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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

Ballast Heavy substances, either solid or liquid (water), to increase stability or to submerge the propeller.  Ballast may be permanent or temporary as when cargo is insufficient or it is necessary to correct the trim.

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.

Bitts   Iron posts on an iron base fixed to deck around which mooring lines are turned in figure of eight fashion to make them secure.

Black Balls Regulation balls used as signals, eg. anchor balls, q.v., or not under command,q.v., signals, consist of two circular plates about 2ft in diameter and painted black.  When in use, are set at right angles to each other and have appearance of balls.

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.

Boatswain's Chair  Board of suitable size on which a seaman can sit when cleaning, painiting or working aloft, etc.  Has a hole at each corner through which ropes can be passed, tops of the ropes being shackled to a rope for hoisting seaman into the required position. 

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.

Cardinal Points  North, South, East and West points of the compass.  Points of the horizon at which it is cut by meridian, q.v., and prime vertical.

Cargo  Freight or merchandise which a ship carries.

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.

Catwalk  Narrow, unfenced gangway.

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

Chart  Chart giving location, direction and rate of ocean currents.

Chief Officer  (Chief Mate) Officer next in seniority to the Maste.  In charge of loading, discharging, stowing or cargo and of the work of the crew.

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.

Derrick  Boom or spar pivoted at one end, usually overhanging a cargo hatch and used for the handling of cargo.  Wire ropes from a winch lead to the top of the derrick and from thence down to the loading hook.  Pivoted end may be attached to a platform on the deck or to a mast.  Upper end is adjusted to the position required for handling the cargo by a topping lift or derrick span, supported by a mast.

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.

Gangway  Means for embarking or disembarking persons. 

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.

Gyro Compass  Suitably suspended and controlled so that its precessional phenomenon causes it, by virtue of he diurnal rotation of Earth, to seek and remain on the meridian.

Hatch  Opening in a deck giving access to a space below or to a hold.

Hawse Block  Wooden plug correctly shaped to fit a hawse pipe to keep out the sea.

Hawse Holes  Holes through which the cable passes to the anchors.

Hawse Pipe  Tube fitted to the hawse hole and through which cable passes.

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.

Heaving Line  Small line thrown so that one end passes to the shore or to another ship. Line can then be used for passing a mooring rope from ship to shore or for passing an article across.

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.

Helmsman  The seaman who operates the steering wheel.  He ranks as quartermaster.

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.

Keel  Line of uninterrupted plating extending full length of the bottom fore and aft line of ship.  Principal member of a ship's construction and the first part to be laid down when building a new ship.

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.

Lazarette Hatch  Storeroom where stewards keep foodstuffs.

Leach  The after edge of a sail.

Locker, Flag  Cabinet on navigating bridge where all signal flags are kept in pigeon-holes, each suitably labelled.

Look-out  Man posted either at the forecastle head or in the  crow's nest to report the appearance of other ships or land.  He keeps a two-hour watch.

Loud Hailer  High powered loudspeaker for disseminating verbal messages or orders.

Lubber Line  Vertical black line on inside of compass bowl corresponding with the line of the ship's head.  The line the helmsman must maintain on the compass point on which he is ordered to steer, representing the ship's course.

Main  High Seas, i.e. ocean, open sea.

Making Her Number  Ship signalling her name.

Manhelper  Long wooden pole with paint brush attached.  Used for painting ship's side; also, in dry dock, her bottom.

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.

Mess  Place where they dine.

Mess Deck  Deck on which the crew's mess is situated.

Messenger  Small rope attached to a heavier rope for heaving it to a buoy or for heaving a tow rope in from a tug.

Mizzen  Third mast from forward when there are three or more masts.

Monkey's fist or monkey paw   A type of knot, so named because it looks somewhat like a small bunched fist/paw. It is tied at the end of a rope to serve as a weight, making it easier to throw, and also as an ornamental knot.

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.

Pilot  One who conducts a ship in and out of port or along a dangerous coast.  Is a qualified person usually holding a Master's Certificate and is licensed by the local authority to operate in the particular area.

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.

Pole Star  Star Polaris.  Is nearest North pole and from time immemorial has been used by sailors as a navigational guide for steering.

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.

Ports (Scuttle)  Holes in ship's side to admit light and air.

Prick  Mark a position or lay a course on a chart.

Pulley Block  Block either  of wood or metal, containing one or more pulleys or sheaves to change direction of a rope, or in conjunction wit a second block to form a tackle to give a mechanical advantage. 

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.

Sextant  Triangular shape and fitted with small telescope and a number of glasses through which objects can be observed.

Shoot the Sun  To take the altitude of the Sun with a sextant.

Slewed  Seaman's slang for being drunk.

Slop Chest  Store or shop, under control of the Master, for sale of articles by seamen.

Sou'wester  Oilskin wide-brimmed hat with flap at back of  neck, ear flaps and tied under chin.

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.

Sparks  Nickname or radio officer or operator.

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.

Stay  Rope on forward side, in fore and aft direction, supporting mast.

Steering Gear  Complete system by which steering wheel controls movements of the rudder.  Includes mechanism worked by the wheel, connections between wheel and steering engine, and steering engine.

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

Telescope  An optical instrument for viewing objects at a disctance.

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

Tonnage  Method of measurement applied to ships.

Torsionmeter  Device to indicate torque transmitted by a propeller shaft, based on measurement of th twist of a calibrated length of shaft.

Transire  A Customs document issued at loading port and delivered at discharging port before discharging.

Trick (at the Wheel)  Two-hour spell of duty at the wheel.

Trim  Inclination of keel in a fore and aft direction.  When floating wth keel horizontal the ship is said to be on an even keel.

Triple Screw  Ship propelled by three propellers.

Turn Turtle  Turn completely over, keel uppermost.

Tuyere  Nozzle through which air is blown into a furnace or cupola or producer gas generator.  Usually cooled by circulating water through passages provided for the purpose.

Valve, Poppet  Valve that lifts bodily.  In particular, a valve operated by cams in an internal combustion engine, for the opening and closing the cylinder ports, i.e. inlet and exhaust.

Valves and Cocks, Shipside  Fittings to control entry of sea water into pipe systems of circulating water, coolers and distillers, ballast tanks, etc.  Discharge valves are also fitted to prevent flooding if a piping system should break down with the discharge submerged.

Venturi Meter  Instrument for measuring speed of flow of a liquid.  Two ducts, in which liquid flows, comprise two cones, a contracting intake cone ad an expanding outlet cone.  Rate of  flow is calculated from readings of static pressure upstream of the instrument and a t the throat or junction of the two cones.

Viol  Endless rope.

Voith-Schneider Propulsion


Code No.          Visibility

  97                     5 to 10 nautical miles

  98                     10 to 25 nautical miles

  99                     25 or more nautical miles

Wake Fraction  Difference in speed, expressed as a percentage, between speed of advance of the propeller relative to the water and observed speed of the ship.

Warp  Hawser, q.v., extending from ship to shore by means of which a ship's position can be changed without using her engines.

Waterways  Gutters along bulwarks, q.v., into which water can run and flow out through scuppers, q.v.

Wearing  Flying an ensign or flag is wearing it.

Weigh  Weigh anchor is to lift it from the sea bottom.

Wet  Ship is said to be wet if she ships readily.

White Horses  Waves with white foam or spindrift at their crests.