The Phrontistery

Books by Stephen Chrisomalis
Numerical Notation: A Comparative History Human Expeditions: Inspired by Bruce Trigger


Nautical Terms

Ahoy, mateys! This be a fair and true listing of words having to do with ships and sailing, 225 of them in all. These terms come mainly from the great age of sailing ships, the 16th to 18th centuries, and almost all hail from the two great seafaring peoples of the day, those being the brave English and the most hated Dutch. Be fairly warned: I, being a landlubber of the most scurvy sort, know little of such nautical matters aside from what my word-books tell me, so if there are any sea-dogs out there who would deign to correct me on matters of seaman's cant and jargon, ye should holler from atop the crow's nest of your vessels. Ahoy!


Word Definition
abaft toward or at the stern of a ship; further aft
affreightment hiring of a vessel
afterdeck deck behind a ship's bridge
afterguard men who work the aft sails on the quarterdeck and poop deck
ahull with sails furled and helm lashed to the lee-side
amidships midway between the bow and stern of a ship
astern at the stern of a ship
backstay stay extending from ship's mastheads to the side of the ship
ballaster one who supplies ships with ballast
bargemaster owner of a barge
bee hardwood on either side of bowsprit through which forestays are reeved
belay to secure a rope by winding on a pin or cleat
bilge lower point of inner hull of a ship
binnacle case in which a ship's compass is kept
bitts posts mounted on a ship for fastening ropes
bluepeter blue flag with white square in centre used as ship's signal
boatswain ship's crewmember in charge of equipment and maintenance
bobstay rope used on ships to steady the bowsprit
bollard short post on a wharf or ship to which ropes are tied
boltrope strong rope stitched to edges of a sail
bosun boatswain
bottomry using the ship as collateral to finance a sea voyage
bow front of a ship
bower anchor carried at bow of a ship
bowline rope used to keep weather edge of a sail taut
bowsprit spar that extends at bows of a ship
brails ropes on edge of sail for hauling up
bream to clean a ship's bottom by burning off seaweed
bulwark the side of a ship above the deck
bumpkin spar projecting from stern of ship
bunt middle of sail, fish-net or cloth when slack
buntline rope attached to middle of square sail to haul it up to the yard
burgee small ship's flag used for identification or signalling
cable heavy rope or chain for mooring a ship
cabotage shipping and sailing between points in the same country
camber slight arch or convexity to a beam or deck of a ship
capstan upright device for winding in heavy ropes or cables
careen to turn a ship on its side in order to clean or repair it
cathead projection near the bow of a ship to which anchor is secured
chine the intersection of the middle and sides of a boat
chock metal casting with curved arms for passing ropes for mooring ship
clew corner of sail with hole to attach ropes
coaming raised edge around ship's hatches to keep water out
cocket official shipping seal; customs clearance form
cofferdam narrow vacant space between two bulkheads of a ship
cog single-masted, square-sailed ship with raised stern
companionway stairs from upper deck of ship to lower deck
cordage ropes in the rigging of a ship
cringle loop at corner of sail to which a line is attached
crosstrees horizontal crosspieces at a masthead used to support ship's mast
davit device for hoisting and lowering a boat
deadeye rounded wooden block with hole used to set up ship's stays
deadwood timbers built into ends of ship when too narrow to permit framing
demurrage delay of vessel's departure or loading with cargo
dodger shield against rain or spray on a ship's bridge
dogwatch a short, evening period of watch duty on a ship
downhaul rope for holding down or hauling down a sail or spar
dromond large single-sailed ship powered by rowers
dyogram ship's chart indicating compass deflection due to ship's iron
earing line for fastening corner of a sail to the gaff or yard
ensign large naval flag
escutcheon part of ship's stern where name is displayed
fairlead ring through which rope is led to change its direction without friction
fardage wood placed in bottom of ship to keep cargo dry
fiddley iron framework around hatchway opening
figurehead ornament or (usually female) bust attached to the bow of a ship
flagstaff flag pole at stern of a ship
fluke part of an anchor that fastens in the ground
forebitt post for fastening cables at a ship's foremast
forecabin cabin in fore part of ship
forecastle short raised deck at fore end of ship; fore of ship under main deck
forefoot foremost end of ship's keel
foremast mast nearest the bow of a ship
foresail lowest sail set on the foremast of square-rigged ship
forestay stay leading from the foremast to the bow of a ship
frap to draw a sail tight with ropes or cables
freeboard distance between waterline and main deck of a ship
futtock rib of a ship
gaff spar on which head of fore-and-aft sail is extended
gaff-topsail triangular topsail with its foot extended upon the gaff
gangway either of the sides of the upper deck of a ship
garboard plank on a ship’s bottom next to the keel
genoa large jib that overlaps the mainsail
grapnel small anchor used for dragging or grappling
groundage a charge on a ship in port
gudgeon metal socket into which the pintle of a boat's rudder fits
gunnage number of guns carried on a warship
gunwale upper edge of the side of a ship
gybe to swing a sail from one side to another
halyard rope or tackle for hoisting and lowering sails
hank series of rings or clips for attaching a jib or staysail to a stay
hawse distance between ship's bow and its anchor
hawsehole hole for ship's cable
hawser large rope for mooring or towing a ship
headsail sail set forward of the foremast of a ship
helm ship's steering wheel
holystone sandstone material used to scrape ships' decks
inboard inside the line of a ship's bulwarks or hull
jack ship's flag flown from jack-staff at bow of vessel
jack-block pulley system for raising topgallant masts
jack-cross-tree single iron cross-tree at head of a topgallant mast
jackstaff short staff at ship's bow from which the jack is hoisted
jackstay iron or wooden bar running along yard of ship to which sails fastened
jackyard spar used to spread the foot of a gaff-topsail
jib small triangular sail extending from the head of the foremast
jibboom spar forming an extension of the bowsprit
jibe to change a ship's course to make the boom shift sides
jurymast mast erected on ship in place of one lost
kedge small anchor to keep a ship steady
keelhaul to punish by dragging under keel of ship
keelson lengthwise wooden or steel beam in ship for bearing stress
kentledge pig-iron used as ballast in ship's hold
lagan cargo jettisoned from ship but marked by buoys for recovery
lanyard rope or line for fastening something in a ship
larboard left side of a ship
lastage room for stowing goods in a ship
lateen triangular sail rigged on ship's spar
laveer to sail against the wind
lazaret space in ship between decks used for storage
leeboard wood or metal planes attached to hull to prevent leeway
leech a vertical edge of a square sail
loxodograph device used to record ship's travels
luff windward side of a ship; forward edge of fore-and-aft sail
lugsail four-sided sail bent to an obliquely hanging yard
lutchet fitting on ship's deck to allow mast to pivot to pass under bridges
mainmast sailing ship's principal mast
mainsail principal sail on a ship's mainmast
mainsheet rope by which mainsail is trimmed and secured
mainstay stay that extends from the main-top to the foot of the foremast
manrope rope used as a handrail on a ship
martingale lower stay of rope used to sustain strain of the forestays
mizzen three-masted vessel; aft sail of such a vessel
mizzenmast mast aft or next aft of the mainmast in a ship
moonraker topmost sail of a ship, above the skyscraper
oakum old ropes untwisted for caulking the seams of ships
orlop lowest deck in a ship having four or more decks
outhaul rope used to haul a sail taut along a spar
outrigger spar extended from side of ship to help secure mast
painter rope attached to bow of a boat to attach it to a ship or a post
pallograph instrument measuring ship's vibration
parrel band by which a yard is fastened to a mast
patroon captain of a ship; coxswain of a longboat
poop enclosed structure at stern of ship above main deck
port when facing forward, the left side of a ship
primage fee paid to loaders for loading ship
purser ship's officer in charge of finances and passengers
quarterdeck part of ship's deck set aside by captain for ceremonial functions
quartering sailing nearly before the wind
rake the inclination of a mast or another part of a ship
ratline small rope forming a rung of a rope ladder on a ship
reef to reduce area of a sail by rolling or folding part of it
reeve to pass a rope through a ring
roach curved cut in edge of sail for preventing chafing
roband piece of yarn used to fasten a sail to a spar
rostrum spike on prow of warship for ramming
rowlock contrivance serving as a fulcrum for an oar
royal small sail on royal mast just above topgallant sail
scud to sail swiftly before a gale
scupper hole allowing water to drain from ship’s deck
scuttlebutt cask of drinking water aboard a ship; rumour, idle gossip
scuttles portholes on a ship
sheer fore-and-aft curvature of a ship from bow to stern
shrouds ropes supporting the mast of a ship
sidelight coloured lights on side of a ship under way at night
skeg part of ship connecting the keel with the bottom of the rudderpost
skysail sail above the royal sail
skyscraper triangular sail on a ship above the royal
slipway ramp sloping into water for supporting a ship
snotty naval midshipman
spanker sail on the mast nearest the stern of a square-rigged ship
spar any ship's mast, boom, yard, or gaff
spinnaker large triangular sail opposite the mainsail
spirketting inside planking between ports and waterways of a ship
sponson platform jutting from ship’s deck for gun or wheel
sprit spar crossing a fore-and-aft sail diagonally
spritsail sail extended by a sprit
starboard when facing forward, the right side of a ship
starbolins sailors of the starboard watch
stay large rope used to support a mast
staysail fore-and-aft sail hoisted on a stay
steeve to set a ship's bowsprit at an upward inclination
stemson supporting timber of a ship
stern back part of a ship
sternpost main member at stern of a ship extending from keel to deck
sternway movement of a ship backwards
stevedore dock worker who loads and unloads ships
stokehold ship’s furnace chamber
strake continuous band of plates on side of a ship
stunsail light auxiliary sail to the side of principal sails
supercargo ship's official in charge of business affairs
taffrail rail round the stern of a ship
thole pin in the side of a boat to keep oar in place
tiller handle or lever for turning a ship's rudder
timberhead top end of ship's timber used above the gunwale
timenoguy rope stretched from place to place in a ship
topgallant mast or sail above the topmast and below the royal mast
topmast ship's mast above the lower mast
topsail ship's sail above the lowermost sail
tranship to transfer from one ship to another
transire ship's customs warrant for clearing goods
transom transverse timbers attached to ship's sternpost
treenail long wooden pin used to fix planks of ship to the timbers
trice to haul in and lash secure a sail with a small rope
trunnel wooden shipbuilding peg used for fastening timbers
trysail ship's sail bent to a gaff and hoisted on a lower mast
tuck part of ship where ends of lower planks meet under the stern
turtleback structure over ship’s bows or stern
unreeve to withdraw a rope from an opening
walty inclined to tip over or lean
wardroom quarters for ship's officers
washboard broad thin plank along ship's gunwale to keep out sea water
watching fully afloat
waveson goods floating on the sea after a shipwreck
wear to turn a ship's stern to windward to alter its course
weatherboard weather side of a ship
weatherly able to sail close to the wind with little leeway
wheelhouse shelter where ship’s steering wheel kept
whipstaff vertical lever controlling ship’s rudder
windbound hindered from sailing by contrary winds
windlass winch used to raise a ship's anchor
xebec small three-masted pirate ship
yard tapering spar attached to ship's mast to spread the head of a square sail
yardarm either end of the yard of a square-rigged ship
yawl ship’s small boat; sailboat carrying mainsail and one or more jibs
zabra small Spanish sailing vessel


I hope you have found this site to be useful. If you have any corrections, additions, or comments, please contact me. Please note that I am not able to respond to all requests. Please consult a major dictionary before e-mailing your query. All material on this page © 1996-2014 Stephen Chrisomalis. Links to this page may be made without permission.

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