: To keep a weather eye is to be on the alert (heads up)
Weather side: The windward side (from where the wind is blowing)
Weigh: Lift anchor off the bottom
Well enough: An order meaning sufficient (enough)
Where away: A call requesting direction in answer to the report of a lookout that an object has been sighted
Whipping: A method of preventing the ends of a line from unlaying or fraying by turns of small stuff, stout twine or seizing wire with the ends tucked
White cap: The white froth on the crests of waves
Wide berth: At a considerable distance
Wildcat: A sprocket wheel on the windlass for taking links of the chain cable
Winch: An engine for handling drafts of cargo secured on deck and fitted with drums on a horizontal axle
Windlass: An anchor engine used for heaving in the chain cable and anchor
Wiper: A general handyman in the engine room


Yaw: To steer wildly or out of line of course