The Old Booksmith

Glossary of Naval & Maritime Terms & Phrases
of the Late 18th & Early 19th Centuries
A — F

abatement of false lights

The authority of Trinity House to remove or screen any light visible to seaward which might be mistaken by a vessel at sea for a lighthouse, possibly with disastrous consequences.


In a direction at right angles to a shipís centerline.

able seaman

First step of promotion above Ordinary Seaman, upon several years' experience and the proven ability to hand, reef, and steer.


On a ship; alongside or touching another ship.

above board

Above the level of the deck, therefore open and visible to all.


To lay the head-yards abox is to set them square to the foremast in order to heave to, thereby keeping the ship more under command. However, to brace the head-yards abox is to brace them flat aback to the wind, not square to the mast.

accommodation ladder

Flight of steps leading from one deck to another for convenience of access.


Senior officer in command of a squadron or fleet, ranking red, white, or blue in order of seniority.


Naval officer with the rank of rear admiral in authority over all operations of a naval dockyard.

Admiralty Board, Admiralty

The body of commissioners responsible for administration of the Royal Navy (replacing the earlier office of Lord High Admiral), carrying out policy determined by the Cabinet , including design and construction of new ships. Its senior member was the First Lord. Headquartered in Whitehall. In other countries, the equivalent usually was a navy department or ministry of marine.

Admiralty midshipman

A midshipman who has served the minimum six years at sea and has passed his examination, and who is awaiting an opportunity for appointment as a lieutenant. Also a "passed midshipman." He is thereafter appointed to a ship by Admiralty order rather than being rated by a captain and appointed by an admiral.


In law, to float at random, as of a boat or ship broken away from its moorings and at the mercy of wind and waves. To cast a ship adrift is to abandon it at sea.

aft, after, abaft

Toward the stern of a ship; behind or following something.


Seamen whose station is on the quarterdeck or the poop in order to work the after gear of the vessel.

age of the moon

Number of days since the last new moon.


Properly, a word shouted by the coxwain of a boat to hail a ship. By extension, a greeting among seamen.

a-hull, lying

Of a ship forced to ride out heavy weather by heaving to under bare poles with its helm alee.

all in the wind

Of a ship in the process of tacking when her head is to the wind and all her sails are shivering.

all standing, brought up

Of a ship that lets go its anchor with too much way on, so that the vessel is jerked to a sudden stop when the cable becomes taut.


In an upward direction; relating to the masts and rigging.


Beside or against the side of a ship or against a quay.


In a downward direction; the opposite of aloft.


Relating to the middle or centerline of a ship.


Suitable or customary place to anchor a vessel; designated area of a port or harbor where large vessels are anchored.

anchor ball

Signal in the form of a black ball, displayed in the forward part of the ship so as to be visible from all directions, warning that the vessel is anchored.

anchor buoy

Small buoy attached to a submerged anchor by a light line to indicate its location.

anchor warp

Hawser attached to an anchor as a temporary cable.

anchor watch

Officer delegated when the ship is at anchor, especially in bad weather, to take frequent bearings of objects on shore, and by noting vibration in the anchor cable, as a precaution against the ship shifting her position by dragging her anchor. He is assisted by a small party on the forecastle standing ready to work the cable if required.


On a square-rigged vessel, the two large bollards near the bows on the main deck to which hawsers or cables are belayed.

apparent wind

Combined vector of the true wind and the headwind caused by a vesselís forward motion.


Strengthening timber set behind the lower part of the stem and above the foremost part of the keel.

armed ship

Armed merchant ship on charter to the Royal Navy


A gunnerís mate responsible for maintenance and repair of the crewís and Marinesí small arms, and who in turn had one or two mates (depending on the rate of the ship).

articles of agreement

Contract between a merchant seaman and his employer stating the principal conditions of service.

Articles of War

First issued in 1653 to enforce a standard code of discipline and punishment, as opposed to relying on the whims of individual captains and masters. It was read aloud by the captain to the entire crew at least one Sunday each month.

ashore, go

Said of a ship running aground, usually accidentally. People disembarking always go "on shore."


Following or behind a ship.


Said of an anchor at the moment of weighing when it is broken out of the bottom by the pull of the cable. Also said of topsails when they are at full hoist and ready for sheeting home.

athwart, athwartships

Across or at right angles to a shipís centerline.


Command to hold, stop, or cease an action.


Of an object, as a shipwreck or shoal, that is not actually below the surface but is nearly submerged so that the waves wash over it.


Relating to an anchor which has just cleared the bottom.

aye, aye

Response to a command or order with a specific legal meaning: That it was (1) heard, (2) understood, and (3) will be carried out. It is not, however, the proper response to a question or a request for information. Also, the proper reply to a hail by the coxwain of a boat to indicate that the boat carries an officer below the rank of captain.


The measure of the arc of the horizon that lies between the pole and the point where the great circle passing through the celestial body cuts the horizon.

azimuth compass

Compass kept or temporarily mounted at the binnacle and fitted with sights (an azimuth ring), allowing the observer to take an accurate visual bearing of a point of land or another vessel.

back [verb]

To trim the sails so that they catch the wind on the back side, temporarily preventing the shipís forward movement without reducing sail.

back and fill [verb]

To use the advantageof the tide when there is insufficient wind.


Board across the sternsheets of a boat to provide support for passengers or for the helmsman.

backsplice [verb]

To prevent a rope from unravelling by making a crown knot with the loose strands and then tucking them back in several times.


Stay running from the stern to the masthead.

back the anchor [verb]

To carry out a small anchor ahead of a larger one in order to support it and prevent it from coming loose.


Tassels of yarn or unraveled line lashed around likely chafe points on sails (such as spreaders) to prevent chafing.

bail [verb]

To remove the inevitable accumulation of water from the bottom of a boat by hand, generally using a bucket (for which "bail" is an old term) or scoop.


Metal ring on a boom, mast, or pole where where blocks or shackles may be attached.


Naval timber, imported from the Baltic in the form of roughly squared beams.


Stones, pig iron, or other material of compact weight stowed low in the ship to improve stability and to adjust fore and aft trim.

banyan day

Day on which no meat is served to the crew as a matter of economy, its place being taken by cheese or locally caught fish.

("long barge")

Two- or three-masted lugger about 70 feet long, in common use by the Spanish and Portuguese and in the Mediterranean generally. Originally a fishing boat, it found naval use as a dispatch boat and shore raider, and as a privateer.

bare poles, under

Of a ship forced by very heavy weather to take in all sail.


Coastal or riverine cargo vessel of shallow draft. A Thames barge is essentially a large rectangular box (generally about 80 feet long) with a bluff bow, straight sides, and a nearly vertical stern to enable it to carry the maximum amount of cargo. She carries an unusually large mainsail with a long sprit attached to the lower corner. With her very shallow draft and flat bottom (the keel being, in effect, on the inside), she can sit securely on the bottom when the tide has gone out, her cargo often being unloaded directly onto horse-drawn carts on the sand. Also, the private conveyance of an admiral.


Weavils inhabiting shipís biscuit.


Affectionate term for a ship, most often used by a crewman in reference to his own ship.

barque (Amer., bark)

Originally used of nondescript vessels which did not fit any of the standard types. Later, a seagoing vessel of three masts, square-rigged on the fore- and mainmasts and fore-and-aft rigged on the mizzenmast. Not fast, especially before the wind, but requiring a smaller crew than a ship; a classic slow-cargo vessel. Merchant barques might have four or more masts, all square-rigged except the mizzen.

barquentine (Amer., barkentine)

Seagoing vessel of three masts, square-rigged on the foremast, fore-and-aft rigged on the main- and mizzenmasts; a compromise between a barque and a ship, though faster than a barque or a schooner. A merchant barquentine might have four or more masts, only the foremast being square-rigged and the others fore-and-aft.


Rail across the forward part of the quarterdeck. Before going into action, the spaces between its supporting posts were filled with rope mats and nettings as protection for those whose action station was on the quarterdeck.


Nickname for the 48-pounder long gun, from the snakes and dragons usually sculpted on it in place of the dolphins more commonly depicted on guns of smaller caliber.

batten [verb]

To nail down canvas edged with wooden battens over a shipís hatchcovers in preparation for violent weather.


Broadside guns mounted on one side of a ship possessing a single gundeck, or those mounted on one side on one deck, if there are two or three gundecks.


The space between decks forward of the bitts, usually spoken of as the starboard bay and the larboard bay.


Originally, a trained seaman who hung around ports and harbors, existing on the charity of others, rather than working. Later broadened to mean any waterfront loafer who avoided work, especially in the Pacific islands.


Of a naval officer restricted to shore duty, as through illness or recovery from injury.


A prominent and artificial construction on shore indicating a safe line of approach to a harbor or safe passage clear of an obstruction. More narrowly, a prominently marked stake placed as a warning above a shoal or sandbank.


Protruding section of the foremost section of the bows, immediately forward of the forecastle and open to the sea (though often decked with gratings), serving as a platform for crewmen working the spritsails or serving the chase guns, and also as the location of the crewís heads.


Widest tranverse dimension of a ship; the direction at right angles to a shipís centerline, Also, a deck-supporting transverse timber.

beam ends, on

Listing at a sharp angle; in danger of capsizing.


Single-masted Portuguese fishing boat with a sharply curved stem and a very large lateen rig extending the whole length of the boat, which made it very weatherly. Most often employed close inshore and in river estuaries.


To lie in a particular direction or bearing.

bear away, bear down, bear up [verb]

To turn downwind.

beat, beat up [verb]

To work a ship to windward through successive tacks.

becalm [verb]

To blanket a ship by cutting off the wind, by proximity either of the shore or of another vessel.


Short length of rope or line with an eye splice worked into one end and a stopper knot at the other, used to bundle items together in stowage. Also, rope loops spliced to the jackstays on the yards, through which seamen furling sails could slip their arms to keep both hands free.


Metal ring or hoop.

bees of the bowsprit

Pieces of wood attached to the outer end of the bowsprit through which are rove the foretopmast stays before they are brought in to the bows and secured.


Heavy mallet used to drive a reeming iron into the seam between deck planks, to open it for caulking.


In front of, ahead of.

before the mast

Relating to the forecastle or the area before the foremast; therefore, relating to the crew, whose living quarters were in the forecastle, rather than to the officers of a ship.

belay [verb]

To make a line fast to a cleat, belaying pin, or other fitting. Also, an instruction to cancel or ignore the previous order or instruction.

belaying pin

One of a series of metal or strong wooden bars held in a fife rail, to which running rigging might be made fast.


Ornamental framework with a covering or top under which the shipís bell is hung, often atop the windlass.

bend, hitch

Generic name for any knot used to join two ropes or hawsers together, or to connect a line to a spar. Also, to form such a knot.

bent on a splice

Sailorís cant for engagement to be married (a splice being the joining together of two ropes).xxx


A shipís assigned moorage in an anchorage. By extension, the place aboard ship where one is assigned to sling a hammock.


Curved section, slack part, or loop in a rope or cable. By extension, an indention in a coastline.

bilander, billander

Small, two-masted merchant vessel most commonly seen in the Mediterranean, though occasionally also in the North Sea. The mainmast was lateen-rigged but the foremast carried square-rigged main and topsails.


Long metal bars onto which iron leg shackles could be slid, with a padlock fastened at one end. Used both as punishmen for crew members (especially drunken men) or to secure prisoners.


Lower angle of a shipís hull, between the side and the bottom; the area where water collects and from which it is pumped out.

bilged on her anchor

Of a vessel that has run up on her own anchor so that the anchor cable runs under the hull.


Point of the fluke of an anchor.

bill of health

Certificate from a consul or other recognized port authority certifying that a ship comes from a place where there is no contagious disease, and that none of its crew, on departure, was infected with such a disease.

billy-boat, billy-boy

Bluff-bowed general trading vessel in common use on the east Yorkshire coast; originally single-masted with a trysail, it evolved into a ketch rig.

binge [verb]

To "bull out" or rinse out an empty cask to prepare it for reuse.


Protective enclosure for the shipís compass, with its correctors and lights, located immediately before the wheel. Also the storage place for the traverse board, log lines, 28-second glass, and any charts in actual use. Formerly bittacle.

binnacle list

A shipís sicklist. The list of men judged unfit to report for duty was provided by the surgeon to the officer of the watch and was kept at the binnacle for reference.


Primarily, a frame composed of two strong posts of straight oak timber, fixed upright in the fore part of the ship and bolted to the deck, to which ropes and cables are fastened when the ship is at anchor. Smaller bitts are secured in other parts of the ship for quickly securing running rigging.

bitter end

Since an anchor cable is fastened to the bitts, when the cable has been entirely payed out, the "bitter end" has been reached.

bitt stopper

Length of rope used to bind the cable more securely to the bitts to prevent it from slipping.


Originally, engaging in the slave trade. Later, the practice of kidnapping South Sea islanders (Kanakas) for sale to cotton and sugar plantations in Queensland — a trade which did not die out until the beginning of the 20th century.

black down [verb]

To tar a shipís rigging or sides. The best mixture was said to be coal tar and vegetable tar boiled together with sea water and laid on hot.

black ship

Ship built in India of teak rather than oak.

black squall

Sudden, violent West Indies squall accompanied by a great deal of lightning and other electrical activity.


Daily allowance of rough red wine issued to the crew in place of beer in the Mediterranean, one pint of wine being considered equal to one gallon of small beer.

"blackís the white of my eye"

Seamanís indignant rebuttal of a charge of misconduct; all he has just said is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

blackstrapped [verb]

To be sent to the Mediterranean; probably from Blackstrap Bay, on the eastern side of Europa Point, Gibraltar, where a ship becalmed as she entered the Straits was likely to be trapped until the arrival of a fair wind.

bleed the monkey [verb]

To illicitly drink grog from the  monkey  while carrying it back to the mess.

blind buckler

Circular wooden lid or plug (similar in size and shape to a medieval knightís shield, or buckler) fastened securely over a hawsehole to prevent water from entering.


Pulley for gaining mechanical advantage on a rope, ordinarily with a single sheave (single block) or with two sheaves (double block).


A declaration published by a belligerent power forbidding seaborne trade with an enemy; universally admitted to be a belligerent right to which neutral countries are bound to submit. In maritime use, virtually synonymous with investment — patrolling off an enemy port to prevent all movement either in or out.

blowing the grampus

Waking a seaman asleep on watch by throwing a bucket of cold water over him.

blue light, Bengal light

Pyrotechnical device for making signals at night.

Blue Peter

White and blue signal flag (for the letter "P") hoisted at the foremast truck of a ship about to sail; a warning to any crew still ashore to return aboard.

blue pigeon

The sounding lead.


Distance run on each tack in a series; long board or short board, according to the distance run.


Member of the crew in the armed party designated to board an enemy ship in battle, usually four men from each gunís crew. After capturing an enemy ship, their duties were to man the pumps, repair the rigging, trim the sails, and generally make the new prize as seaworthy as possible.

boat hook

Long, sturdy pole with a blunt hook at one end, used to catch a thrown line when coming alongside a pier, to facilitate putting a line over a piling, to recover something dropped overboard, and to push the boat off or to fend something off from the boat.


One man left behind in a visiting boat attached to a ship by its painter to look after it while the rest of the boatís complement is aboard the vessel, and to hold it steady when they reembark.

boatswain, bosun, bosín

Warrant officer and standing officer responsible for sails, rigging, boats, and ground tackle, and also (with his mates) for supervision of all activity on deck and for maintenance of order aboard ship. Despite his title, the shipís boats generally were not part of his jurisdiction. Qualification was at least one year as a petty officer. Flogging was carried out by a boatswainís mate.

boatswainís call (not "pipe")

Whistle of ancient design capable of a variety of shrill tones, the coded pitch, pattern, duration, and cadence of which relays orders and commands. A gold call set with jewelís was the personal badge of office of the Lord High Admiral.

boatswainís chair, bosunís chair

Canvas or wooden seat attached to a halyard by which it may be raised and lowered, used by crewmen working on the mast and yards.


Stay that pulls downward on the bowsprit, balancing the effect of the forestay; usually of chain to eliminate stretching.


Large, solid post of a wharf or on the deck of a ship to which mooring lines are secured.

bolt rope

Rope which was sewn around the edges of a sail to keep it from fraying.

Bombay runner

Large cockroach.

booby hatch

Sliding hatch or cover.

bomb, bomb vessel

Warship, often a ketch, specifically designed or altered to carry one or two heavy mortars for shore bombardment. Always exceptionally strongly built to absorb the recoil of the mortars. Originally designed by the French for use in the bombardment of Algiers.


White feather of water under the bow of a ship under way. A ship moving fast through the water and throwing up an appreciable feather is said to have a bone in its mouth, in its teeth.


Strip of additional canvas laced to the foot of a sail to increase its area.


Light running spar, especially one that extends the foot of a sail. Also, a floating barrier that prevents vessels from entering a harbor.


Spar extending from the stern of a vessel; a stern-sprit.


A Royal Marine.


In law, anything above the main deck in a prize ship that could be picked up by hand; such items were shared out among the victors at once. The practice was much abused and was abolished at the end of the Napoleonic wars.


Premium paid to volunteer enlistees (£70 in 1797 — five yearsí wages for an ordinary seaman). Merchant crews were allowed to voluneteer to avoid inevitable impressment when their ship was detained by a warship. Bounty-jumpers would volunteer, collect the bounty, then desert at the first opportunity, often to enlist again under a different name and at a different port.


Violent easterly squall common in the upper part of the Adriatic; caused by winds off the alps.


Rapid incoming tidal flow in certain rivers and estuaries which is so voluminous it forms a wave. Caused either by the meeting of two tides, resulting in a rapid rise, or by a tide rushing up a narrowing estuary where the closeness of the banks or a shelving bottom forces the level to rise rapidly to accommodate the amount water coming in.


Admonition or reproof, from the old saying, "a dose from the the foretopmanís bottle," which was a purgative administered for unexplained illness.

bottomry, bummaree

Mortgage on a ship executed by a master who could not contact the owners, in order to raise money for repairs needed to complete a voyage. Money raised by bottomry could be used only for the purpose stated and was primarily for getting a ship back to its port of registry. A bottomry bond took priority over all other mortgages, but if the ship was lost at sea before the voyage was completed the lender lost his bond.


Premium paid to volunteer enlistees — £70 in 1797 for an Able Seaman, which was five yearsí wages. Additional bounty might be paid by a municipality to encourage local recruitment so the city could meet its quota. (In 1795, the City of London offered a supplementary bounty of ten guineas for an Able Seaman.) Merchant crews were allowed to voluneteer to avoid inevitable impressment when their ship was detained by a warship. Bounty-takers were scorned by professional navy men as "not real seamen.&wuot; Bounty-jumpers would volunteer, collect the bounty, then desert at the first opportunity, often to enlist again under a different name and at a different port.


Either side of the foremost part of a shipís hull, where it widens from the stem.

bow, on the

Direction between straight ahead and abeam; on either forward quarter.

bower anchors

Two largest anchors in a ship. The best bower, was carried on the starboard bow, the small bower on the larboard, though they were actually the same size. They usually were kept permanently atteched to their cables, ready for use in an emergency.


Old rope draped over the bow of a vessel in an ice-filled tideway in order to protect the bow timbers from damage by drift ice.


A knot (with many variants) which forms a loop or eye at the end of a line. Also, a rope holding the forward edge of a sail taut and steady when sailing close to the wind. Sailing on a bowline means as close to the wind as possible.

bowse [verb] (pronounced "bowce")

To pull or hoist with a tackle to make a line more taut.

bowsprit [pronounced "boh-sprit," with a long "o"]

Spar projecting over the bows and held in place by shrouds as a fastening point for staying the foretopmast, and from which the jibs are set. A running bowsprit on smaller, cutter-rigged vessels could be run inboard.


Method of tacking when room is limited or in severe weather, when an attempt to tack has failed, leaving the vessel in irons. It involves allowing the ship to make sternway, shivering the mizzen sails to turn the ship, then squaring the foresails to take the wind on the new tack, all while avoiding large, sweeping movements.

box the compass

To know and be able to recite in order the points and quarter-points of the compass from north through south and back to north again, both clockwise and counterclockwise.


Line used to rotate a yard around its mast, rove to the outer ends of the yards and led to the deck as far aft as possible, to enable the ship to make the most of the wind.

brace of shakes

A moment of time measured by the shaking of a sail as a ship comes into the wind.


Small, shaped timber used in shipbuilding to connect two parts of a ship.


Line or tackle that hauls a sail up against its yard or spar to allow it to be secured (brailed up).


The handle or lever by which a shipís pump is worked.


Certificate or diploma given by Trinity House to a pilot qualified to navigate a ship in British waters. A full branch qualified him to navigate with no restrictions, including in the Channel and on all parts of the coast. A qualified branch allowed him to navigate only in those waters specified in the branch.


Officer apprentice in a merchant shipping line, from the thin band of gold lace on his cap. Civilian equivalent of a midshipman.


Complex of ropes that absorb a gunís recoil and allow it to be hauled back into firing position.

bread barge

Tub-shaped wooden container with a lid in which the messís bread (biscuit) is kept. It served also as a symbol of the mess and was often artistically carved and painted with the messís number.

bread-room jack

Purserís assistant responsible for issuing the daily ration of shipís biscuit to the messes.


The change in height of a non-flush deck from one part of the deck to another, as the break of the poop.


Cask kept permanently in a shipís boats for the stowage of drinking water in case the ship must be suddenly abandoned. Also, a wave breaking over rocks or

breaking ground

The act of raising an anchor so that it loses contact with the

break sheer

Said of a ship forced by wind or current to swing across its own anchor, to risk fouling its cable.


Low bulkhead across the forecastle deck that diverts water breaking over the bows into the scuppers, to be drained overboard.


The dangerous process of careening a ship and then burning the seaweed and barnacles off its bottom, before the introduction of copper sheathing.

breast-work, breast rail

A row of stanchions and rails fitted on the upper deck of a ship lacking a quarterdeck, in order to provide a separation from the main deck.


Thick rope securing a gun to ringbolts in the shipís side to absorb recoil.


Length of rope or chain secured at both ends to a spar, to which a purchase can be attached, in order to improve balance when raising awkward objects.


Seagoing vessel of two masts, square-rigged on both. Derived from brigantine, which later came to describe a different rigging plan.


Seagoing vessel of two masts, square-rigged on the foremast and fore-and-aft rigged on the mainmast. Possibly derived from "brigand," referring to pirates.


Two-masted sloop under authority of a master and commander.


Metal fixtures aboard ship capable of taking a polish and therefore required to be kept brightly polished. Also, woodwork kept scraped and scrubbed, especially topside.

bring to [verb]

To bring a ship to a halt with its sails still set, usually by backing sails; heave to.

bring up [verb]

To bring a ship to an anchor or mooring.


Of a square-rigged vessel that loses control and is forced into a sudden, sharp change in direction, making it heel heavily and possibly to founder, or at least to be dismasted. Usually the result of setting too much sail in a strong wind, or when the sails themselves become unstable.

broad pennant

Swallow-tailed pennant flown from the masthead to denote a commodore aboard.


The guns mounted or bearing on all gundecks on one side of a ship. Also, the total weight of shot fired at one time by all the shipís guns on one side.

Brodie stove

Large iron cookstove patented in 1781 by Alexander Brodie and supplied to the Royal Navy. It included two copper boiling kettles of 125-gallon capacity each, two baking ovens able to bake 80 pounds of bread at a time, and two chain-driven roasting spits. The firebox, enclosed for fire safety, took coal or wood.


Of an officer deprived of his commission by a court martial and dismissed the service.

Builders Old Measurement

Revised method of measuring a vesselís tonnage, adopted in 1773 by Act of Parliament, and more accurate than the "burthen" method which it replaced.


Bilge. Also, a ship was said to have been "bulged" when her bottom was holed.


Non-loadbearing vertical partition, usually removable, below decks, constructed either fore-and-aft or athwartships. (In modern ships, it has the opposite meaning, referring to a watertight, load-bearing wall with the purpose of dividing the hull into separate compartments.)


A Royal Marine.

bull rope

Line used to hoist the topmast or topgallant mast.


Section of thick glass set into and flush with the deck to allow light to penetrate below decks, especially into the captainís cabin.

bully beef

Salt beef from which the cook has boiled away all the fat for later sale (his perquisite). From the French boeuf bouilli.


Barrier around the side of the weather deck formed by an extension of the shipís side.


Privately-owned small boat selling goods, especially vegetables and other foodstuffs, to a larger vessel, especially in harbor.


Short boom projecting forward on either side of the bows, with a block fixed to the outer end, to extend the clew of the foresail to windward.


A married sailor, from the bundle of provisions, purchased at a special cheap naval rate, which he carried ashore to his family.


Middle section of a square sail, especially a topsail, which is cut fuller to form a "belly."


Topman working in the center of the yard who gathers in the bunt when furling the sail.


Thin cloth of woven wool from which colored signal flags were made. It was thin and lightweight but tough and resisted fraying.


Ropes hanging vertically down a square sail which furl the sail horizontally up towards the yard.

buss, herring buss

Small vessel (50–70 tons) with three short masts, each with a single square sail (but sometimes a topsail as well); used by the English and Dutch in the North Sea herring fisheries.


Fixed floating marker or device, usually of specified shape and color, used as an aid in navigation.


A broad, tapering pennant, usually with a swallow-tail.


Seamanís porridge or gruel of boiled oatmeal seasoned with salt, sugar, and butter. It had the advantage of being easy to prepare in the galley during rough weather.


Measurement of a vesselís tonnage or carrying capacity, originally measured in the number of tuns of wine it could carry in its hold. Replaced in 1773 by the Builders Old Measurement system, established by Act of Parliament.


Small tackle consisting of two blocks or pulleys, used to tighten the topmast shrouds.


Dutch fishing vessel, especially for herring, broad in the beam, with two or sometimes three masts and a single square sail on each. Eventually replaced by the ketch, which had a handier rig.

butcherís bill

Gallows humor referring to the first lieutenantís or surgeonís report of casualties after action with the enemy.

buttock lines

Longitudinal sections of a shipís hull parallel to the centerline.

by and large

Of a ship, handling well in all situations ("by" refers to sailing into the wind, "large" to sailing with the wind).

by the board

Of a mast snapped off close to the deck (the "board") in a storm.

by the head, by the stern

Said of a vessel that draws more than its normal depth of water forward or aft, respectively. A result of faulty trimming of the ballast or improperly stowed cargo, or possibly a leak.


Large rope or hawser with a circumference of ten inches or more, especially the anchor cable. Also, the distance of one hundred fathoms (600 feet), or one-tenth of a nautical mile, the standard length of an anchor cable. (In the U.S. Navy, 120 fathoms.)


French term for the coastal trade.

calashee watch

Watch stood on deck by all hands when tacking in narrow waters or in a particularly heavy sea.


Anti-personnel shot consisting of musket balls packed in a tin container; smaller than grape.

cant [verb]

The operation of turning a shipís head to starboard or larboard, as when weighing anchor or to avoid nearby shipping hazzards.


Heavy cloth woven originally from hemp from which sails were manufactured, as well as awnings and sailorís clothing. Under canvas refers to a ship under sail.


Wooden block at the top of a mast through which a higher mast is fitted; once the higher mast is in place, it is secured with a fid or with lashings.

Cape Horn fever

Common imaginary illness from which a malingering crew member claims to suffer.

capital ship

The most powerful type of a navyís ships of the line.

capsize [verb]

Of a ship or boat, to list or roll so far over on the beam the keel is exposed; in a larger vessel, this would often result in sinking. Generally implies natural causes, such as very high winds or heavy seas, rather than human error, such as improper stowage of cargo.


Large vertical winch consisting of a revolving drum turned by a number of men by extended bars inserted in its rim, used to raise and lower heavy cables, especially the anchor cable. In smaller vessels, its functions were filled by a windlass.


Form of address granted the commanding officer, regardless of naval rank, of any ship or vessel, armed or otherwise, and regardless of size. By extension, also the title of an enlisted rating in charge of a party of crewmen engaged in particular duties, e.g., captain of the hold or captain of the maintop.

captainís servant

Official designation of a boy entering the Royal Navy who was too young (under 12 years) to be a midshipman. He lived in the gunroom under supervision of the gunner and, as he was an aspiring officer, he did no menial servantís work. He was regarded as a personal follower of the captain, taken on board to oblige relatives or friends. The title was changed to 1796 to "volunteer, first class."

Captain of the Port

Naval officer with the rank of captain responsible for day-to-day operations of a naval dockyard under authority of the Admiral-Superintendent, who deputy he was.

caravel, carvel

Originally a Portuguese fishing vessel, by the 14th century it had become an oceangoing vessel, lateen-rigged on two or three masts, its design based on the Arab dhow. Easy to handle, fast, agile, of shallow draft (therefore capable of sailing up rivers) and capable of beating to windward, it was further developed under direction of Henry the Navigator (80 feet or more in length, with the foremast and mainmast now being square-rigged) and was much used on exploratory voyages in the Age of Discovery.


Ship-to-ship weapon consisting of a hollow iron shell filled with an incendiary mixture (including saltpetre, antimony, and sulphur) that vented through openings in the shell. It was meant to set fire to sails and rigging but was never very successful.

careen [verb]

To heave a ship down, usually on a steeply shelving beach (in the absence of a drydock), in order to clean or repair an area ordinarily below the waterline. Such a beach was known as a careenage.

carline, carling

One of the pieces of squared timber fitted fore and aft between a shipís deck beams to provide support for the planking.


Warrant officer and standing officer responsible for the care and maintenance of the masts and yards, inspection of the hull, repair of damage to the body of the ship in action, and creation of nearly all items of furniture aboard. Qualification was completion of appenticeship under a shipwright and six months as a carpenterís mate.

carrack (French, caravelle, nef)

Portuguese 14th to 17th century oceangoing trading vessel of three masts, square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast and lateen-rigged on the mizzen (i.e., similar to a caravel). Intended mostly for use in the Atlantic because it was stable in heavy seas but also used in the India and China trade. It had not only a forecastle and bowsprit but an aftercastle on a high, rounded stern. Superseded by the galleon.

carriage gun

Shipís gun mounted on a wheeled carriage, as opposed to a carronade.


Type of short-barreled gun of heavy caliber but using a relatively light charge and therefore of short range, mounted on a slide instead of a carriage. Favored on small vessels of the later period because of the implicit increase in firepower without the necessity of changing the vessel's structure, it became standard as auxiliary armament in the Royal Navy in 1799, where it became known as the "smasher." Manufactured by the Carron Iron Founding & Shipping Company of Scotland.

carry [verb]

To capture an enemy ship by coming alongside and taking possession of it by means of a boarding party.

carry away [verb]

Said of the sudden, violent breaking or parting of masts, yards, or heavy ropes.


Ship commissioned during wartime to exchange and transport prisoners between two hostile powers; it flew a white flag and also acted as a neutral messenger in conveying proposals between two powers at war. Shipís boats sometimes acted as cartels between beligerents before or after a battle.


Shaped cloth bag containing the powder charge for a gun.


Of a vessel whose side planks are flush, the edges caulked to provide a smooth finish, as opposed to clinker-built.

case shot

Similar to cannister, the payload consisting of forty-two four-ounce balls.


In law, a shipwrecked sailor, as opposed to one who has been deliberately marooned or put ashore.

cast [verb]

To bring a shipís bows to the required tack just as the anchor is being weighed and has parted from the bottom. If there is insufficient wind, this maneuver may be accomplished by the force of a running tide.

cast off [verb]

To let go the cable or rope securing a vessel to a buoy, wharf, or another ship, so that it may depart the vicinity.


Strongly-built bulk-carrier vessel (400–600 tons) with a narrow stern, projecting quarters, and a deep waist; used throughout northern Europe (especially as colliers in England).

cat [verb]

To raise an anchor by means of tackle to the cathead, in preparation for securing it for sea.


Simple single-masted sailboat originating on Cape Cod, with a single sail, usually gaff-rigged. The gaff slides down the mast, preventing the mast from being braced with stays. Because of its shallow draft and beaminess, it has a large rudder and large, weighted centerboard. Originally a fishing boat but also popular as a small recreational craft.

catharpins, catharpings

Short ropes attached to the futtock shrouds, used to brace in the shouds more tightly and thereby provide more room to brace the yards at a sharper angle.


Beam extending from the hull forward on each side, to which an anchor is secured while at sea.


Two small holes in the stern of a warship, and at the level of the capstan, through which a hawser could be led to the capstan when it was necessary to heave a ship astern.

cat oí nine tails

Short whip made of nine lengths of cord, each about eighteen inches long and with three knots in each length, used for flogging crewmen as punishment. It was traditionally kept in a baize bag (usually red) when not in use and was wielded by a bosunís mate. There is a myth that a cat was manufactured anew for each flogging but this was demonstrably not the case. Theoretically, it was not to be used except in the captainís presence.


Ruffle on the water indicating a breath of wind during a calm.


Elevated fore-and-aft passageway along each side of a ship connecting the forecastle and the poop.

caulk [verb]

To make seams of the deck and sides watertight by driving in oakum and pitch.

center of effort

The point in the sail plan of a ship through which the resultant vector of all wind forces is said to act. This is not the same as the geometric center since the sails are not flat and the center of effort changes with each trimming of the sheets.

chain locker

Storage space, typically in the bows before the foremost bulkhead, where the anchor chain is gathered while the anchor is catted and fished at sea.

chain plate

Strip of iron fixed to the shipís side below the chain-wale, to which the standing rigging is secured by deadeyes. (So called because the deadeyes originally were attached to lengths of chain attached directly to the side.)

chain shot

Hollow shot constructed in two sections linked by a length of chain, which elongates and spins rapidly when fired; designed to damage rigging and to clear the enemyís upper deck of personnel.


Small platform on the side of a ship from which the leadsman takes soundings. (So called because he originally stood between the shrouds attached to the chain plates.)

chain-wale, channel

Broad, thick plank extending horizontally outboard on each side of a ship abreast each mast, which extends the base for the shrouds supporting the mast.

Channel fever

Popular name for excitement among the crew as the ship approached England, with the prospect of liberty and reunions with family.

chapelled, building a chapel

Said of a ship in a light of shifting wind that turns completely around, returning to the same tack as before. Sometimes caused by the helmsmanís inattention.


Grooves formed in a "made" mast (i.e., built up from several pieces of timber) where the sections are fastened together.

charley noble

Portable or removeable chimney intended to take the smoke of the galley fire above deck; also applied to chimneys from the captainís cabin and the wardroom.


Map of a body of water intended primarily for navigation and plotting courses.


Contract for the employment of a merchant vessel.


The pursuit of one ship by another. Also, the ship being pursued.

chase, general

Order to a squadron to pursue a beaten enemy without regard to previous order in line.

chase guns, chasers

A pair (later, two pair) of guns mounted at the bow and/or the stern (bow chasers on the forecastle, stern chasers on the poop) of a vessel for use in a chase. Usually lighter but longer than a broadside gun, of longer range and theoretically more accurate, and generally made of brass rather than iron.

Chatham Chest

Benevolent fund established in 1590 by (among others) Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins, to which all Royal Navy seamen contributed sixpence per month from their pay for the benefit of the widows of those killed in action. Thefts from its funds (housed at Chatham Dockyard) were common by those in the government. The Chest was combined with the treasury of Greenwich Royal Hospital in 1814.


To do something heartily, cheerfully, and quickly. The opposite of handsomely.

check [verb]

To ease away slowly, as with the purchase on a sheet or sail. Also, to bring a ship to a stop as by letting go the anchor or making fast to a wharf.


Wooden blocks at the sides of a spar or block. Also, the sides of a gun carriage and the two sides of a block.

cheese down

To flake down the tail of a rope on deck in a tight, flat spiral. Its appearance was known as a cheese or Flemish coil. Not used if the rope is to be rendered quickly through a block as it might kink.


Two timbers abaft the bow with holes in them through which the bowlines were led with which the main tacks were hauled down, in order to give the crew a clear haul.


Wooden or metal device, typically with "horns" paralleling the deck, to which ropes and lines may be secured.

chinch [verb]

Pressing oakum into a seam between planks with a chisel temporarily until the seam can be properly caulked.


Referring to a reletively steep (rather than rounded) vertical angle of a hull.


Lower corner of a sail.


A rope which gathers the clew of a square sail up toward the yard at a pont near the mast.

clew up [verb]

To gather up the lower edge of a sail for furling, by hauling on the clewlines.

clinker-built (Amer., lapstrake)

Relating to a vessel built with planks the edges of which overlap along the sides; the planks are joined end-to-end to form strakes. A narrow, clinker-built vessel will twist or flex longitudinally in heavy seas.

close hauled, on the wind

Sailing as closely trimmed to the wind as possible without being in irons. A fore-and-aft rigged vessel can sail much closer-hauled than a square-rigged vessel.

club haul [verb]

Process by which a vessel makes an abrupt turn by dropping an anchor while in forward motion, then pivoting about the cable when the anchor takes the bottom. Only performed in dire situations (such as acquiring a firing angle at a pursuing enemy) because of the strain on the ship and the danger of losing the anchor.


Separate apartment before the captainís cabin, most often reserved as a dining or sleeping compartment, or as office space, depending on the size of the vessel.


Raised edge of a hatch or skylight that deflects or prevents water from entering.

cock-a-bill, cockbill

Of an anchor hanging vertically by its ring stopper from a cathead, ready for use. Also, of the yards of ship that have been canted to their maximum vertical angles as a public sign of mourning, the yards on each mast being canted in the opposite direction from those adjacent.


Domain of the surgeon during action, where wounds are dressed.


Medieval trading vessel developed in the Baltic, usually of oak, with a single square-rigged mast, a relatively flat bottom, and clinker-built on the sides. Though it could not sail into the wind, it could be handled by a small crew, which reduced costs. Workhorse vessel of the Hanseatic League.

commander, master and commander

Intermediate rank between lieutenant and captain, with command of an unrated vessel (always called a "sloop," regardless of rigging). Technically a temporary appointment; if he lost his command, a commander reverted to the permanent rank of lieutenant. Entitled to wear a single epaulette, on the left shoulder.


Establishment of a warship as an active unit for purposes of command and administration.


Officer with the rank of captain placed in command of a detached squadron and hoisting a broad pennant. A temporary appointment, usually for a specified time or a particular task, and allowing a captain to have command over post captains who were his seniors. He reverted to his permanent rank of captain after completion of the task to which he had been assigned.


The total number of a shipís company as authorized for her size and rate. (Not the same as the actual size of the existing crew.)

con [verb]

To steer or pilot a vessel in confined waters.

Congreve rocket

Unguided missle designed by William Congreve and first used by the Navy at Boulogne in 1806 and notably at Copenhagen in 1807. They were 32 pounds with a range of 2,000–3,000 yards and carried explosive shells, incendiaries, or shrapnel.

Controller of the Navy

Head of the Navy Board and always a senior naval officer.

copper [verb]

To sheath the hull of a ship below the waterline with thin copper plates to prevent infestation by shipworm (which destroy the timbers), attachment of weed (which slows the hullís passage through the water), and deterioration of the hull generally.


French term for a brig-sloop.


Part of the stern of a ship above the waterline, extending beyond the rudder stock and ending in a transom. A long counter increases the length of the waterline when the ship heels over, which increases hull speed.


Direction of a shipís movement, especially her intended, planned, or projected movement. Also, the lowest square sails on a shipís foremast (forecourse) and mainmast (maincourse).


Seamenís decorative knot work, intended to dress up equipment and parts of a ship.

coxswain, cox'n

Petty officer commanding, and acting as steersman in, a captainís gig or admiralís barge. Helmsman of any boat, regardless of size. The coxswain usually is also generally the captainís trusted personal servant.


Gerneral term referring to a variety of small vessels employed in loading and unloading merchant ships, including lighters, hoys, etc.


Said of a ship that is excessively tender.


Rope eye or metal grommet sewn into the corners of a sail, for attaching the sail to a spar.

crojack, crossjack

Square yard that spreads the foot of a topsail when the course below it is not set, especially on the foremast of a topsail schooner.

crossing the line

A shipís passage over the Equator, accompanied by long tradition by boisterous (often quite rough) ceremonies presided over by "King Neptune" and his court, in which all those crossing for the first time were liable to be dunked, lathered with grease, shaved with a barrel stave, and other indignities. Officers and certain others generally were allowed to pay fines in lieu of physical initiation.


Not a type of ship, but any warship on detached operations, especially against enemy merchantmen.


Spiral indentation between strands of a rope or cable

cut and run [verb]

To cut the mooring lines or the anchor cable in order to make a quick escape, which damages rigging or loses an anchor but saves time in the face of imminent danger.


The seamanís archetypal personal weapon, a single-edged cut-and-thrust sword with a 29-inch, slightly curved blade; kept under key in lockers and issued to boarding parties and to repel enemy boarders. Officers carried straight-bladed regulation Navy swords, plain or ornamented, depending on rank.


Small, uniquely English, clinker-built vessel, fore-and-aft rigged on a single mast with a separate topmast, and flying two jibs. Similar to a sloop but easier to manage, though it has more windage. Popular with smugglers and privateers; used especially in the Navy as coastal cruisers, inshore scouts, and dispatch vessels. Also, a shipís boat (generally about 24 feet long), used as a work boat, to convey men from ship to ship, and for coastal surveying. It was optimized for sailing (carrying two masts) but could be rowed single-banked. A frigate usually carried two cutters secured in quarter davits, each with six oars and capable of carrying sixteen men.


Large cutter converted to brig-rig for easier sail-handling.

cutting-out expedition

A favored Royal Navy tactic, dating from Elizabethan times, in which a single vessel, usually a frigate, would send its boats to raid inshore, often at night and often under strong defenses, attacking and boarding coastal commerce, enemy privateers, and smaller enemy warships which considered themselves safe.

dayís run

Distance traveled by a vessel in one day, usually from noon to noon.


Flat wooden block, usually with three holes, spliced to a shroud, and used to adjust tension in the standing rigging; predecessor of the turnbuckle.

dead Marine

Empty wine bottle, which, like a Marine, "had done its duty without question and was ready to do it again." Attributed to King William IV.

dead reckoning

Estimation of a shipís position without benefit of observations, based on course, speed, and drift from a known beginning position.


Below decks, the underside of the deck overhead.


In law, property abandoned at sea with no hope of recovery, including vessels and cargo.


Single-masted, lateen-rigged oceangoing merchant vessel, similar to a felucca but much larger. Very common in the western Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Probably the design basis of the Portuguese caravel.


Short sword (26 in. long) carried by midshipmen, and shaped like a broad-bladed dagger.

disrate [verb]

To demote a crewman by reducing his rank or rating.

dog watch

A two-hour interval, ordinarily in the late afternoon, in the system of watches, which otherwise are four hours long; the effect is to rotate the duty watches during periods of day and night in the interest of fairness. If there are only two watches, both are also thereby able to eat their evening meal at about the same time each day.


Corks with small feathers stuck in them dangling from short lines near the helm, intended to react quickly to even the lightest breezes, for the benefit of the helmsman. Also telltale.


The equatorial zone, notorious for its light and highly variable winds.


Small vertical spar depending from the underside of the bowsprit and providing tension to the martingale.

double, double on [verb]

To attack a ship or squadron from both sides.

draught (Amer., draft)

Distance from the waterline to the bottom of the keel; depth of water necessary to float a given ship.

draw [verb]

To haul. Of a sail, to be filled with wind, to pull. Of a ship, to require a specified depth of water to float.

dress down [verb]

To renew old, worn sails by treating them with oil or wax. By extension, to deliver a verbal reprimand.

dress ship [verb]

To hoist signal flags from all available stays as a colorful display in honor of a visitor or special event.


A specialized form of navigation using knowledge of tides alone, generally disregarding the effects of currents.


Gaff sail mounted on the mizzenmast of a ship or the mainmast of a brig.

drown the miller [verb]

When making grog, to add more water to the run than proper, with the goal of private profit.


A crewmanís personal baggage, usually stowed in a bag. Also, small pieces of scrap wood.


Small line securing an upper corner of a course to its yard. The weather earing on the topmast was considered a place of honor for the topmen.

easting (or westing)

Distance covered or made good by a ship to the eastward (or westward).

easy sail

Reduced sail area, to lower a shipís speed.


Situation in which a vessel is trapped between two headlands or capes by a wind blowing directly onshore.

en flûte

Of a Naval ship serving as a partly armed transport with its main battery struck into the hold. A frigate so modified could carry an active-strength battalion of 600 men.

en flûte

Of a Naval ship serving as a partly-armed transport with its main battery struck into the hold. A frigate so modified could carry an active-strength battalion of 600 men.

ensign (also colors)

Flag flown to indicate a shipís nationality.


Administrative scheme setting forth the number of guns, dimensions, etc., of the ships of the Royal Navy.


Metal grommet set into a sail. Also, a metal fitting incorporated into a splice.


Of a rope that has a clear run. Also, to make something flush to a surface.


Hauling part of a purchase, part of the running rigging that leads down to the deck.

fall off [verb]

To point a vessel so its direction of sailing is more downwind, by bringing the bow to leeward. Opposite of "heading up."


Six feet, a basic unit of distance at sea; derived from the approximate distance between the fingertips of a manís outstretched arms.

fearnought screens

Security "maze" formed of sheets of heavy, blanket-like material hung about the magazine and doused with water to prevent the flash from an accidental explosion, or sparks during battle, from entering the magazine.


Small vessel in the eastern Mediterranean, used especially as a fishing boat and coastal trader, of one, two, or (later) three masts, all lateen-rigged, as well as 10–16 pairs of oars. As a privateer, it might carry two two-pounders and up to two dozen swivel guns. Also used along the Italian coast, where it was called a bragana or silena.


Protective bumper made of woven or plaited rope hung over the side of a vessel to keep it from banging against a dock or another vessel.


Distance across water that a wind or the waves have traveled. Also, to reach a given mark without having had to tack.


Tapered wooden awl-like tool used to separate strands of a rope for splicing. Also, a bar used to fix an upper mast in place.

figgy dowdy

Common shipboard dessert similar to plumb pudding, made of shipís biscuit pounded into fragments, with pork fat, rum and currants and other dried fruit added, the whole thing then boiled.

Fighting Instructions

Standing orders and list of instructions from an admiral to the captains in his fleet explaining his interpretation of doctrine and the meaning of particular signals made during battle.


To brace a yard so that the sail will catch the wind on its after side.

fill away, fill and stand on [verb]

To brace the yards so that sails that have been aback will fill with wind; to proceed on a tack after being hove to or halted facking into the wind.


Small expendable ship, generally a ship-sloop, filled with combustibles, sailed by a small crew toward enemy ships, then set ablaze and abandoned at the last moment in the hope the enemy will be rammed and catch fire. The Admiralty distinguished the "fire vessel," which was smaller than a purpose-built fireship, lacked armament, and was a purchased and adapted merchant vessel. Last used in the assault at Basque Roads, 1809.

fire shot

Hollow shot filled with incendiary material.

first lieutenant

Senior lieutenant aboard a warship, reponsible to the captain for the domestic affairs and concerns of the crew; executive officer, second-in-command.

First Lord of the Admiralty

Senior member of the Admiralty Board, which supervised all naval affairs; he was usually a civilian (though occasionally an admiral), a member of the Cabinet, and lived in apartments on the premises in Whitehall.

first luff

First lieutenant.

fish [verb]

To secure an anchor to the cathead while at sea. Also, to repair a split mast or spar with wooden fillets acting as splints.

flag captain

Captain of an admiralís flagship.

flag, shifting oneís

Of an admiral, moving his center of operations from one ship to another, for whatever reason or necessity.


Headquarters vessel of an admiral, flying his distinguishing flag of rank.


Outward curvature of the topsides toward the gunwale.

floating battery

Hulk or stationary raft mounting heavy guns.


To whip with a cat oí nine tails, as punishment. Not regarded as especially severe, in a society where one could be hanged for theft of a loaf of bread. More practical aboard ship than imprisonment, flogging was quickly over with and the punished man returned to duty. The number of strokes theoretically allowed to be dispensed by a shipís captain without order of a court martial was limited to two dozen in the Royal Navy, but this often was ignored. Commissioned and warrant officers could not be flogged, only confined to their quarters and later court martialed. Discontinued by the Royal Navy in the 1860s.

flogging round the fleet

Severe sentence (ordered only by court martial) in which the condemned was bound upright in a boat and rowed from ship to ship, a specified number of strokes being laid on by a bosunís mate from each vessel. Not uncommonly fatal.


Group of small warships.


In law, items floating in the water without deliberately having been cast overboard, as after a shipwreck.

flute, fluyt [pronounced "flight"]

Dutch oceangoing (usually armed) cargo vessel, designed for maximum cargo capacity and crew efficiency, square-rigged on two or three masts with a short lateen-rigged mizzen. Similar to a galleon. The French variation was a supply ship, frigate-rigged, with a very full hull profile and carrying (usually) eighteen guns.

flying jib

Forwardmost jib sail of a square-rigged ship, attached to the end of the bowsprit.


Lower edge of a sail; bottom of a mast.


Horizontal line attached below and parallel to a yard on which topmen may stand while setting or taking in sail.

fore, foreward

Toward or relating to the bow or fore part of a ship.

fore and aft

Type of rigging in which sails of various shapes are bent directly to masts and stays and, in their neutral position, are parallel to the vesselís centerline.


Traditional tune or chantey played or sung to allow the men working the capstan to keep their movements synchronized.

forecastle [pronounced

Deck built over the forward end of the main deck. By tradition, the living quarters of the crew.


Lower part of a vesselís stem.

foremast jack

Seaman of only basic skills whose quarters are before the foremast.


Foremost point of the bow, where the forecastle is located.

"Forty Thieves"

Group of forty 74-gun ships of similar design, constructed 1807–1822, and despised by many naval officers (rather unjustly) for their supposed poor sailing qualities.


Of a rope, tangled, obstructed, not running clear. Of the hull, overgrown with weed and barnacles, in need of cleaning. Of an anchor, caught on an obstruction.

fouled anchor

Quintessential symbol and insignia of the Royal Navy and many other sea services. In use since Tudor times.

founder [verb]

To sink.


Transverse structural member giving shape and strength to the hull.


Height of a vesselís side above the waterline. Sometimes, the height of the gunports above the water.


Portuguese coasting and river craft used to carry bulky cargoes short distances, especially upriver from an oceangoing merchant vessel. Graceful in design and usually brightly painted, often with eyes painted on each side of the bow. The single mast is stepped well forward but raked aft with the masthead being above the cargo hatch, which provides an attachment point for the tackle used to lift cargo up from below. The sails are losse-footed and limited in size.


Warship smaller than a ship of the line (of 28–40 guns by definition, the larger versions being of newer design) and specializing in cruising, mounting all her guns on the main deck. Though differing widely in design and sailing abilties, they were generally much faster and more maneuverable than a ship-of-the-line and were the preferred command of any ambitious post captain. Often called "the eyes of the fleet" for its role in scouting for the main battle-fleet.

full and by

Sailing into the wind (by) but not so close-hauled as might be technically possible, thereby making sure the sails are kept full of the wind. This provides a margin of error to avoid the ship being taken aback by a sudden shift in the wind. By extension, getting on with oneís job in a relaxed and professional way, without undue urgency.

furl [verb]

To gather up a sail to its yard, mast, or stay.


Priming cord similar to slow match but lighter and more exactly manufactured. The best was made with mealed powder, for even consumption. Produced in several types, of which the fastest burned at twenty to thirty seconds per foot and the slowest at one minute per foot.


Sections of timber making up a large transverse frame.