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Naval and Nautical Terms

Ned Loe

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Naval and Nautical Terms (WIP)

Feel free to suggest corrections





Abaft - in or behind the stern of a ship. Nearer the stern than; behind.

Abaft the Beam - means that is on the stern side of that line.

Abeam - toward the ship's side. Means at right angles to the ships side.

Able Seaman - knowledgeable sailor.

Adrift - movement without wind; also said of an absent sailor, in either mind or body.

Afore - to the front of the vessel.

Aft - to the rear of the vessel.

After Magazine - generally smaller than the main magazine (see 'Main Magazine'), located close to the stern usually fitted around the lowest part of the mizzenmast and built up a little above the keelson to keep it out of the bilge water and on the center line of the ship beneath the orlop deck in the hold, though some early versions were on the orlop itself. After magazines became standard after an order from the Admiralty in 1716 and would only be fitted on the largest of ships, that is on line ships fourth rate and above. Those below (fifth and sixth rates) generally did not have one. See pg.144-145 of Lavery's The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War, 1600-1815 

Ahoy- hello.

Aloft - a spot in the rigging or simply, up high. High in the masts or rigging.

Amidships - in the middle of the vessel.

Anchor - a heavy object attached to a rope or chain and used to moor a vessel to the sea bottom, typically one having a metal shank with a ring at one end for the rope and a pair of curved and/or barbed flukes at the other.

Astern - behind the stern of the ship.

Athwartships - across the ship from side to side.

Avast - a command to stop or desist "Avast heaving that line!" Derived/corrupted from 'hold fast'.

Aye - an affirmation.                     




Ballast - Quarried stones or other heavy items (i.e. cargo) placed in a ship's bottom to help it maintain a stable upright position.

Bamboozle - To deceive another vessel as to your ship's origin or nationality by flying false colors.

Bar - Shallow water in entrance to harbor.

Barque - The Royal Navy used the term Braque in the 18th century to describe any ship-rigged vessel which didn't fit any other category (essentially a misc. ship). It was also used as a shorter term for the Mediterranean barca-longa (a lug-rigged vessel).

Batten Down - To nail or fasten something down so as not to be able to move.

Beam - The width or side of the ship.

Bear Away - Change direction to sail before the wind.

Beat to Quarters - A predetermined rhythm beat upon a drum that signals all sailors to prepare for battle by moving to general quarters (positions at their respective battle stations)

Beating (Beating to Windward) - The procedure by which a ship moves on a zigzag course to make progress directly into the wind (upwind). No sailing vessel can move directly upwind (though that may be the desired direction). Beating allows the vessel to advance indirectly upwind by tacking (see below).

Becalmed - The state of a sailing ship when it cannot move because there is no wind.

Belay - to fasten something down with line; stop or quit what you’re doing; also used to tell someone to keep their mouth shut. Also used to cancel orders “belay that order!”

Belaying Pin - A club shaped pin used to fasten line on the rail of a ship.

Belfry - Rung every half hour, the bell hung in the belfry enabled the crew to know what the time was. In order to ensure the bell was rung correctly two sandglasses were used. One lasts for half an hour, the other for 4 hours. At the beginning of a watch (4 hour shift) both glasses would be started. When the half hour glass ran out it would be restarted and the bell rung once. When it ran out again the bell would be rung twice and the glass restarted. This would continue until the 4 hour glass ran out. The bell would then be rung 8 times (eight bells) signaling the end of a watch. The whole process would then be started again.

Best Bower Anchor - The best bower anchor was one of two main anchors. It was called 'bower' because it was secured to the starboard (right) bow. The heaviest and strongest anchor carried, it was used for anchoring the ship in deep waters.

Bilge - The lowest part of the ship, usually filled with old, putrid water, stinking water; nonsense, foolishness.

Binnacle - Placed in front of the wheel, the binnacle contains the ship's compasses that were used to aid the ship's navigation. With the two compasses the binnacle also contains a lantern that was used to illuminate the compasses at night. The copper chimney or flue on top of the binnacle allowed the smoke from the lantern to escape keeping the binnacle clear.

Biscuit (Ships Biscuit) - Hard tack.

Bitt - A pair of posts on the deck of a ship for fastening mooring lines or cables.

Bitter - A turn of a line around a bitt. Nub to hold the line in place.

Bitter End - The last knot tied around a bitt, thus the "bitter end"; also a sailor willing to finish a job, no matter what the conditions is said to be "faithful to the bitter end".

Black Jack - A leather tankard, made stiff with a coating of tar, used by dockside pubs and taverns to serve wine and beer.

Black Spot - A black smudge on a piece of paper used as a threat, sometimes accompanied by writing a specific threat.

Blow the Man Down - To kill someone.

Blunderbuss - A muzzle-loading firearm with a flared, trumpet-like barrel which discharges lead shot upon firing.

Boarding Nets - Nets strung out from ship's side to stop boarding.

Booty - Treasure.

Bow - The front of a vessel. The sharp or rounded part that cuts through the water.

Bowlines - Ropes attached to sails to pull them forward.

Bowsprit - Spar at the front of a ship; a small, angled pole at the front of the ship that carries a small sail.

Bowsprit Sails - (From inboard out) fore staysail, fore topmast staysail, jib, flying jib.

Box Haul - Sharp turning of a ship.

Braces - Line used to hold direction of a sail; lines used to move the yards; lines running from each yardarm to allow the it to be swiveled horizontally to catch the wind.

Brethren of the Coast - Caribbean buccaneers who made a pact to cease plundering among themselves.

Brigantine - In the 18th-century, the Brigantine-rig a.k.a. the Brig-rig was used to describe a two-masted vessel with a square-rigged foremast and fore-aft-rigged mizzen. Americans would add topsails to the mizzen and call it a Hermaphrodite Brig. According to Oxford, the terms Brigantine and Brig became separated sometime in the 19th century.

Bring a Spring Upon Her Cable - To come around in a different direction.

Bring To - Slowing a ship so that it almost stops by heading it into the wind.

Broadside - Simultaneous firing of all guns on one side of the ship; the widest part of the ship, hence 'broadside.'

Buccaneer - A term used for pirate, after the French word 'boucanier,' which referred to the way the Arawaks smoked meat. Early entrepreneurs who dried the meat from wild cattle and hogs on the island of Hispañola in the early 1600's to sell to ships returning to Europe (primarily Spain). A pirate or unscrupulous adventurer.

Bucko - Friend.

Builders Measurement (bm) - The method used in England from approximately 1650 to 1849 for calculating the cargo capacity of a ship. It is a volumetric measurement of cubic capacity. It estimated the tonnage of a ship based on length and maximum beam. It is expressed in 'tons burden,' and abbreviated 'tons bm.'

Bullyboy - A term for sailors who chew on jerky, or 'bully'.

Bulkhead - Internal partitions of ships; vertical partitions between the decks and any planking forming a skin inside the frames.

Bunt - The main belly or center of the sail.

Buntlines - Lines used in reefing and furling.

Burthen (Burden) - The number of tons a ship could carry.




Cable - Heavy rope.

Cable (Length) - A distance of 240 yards.

Cackle Fruit - Hen's eggs.

Cannon - cast Iron, black-powder weapons that make up the primary armament of tall sail ships. 

Capstan - A vertical-axled rotating machine sailors inserted poles into to apply force to ropes, cables, and hawsers. The principle is similar to that of the windlass, which has a horizontal axle. The drumheads (top part) of the capstans can be found on the middle gun deck. The main capstan is located towards the stern (back) and was used to raise the anchors. The jeer capstan is in the center of the deck and was used to lift stores, boats, and guns, as well as raising masts and yards (spars).

Careen - Lying a ship on its side to allow its hull to be cleaned; to turn over a ship and clean the barnacles and seaweed from its bottom.

Carouser - One who engages in riotous drinking and festivities.

Carry On - Resume normal service (e.g. 'Carry on Mr. Summers').

Carvel Built - One method of constructing a wooden vessel. In Carvel built craft the ribs are set up in the right position on the keel and the planks are bent round them and fastened edge to edge so they lie flush with one another. Thus Carvel is the complete converse of the Clinker process. Generally speaking the early Carvel built ships were used in the Mediterranean countries. Later, all big ships were Carvel built.

Cathead - Beams projecting on either side of the forecastle near the bow to secure the anchor, after it was hoisted out of the water. An anchor thus secured was 'Catted.'

Cat o' Nine Tails - A whip with nine ends or strands (tails) used for flogging.

Caulking - A system of using unpicked rope and pitch to seal gaps in planks.

Ceiling - On small craft the planking is fastened to the frames by using copper nails which are clenched over or riveted on the inside of the hull, drawing the two parts tightly together.

Chain Pumps - Centered around the main mast are the chain pumps. These were used to pump out any water that might have collected in the hold. The water was drawn up from the hold and, either pumped through a removable pipe to the outside, or allowed to spill onto the deck. If the water went onto the deck it would then drain out through the scuppers.

Chanty (Chantey) (Shanty) - A song that is sung while working.

Chewing the Fat - A color euphemism for eating the cook's cuisine; wasting time.

Clew Lines - Lines that connect the clews to the middle of the sail's yard (spar).

Clews - The bottom two corners of a square sail, where the lines (clew lines) would attach.

Clinker Built - A method of constructing a wooden vessel. Sometimes known as, Lapstrake. In Clinker built craft the keel and the stem and stern posts are set up and the planks are fitted without an internal framework. Starting with the garboard strake each plank overlaps the one below and the two are fastened through the overlap. When the planking is complete the ribs are fitted inside the hull and fastened to the planking. Thus Clinker is the complete converse of the Carvel process. Generally speaking, northern Europe, where the saw was not yet known, built Clinker ships which required less precision in cutting timber but were limited in size.

Close Hauled - Sailing close to the wind, usually while beating upwind. Would generally describe the closest a vessel can put her head to the wind.

Coffer - A treasure chest.

Compass - A device used for the navigation of the ships. Usually found near the ships wheel house.

Cooking the Books - A term that means when a captain enters a youth into his muster books without the said person actually being aboard, in order to gain sea time. This was not uncommon, despite its being a court martial offence.

Corsair - A romantic or flamboyant version of the word privateer, or pirate.

Coxswain (Cox'n) - A person who steers the ship and usually has charge of the crew.

Crack Jenny's Teacup - To spend a night in the house of ill repute.

Crimp - A person who is tricked into serving on a ship's crew.

Cut of His Jib - The jib of a sail is the very front, or "nose" of a ship, a very distinguished feature; thus, judging a man's nationality by the "cut of his jib" is to judge his nationality by the shape of his nose.

Cutter - A single masted small vessel. The cutter is similar to the sloop (i.e. one-masted) except the mast is placed further aft (usually at the centre of the hull) compared to the sloop (about 70% forward). It is also a term for one of the vessel's boats.




Davy Jones' Locker - the bottom of the sea; oblivion; hell.

Dead Men Tell No Tales - reason for leaving no survivors.

Deadlights - eyes.

Deck - one level of a ship; the horizontal level(s) which divide a ship.

Displacement Tonnage - warships are now measured using the weight of the water displaced by the ship when she is fully ready for sea.

Double-Ender - referring to shipbuilding: were the Bow and Stern are similar.

Doubloon - a gold coin minted by Spain. Worth about seven week's pay to an average sailor.

Draught - the distance between the bottom of the keel and the water line.

Dreadnought - see 'Fearnought.'




En Flute - a warship without some or all of its cannons.

Earnings - the top two corners of a square sail.

Eyes of a Ship - the figurehead of a ship, specifically the figurehead's eyes.

Execution Dock - was used for more than 400 years in London to execute pirates, smugglers, and mutineers that had been sentenced to death by Admiralty courts. The 'dock,' which consisted of a scaffold for hanging, was located near the shoreline of the River Thames at Wapping. Its last executions were in 1830.




Fearnought (Dreadnought) - A thick heavy overcoating that is made of wool often mixed with shoddy and that has a rough shaggy face; a garment made of this material.

Filling Room - Used to make up the gunpowder charges ready for action and to store some of them. Located in the bow (front) just forward of and connected to the main magazine. In 1716, the Admiralty made it standard that, on ships of the line, the filling room be in the hold, whereas before it had been 'hanging' just below the orlop; frigates and smaller ships would still have it 'hanging' between two decks (the orlop and the hold) due to their size. Here, the gunpowder barrels were emptied into a large lead lined oak bin. Copper scoops were then used to measure out the different size of charges. The amount of gunpowder needed for each charge was about a third of the weight of the shot. For a 12 pounder gun, firing a 12 lb round shot, approximately 4 lbs of gunpowder was used. See pg.144-145 of Lavery's The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War, 1600-1815 

Fine on the Port or Starboard Bow - Would refer to something not quite straight ahead.

Fire Buckets - Hanging along the edge of the poop deck and accessible from the quarterdeck are a row of fire buckets. Fire was always a serious risk on ships because of their wooden construction, the pitch used to seal the decks, and the tar coated rigging. Made from leather they were used to either, hold water, or sand.

Fire in the Hole - A warning before cannon fire.

Flag Officer - An admiral. So called a Flag Officer because he is allowed to hoist his own flag.

Flibustier - French word for pirate.

Flogging - beating, usually a punishment employing the cat o' nine tails

Foot - The bottom edges of a square sail.

Foot Rope - Runs underneath the yards for men to stand on while furling or reefing the sails.

Fore - The front of a ship; towards the ship's bow.

Fore and Aft - Running from bow to stern as distinct from athwartships.

Forecastle (fo'c'sle) - Another partial deck that was in the fore part of the ship. Found at the bow (front) of the ship, the forecastle had various roles. It was from here that the sails and yards (spars) on the main and fore masts were controlled. The crew were allowed to use the forecastle in their off duty periods rather than staying 'below decks.' It was also the deck from which the anchors were lowered and stowed. The mast protruding out from the bow is the bowsprit. The black platform at the base of the bowsprit is known as the marine’s walk. An armed marine sentry would be positioned here to prevent men from escaping when the ship was at anchor. The belfry at the end of the foc’sle was used to indicate the time of day. It was struck every half hour and could be heard throughout the ship.

Fore Mast - The mast closest to the bow, or front of the ship.

Foremast Sails - (From top to bottom) fore royal, fore topgallant, fore topsail, foresail or course.

Forward of the Beam - (Pronounced 'forrard') That it is on the bow side of the ship; forward of the midpoint on a ship.

Freeboard - The distance between the waterline and the main deck of the ship.

Furling - Bundling sails up and securing them to a yard.




Gaff - yard supporting top of a sail.

Galley - provided the cooking facilities for all of the crew. Located towards the bow (front) it is made up of two parts. Enclosed on three sides by wooden panels is the pantry where the food was prepared. The food was cooked on a cast iron stove called a Brodie Stove. The stove has 2 ovens that could cook up to 80 lbs of bread; 2 copper kettles that could cook 250 gallons of stew; a grill and an automated spit for roasting meat. There is also a copper distiller that could produce 2 gallons (9.10 litres) of fresh water a day.

Galley Stove Flue - in the centre of the forecastle is the galley stove flue. This carried the smoke from the Brodie stove, located 2 deck below, out of the ship. The flue could be closed, using a sliding metal plate, so that water could not get into the stove during rough weather. The flue could also be turned to face away from the wind and any water coming over the side of the ship.

Gangboard (Marines Walk) - The gangboard provided direct access to the bowsprit from the forecastle. It was easier to climb onto the bowsprit from the upper gun deck, but because this meant passing through either the animal pens or the sick berth it was more convenient the use the gangboard. It was nicknamed the Marines Walk because, when the ship was anchored, an armed Royal Marine would be stationed on the gangboard. This was done to prevent any of the crew using the bow of the ship to desert.

Gasket - plaited rope holding sails to yards.

Gibbet - cage displaying the corpses of pirates in order to discourage piracy.

Give No Quarter - show no mercy.

Go Astern - 'to go astern' is to go backwards.

Grand Magazine - The Grand Magazine was the main gunpowder storage area. It could hold up to 35 tons of gunpowder. The magazine is divided in to 3 areas: the Pallating Flat; the Filling Room; the Light Room. The walls of the magazine are lined with copper. This was done for 3 reasons: 1) copper, as a soft metal, reduced the chance of dangerous sparks. 2) being waterproof the copper helped to keep the powder dry. 3) the main reason for the copper was to prevent the rats getting into the magazine. If they were allowed to get in they would become covered in gunpowder and then spread the powder all over the ship.

Great Cabin - found at the stern (back) this provides the most comfortable living space on the ship. Divided into 3 areas, it consists of the day and dining cabins plus the bed space. These were partitioned from the rest of the deck by wooden panels that could be removed during a battle. This would allow the great cabin to be turned into part of the upper gun deck. Although, not as large as the admiral's quarters. Located near the ship's 'command and control' center, it meant that the captain could be summoned quickly if there was a problem that needed his attention. Like the admiral's cabin, the captain's cabin could be 'packed away' enabling guns to be fired out of the windows. When preparing for battle all of the furniture, including the wooden paneling at the stern, was taken out and stowed in the hold. The dividing panels, called bulkheads, were swung up to the beams or removed and stowed. Senior officers slept in wooden cots, which would become their coffin should they die at sea.

Grog - mixture of water, rum, and sour (citrus) fruit juice, to ward off scurvy.

Gun - a cannon that is used upon a ship [is referred to as a gun] (land= cannon, ship=gun).

Gun Decks - the decks are named in relation to each other and are called the upper, middle and lower gun decks. The lightest guns occupy the highest of the 3 decks, while the heaviest can be found on the lowest deck. This was done to aid the ship's stability while at sea. By placing the heaviest guns on the lowest deck the ship was less likely to capsize in rough weather.

Gun Ports - the opening cut in the side of the ship through which the guns are fired.

Gunroom - at the stern (back) of the gun deck is the gunroom where the gunner, chaplain and junior officers lived. A canvas screen, which could be rolled up during a battle, separated the gunroom from the rest of the deck. Arranged along the sides were 4 canvas cabins, which could also be rolled up when required. The number of cabins was restricted by the sweep of the long tiller, which is attached to the tiller through the stern (back) of the gun room. Because some of the ship's youngest crew members were in the care of the Gunner they would have eaten their meals in the gun room.

Gunwales - (pronounced "gunnels") rails running along the side of the ship just under the gun ports.

Gunwales Under - a call meaning the ship (or a sailor) is in rough sea (trouble).

Gybe (Jibe) - a sailing maneuver whereby a sailing vessel reaching downwind turns its stern through the wind, such that the wind direction changes from one side of the boat to the other. For square-rigged ships, this maneuver is called wearing ship.




Half Shot - almost but not quite drunk.

Halyards (Halliiard) - line and tackle used to raise a sail or yard.

Hammocks - most of the crew slept in hammocks. Each man was issued with his own hammock, a wool filled mattress and 2 blankets. The hammocks were slung from battens fixed to the overhead beams at intervals of 16 inches (41 cm). Although the space was cramped each man's room was effectively doubled because half the crew worked while the others slept. When a man joined a ship he was issued with a hammock, mattress, a bolster and a blanket. The hammocks would be slung from battens secured to the overhead beams. Petty officers slept at the outboard end of each row and were allowed 18 to 21 inches of space because of their status. An ordinary sailor was only allowed 16 inches of space. The men did not sleep where they wanted but slung their hammocks according to their division and watch. In the morning the men lashed up their hammocks and placed them in the netting, in positions allocated by their division and watch, around the upper deck of the ship. To ensure they were stowed compactly the lashed hammocks were passed through a special hoop.

Hanging Magazine - accessed from the orlop was the hanging magazine. It was positioned towards the bow (front) and held gunpowder in barrels, just like other magazines (see 'Main Magazine,' 'Middle Magazine,' and 'After Magazine'). It is similar to some filling rooms (see 'Filling Room') in that it's deck hangs below the orlop deck, hence 'hanging magazine.' During battle, men would fill cartridges for the guns to be passed out through the connection to the orlop in this room.

Hang the Jib - to frown.

Hatch- window or covering for an opening in a ship

Hard Tack - ship's biscuit. Also known as 'tooth breakers' and 'sea biscuits'.

Haul Off - to move away.

Head1 - the toilet.

Head2 - the top edges of a square sail.

Head to Wind -

Hearty (Hearties) - term to refer to fellowship among sailors.

Heave To (Hove To) - stopping a ship by heading it into the wind; braking maneuver that slows the ship's pace and fixes its course, allowing the crew to perform other duties.

Helmsman - a person who steers a ship.

Hempen Halter - a hangman's noose.

Ho - used to express joy or attract attention (Land ho!).

Hogshead - a large barrel.

Hold - the area of the ship between the bottom of the ship and the lowest deck (i.e. the orlop deck). This is the ship's main storage area. Before the stores were brought in, ballast had to be placed here to keep the ship trim and upright. In addition, extra ballast in the form of shingle was used (see 'Ballast'). This also acted as a bed for the bottom layer of barrels. The ship could store enough provisions to last 6 months this included water and beer stored in large barrels, plus wine and vinegar. The smaller barrels would contain salted fish, pork, and beef. Dried provisions such as oats, peas, beans, and pulses would be kept in sacks. There would also be more items, such as butter and coal.

Hook - the anchor.

Horns Waggle - to cheat. Thus a 'horns waggler' is a person who cheats.




I've Been Scuppered - beaten or defeated.




Jack Ketch - famed English executioner. Became shorthand for death at the hands of the law.

Jack Tar - common name for sailors of the Royal Navy.

Jib - a triangular staysail set ahead of the foremast (and usually attached to the bowsprit). It helps track the mainsail into a tack (similar to the front bogies on a train).

Jury - a quick and temporary repair (thus, to fix the rigging quickly is to 'jury-rig').

Jolly Roger - pirate flag.




Kedge Anchors (Large and Small) - Smallest anchors, the kedge anchors were used when the ship was anchored in a harbour. They helped to steady the ship and keep her clear of the bower anchor cable. They could also be used to 'kedge' or warp the ship. Warping was a way of moving the ship in a confined space or if there was no wind. The kedge anchor would be rowed away from the ship by boat and then lowered. By pulling in the anchor cable the ship could be moved along. This could be repeated until there was more space or the sails caught the wind.

Keel - a piece of timber running along the entire bottom of the boat; the lowest fore and aft timber on which the whole framework of the ship is built.

Keelhaul - horrific punishment involving being dragged under the ship, resulting in massive lacerations at best, drowning at worst.

Keelson - a line of timbers which secure the keel to the upper framework.

Kiss the Gunner's Daughter - punishment consisting of being hoisted over one of the ship's guns and flogged.

Knot - a nautical mile per hour, roughly 1.151 mph (1.852 kph). The nautical mile is 6080 feet, whereas the mile is 5280 feet. It is abbreviated 'kn' or sometimes 'kt.'




Landsman - an inexperienced sailor.

Larboard - looking towards the bow of a vessel is the Larboard or Port side. Until the name was changed in the middle of the nineteenth century to avoid confusion, the port side was known as the Larboard side. “Load-board”, being the side which was against the quay for loading cargo.

Lapstrake - (see 'Clinker Built').

Lateen Sail - it is a form of gaff-rig usually seen on Mediterranean vessels - including the PotBS Xebec, the Arab Dhow, and the modern Sunfish-class. It's a triangular sail which is attached to a gaff which is then set on the mast.

League - a distance equal to that of 3 nautical miles (roughly 5.6 km).

Lee - the side of the ship not facing the wind; when the wind changes the lee-side changes as well.

Lee Shore - a ship blown towards the Lee Shore is in danger.

Lee Side - is the sheltered side (i.e. sheltered from the wind). The Lee side of the Quarter deck was reserved for the Midshipmen.

Leeward- facing the direction with which the wind is blowing (facing with the wind)

Leg Irons - fixed to the deck in between two of the guns and exposed to the elements are the leg iron or bilboes. They were used to confine a man who had committed an offence. They could be used either as a form of punishment or as a holding area for a man awaiting trial. When used as punishment the offender would be locked into the leg irons for a number of days and fed on bread and water.

Letter of Marque - letter of mandate from a government permitting pirates to freely raid merchant ships of enemy countries, thus earning them the title of 'privateer.'

Let the Cat Out of the Bag - A common phrase used by sailors when they got into trouble. When a man got out of line, the most common punishment was flogging, which was done with the Boatswain's 'cat-o-nine-tails.'

The Light Room - for obvious reasons no naked flames were allowed near the gunpowder. This meant that the palleting flat and filling room were illuminated from the separate light room (see 'Filling Room'). Two lanthorns (lanterns) were housed in light boxes at the front of the light room and heavy sheets of glass separated the light room from the filling room. To prevent the glass from being accidentally broken a copper wire mesh covered the glass giving it greater strength. For added safety the light room had a separate entrance from the other two areas of the grand magazine and was accessed via a ladder at the back of the light room. During a battle the ship's master-at-arms and the cook manned the light room.

Loaded to the Gunwales - to be drunk.

Lofting - the drawing out of a ship's plan full size. It is the important first step. From these drawings molds, or patterns, are made from thin wood which are used in cutting out the futtocks and other parts of the framework (see 'Futtocks').

Log Line and Reel - a knotted rope attached to a piece of wood (i.e. the 'log') and wound around a wood spool (i.e. the log 'reel') that measures a ship's speed. The line is knotted every 47 feet 3 inches (14.4 meters). It took three seamen to measure the ship's speed; one to hold the reel, one to heave the log over the ship's stern, and the third to watch the 28 second time glass. As the log line ran over the stern the knots were counted against the time glass. The number of knots counted related to the ship's speed in knots (see 'Knot'). The distance of 47 feet 3 inches as a fraction of 1 nautical mile (i.e. 6080 feet) is directly proportional to 28 seconds as a fraction of 1 hour in seconds (3600 seconds). If the ships speed exceeded 8 knots then a 14 second time glass was used.

Look To - a command to pay attention ('Look to port!' or 'Look to that knot!').

Looking Glass - a telescope.

Lower Gun Deck (Mess Deck) - the lower gun deck contains the heaviest armament and is the deck above the orlop deck. The heaviest guns were mounted here, firing through the lowest line of gun-ports. The lower gun deck also served as the living area for the largest proportion of the crew. The men would sleep on this deck, while some men would eat their meals here; there was no privacy, it was damp and the lighting was poor as the gun ports were normally kept closed to prevent water coming in. The only light came from candles and lanterns. Two messes of 4 men could eat at the table between the guns. To ensure everyone could eat at the same time, further tables were set up throughout the deck. The work onboard was very hard and to help ensure that the men had the energy to do it, their diet was high in calories. Breakfast was served at 08:00 and usually consisted of an oatmeal gruel, which could be sweetened with molasses or sugar. The main meal of the day was at noon and comprised of meat or fish stew with dried peas and pulses. When the ship had been freshly provisioned it would have been made with fresh meat from livestock the ship would carry. When the fresh meat had been eaten, salted meat or fish would be used. The last meal of the day consisted of ship’s biscuits and cheese. However, the biscuits sometimes became infested with maggots or weevils, the cheese turned moldy and the butter rancid. Captains were aware that a monotonous diet of poor quality food caused scurvy and other illnesses, so stocks of fresh meat, vegetables and fruit would be brought onboard at every opportunity. Drinking water would soon become undrinkable. They did, however, get a generous ration of alcohol. Every member of the crew over the age of 14 would receive either 8 pints of beer or 2 pints of wine or half a pint of rum or brandy each day. It was an offence to be found drunk. They could buy tobacco but smoking was not allowed due to the risk of fire. Instead, men would chew their tobacco and spit out the toxic saliva it produced into a spit kid. A man caught spitting on the deck could be flogged.

Lifts - lines used to change the vertical angle of the yards.

Lubber (Landlubber) - an insult implying incompetence. A term for an incompetent or inexperienced sailor. Derived from "lob" which describes a clumsy lout. Derisive term for land-dwellers.

Luff - turn a ship closer to wind. Hence the saying 'Luff and touch her,' meaning come as close to the wind to the point where your sails luff (i.e. shudder and shake, spilled their wind).

Lugsail- a trapezoidal sail used on gaff-rigs and lug-rigs.

Lying To - position a ship is in after being brought to (see 'Head to Wind' and 'Hove To').




Manger - Constructed using 3 low wooden bulkheads (walls), the manger sits right at the bow (front) end of the lower gun deck. Although the name implies it was used to house animals it is believed that this rarely happened. The manger's main purpose was to prevent water running along the deck when it came through the hawse holes (these are the holes where the anchor cables entered the ship). It was also where the dirty anchor cable would be cleaned as it was pulled back in when weighing anchor.

Main Deck (Spar Deck) (Upper Gun Deck) - The deck above the Middle Gun Deck (if on higher rated ships), with the lightest guns. In the stern there were partial decks above the Main deck (See 'Quarter Deck' and 'Poop Deck').

Main Magazine - Usually located in the bow (front) of the ship beneath the orlop deck in the hold. It was connected to the filling room (see 'Filling Room') so that powder from barrels could fill cartridges and be made ready for action. The barrels would be made of wood with copper or wood hoops, instead of iron, to prevent sparks. This was the only Magazine fitted on ships, until 1716 when the Admiralty recognized that it was difficult to supply all of the guns with enough powder during combat. They ordered that on the largest ships that is, 'ships of the first, second, and third rates of eighty guns have a middle and after powder room, the third rates of seventy guns and fourth rates have an after powder room, and the fifth and sixth rates have a powder chest in the most convenient place.' (See 'After Magazine' and 'Middle Magazine'). Of course, these magazines were in addition to the main one. See pg.144-145 of Lavery's The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War, 1600-1815 

Mainmast - The largest mast and center mast on a three masted ship.

Mainmast Sails - From top to bottom: main topgallant, maintopsail, mainsail or course.

Mainmast Staysails - From top to bottom: main topgallant staysail, middle staysail, maintopmast staysail, mainstaysail.

Marines - Commanded by a Captain of Marines, the middle gun deck was home to the Royal Marines. The marine officers shared the wardroom with the naval officers. The sergeants and privates ate and slept between the 24 pounder guns. The Royal Marines slept on this deck for two reasons. First, the marines and sailors liked to eat and sleep separately. Second, as volunteers the marines were trusted to protect the officers in the event of a mutiny, although outright mutinies were very rare.

Mast - Vertical spar from which sails and spars are attached; tall pole rising from the deck of the ship and supporting the yards and riggings.

Mess Bucket - A bucket found in the Mess (room) that would hold food for preparation or eating.

Mess Deck - See 'Lower Gun Deck.'

Mess Table - At meal times the crew was divided into messes of either 4 or 8 men. Each man would take his turn in being the mess cook. The mess cook would collect and prepare the food before taking it to the galley. When mealtime was called the mess cook would then collect and serve the meal. Some of the men would eat their food from tables slung from the deck head (ceiling). The others would use collapsible tables set up across the rest of the deck.

Midshipmen - Junior-ranking officers who would assist in the control of the crew.

Middle Gun Deck - The galley is the area on a ship where food is prepared. It contains two large pots for boiling stew, two ovens for baking bread and an open grate for grilling and spit roasting. A copper distiller was fitted to provide around two gallons of fresh water from sea water per day. Above the Lower deck. The medium sized guns were here.

Middle Magazine - Generally smaller than the main magazine (see 'Main Magazine'), usually located amidships built up a little above the keelson to keep it out of the bilge water on the center line of the ship beneath the orlop deck in the hold, though some early versions were on the orlop itself. Middle magazines became standard after an order from the Admiralty in 1716 and would only be fitted on the largest of ships, that is on third rate of the line ships of 80 guns, second rates, and first rates. Those below (third rates of 70 guns and lower rates) generally did not have one. See pg.144-145 of Lavery's The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War, 1600-1815 

Mind your P's and Q's - Innkeepers keep track of a sailors credit by writing his name on a chalkboard along with a 'P' for every pint he's had and a 'Q' for every quart; thus, in order for a sailor not to fall to deeply into debt, he must mind his P's and Q's.

Mizzen (Mizzenmast) - The mast furthest aft, closest to the stern; also the mast shortest of the three on a ship.

Mizzenmast Sails - From top to bottom: mizzen topgallant, mizzen topsail, mizzen sail, spanker (an extension of the mizzen sail).







Ordinary Seaman - sailor with limited experience.

Orlop Deck - the lowest deck on a vessel, located beneath the waterline, it was the ideal place for storage and living space. The surgeon's cabin was located here, and the purser also had a cabin next to the stores. On the other side of the purser's cabin was the steward's room, where the daily rations of food would have been measured out and issued to the mess cooks. The steward would sleep there in order to prevent pilfering of the food stores. The ship's hanging magazines were also located here, safely positioned below the waterline and hence enemy fire.




Packet - small, fast ship for sending despatches and orders.

Parley- lit. "to speak" in French, a meeting between opposing captains, usually concerning terms of surrender or conversation prior to battle. All captains are expected to agree to a formal parley (even pirates), and cease any local hostilities so a parlay may take place

Petty Officer - included gunner's mates, quartermasters, master-at-arms, carpenter, bosun and cooper, the ship's master, chaplain and surgeon.

Pinnace - a ship's boat.

Plying - making a regular run between two points (e.g. plying from London to New York).

Powder Monkeys - was the term given to any member of the ship's company who passed filled cartridges and shot during action from the magazines below decks. The sug¬gestion that this work was done entirely by ship’s boys is a myth. For efficiency and to ensure a continuous supply of powder, teams of men, older boys and women (when carried on board) were organized on each deck to relay cartridges in a continuous chain between the powder magazines and the appropriate gundecks, with some men stationed at hatchways to hand cartridges up to the next deck. Younger boys were used on the gundecks to move powder from hatchways to the guns and to douse down loose powder around the guns to prevent explosions. In most cases, the ship would be fighting on one side only - leaving the deck on the opposite side relatively free for the powder monkeys to run back and forth from the hatches to replenish the salt boxes placed well behind the guns. Each saltbox, containing two ready to use charges, was the responsibility of a member of the gun crew.







Ratlines - ropes attached to a ship's shrouds that are used as ladders.

Reef - lessen sail area by tying parts of it to the mast.

Rigging monkey -same concept as a powder monkey, but instead these sailors are tasked with climbing the many masts and rigging of a ship to furl and set sails

Royals - square sails sitting beneath the top gallants.




Salt Meat - salted beef or pork. It is salted to preserve it for long distance travel.

Sheets - sheets are the lines attached to bottom corners of the sails which sailors heave on. The term "sheet in" describes the drawing of the sails.

Signal lockers - the signal locker sits at the stern edge of the poop deck. It contains the flags used in signaling both other ship and the shore. The Popham code the Royal Navy used meant that a small number of flags could be used to form approx. 6,000 words or sentences. For ease of use each flag had an allocated space within the locker, with spares flags stored on the row below.

Shanty (chanty)- choral song, often sung to a specific beat/rhythm that lines up with the pulling of rigging or other activity.

Ship - to be a ship it must have three masts in a shipped rigged fashion (i.e. all three masts are square rigged). Any less and it is not considered a 'Ship'.

Shot - any type of ammunition for a cannon or firearm.

Shrouds - support ropes attached to the masts. Skylight - in the middle of the poop deck is a skylight that was used to help light the captain's dinning cabin. Position above the dinning cabin, the skylight greatly added to the daylight provided by the cabins single window. Unfortunately anyone standing on the poop can see into the dinning cabin. To provide privacy, wooden panel were fitted to runners in the cabin's deck head (ceiling) beneath the skylight. These could be slid closed when the cabin's occupants preferred not to be seen by anyone on the poop. They were also used to help darken the ship at night.

Sprog/Greenhorn- a new and inexperienced sailor.

Swashbuckling - form of swordplay utilizing the short, wide cuttlass.

Square Rigged - referring to a ship: rigged with square sails at each mast.

Stays - forwards and backwards support ropes for the masts.

Stern lanterns - the stern lanterns were lit at night so that the ships of a fleet could see each other's position. This was useful in keeping the ships in formation and helped to prevent the ships from colliding with each other. A door on the front of the lantern was used to light the lamps and whale oil was burnt to produce a bright light.




Tack (Coming About) - a sailing maneuver used to beat upwind, turning the bow of the boat into, and then through, the direction of the wind. This requires more speed to power through the 'irons' stage and most square-rigs are only capable of doing this when there is sufficient wind. In light winds or a head sea, they must wear.

Three Sheets to the Wind - letting the three sheets of a ship-rig off into the wind (letting them go) which causes the sails to flap around (shudder and shake, luff) and make tons of noise. Being three sheets into the wind is to be so drunk the sailor can't walk straight.

Top (Maintop) - platform around the mast.

Topgallant - highest of the three spars used to make a mast. Saying "topgallant" alone can refer to both the topgallant mast, or the topgallant sail.







Vessel - having less than three masts. If it had three it was a ship.




Wear - turn a ship by moving prow in direction of the wind. Yet another operation used when beating upwind. Instead of turning into the wind as in tacking, the vessel turns away from the wind making a 270-degree turn. A lot of height (distance traveled into the wind) is lost but it may be the only way for some square-rigs to make a turn upwind (usually to avoid a lee shore) in light airs.

Windward- facing the direction from which the wind is blowing (facing into the wind)

Windage - how far a ship is blown off course by the wind.

Windlass - is a horizontal-axled rotating machine that restrains and manipulates the anchor chain on a boat, allowing the anchor to be raised and lowered by means of chain cable. A notched wheel engages the links of the chain or the rope. Similar to the Capstan but instead of being vertical it is horizontal.







Yard - horizontal spar that holds up the sails.

Yardarm - outer sections of the yard.



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Parley- lit. "to speak" in French, a meeting between opposing captains, usually concerning terms of surrender or conversation prior to battle. All captains are expected to agree to a formal parley (even pirates), and cease any local hostilities so a parlay may take place


Windward- facing the direction from which the wind is blowing (facing into the wind) and leeward- facing the direction with which the wind is blowing (facing with the wind)


Rigging monkey -same concept as a powder monkey, but instead these sailors are tasked with climbing the many masts and rigging of a ship to furl and set sails


Looking Glass - a telescope


hatch- window or covering for an opening in a ship


Shot - any type of ammunition for a cannon or firearm


Gun - a cannon that is used upon a ship [is referred to as a gun] (land= cannon, ship=gun)


Cannon - cast Iron, black-powder weapons that make up the primary armament of tall sailships. 


Swashbuckling - form of swordplay utilizing the short, wide cuttlass


Flogging: beating, usually a punishment employing the cat o' nine tails


grog- a mixture of water and liquer (usually whiskey or rum. Also sometimes beer) in order to make old, stale water more potable and/or to extend water supplies


Shanty (chanty)- choral song, often sung to a specific beat/rhythm that lines up with the pulling of rigging or other activity


Beat to Quarters - A predetermined rhythm beat upon a drum that signals all sailors to prepare for battle by moving to general quarters (positions at their respective battle stations)


Sprog/Greenhorn- a new and inexperienced sailor


Revision: Should batten be more specifically "batten down"?

Edited by William the Drake
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The "Andrew", a popular term(still used today)for the Royal Navy.it is said to be derived from one of the most prolific "Pressers",Andrew Miller,It was said that he recruited so many men,that the Navy was his!


"its cold enough to freeze the Balls off a Brass Monkey!"The popular explanation is that warships in the 18th century stored their shot on brass racks called monkeys. In the cold weather the brass contracted causing the shot to fall onto the deck hence the expression.Although there havent been any References to these Brass Monkies.


"The Pusser","Pusser","Pussers Issues",a term denoting The Royal Navy and also Royal Naval issue kit,its derived from the Purser who was responsible for Victualling the Ship and also procuring wood,Cordage etc.(still in use today)


"Jossman",a Matelots term for the Master At Arms,no the MAA is part of the Naval Police and is responsible for Discipline and Administration of QRRN(Queens Regulations Royal Navy,also known as "The Dandy" named after a British Comic.it pokes fun at the Regulater Branch who were not always known for their Intelligence.this may be spurious but derives from the fact that you couldnt join the Reg Branch on Joining,but it was sourced from all other branches of the RN.The common belief is that they failed in there Original Branch and went Regulator)


"Killick",used as a term for a Leading Seaman,the Rate Badge is a small anchor on the Left sleeve,and a small anchor is a "Killick"


"Scran Bag"\Originally a recepticle that house all Uniform that was found to be "sculling about" on Evening Rounds.To retrieve the items a forfeit of an inch of "Pussers Hard" or "Pussers Green"(Soap)was made per item.Its also a term to denote a scruffy Rating............................"hes a right Scranbag he is!"


"Adrift",Term used for a Seaman being late or failing to make duty....................."AB Smith is Adrift Sir!"


The Royal Navy doesnt have walls,floors or Ceilings,they are Bulkheads,Deck and Deckheads!


Food played a huge part in RN life,and still does.Its called "Scran",the RN has many tasty and Varied food such as "Babies Heads"(Steak and Kidney Pudding),"Shit on a Raft",Devilled Kidneys on Toast(i REALLY love this),Cheesy Hammy Eggy,"Train Smash"Bacon and tinned Tomatos on either toast or Fried Bread.


A "square meal" comes from the "plates" that were used on the Messdeck,they were wooden and square.


A term used in UK for a small boy is a "Nipper",this derives from the young boys that were employed in the Fo'csle "nipping" the hauling cable to the Anchor hawser when weighing anchor using the capstan on larger Vessels.


Whistling was banned on RN Vessels as it could interfere with the Bo'suns Calls leading to confusion.


In the RN "The Loyal Toast" is ALWAYS drunk sat down,this is attributed to King William IV who who had served as a naval officer and experienced the discomfort of standing suddenly on board a vessel at sea, authorized all in the navy to toast him while sitting down.Some sources say it was due to a Senior Admiral striking his head on the Deckhead when rising to the Loyal Toast.


In the 17th century the daily drink ration for English sailors was a gallon of beer. Due to the difficulty in storing the large quantities of liquid that this required in 1655 a half pint of rum was made equivalent and became preferred to beer. Over time drunkenness on board naval vessels increasingly became a problem and the ration was formalised in naval regulations by Admiral Vernon in 1740 and ordered to be mixed with water in a 4:1 water to rum ratio and split into two servings per day.In 1824 the amount was reduced by half.In more recent times the Senior Rates(PO and above) had their Tots neat,known as "Neaters"while the other Rates had the water rum mix known as "Grog"The Rum ration was "supposed" to be drunk in one go so s to avoid Hoarding athough this wasnt always the case.On the messdeck it was used as a form of currancy,if you did your "oppo" a good turn you might be granted "sippers",a sip of his ration or even "Sandy Bottoms",to empty the glass(not a regular thing).July 31, 1970 is known as "Black Tot Day"as it was the last regular issue of Rum in the RN.There are still "Splice the Mainbraces" for special occaisions,such as Royal Births etc.



When it was time to eat,each Mess would have a "Mess Cook" who would go to the Galley with the mess "Fanny"(a large pot like an oval bucket)and have it filled for his messmates,in rough weather if he lost part or all of the contents he wasnt a popular man!


It is said that the 3 Buttons on a Midshipmans Cuff was to stop them wiping their noses on the Kings Uniform,but there are no accurate accounts that support this.


Likewise the 3 White bands on a Seamans Collar,they are said to represent the 3 Major Battles of Lord Nelson,Copenhagen,Aboukir Bay and Trafalgar,again there are no accounts to support this.The seamans collar was to keep the tarred ponytails from staining the Uniform.The Black silk was said to have been introduced for Lord Nelsons Death and Funeral but is more likely to have been a band of cloth that was wrapped around the head to give the ears some protection from the gunfire on the Gundecks.The Lanyard was to fire the Flintlocks on the cannons.Footware among the common Sailors was uncommon whilst aboard,can you imagine the damage a recoiling gun carriage would do to a bare foot!In the early days the Captain paid for the Uniforms of his ships company,so a smartly turned out Crew would reflect on the Prize monies the Captain obtained(most of the Uniforms and ornate Sternworks were due to the Captain obtaining a Good Prize Purse)Uniform for ratings was first established by the Admiralty in 1857.


In the earliest days the wealth and status of the senior officers was reflected in the men’s uniforms. The yellow coats of the Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of Foot were said to be yellow because it was the Duke’s favourite colour.The red uniforms of the Georgian period, claimed to be red as it does not show blood. They were in fact red because that was the cheapest colour cloth at the time.Some what similar to the Blue Uniform of the RAF,the pale blue colour was adopted as the cloth had been intended for use by the Imperial Russian Cavalry and, following their disbandment after the Bolshevik Revolution it became available at low cost

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Timbers - the planks that make up the outermost layer of a ship's hull, though "timbers" sometimes more specifically refers to the planks of the ship's broadside only.


Shivers - splinters, usually from the wood of a ship


"Shiver me timbers!" - A term of exasperation or surprise, it refers to the splintering of a ships' timbers when hit by a cannonball.


"Blow me down!" - A term of disbelief


Give no quarter - to show no mercy and accept no surrender


Jack Ketch - another name for the hangman

Edited by William the Drake
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When looking at Ships Compliments there is an anomaly that gets overlooked.Its called a "Widows Man".widow's man was a fictitious seaman kept on the books of Royal Navy ships during the 18th and early 19th centuries in order to make payment to the families of dead crew members. This financial arrangement helped Widows from being left destitute following the death of their seafaring husbands.


The number of widows' men on a ship was proportional to the ship's size. A First Rate might have as many as eighteen, while a 6th might have only three. The ratio was reduced by Admiralty order on 25 October 1790.The existence of widows' men served as an incentive for men to join the Royal Navy, rather than the Merchant Navy, as they knew that their wives would be provided for if they died.

Edited by Sir Cloudsley-Shovell
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