Maritime Terms and Definitions (circa 1944)




Abaft the beam: Said of the bearing of an object which bears between the beam and the stern (further back than the ship's middle).
Abaft: A relative term used to describe the location of one object in relation to another, in which the object described is farther aft than the other. Thus, the mainmast is abaft the foremast (in back of).
Abandon ship: Get away from the ship, as in an emergency.
Abeam: The bearing of an object 90 degrees from ahead (in a line with the middle of the ship).
Able bodied seaman: The next grade above the beginning grade of ordinary seaman in the deck crew.
Aboard: In the vessel (on the ship).
Aboveboard: Above decks; without concealment of deceit (out in the open).
Abreast: Abeam of (alongside of).
Accommodation ladder: The portable steps from the gangway down to the waterline.
Admiral: Comes from the Arabic "Emir" or "Amir" which means "First commander" and "Al-bahr which means "the sea". Emir-al-barh evolved into Admiral.
Adrift: Loose from the moorings (not tied or secured).
Afloat: Floating.
Aft: At, near, or toward the stern (back end).
Aground: Resting on the bottom.
Ahoy: A call used in hailing a vessel or boat (hey!).
Air tank: A metal air-tight tank built into a boat to insure flotation even when the boat is swamped.
Alee: To the leeward side (away from the wind).
Alive: Alert (pep it up!).
All hands: The entire crew.
All standing: To bring to a sudden stop.
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).
Anchor: A device or iron so shaped to grip the bottom and holds a vessel at anchor by the anchor chain.
Anchor bar: Wooden bar with an iron shod, wedge: shaped end, used in prying the anchor or working the anchor or working the anchor chain. Also used to engage or disengage the wild-cat.
Anchor chain: Heavy, linked chain secured to an anchor for mooring or anchoring.
Anchor lights: The riding lights required to be carried by vessels at anchor.
Anchor watch: The detail on deck at night, when at anchor, to safeguard the vessel (not necessarily at the anchor; a general watch).
Anchor's aweigh: Said of the anchor when just clear of the bottom (leaving or moving).
Anchorage: A place suitable for anchoring.
Ashore: On the shore (on land).
Astern: The bearing of an object 180 degrees from ahead (behind).
Athwartships: At right angles to the fore-and-aft line of the vessel (sideways-across).
Avast: An order to stop or cease hauling (stop action at once).
Awash: Level with the water (water ready to, or slightly covering decks).
Awning: A canvas canopy secured over the ship's deck as a protection from the weather (covering).
Aye, aye, sir: The reply to an officer's order signifying that he is understood and will be obeyed (I understand).

Bail: To throw water out of a boat; a yoke, as a ladder bail (rung).
Ballast tanks: Double bottoms for carrying water ballast and capable of being flooded or pumped out at will.
Ballast: Heavy weights packed in the bottom of a boat or ship to give her stability.
Batten down: To make watertight. Said of hatches and cargo (tie up or secure).
Beachcomber: A derelict seaman found unemployed on the waterfront, especially in a foreign country (seaman without a ship).
Beam wind: A wind at right angles to a vessel's course (wind blowing at the ship's side.)
Bear a hand: To assist or help.
Bear down: To approach (overtake or come up to).
Bearing: The direction of an object (with reference to you, your ship, another object).
Becalmed: A sailing vessel dead in the water due to lack of wind (not moving).
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.
Belay: To make fast as to a pin or cleat. To rescind an order (tie up).
Belaying pin: A wooden or iron pin fitting into a rail upon which to secure ropes.
Bells: see Ships Time
Belly strap: A rope passed around (center) a boat or other object for hanging.
Below: Beneath the deck (under).
Bend: The twisting or turning of a rope so as to fasten it to some object, as a spar or ring.
: A vessel's place at anchor or at a dock. Seaman's assignment.
Between decks: The space between decks. The name of the deck or decks between the ceiling and main deck.
Bight: Formed by bringing the end of a rope around, near to, or across its own part.
: The curved part of a ship's hull where the side and the flat bottom meet.
Binnacle: The stand, usually of brass or non-magnetic material in which the compass rests and which contains the compensating magnets (compass holder).
Bitter end: The last part of a rope or last link in an anchor chain.
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.
Block and block: Same as two blocks.
Block: An apparatus consisting of an outside shell and a sheave through which a rope may be passed (pulley).
Boat-fall: A purchase (block and tackle) for hoisting a boat to its davits.
Bollard: An upright, wooden or iron post to which hawsers or mooring lines may be secured.
Boom: A spar used for fore and aft sails.
Boom cradle: A rest for a cargo-boom when lowered for securing for sea.
Boot-topping: The anti-corrosive paint used on and above the waterline.
Bos'n: 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.
Bos'n's chair: The piece of board on which a man working aloft is swung.
Bos'n's chest: The deck chest in which the bos'n keeps his deck gear.
Bos'n's locker: The locker in which the bos'n keeps his deck gear.
Bow: The forward part of a vessel's sides (front).
Bowsprit: A spar extending forward from the stem.
Boxing the compass: Calling names of the points of the compass in order.
Break ground: Said of anchor when it lifts clear of the bottom.
Breaker: A small cask for fresh water carried in ship's boats. A sea (wave) with a curl on the crest.
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.
Bunker: Compartment for the storage of oil or other fuel.
By the board: Overboard (over the side).
By the head: Deeper forward (front end deepest in water).
By the Run: To let go altogether.

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.
Caulk: To fill in the seams with cotton or oakum.
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.

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 overboard.
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.
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.
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’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
: 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.

Heroes in Dungarees: The Story of the American Merchant Marine in World War II, John Bunker, Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1995
Mast Magazine, January 1944
Mast Magazine, August 1944
Mast Magazine, September 1946
United States Maritime Service Training Manual, War Shipping Administration, NCornell Maritime Press, 1944
Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, New York: Gramercy Books, 1989
Chris, Maritime Historian of Hayward, CA


7/27/01 Revised 11/12/04 ©1998-2004. You may quote material on this web page as long as you cite American Merchant Marine at War, as the source. You may not use more than a few lines without permission. If you see substantial portions of this page on the Internet or in published material please notify @