Naval Terminology

Abeam: At right angles to, or beside, the boat.
Aboard: On or in the boat or ship.
Adrift: Loose, not on moorings or towline.
Aft: Toward the back.
Aground: When the hull or keel is against the ground.
Aloft and Alow: In the upper and lower rigging of a sailing ship, respectively.
Amidships: The middle of a vessel, either longitudinally or transversely.
Anchor: An object designed to grip the ground, under a body of water, to hold the boat in a selected area.
Astern: Behind the boat.
Bail: To remove water from the boat.
Ballast: Weight in the lower portion of a boat, used to add stability.
Beam: The width of the boat at its widest. Also a timber mounted athwartships to support decks and provide lateral strength; large beams were sometimes called baulks.
Beam Reach: a point of sail where the boat is sailing at a right angle to the wind.
Bearing: A compass direction from one point to another.
Belay: To fasten a rope, by winding it several times backwards and forwards on a cleat or pin.
Below: Beneath the deck.
Belowdecks: Beneath the solid “weather deck” of a ship. There is no “downstairs” aboard a ship.
Bilge: The lowest part of a boat, designed to collect water that enters the boat.
Block: A pulley.
Board a Ship: To enter an enemy’s ship in an engagement.
Boatswain (Bosun): An officer in a ship who has charge of the rigging, sails, etc. and whose duty it is to summon the men to their duties with a whistle.
Boom: A fore-and-aft rigged spar supporting the lower edge of a sail.
Bore: Interior of a cannon barrel.
Bow: The front of the boat.
Breech: The part of a cannon behind the bore.
Broach: To spin out of control, either causing or nearly causing a capsize.
Broadside: A discharge of all the guns on one side of a ship both above and below.
Buoy: An anchored float marking a position or for use as a mooring.
Cast Off: To release lines holding boat to shore or mooring, to release sheets.
Cat-o’-Nine-Tails: A whip made from knotted ropes, used to punish crewmen by “flogging”.
Companionway: A stairway or ladder leading from one deck to another.
Crow’s Nest: A platform for a lookout near the top of a mast.
Displacement: The weight of the water displaced by the boat.
Dock: The area in which a boat rests when attached to a pier, also the act of taking the boat to the pier to secure it.
Draft: Measure of how deep the ship is, from the keel to the waterline.
Drift: The leeway, or movement of the boat, when not under power, or when being pushed sideways while under power.
Ease: To loosen or let out.
Fathom: A measurement relating to the depth of water, one fathom is the height of a man.
Forecastle: The often-raised forward part of the weather deck of a vessel. Also called the “fo’c’sle.”
Fore: Toward the front of the boat.
Furl: To fold or roll a sail and secure it to its main support.
Gaff: A spar to support the top of a fore-and-aft sail; also a hooked pole for landing fish.
Gallery: A balcony projecting from the stern or quarter of a large ship.
Galley: A vessel’s kitchen.
Gimball: A device that suspends a compass so that it remains level.
Gundeck: The deck where the guns were located; large ships may have as many as three gun decks called the lower, middle and upper gundeck.
Gunport: Exit in a gunwale or bulwark for the muzzle of a cannon.
Gunwale: The railing of the boat at deck level.
Halyard: The line used to raise and lower the sail.
Hard Alee: The command given to inform the crew that the helm is being turned quickly to leeward, turning the boat windward.
Hatch: A rectangular opening in a vessel’s deck.
Head to Wind: The bow turned into the wind, sails luffing.
Headway: Forward motion.
Heave To: To stop a boat and maintain position (with some leeway) by balancing rudder and sail to prevent forward movement, a boat stopped this way is “hove to.”
Helm: A wheel or tiller by which a ship is steered.
Helmsman: The member of the crew responsible for steering.
Hike: Leaning out over the side of the boat to balance it.
Hoist: To raise aloft.
Hold: The interior of a hull, especially the part of a merchant ship’s interior where the cargo and ballast were stowed.
Hull: The outer body of a ship.
Jib: A triangular sail suspended from a forward stay.
Keel: A fin down the centerline of the bottom of the hull and the main source of a vessel’s structural strength.
Keel Haul: This is the act of throwing a man overboard at the bow, with a long rope tied around his ankles. He’d drift to the beam along the side of the ship while the other end of the rope would be brought to the other side, and then he’d be dragged from one side to the other and hauled out. Besides the torment of being dragged under water, this drags the victim across the barnacle-studded ship’s hull and causes great pain and injury. This is a serious punishment and not administered lightly.
Lanyard: A line attached to any small object for the purpose of securing the object.
Latitude: Degrees north or south of the equator.
Launch: Any small boat used to travel between the ship and a dock, shore, or another ship (such as a gig, cutter, jolly boat, barge, or pinnace).
Letters Of Marque: A commission or license issued by the government authorizing seizure of enemy property.
Lifeline: A rope fence surrounding the deck to help prevent crew from falling overboard.
List: The leaning of a boat to the side because of excess weight on that side.
Longitude: Degrees east or west from a fixed line which travels from the north to south pole along the surface of the planet.
Maroon: Pirates use marooning as an act of punishment. A transgressor of their codes will be stripped and left upon an isolated island with only a few supplies, if any at all. Most transgressors prefer a quick death to marooning, for it could mean starvation or worse, isolation for years, until rescue or death.
Mast: A long spar rising from the keel or deck of a ship and supporting the yards, booms, and rigging.
Mizzen: Any rigging belonging to the aft-most mast of a ship.
Mooring: An anchor or weight, permanently attached to the sea floor, with a buoy going to the surface, used to hold the boat in a certain area.
Pennant: A triangular flag.
Pinch: To sail as close as possible towards the wind.
Point: To turn closer towards the wind (point up).
Poop Deck: The aftmost deck on a ship, from the French word la poupe, meaning “stern”
Port: The left side of the boat when facing forward.
Port Tack: Sailing with the wind coming from the port side, with the boom on the starboard side.
Quarter: Deriving from the idea of “shelter”, quarter is given when mercy is offered by the pirates. To give no quarter is to indicate that none would be spared. Quarter is often the prize given to an honorable loser in a pirate fight. If enraged, however, a pirate would deprive the loser any such luxury.
Quarterdeck: The part of the deck abaft of the mainmast.
Ready About: Prepare to come about.
Rigging: The standing rigging is the mast and support lines, running rigging is the lines with which you adjust the sails.
Rudder: A fin under the stern of the boat used in steering.
Scull: Moving the rudder back and forth in an attempt to move the boat forward.
Shake Out: To release a reefed sail and hoist the sail aloft.
Sheave: The wheel of a block pulley.
Shipwright: A master craftsman skilled in the construction and repair of ships. In many instances, the person in charge of a ship’s construction, including the supervision of carpenters and other personnel, control of expenditures and schedules, and acquisition of materials.
Spar: Any pole meant to support a sail.
Spinnaker: A large, light sail used in downwind sailing.
Starboard: The right side of the boat when facing forward.
Starboard Tack: A course with the wind coming from starboard and the boom on the port side.
Stern: The back of the boat.
Sterncastle: A ship’s enclosed, aft-most elevated portion.
Stow: To put away.
Strike: To lower or let down anything. Used emphatically to denote the lowering of colors in token of surrender to a victorious enemy.
Tack: The front, lower corner of the sail. Tack also refers to a course with the wind coming from the side of the boat, also to change course by turning into the wind so that the wind comes from the other side of the boat.
Tiller: Controls the rudder and is used for steering.
Traveler: A device that the mainsheet may be attached to which allows its position to be adjusted.
Trim: To adjust the sails, also the position of the sails.
Wake: The swell caused by a boat passing through water.
Weather Deck: The unenclosed deck or decks of a vessel, which are exposed to the weather.
Windward: Upwind.
Yard: The spar from which square-rigged or lateen sails are supported.

Naval Terminology

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