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(A far from complete listing of nautical terms – but one that may help when reading this blog.)
AB – “Able Bodied Seaman,” or “Able Seaman,” a category of Merchant Marine document equivalent, more or less, to “journeyman sailor.”
Aft – Toward the stern of a boat
Beam – The width of a boat. Also, pertains to things perpendicular to the centerline of the boat, as in “we were abeam of the harbor entrance,” or worse, “we rolled on our beam ends.”
Bedding – Using any of a number of varieties of goopy sealants – known variously as Dolphinite, bear shit, tar, polysulfide rubber, Thiokol, etc. – to prevent water from accumulating under anything fastened to anything else, but especially under things fastened to wood. Some are adhesive and some are not.
Bootstripe – A line of paint on the hull of a boat that separates the anti-fouling bottom paint from the decorative topsides paint. Runs parallel to the normal waterline, slightly above it.
Bow – The front, or pointy end of a boat, unless it’s a double-ender, which has two pointy ends. Pronounced as in “when the bough breaks the baby will fall.”
Bulkhead – A wall, on a boat.
Broaching – When a boat is forced sideways, into the trough, usually by following seas. A dangerous condition that may result in a catastrophic roll.
Cabin sole – The floor in the cabin of a small boat
Ceiling – Sheathing placed over frames. On a ship, one can sometimes “dance on the ceilings and lean on the floors.”
Deck – A floor or horizontal surface on a boat. “Swabbing the decks” is the nautical equivalent of “mopping the floors.”
Double-ender – A boat that tapers to a point both fore and aft. A seaworthy design that helps to avoid problems with broaching and pooping in following seas.
Escutcheon pins – Small brass nails used to secure moldings, etc.
Fathom – Six feet.
Forward – In the direction of the bow of the boat.
Floors – Particular structural timbers or beams in the lower part of a boat’s hull.
Frames – The ribs of a boat.
Generosity – The most important of all virtues (not strictly a nautical term).
GPS – Global Positioning System, a US Government satellite network used to determine the position of objects anywhere on the earth. Many boats use inexpensive GPS units as aids to navigation. The units can give position in latitude and longitude, show course and speed over ground, and refer to “waypoints” set up as destinations by the boat’s pilot. More expensive GPS units can show the position of the boat with respect to electronic charts, displayed on an LCD screen.
Hanging Locker – a closet on a boat
Knot – one nautical mile per hour. It is redundant and lubberly to say, “knots per hour.”
Hawsepipe – A tube or channel through which the anchor chain runs. Merchant Marine deck officers who came up from the ranks, rather than from an academy, are said to have come “up the hawsepipe.”
Ladder – Any means of climbing from one level to another on a boat, including stairs.
Left Hand Prop – A propeller, or “wheel,” that turns in a counter-clockwise direction, when viewed from behind, when the boat is moving forward. A right hand prop, as you might think, turns the other way.
Line – A rope on a boat, usually with a specific function – bow line, stern line, spring line, etc. Some exceptions are “bolt rope,” which is sewn into the leading edge of a sail, and “anchor rode,” when a fiber line is attached to the anchor.
Marine Surveyor – An insurance investigator on the water, sort of. Actually, marine surveyors are also a little like building inspectors, in that they may evaluate the condition of a boat for other than insurance reasons. They are people who professionally look a gift horse in the mouth.
Marline – In the old days marline was two-strand tarred hemp or manila line of small diameter, used for seizing and hundreds of other jobs. These days it is often small diameter tarred three strand nylon line, more properly referred to as “seine twine.”
Nautical Mile – 6,076 feet, roughly 1.15 Statute (land) miles. A measure that persists in today’s metric world because it is exactly equivalent to one minute of latitude, and thus handy to use on charts.
Nautical time – Sailors typically use a 24 hour time system, since boats run day and night, and confusion over am and pm could be disastrous. Midnight is 0000 (“zero-hundred”) hours, noon is 1200 (“twelve hundred”) hours, 3:00pm is 1500 (“fifteen hundred”) hours and so on. 11:59pm is 2359 (“twenty three fifty nine”) hours.
Not Under Command – A term from navigation rules referring to a vessel “unable to maneuver” (by reason of a loss of power, a broken rudder or whatever). At night such a vessel is to show, at her masthead, two all-around red lights, one over the other. The mnemonic is “Red over red, Captain is dead.”
Oh Shit – The correct nautical expression to be used when a boat goes aground. Can also be appropriate in certain other unexpected and unpleasant situations, like a sudden engine failure, collision, or the sudden appearance of a large leak in the hull.
Ordinary – An ordinary seaman – someone who has not yet qualified as an AB.
Overhead – A ceiling on a boat. (see ceiling)
Painter – The bow line of a small boat, rowboat or dinghy.
“Pan-Pan” – The second level of distress calls for radiotelephone. It indicates immediate danger to a person, as opposed to “Mayday,” the highest level, which indicates a vessel in immediate danger of sinking. I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the idea that a threat to a human life is lower down the hierarchy than danger to a ship, but that’s probably just a quibble.
Pooping – A wave breaking over the aft end of the boat (related to poop deck, thought to be from the Greek for “pulpit,” since it is the deck from which officers used to speak to the crew).
Port – Pertains to anything on the left side of the boat’s centerline, as you face forward. The port sidelight (navigation light) is red, and the signal for a turn to port is two short blasts on the boat’s whistle (not horn). Hence the mnemonic “There are two glasses of red port left.”
Port Captain – A position with a company that owns a fleet of boats. The port captain is usually responsible for personnel and scheduling. A nice shore-side job that some sea-going captains would like to have in their dotage. Others don’t want the headaches. It can also be a government official, for example, in Mexico, to whom you have to report upon arrival.
Scope – The amount of anchor rode paid out in relation to the depth of the water – often the critical element in the holding power of the anchor. Putting out 300 feet of anchor chain in water 60 feet deep would be referred to as “5 to 1” scope.
Starboard – The opposite of Port – that is, to the right of the boat’s centerline as you face forward. The sidelight on the starboard side is green. Comes from an old English contraction of “steering board,” which referred to the side of the boat on which the steering oar was positioned. As a result, you docked (went to port) on the other side.
Synoptic weather chart – A chart compiled, usually by a government agency like NOAA, that shows lines of air pressure, including circular systems like high and low pressure areas.
Stern – The trailing end of the boat, when it is moving forward.
VHF – The common name for the short range marine communication radio found on most all boats and ships. The marine VHF spectrum is divided into channels, and channel 16 is the distress and calling channel.
VHF Weather – Marine weather and other weather forecasts provided on special VHF broadcast channels by the US and Canadian (and other) governments. Carefully attended to by the prudent mariner.
Windlass – A winding mechanism with a horizontal axle – generally refers to the mechanism use to raise and lower the anchor.
Wildcat – A sprocketed wheel on a windlass with indentations for the links of the anchor chain. If the anchor is let out too fast the danger is that the chain will jump the wildcat and all the chain will fly down the hawsepipe to the bitter end, which hopefully you have secured to something on the boat. Otherwise, it’s a real disappointment.
“Z-Card” – The basic identifying document for a merchant mariner, with some of the powers of a passport.
Zinc – A piece of zinc, attached to a boat’s hull and bonded to its metal. The idea is that corrosion will eat the zinc and leave the other stuff alone. It works, if you keep them fresh.