Below is a list of terms meant to
help you "speak the language" of the historical
maritime sailing trade. The list is by no means exhaustive,
so if you have any words you would like to see added
or any that you think need correcting, please don't
hesitate to contact us.
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Abreast: Side by side, or opposite
to. Any objet is in a line with the beam of the vessel.
Aft/after: The back of a vessel
All secure/All fast: Command to take final turns
around pin or cleat
Aloft: Above deck, i.e. up there
Backing a Sail: A situation wherein
a sail is filled on the opposite side from the tack
which it is currently running.
Baggywrinkle: 1) Chaffing gear attached to the topping
lifts and running backstays which prevents the standing
rigging from tearing the sail. 2) Relative to the
South American Flying Squirrel. 3) Evidence of tallship
Bear off: To adjust course from a point "on
the wind" to a point of sail "off the wind"
Beating: Sailing the vessel as close to the wind
as possible. Also referred to as close hauled.
Belay: To make a line fast by turning it in a figure-eight
configuration around a cleat or belaying pin. Also
to stop or cease.
Belaying Pin: A pin on a pinrail to which a line
Bend: The twisting or turning of a rope so as to
fasten it to another rope or line, or to some object
as a spar or sail.
Bight: A curve in any part of the line that is between
the two ends
Bilge: The area on a vessel that is underneath the
Bitter end: The inboard end of a cable or line. The
physical end of a line.
Block: A single pulley
Block and Tackle: A system of pulleys and lines on
Bobstays: One or two wire lines or chains leading
from the dolphin striker aft to the bow of the vessel
Boom: The wooden spar to which the foot of the sail
Bow: The front (or less blunt end) of a vessel.
Bulkheads: Vertical partitions separating compartments.
Bulwarks: The side of a vessel extending up from
Bunt: The middle of a square sail.
Cabin: Living space below decks.
Caprails: The flat horizontal surface on top of the
Chafe: To wear the surface of a line or sail by rubbing
against a solid object.
Chafing Gear: A winding of small stuff, line, canvas,
baggywrinkle around spars and rigging to prevent chafing.
Cleat: A heavy piece of wood or metal having two
horns which lines may be made fast or belayed to.
Clew: The lower corner of square sails or the lower
after most corner of a fore-aft sail.
Coil: To lay a line in clockwise circular turns.
Companionway: The passage way area of a hatch leading
Course: The direction in which a vessel is intended
Crossjack: The lowest yard on the sloop, which does
not have a sail on it. (pronounced cro'jack).
Crosstrees: Horizontal supports at a mast head, used
to spread the attachment area of the mast's shrouds;
where the topmast shrouds are attached.
Current: The horizontal movement of water caused
by tidal and non-tidal influences.
Cutter: A sloop with multiple headsails.
Davit: The device used to swing objects
on and off a vessel.
Docklines: Lines that connect a vessel to a pier
Downhaul: A line connected to the head of the sail
which is pulled to help overcome the friction of the
sail's hanks against the sail's stay in hauling down
Ease: To give slack
Eye: A loop at the end of a line usually made permanent
by splicing or seizing.
Fairlead: The proper direction in
which to lead a line or a bend.
Fake: To lay down a length of line so that it will
run our rapidly with out kinking. The coils are laid
with each end over the preceding end.
Fenders: Buoys or tires attached to lanyards that
protect the hull of the vessel from docks, pilings,
and other boats.
Flying Jib: The forward most heads'l.
Foot: The bottom edge of a sail.
Foredeck: The lower deck of the vessel forward of
the mast, aka, main deck or gun deck.
Forward: The "front" of the vessel.
Foul: To become tangled, or unable to run smoothly.
A bad smell.
Futtock Shrouds: The small shrouds that runs from
the outer edge of the crosstrees to a spot lower down
the mast. They serve to counteract the upward pull
from the topmast shrouds.
Frames: The ribs of a ship.
Gaff: A wooden spar that is lashed
to the head of the sail.
Gangway: The railed passageway connecting a vessel
to a pier or dock.
Gantline: A small line used to run things aloft.
Guys: Lines, shrouds or chains used to support booms,
davits, and the bowsprit, etc. laterally. They are
used in pairs.
Halyard: A line that hauls up a sail.
Handybilly: A single or double luff tackle used in
jobs on a vessel
Hanks: Metal fittings attached to the luff of a sail
that connect the sail to the stay.
Harden Up: To adjust course from a point of a sail
"off the wind" to a point of sail "on
Head: Marine toilet
Head of Sail: Upper most edge or corner of sail.
Headsail's: The sails located forward of the mast.
Heave: To haul or pull on a line; to throw a heaving
Heaving Line: A line with a thin diameter in which
a monkey's fist is attached to one end and the dock
line is attached to the other end. The heaving line
is then thrown to a person on the dock who then pulls
the dock line to the dock.
Helm: The tiller that controls the rudder.
Hard a-lee: The tiller is placed hard over on the
leeward side, signaling the helmsman is attempting
to tack the vessel.
Hitch: Locking the line over itself when belaying.
Hold: When handling a line, to belay temporarily
and wait for further instructions.
Hoops: Wooden rings fitted around the mast to which
the luff of the sail is attached.
In Irons: A situation wherein a vessel
remains in the eye of the wind, unable to tack to
Jackstay: A wire line on which the
tops'l is bent to and an excellent object to clip
into when aloft.
Jam: To wedge tightly.
Jaws: The part of the boom and gaff that reach around
the mast, extending from the spar like arms.
Jig tackles: A block and tackle system that increases
the mechanical advantage applied to the tops'l halyard,
throat, and peak.
Kink: A short bight caused by too
much twisting of the line.
Knot: A general term for a hitch or bend
Knot: A unit of speed, one nautical mile per hour.
Lanyard: A line made fast to anything
to secure it. Lines rove through deadeyes for setting
up standing rigging such as shrouds and guys.
Lay: The twist of a stranded line, usually to the
Lazyjacks:Lines running vertically along side of
mains'l to aid in furling the sail as it is lowered.
Leech: The trailing edge of a fore aft sail or the
outboard edge of a square sail.
Leeward: The direction in which the wind blows; the
side of an object that is sheltered from the wind.
Line: The nautical term for rope. Any piece of cordage
that has at least 3 strands twisted or braided, that
is on a vessel which has a purpose (see rope).
Locker: A chest or box to stow anything
Log: A line with a chip of wood on it that measures
the speed of a sailing vessel.
Luff: The forward or leading edge of a sail.
Luff the sail: To bring the vessel closer to the
wind causing the sail to shudder.
Mains'l: The largest sail set from
the tallest mast.
Make fast: To secure a line to a pin or cleat with
Marlinespike: An iron or steel pin sharpened at one
end that is used to splice lines, tighten knots, or
Martingale: A short spar underneath the bowsprit,
used for guying down the headstays, also referred
to as Dolphin Striker.
Mast: The vertical spar which the sails and yards
are attached to.
Midships: The "middle" area of a vessel.
Mousing: Seizing of line or wire over hooks and shackles.
Overhaul: To pull line through a
block so as to make it slack.
Outboard:Outside or away from a ship's hull.
Pay out: To slack off a line or to
let it run out.
Peak: The aft end of the gaff.
Pier:A wood or masonry structure extending from
land in to the water, enabling vessels to dock.
Pilling: A vertical wooden, concrete, or metal pole
driven in to the bottom of the harbor.
Pinrail: Rails located on the vessel's deck where
belaying pins are located.
Port: The "left" side of a boat, or a direction
as "to turn to port" 2) an opening for light
and/or ventilation, 3) a general area of shore establishment
having facilities for landing and maintaining vessels.
4) type of red wine.
Port Tack: When the wind is coming from the port
side of the vessel.
Quarter: The part of a vessel's side
between the after part of the main channel and the
stern of the vessel.
Quarterdeck: The part of the deck abaft of the mainmast.
Quarter lifts: Wire supporting the after most end
of the boom
Rake: The inclination of a mast from
Ratlines: Lines running horizontal across the shrouds,
used to step on when going aloft.
Ready About: Signal that the boat is about to tack.
Reef: To shorten sail area
Reef knots: The knot used to tie reef points together,
i.e. square knots
Reef Points: Small pieces of line attached to both
sides of the sail that are used when reefing, to tie
the sail down along the boom.
Reeve: To pass the end of a line through a block,
deadeye, or any other opening.
Rigging: The general term for all the lines aboard
a vessel. Also the common term for the shrouds and
Rope: Spooled line on a boat, or these six lines
which are called ropes: Bellrope: line attached to
hammer of the bell; Bucketrope: lanyard attached to
bucket; Boltrope: line sewed along the edge of the
sail; Footrope: lines which you stand on when on the
yard; Manropes: lines hung over the side to facilitate
climbing up or down the bulwarks; Tillerope: is the
rope by which the tiller is worked.
Rudder: The control surface, usually aft, that steers
Running: Sailing with the wind behind the vessel.
Scuppers: Small openings in the bulwarks
that allow water to drain from the deck.
Scuttlebutt: Gossip, rumors, so called because sailors
used to gather around the scuttlebutt, a cask used
for drinking water.
Secure:To attach, fasten, or make fast.
Seize: To fasten lines with small stuff
Serving: Covering and protection placed on standing
Set: To raise sail; the direction of a current.
Shackle: A metal link fitting with a pin across the
throat, used to connect lines to anchors, fasten blocks
to spars, or lines to sails.
Sheets: A line used in setting a sail, to keep the
clew down. On square sails the sheets run down through
the yardarm, on fore/aft sails the sheets pull the
boom to one side of the sail
Ship: A vessel with three masts and square sails
on each mast; to take something aboard; to place gear
Shipshape: In good order, in good condition, properly
Shrouds: A set of lines reaching from the mastheads
to the vessel's sides to support the masts.
Sloop: A vessel with a single mast.
Small stuff: Term for spun yarn, marline, and small
line used for seizings and mousings.
Spar: A general term for a mast, boom, yard, gaff
or pole on a vessel.
Splice: To join to ends of a line together by interweaving
Spreading Post: The small spar at the base of the
shrouds that spreads the shrouds and keeps them square.
Also known as Squaring Staffs.
Square: Yards are squared when they are horizontal
and at right angles to the keel.
Square-rigged: A term applied to those ships which
have yards at right angles with the length of the
keel and the lower mast; it is used in contra-distinction
from vessels that have fore and aft sails.
Stays: Heavy lines or wires used in supporting the
vessels masts. They typically run from the masthead
to the deck in a fore or aft manner.
Staysail: The after-most headsail. It runs along
the main fore stay.
Stand by: An order to be prepared.
Stand Down: An order to step back, or stop.
Standing Part: The part of a line or block which
is made fast to and object, in opposition to the hauling
Standing Rigging: The part of a vessel's rigging
which is made fast and not hauled upon. Typically
Starboard: The "right" side of the vessel.
Steaming light: A white light located on the upper
mast, illuminated at night or in limited visibility
when the vessel is under motor power.
Stern: After end of the vessel.
Stinkpot: A sailor's jocular term for a motorboat,
typically a pleasure craft that is being driven by
Stow: To put a way; secure.
Strike: To lower sails or colors.
Sweat: The process of hauling on a line.
Swinging the lead: An expression derived from heaving
the lead line that suggests the person speaking is
making it up as they go.
Tack: To turn the bow of the vessel
through the eye of the wind, i.e. "coming about;"
2) The forward bottom corner of a sail or the bottom
edge of a square sail.
Tackle: A purchase formed by a line rove through
one or more blocks.
Tail: To assist in sweating a line.
Take a Turn: To pass a line around a pin or cleat.
Take in: To haul in slack on a line
Throat: The forward end of the sail or gaff.
Tides: The vertical rise and fall of ocean water,
caused by the gravitational forces of the moon and
Topsail: The Square sail that is bent on to the topsail
Topsail yard: The upper yard of the two yards on
Trim: To adjust the sails for the most efficient
drive on any given course.
Two-blocked: When two blocks are drawn completely
Underway: A vessel not at anchor
or aground or made fast to the shore.
USCG: United States Coast Guard
Wake: Wave like turbulence caused
by a moving vessel.
Whip: To lash the end of a line to prevent it from
Windward: The direction from which the wind is blowing.
Yard: A spar, crossing the mast on
which square sails are fitted.