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Goldfield discharging cargo

Nautical Words and Meanings



In alphabetical order.


(Did you know that Sailorizing is an old term for Seafaring?)


Every Seaman should be quite familiar with these Nautical words and meanings, however there may be other readers who might appreciate them, especially the youngsters. (Courtesy of Wikipedia, Our own Seafarers & Books)


Accommodation Ladder is a portable flight of steps down a ship's side. They can be mounted parallel or rectangular to the ship's board. If the ladder is parallel to the ship, it has to have an upper platform. Upper platforms are mostly turnable. The lower platform (or the ladder itself) is hanging on a bail and can be lifted in dependence of the local needs.


The ladder has handrails on both sides for safety. The construction guarantees, that the steps are horizontal in each angle of inclination of the ladder. On the lower part the ladder/lower platform is based on a roll to compensate the motion of the ship relation to the quay.


For boarding of maritime pilots it is prohibited to use a Jacob's ladder instead of the accommodation ladder.

(See also Jacob’s Ladder)


Abaft is a nautical expression indicating a point that is behind a given part of a boat or ship. For example, "abaft the funnel" means behind the ship's funnel (chimney). (If not qualified, abaft means "behind the mid-point of a ship or group of ships".)

Anchor is a heavy object, often made out of metal, that is used to attach a ship to the bottom of a body of water at a specific point to act as a weight to keep the ship from moving. There are two primary classes of anchors—temporary and permanent. A permanent anchor is often called a mooring, and is rarely moved; it is quite possible the vessel cannot hoist it aboard but must hire a service to move or maintain it. Vessels carry one or more temporary anchors which may be of different designs and weights. A sea anchor is an unrelated device: a drogue used to control a drifting vessel. (See also Kilick).

Apron  A strengthening piece joining the stem to the keel

Basalt  An ingeous rock formed by a lava flow

Batten (noun)    A long strip of wood, metal, or plastic used for strengthening something.


(verb) To fasten or secure using battens. The term is often heard in the idiom "to batten down the hatches" meaning to prepare for a difficult situation or an impending disaster. It is nautical in origin. Literally speaking, to batten down is to cover a ship's hatch (an opening in the deck) with a tarpaulin and strips of wood in preparation for an imminent storm.

Bevel  A gradually sloping angular shaving usually chiseled to allow close fitting of two materials

Block and Tackle, noun (see new Blog page, “Blog and Tackle”)

A mechanism consisting of ropes and one or more pulley-blocks, used for lifting or pulling heavy objects.

Boatswain (pronounced /?bo?s?n/; formerly also  /?bo?t?swe?n/), bo's'n, bos'n, or bosun is an unlicensed member of the deck department of a merchant ship. The boatswain supervises the other unlicensed members of the ship's deck department, and typically is not a watchstander, except on vessels with small crews. Other duties vary depending on the type of ship, her crewing, and other factors.

Boltrope  A rope sewn along the edge of a sail to strengthen it and take the strain off the material.

Boom  A horizontal spar for extending the foot of the sail

Bulkhead is an upright wall within the hull of a ship. Other kinds of partition elements within a ship are decks and deckheads.

Calabash  Crtescentia cujete, a gourd cut to form like a bowl traditionally used to bail out the Catboat because coincidentially they seem to fit between the timbers perfectly.

Caulking  The cotton or oakum which is driven into a seam to make it watertight.

Catboat  A bow placed single masted sailing vessel with a single fore and aft sail.

Cay  Also written Kay, Key, a small island or islet, usually of coral sand as distinguished from a reef islet.

Clew  The lower after corner of a fore and aft sail.

Crank  Said of a vessel that is unhandy, easily tipped. 

Crawl  Also written kraal, corral, an enclosure, usually of upright sticks used to keep live turtle until sufficient number to ship.

Coxswain The steersman of a ship's boat, lifeboat, racing boat, or other boat.

Deadweight tonnage (also known as deadweight, abbreviated to DWT, D.W.T., d.w.t., or dwt) is a measure of how much weight a ship is carrying or can safely carry. It is the sum of the weights of cargo, fuel, fresh water, ballast water, provisions, passengers, and crew.[1] The term is often used to specify a ship's maximum permissible deadweight, the DWT when the ship is fully loaded so that its Plimsoll line is at the point of submersion, although it may also denote the actual DWT of a ship not loaded to capacity.


Deadweight tonnage was historically expressed in long tons but is now usually given internationally in tonnes. Deadweight tonnage is not a measure of the ship's displacement and should not be confused with gross register or net tonnage.

Draft  The depth of water required to float a vessel

False Keel  A longitudinal member added to the bottom of the keel for better stability and windward performance.

Fathom is a unit of length in the Imperial system (and the derived U.S. customary units), used especially for measuring the depth of water. There are 2 yards (6 feet) in a fathom. Based on the distance between the fingertips of a man's outstretched arms, its size varied slightly depending on whether it was defined as a thousandth of an (Admiralty) nautical mile or as a multiple of the imperial yard. Formerly, the term was used for any of several units of length varying around 5 and 5½ feet.

Fo'c'sle Variant spelling of forecastle

The forward part of a ship below the deck, traditionally used as the crew's living quarters.

A raised deck at the bow of a ship.

Foot  The lower edge of a sail that is attached to the boom.

Fore  Towards the bow, forward section, front of the vessel.

Fore and aft  Referring to the centerline of the vessel from front to back, or aft.

Frame  A sawn rib or timber, used to form and strengthen the vessel and attach the planks, as well as the backbone pieces.

Freeboard  The height of a vessel's side above the water.

Gaff  The spar to which the head of a quadrilateral sail is bent or attached.

Galley noun ( pl. -leys)

  •   The kitchen in a ship or aircraft.
  •   A long rowboat used as a ship's boat.

Gripe  A slender piece of wood that covers the edge of the planks, running parallel to and covering the stempost.

Gunwale (pronounced "gunnel" to rhyme with "tunnel") is a nautical term describing the top edge of the side of a boat. In modern boats, it is the top edge of the side where there is usually some form of stiffening.

Head (water craft)

A ships toilet or water closet is called a Head. The term derives from sailing ships in which the toilet area for the regular sailors was placed at the head or bow of the ship. In many modern boats, the heads look similar to a seated, land-type toilet, but have several technical differences to flush the waste away.

Heft  (noun) Weight; heaviness.

(verb tr.) To test the weight of something by lifting;
To heave or hoist.


noun ( the helm)

  •  A tiller or wheel and any associated equipment for steering a ship or boat.
  •  Nautical a helmsman.

Jacob's ladder. The term Jacob’s Ladder used on a ship, applies to two kinds of ladder. The first is a flexible hanging ladder which can be lowered down the side of a large ship. The second kind of Jacob's ladder is found on some square rigged ships.

Jib Stick  A cross between a club foot and a bow sprit, it is used mainly on Grand Caymanian Catboats to attach a small jib to increase the windward ability of the Catboat.

Kilick |'kilik'| (locally pronounced kellick)

A heavy stone used by small craft as an anchor. Any anchor, especially a small one.

In the Royal Navy, the rate of Leading Seaman or Leading Rating is senior to an Able Seaman and junior to a Petty Officer. The badge worn is a fouled anchor (an anchor with a length of rope twisted around it). Leading Seamen are colloquially termed killicks, and jocularly referred to as a “killick”, a type of homemade anchor.

Knot,  Nautical.

  • A division on a log line used to measure the speed of a ship.
    •  (Abbr. kn. or kt.) A unit of speed, one nautical mile per hour, approximately 1.85 kilometers (1.15 statute miles) per hour.
    •  A distance of one nautical mile.

USAGE NOTE:  In nautical usage knot is a unit of speed, not of distance, and has a built-in meaning of “per hour.” Therefore, a ship would strictly be said to travel at ten knots (not ten knots per hour).

Krall Stick  Turtle Pen special stick already accustomed to salt water.

Leach  The after edge of a sail.

Mast  A vertical spar, or stick, used to hoist and maintain up a sail.

Master Mariner  A Captaincy, licensed for all seas, all sizes of ships.

Oar  A spar used to propel a vessel by pushing or pulling its blade through the water while being loosely attached to the top side of the vessel by oarlocks, tholepins or lashings.

Oar (Scull) Blade  The flat part of an oar or paddle.

Oar (Scull) Loom  The part of the oar or paddle which one gripes when rowing or paddling.

Panamax,  Adjective

Denotes a ship having the maximum permissible dimensions (length, breadth, and draft) for transiting the Panama Canal, with a dead-weight capacity of about 75,000 tons.

Plank  The outermost layer of wood in the construction  of vessels, laid in horizontal lengths, they can be edge to edge constructed with or without a binding filler called caulking, or laid overlapping called lapstrake.

Plimsoll Line

The waterline, national Load Line or Plimsoll Line was invented by Samuel Plimsoll, to be positioned amidships, indicating the legal limit to which a ship may be loaded for specific water types and temperatures. To an observer on the ship the water appears to rise or fall against the hull.


Temperature affects the level because warm water provides less buoyancy, being less dense than cold water. The salinity of the water also affects the level, fresh water being less dense than salty seawater.


For vessels with displacement hulls, the hull speed is determined by, amongst other things, the waterline length. In a sailing boat, the length of the waterline can change significantly as the boat heels, and can dynamically affect the speed of the boat.

Poop deck

In naval architecture, a poop deck is a deck that constitutes the roof of a cabin built in the aft (rear) part of the superstructure of a ship. The fantail is an overhang at the extreme rear of the ship, aft of the poop deck and closer to level with the main deck.


The name originates from the French word for stern, la poupe, and from Latin puppis. Thus the poop deck is technically called a stern deck, which in sailing ships was usually elevated as the roof of the stern or "after" cabin, also known as the "poop cabin". In sailing ships, with the helmsman at the stern, an elevated position was ideal for both navigation and observation of the crew and sails.


On modern, motorized warships, the ship functions which were once carried out on the poop deck have been moved to the superstructure in the center of the ship, or the island on the starboard side in the case of aircraft carriers.


In nautical parlance, "to be pooped" means to have a wave come over the stern from abaft.

Ranger  In turtle fishing, a subcontractor to a turtle schooner, who utilises the services of the schooner for a percentage or a fee, while maintaining an independent turtle fishing Catboat.

Rudder  A fore and aft piece of wood usually attached to the vessel near the stern and in the water that pivots side to side for steerage of the vessel.

Schooner  A sailing vessel of two or more fore masts and a fore and aft sailing rig, with the fore mast shorter or of equal height to the other mast(s).

Sheet  A rope by means of which a sail is trimmed, secured either to the clew of the sail or to the boom.

St. Elmos Fire, n. (NEW)

A visible electric discharge on a pointed object, such as the mast of a ship or the wing of an airplane, during an electrical storm. Also called corposant.


[After Saint Elmo, fourth-century A.D. patron saint of sailors.]




St. Elmo's fire is named after St. Erasmus of Formiae (also called St. Elmo, the Italian name for St. Erasmus), the patron saintof sailors. The phenomenon sometimes appeared on ships at sea during thunderstorms and was regarded by sailors with religious awe for its glowing ball of light, accounting for name.

Stanchion, noun.  An upright bar or post, often providing support for some other object. Some specific uses are:-

  •   Vertical support for chains or ropes, as in marine applications.
  •   In yachting, metal bars that hold the life-lines around a boat's perimeter.

Suit    A complete set of sails required for a ship or for a set of spars.

Spar    In sailing, a spar is a round pole of wood, metal or lightweight materials such as carbon fiber used on a sailing ship. In modern usage it often refers to the mast, but historically the term was used more broadly to refer to the various booms, gaffs,yards, etc., of heavily "sparred" wooden ships.

Spars of all types are used in the rigging of sailing vessels to resist compressive and bending forces, and to provide support for the sails.


A structural crosspiece sometimes forming a seat for a rower in a boat.