The Old Booksmith

Glossary of Naval & Maritime Terms & Phrases
of the Late 18th & Early 19th Centuries
G — Q


Short spar attached to the masthead by a hinge and supporting a fore-and-aft sail.

gaff rig

Type of fore-and-aft rig in which the sails are quadrangular and supported by gaffs.


Trapezoidal sail suspended from a gaff as the lowest sail on the mizzenmast, which was a more efficient replacement for the earlier lateen mizzen sail, especially in changing tack.


Spanish and Portuguese oceangoing ship (but also built by the English), square-rigged on three or four masts. Evolved from the caravel and carrack, its lower forecastle and elongated hull reduced wind resistance and greatly increased speed and stability. Used both as a cargo vessel (the Manilla Galleon was more than 1,000 tons) and as a purpose-built warship and transport.


Balcony-like walkway built out from the captainís cabin and extending across the width of the stern, often elaborately decorated and enclosed with glass windows.


Small warship or merchantman fitted with sweeps as an alternative form of propulsion when the wind fails. Earlier, a form of warship intended for inshore work and propelled primarily by oars; favored by the Republic of Venice. Also, the cooking area of a ship.


Dutch trading and fishing vessel found in northern European waters, especially in the Baltic. Usually two-masted with a large gaff mainsail and flying main topsail, and with one or two jibs. It also typically shipped a leeboard. Sometimes called a "Dutch galleass."

gammon [verb]

To secure the bowsprit in place by lashing it to the stem of a ship.

gammon iron

Fitting that attaches the bowsprit to the stem of a ship.


Light bridgework connecting the forecastle and the quarterdeck. Also, an opening cut in the bullwark of a ship to allow passengers to board or leave.


Wooden rack near a gun consisting of a plank with holes bored in it, as a holder for shot kept ready to hand.


Rigging and associated equipment.

get the wind [verb]

To gain the weather gage.

ghost [verb]

To sail slowly and smoothly in the apparent absence of any wind.

gibe [verb]

To shift a fore or aft sail to the other tack, hence to wear or turn abruptly.


A four-oared, clinker-built shipís boat, used mostly in harbor; effectively, the captainís personal conveyance, rowed by a select crew and steered by the coxswain.


Of a ship moored straight by her cables to two distant anchors so that she is prevented from swinging or turning.


Standard sand-glass for measuring time aboard ship in units of a half-hour. Also, a telescope.


Swivel fitting that attaches a boom to a mast.


Of a fore-and-aft rigged vessel sailing directly before the wind, with the sails extended on opposite sides to maximize exposure to the wind.


Anti-personnel shot consisting of small multiple shot which spreads upon firing; larger than cannister.

grave [verb]

To clean a shipís bottom.


Small lines used to lash down the shipís boats on deck.


Seamanís watered-down rum ration, invented in 1740 in Jamaica by Admiral Vernon (known as "Old Grogram" from his trademark boatcloak) who attempted to deal with both drunkenness and scurvy by replacing the brandy issue with local rum, diluted 1:4, and mixed with lemon juice and brown sugar. By 1793, the ratio was more often 1:3, served in halves twice a day. The rum ration was not abolished in the Royal Navy until 1970.

guard ship

Warship kept in commission in port in peacetime, as security.


Deck(s) carrying the main battery of guns. Also called the berth deck in a frigate because everyone except the captain messed and slept there.


General term for a shipís cannon, carronades, swivels, and other mounted artillery.

gunboat (French, chaloupes-cannoniere)

Small armed vessel of shallow draft mounting one or two carriage guns, usually at the bow. Usually propelled by oars and frequently used in harbor protection.

gun brig

Larger than a gunboat, designed as a sailing vessel for coastal and convoy defense, though also capable of being rowed with sweeps.


Flintlock firing mechanism for a shipís guns.


Warrant officer and standing officer responsible for care and maintenance of the guns and the making of cartridges and wads. Qualification was four years as a gunnerís mate, one year as a petty officer, and satisfying a mathematical master and three senior gunners of their abilities. His mates were the quarter-gunners, the armorer, and one or two yeoman of the magazine. He messed in the gunroom and looked after the shipís boys until 1805, when he was moved forward with the other standing officers, his place taken by a chaplain with enhanced duties.

gun tackle

Tackle rigged to run out a gun again after firing and reloading.


Upper edge of the hull; originally a strengthened section added to the sides on the gundecks to accommodate the added stresses of a shipís ordnance.


After end of the main deck, below the quarterdeck.


Rope or tackle used to haul up a yard with its sail attached.

hand [verb]

To reef or furl a sail.


To act with a slow, even motion, as hauling on a line.


Wood bar used to provide leverage.


Of a ship, easy to handle; maneuverable.


Area of an otherwise soft or muddy shoreline suitable for mooring or hauling out a boat.

harden up [verb]

To sail closer to the wind.

hardtack, shipís biscuit, pilot bread

Hard, dry biscuit made of flour, water, and salt. Properly stored, it will survive rough handling and temperature extremes and will last for years.

hatch, hatchway

Covered opening in a shipís deck giving access to lower decks and through which cargo may be lowered or unloaded. Technically, the opening is the hatchway, the cover is the hatch.

haul [verb]

To pull on a rope.

haul up, haul wind, head up [verb]

To alter course into the wind; to become close hauled.


Opening in a shipís bow through which the anchor chain passes.


Heavy cable used to moor or tow a vessel.

hawsehole, to come in through [verb]

Of a Royal Navy officer who has come up through the ranks, having previous service as a member of the shipís company.


Foremost part of a shipís hull, projecting foreward of the stem and helping to support the bowsprit. Also the location of the crewís latrine facilities.

head sea

Waves coming from ahead of a vessel.

head wind

Wind coming from directly ahead, making progress on that course impossible.

heave [verb]

Of a ship, to rise and fall on a swell.

heave down [verb]

To careen.

heave to [verb]

To cause a ship to cease forward progress or lie to by backing some of the sails.

heel [verb]

To cause a ship to lean over under wind pressure against the sails.


Position from which a vessel is steered; the wheel.


Skilled seaman steering a ship.

hermaphrodite brig, brig-schooner

Two-masted merchant trading vessel found throughout Europe, square-rigged on the foremast and fore-and-aft rigged on the mainmast. It could be rigged as either a brig (with a boom on the mainmast) or as a snow (with a square mainsail). Also distinguished from a brigantine, which has a square topsail on the mainmast.

hog [verb]

Of a ship, when the peak of a passing wave is directly amidships, causing the ends of the keel to be temporarily lower than the middle.


In a warship, the lowest internal space, below all the decks, used for stowage. In a merchantman, a similar but much larger space for stowing cargo.


Block of abrasive sandstone used to scrub the decks.


Attachment of sheets to a vesselís deck. Also, a thick rope used as a mast on a snow, the fore part of a trysail being attached to it by rings.


Small cargo and passenger vessel, sloop-rigged on (usually) two masts, developed by the Dutch as a coastal trader and adapted by the English for general use in the Thames Estuary, where they were single-masted.


Old ship taken out of active service, dismasted, and moored to serve as a barracks, prison, or receiving ship for pressed men.


Of a ship, when only its upper structure is visible on the horizon.

hull speed

A vesselís maximum efficient speed.


Specialist ratings among the crew (sailmaker, carpenter, etc) who are not required to stand watches.

Impress Service

Permanent organization established in 1793 with press gangs in 51 British and Irish ports, organized into 32 districts, each under a Naval captain. Otherwise, each captain was responsible for finding crewmen for his own ship.

in irons

Sailing too closely into the wind for fore-and-aft sails to generate power, causing the sails to luff and leaving the vessel unable to maneuver.

in soundings

Of a vessel in water shallower than 100 fathoms, where it is possible to take soundings with the lead; i.e., approaching land.

in the offing

In the water as visible from aboard a ship.


Type of warshipís national flag, flown forward from the jackstaff. Also, Jack Tar, a British sailor, especially when dressed in "square rig."

Jack of the Breadroom

In a ship larger than 3rd rate, the purserís mate in charge of shipís biscuit, the most common ration.


In law, items deliberately thrown overboard, often to lighten a ship during an emergency, that subsequently float ashore.


Triangular headsail hoisted on a stay between the foretopmast and the bowsprit.


Spar used to extend the bowsprit and to which the jib is attached.


Royal Marines.

jolly boat

A small cutter, usually the smallest standard type of shipís boat (generally 16-18 feet long), clinker-built, used to ferry personnel and goods to and from the ship, and for other small-scale activities.


Old cordage past its useful life. The strands were picked apart to create oakum.


Anything makeshift as a replacement, temporary or otherwise.

kedge [verb]

To haul off a vessel that has gone aground by putting out an anchor and heaving in on the cable with the capstan.


Timber forming a shipís spine along the bottom of the hull, to which the frames are attached.


Timber immediately above the keel of a ship.


Two-masted fore-and-aft rigged merchant vessel (150-200 tons) in which the mizzen is forward of the rudder and is shorter than the mainmast. May also carry a spinnaker on the mainmast and a staysail on the mizzen. Often confused with a yawl (in which the mizzen is aft of the rudderpost) or a two-masted schooner (in which the forward mast is shorter than the aft mast).


Small anchor. Also, an ordinary seaman promoted to Able Seaman, implying heís capable of the awkward job of clearing afouled anchor.

king plank

Centerline plank of a laid deck.


Wooden right-angled bracket connecting two or more shipís timbers, especially deck beams to frames.


One of the two large timbers or bitts on either side of the stem that support the bowsprit fixed between them.


A rate of speed, one nautical mile per hour (approx. 1.15 land mph); measured by paying out a line from the stern of a moving vessel with a knot tied every 47 feet 3 inches.


Any staircase on a ship.

Lady of the Gunroom

Gunnerís mate in charge of the gunnerís stores.


Unskilled, inexperienced novice sailor (often pressed) whose duties aboard ship were limited to the simplest tasks. He was expected to advance to Ordinary Seaman as quickly as possible.

langridge shot

Anti-personnel shot consisting of scrap iron, nails, etc.; also useful against rigging and in dismasting.


Line used to lace together a pair of triple deadeyes, providing a mechanical advantage, especially to create measured tension in the shrouds.


Relating to the lefthand side of a ship; later replaced by port. (From "lay-board," the gangplank between ship and quay, traditionally on the left side).


To sail with the wind abaft the beam.


Indian seaman serving in a British ship, especially merchantmen of the East India Company, often under more restrictive agreements than those offered to English and other European crew. Because impressment often targeted East Indiamen, large numbers of laskers found their way into the Royal Navy, many of whom ended up as permanent immigrants to Britain.

lask [verb]

To sail large, but not right before the wind. Lasking was also a battle maneuver in which an approaching fleet from windward, rather than bearing down directly on the enemy line and approaching at 90° (leaving the bows of the windward ships exposed), would sail past the enemy before wearing or tacking and then bearing down, which approach would be at a shallower angle, protecting the bows and permitting the windward shipsí guns to bear more quickly.

lateen rig

Consists of a triangular sail suspended from a long yard mounted at a steep vertical angle to the mast, with the foot of the sail made fast to the deck. It dates from Roman times and is common in the eastern Mediterranean and the northwest Indian Ocean; the standard rig of feluccas and dhows, and also of the Portuguese caravel. It is more maneuverable in variable winds than a square rig but poorer at running before the wind.


The second-largest type of shipís boat (generally about 25 feet long), used for general work, for restoring, and as the lead assault boat in a shore action.

lay [verb]

To move about a ship in response to orders, as in "lay aft." Also, to twist rope strands together.Also, to aim a gun.

lay up [verb]

Of a ship, to take out of service; to place on standby status.

laying down

Beginning construction of a vessel in a shipyard.

lead [pronounced "led"]

Weight (about seven pounds) on the end of a line, used to sound the depth of the water. A recessed area at the end was filled with tallow to bring up particles from the bottom for inspection.


Distance of three nautical miles.


Direction toward which the wind is blowing. Also, that area at sea sheltered from the wind by land or by a ship.

lee shore

Coastline toward which the wind is blowing. Coastline toward which the wind is blowing. To be on a lee shore is a dangerous situation in which a ship is between the wind and a coastline.


Trailing edge of a fore-and-aft sail or vertical edge of a square sail.


Ropes which furl the outer edge of a square sail (leech) at an angle up towards the yard.


Of a ship, tending to drift rapidly to leeward when sailing close-hauled.


The extent to which a given ship is blown to leeward by the wind.

letter of marque and reprisal

Official government warrant or commission authorizing a designated agent (a privately-owned warship, or privateer) to search, seize, and destroy the ships and cargos of the enemy, and to capture or kill enemy personnel. Various restrictions and rules applied to limit the agentís authority. Discontinued internationally by the Declaration of Paris of 1856, part of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Crimean War.


Winter wind that blows from the east in the Mediterranean.

lie ahull [verb]

To attempt to weather a storm by by downing all sails, battening hatches, and locking the tiller to leeward; no sea anchor is used. This allows the ship to drift at the mercy of the storm.


First level of commissioned officer to which a midshipman or masterís mate may be advanced following a successful examination.

lieutenant commander

Officer with the rank of lieutenant in command of a small warship.


Holes cut in the floor timbers on each side of the kelson to allow bilge water to drain into the well, to be pumped out.


Proper term for most cordage in the running rigging aboard ship.

line abreast

Fleet or squardon formation in which ships of the line sail abeam of one another.

line ahead, line astern

Fleet or squadron formation in which ships of the line follow a designated leader and imitate his movements.

line of battle

Fleet or squadron formation in which ships form a straight line in predetermined order.

line of bearing

Fleet or squadron formation in which ships are arranged in a line diagonal to their mutual course.


Ship of the line.


Vesselís angle of lean or tilt; a permanent state of heel.

loblolly boy

Assistant and steward to a shipís surgeon; often, after action, a lightly-wounded crewman not yet capable of more physically strenuous duty. The captainís clerk or steward might also serve in this capacity during action.


British soldiers (but not Marines).


Iron ball attached to a long handle, used to drive caulking into seams; also occasionally used as a weapon in a fight.


Line 250 fathoms long with knots tied at intervals and a flat wooden piece (log-ship) at the end, which was cast off the stern and run out for the duration of a 28-second glass. The result gave the speed of the ship in knots.


Originally, the largest of a shipís boats, carrying one mast with a gaff mainsail and two headsails. Most often used to carry stores, especially water casks. Beginning in 1795, it carried a single carronade. Gradually replaced by the launch, which had a flatter bottom.

long stay

Of an anchor chain that is taut and at its full extent.

loose [verb]

To hoist or let drop sails; to make sail.

loose footed

Of a sail not connected by its foot to a boom.

lower deck

Lowest desk above the waterline; gun deck. In a two- or three-decker, the lowest gun deck.

lubberís hole

Hole cut in the top to allow easy access; no self-respecting seaman would use it, preferring to reach the top by way of the backward-hanging shrouds to the edge.

luff, luff up [verb]

To turn more into the wind.

lugger (French, chasse-marée)

Fishing boat or coastal trading vessel (60-70 feet long, typically 120-130 tons) setting lugsails, usually on one or two, but occasionally on three masts; many variations were developed, the larger versions of which might carry topsails or even topgallants. The Royal Navy often hired luggers and attached them to blockading squadrons. In the French navy, they were more often purpose-built.


Evolved version of the square sail, arranged when hauled with the bulk of the sail either fore or aft of the mast (unlike a square sail, which is evenly centered on the mast). Since the yard is supported toward one end and not in the middle (as with the yard of a square sail), the supported end "peaks up" and the sail can rise higher than the height of the mast. The effect was a more efficient air flow but sail-handling was more complicated than with a gaffsail and required an experienced crew. Earliest of all the fore-and-aft rigs.


Compartment in a ship where powder and other explosives are stored, governed by a high level of security.

main deck

Highest deck running the whole length of the ship.


Tallest mast on a ship; middle mast of a three-masted vessel.

make and mend

Period of rest and relaxed discipline during which the crew can socialize, engage in crafts, bathe, groom, and repair clothing and personal possessions.

making way

Of a vessel moving under its own power.


Seagoing soldiers, raised and paid by the Admiralty, forming part of the auxiliary crew of a warship. Their duties including landing parties and shore actions, and firing from their own tops at crewmen in the rigging and on the deck of an enemy vessel. In action at more of a distance, they served in the gun crews. They also provided security and preserved discipline aboard ship, especially for the officers, against the crew. In action, they stood sentry at the hatchways to prevent unauthorized crewmen from escaping below. Though they assisted with unskilled deck duties, they were not seamen, were not pressed, and were not obliged to go aloft. "Royal Marines" after 1802.

marlin, marline

Tarred hemp twine.


Handtool used in ropework, as in unlaying rope for splicing, untying knots, etc.


Fore-and-aft stay directly below and strengthening the bowsprit, under tension provided by the dolphin-striker.


Vertical spar supporting sails, rigging, and other masts.


Platform at the top of a mast; lookoutís station and topmenís staging point in working aloft.


Being sent to spent extended time at the masthead for minor breaches of discipline. Often used on midshipmen.


On a warship, a warrant officer and standing officer trained in, with specialized knowledge of, and responsibility for navigation and piloting. He also kept the shipís official log book and reported to the Admiralty on previously uncharted shoals, reefs, and other navigational hazards. He also was responsible for stowing the hold (which affected the shipís trim and performance), the setting up of sails and rigging, maintenance of the anchors, and control of beer and spirits. Qualification was examination by a senior captain and three senior masters, with previous service as a masterís mate, midshipman, or quartermaster. He messed in the wardroom with a cabin opposite that of the first lieutenant. After 1805, a master could be commissioned a lieutenant. Also, the officer commanding a merchant vessel.

master and commander

Quasi-rank (technically temporary) between lieutenant and captain; by definition, an officer commanding a sloop.


Group of four to six crew who eat together and hang their hammocks together.


Endless line around the capstan to which a large cable (too large to pass around the capstan itself) could be fastened with nippers in order to be hauled aboard.


Boy or young man serving as a "volunteer" in order to learn the duties of an officer, studying and acquiring sea experience in hopes of gaining a commission (for which six yearsí service at sea was required, including three or more years as a midshipman). They were not officers, but ratings, counting in the shipís hierarchy as senior petty officers. They performed most of the duties of officers, however, especially assisting the officer of the watch; in action, they assisted the lieutenant in charge of a section of guns. They often were called "young gentlemen," though not all were the sons of gentlemen. Though illegal, it was common practice for a captain to carry the young son of a friend on his shipís books, in order to accrue sea time, while the boy himself remained at home or in school.


Cold winds that blow offshore from the mountains on the coast of Provence.


Aftermost mast of a three-masted vessel.


Small wooden cask in which grog was carried from the distributing cask to the mess table.

monkey tail

Short hand spike for use as a lever in aiming a carronade.

monkeyís fist

Cordage ball woven at the end of a line to temporarily provide weight in heaving the line.

moor [verb]

To anchor a ship with two anchors, or by making fast to a buoy or post, so it does not swing with the tide or current.

nautical mile

In ordinary usage, 1,000 fathoms (6,000 feet), or approximately 1.15 land miles. Defined technically as one minute of arc of latitude, or 6,076 feet. Not to be confused with a sea mile.

Navy Board

Supervisory body under the Admiralty in charge of the technical, administrative, and accounting work of the Royal Navy, including dockyards, stores and equipment, and appointment of warrant officers. Headquartered at Somerset House, it actually predated establishment of the Admiralty and often was jealous of it. Its ten members were headed by the Controller of the Navy, always a senior Naval officer.

"Nelson Chequer"

Scheme for painting the sides of a warship, designed by Horatio Nelson about 1803, and consisting of alternating black and yellow horizontal stripes with the gunports painted black. Adopted by most British warships after Nelsonís death.


Short rope used to bind a cable to the endless messenger so the cable is pulled along with it, especially of the anchor cable, which was too large to pass around the capstan itself. The nippers were attached, followed, detached, and run back to be reattached by the shipís boys.

no manís land

Space between the belfry and the shipís boats stored on the booms, used to temporarily store blocks, ropes, and tackles for possible use on the forecastle during the watch.


Hemp fibers picked by hand from old cordage, used together with pitch to seal deck seams; often picked in workhouses for the use of the Royal Navy.


Navigational instrument describing one-eighth of a circle (compared to the earlier quadrant, which described a quarter-circle); a reflecting mirror doubled the angle measured, allowing a smaller, lighter instrument. Subsequently replaced by the sextant, which proved more accurate, though also more expensive.


Open sea, from the perspective of the shore or a point inshore.


Waterproofed foul-weather gear worn on deck.

ordinary, in

Of a ship held in reserve, with no masts or guns and moored to buoys near a dockyard; temporarily surplus and manned only by the standing officers, plus the purser and the cook.

Ordinary Seaman

Seaman of at least two yearsí experience at sea, capable of most nonspecialized tasks.

Ordnance Board

Separate department independent of the Admiralty, responsible for developing, testing, and manufacturing guns and supplying them to both the Army and the Navy, and for warranting gunners for the Navy. Headquartered at the Tower of London, with additional facilities at Woolwich Arsenal.

orlop deck

Lowest continuous deck in a warship, just above the hold, and used mostly for storage and accommodation.

overbear [verb]

To sail downwind directly at another ship, stealing the wind from its sails.


Dangerously steep, breaking seas resulting from conflicting strong currents and winds over a shallow, often rocky bottom.

overhaul [verb]

To haul the buntlines over the sails to prevent them from chaffing.



over-reach [verb]

When tacking, to hold a course too long before going about.


Of a ship, having capsized or foundered.


Captain of a ship.


Weather phenomenon that indicates an impending storm.

packet, packet boat

Regularly scheduled commercial service carrying passengers and freight, and often mail. Speed was a requirement and the vessel itself might be a small brig or, most commonly, a schooner.


Length of line attached to the bow of a boat, by which it is tied to a dock or buoy and by which it may be towed.

parcel [verb]

To stitch a canvas cover over a section of rope to protect it from chaffing.


Method of raising a spar in which a line is fastened above and a loop of line lowered and passed around it, the spar then being lifted by hauling on the end of the line.


Movable loop or collar used to fasten a yard or gaff to its mast.

pay [verb]

To fall off on one or the other tack when in stays. Also, to lubricate the running rigging with slush. Also, to seal deck seams with pitch and oakum.

pay off [verb]

To take a vessel out of service, theoretically paying the crew the wages due them. In fact, members of the crew often were simply transferred to another ship. Also, to bring the ship around so the wind blows from the other side in the process of tacking.

pay out [verb]

To allow a cable or rope to run out and to then secure it.


Topmost point of a gaff or sprit-rigged sail.


Shipís company, exclusive of officers.


Very wide breeches worn with wool stockings and sometimes a canvas apron for protection. Considerd very old-fashioned by the 1790s.

petty officer

Naval equivalent of a noncommissioned officer, appointed by the captain to a specific job aboard ship. Petty officers often were acquiring training and experience toward promotion to warrant officer.


Hired temporary navigator, especially in a harbor or the Thames, who assists a shipsís master by virtue of his special local knowledge of the seabottom and conditions.


Small, flat-bottomed vessel with a narrow stern and rounded sides, widely used in the Mediterranean to carry cargo (often 400-500 tons), and either lateen- or square-rigged. Maneuverable in shallow water and rivers. (The name came from the narrow, overhanging stern.)


Small vessel, long and narrow in design, propelled by sails or oars, usually associated with a larger ship; generally used as a tender and to ferry messages between ships of the line in a fleet. Also, a shipís boat, of about 32 feet, used for general work and for travel to and from the ship (especially in carrying the shipís officers). It carried two sprit-rigged masts but could be rowed single-banked.

pipe [verb]

To give or pass an order via the bosunís call.

pipe down [verb]

To signal the end of the working day via the bosunís call, at which lights and tobacco pipes were to be extinguished and the ship to enter a period of quiet.

pipe the side [verb]

To welcome or give farewell to the captain, his senior officers, and special naval visitors by manning the starboard side of the quarterdeck (or the gangway) with an honor guard (side party) made up of members of the deck watch. A similar procedure is followed when a dead body is brought inboard or is committed to the deep. The order is passed by the bosunís call.


Rocking motion, alternately fore and aft.


Of a boat or ship thrown end over end, as by a monster wave, rather than capsizing abeam.

point high [verb]

Of a ship, to lie especially close to the wind when close-hauled.

points of the compass

The thirty-two divisions of the compass, each of 11-¼ degrees (a distance along any latitude of 675 nautical miles).


Mediterranean vessel of three pole-masts, the mainmast square-rigged, with a lateen rig on the forward-angled foremast and either a gaff or a lateen sail on the mizzen. Otherwise similar to a xebec.


Short deck built over the after end of the quarterdeck on a ship of the line, often forming the roof of the captainís cabin, and serving as an elevated position for navigation and observing the deck and the sails. (From the French, poupe, stern.)


Of a vessel swamped by a high following sea (taking water over the poop).


Opening or window, either circular or square, cut in a shipís side or any deck.


In the Royal Navy, a master and commander promoted to command a rated vessel. He might have the rank without a command, in which case he was a "captain" only, until he "made post," with his name posted in the Naval Gazette. From this point, further promotion was strictly by seniority. With less than three yearsí seniority, he was entitled to wear a single epaulette on the right shoulder; thereafter he was entitled to two epaulettes.


Sixth-rate ship; though smaller than a frigate, by virtue of being a rated ship (i.e., of more than 20 guns), it had to be commanded by a post captain rather than a commander.

powder monkey

Shipís boy detailed during action to carry powder cartridges from the magazine to the guns, as well as other ordnance duties.


Flat-bottomed, shallow-draft warship with two or three masts and 10–20 guns, popular in the Baltic for its ability to work close inshore. Napoleon intended to use large numbers of them as transports in his planned invasion of England.

press [verb]

To forcibly impress men, usually merchant seamen but also including young men with no maritime experience (landsmen), into service in the Royal Navy against their will, essentially by legalized kidnapping. About half of all seamen in the Navy were pressed men. Press gangs operated either on behalf of their own ship or as agents of the Impress Service. Permanently ended in Britain in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon.


Line rigged temporarily to strengthen or back-up a shipís standing rigging in anticipation of heavy weather or other unusual strain.

private ship

Commissioned warship with no flag officer aboard. Does not imply a privately owned vessel.


Privately financed warship operated for profit under authority of a letter of marque. Not a pirate.

prize crew

A small portion of a shipís company, just large enough to work a ship, temporarily put aboard a captured enemy vessel with the task of taking it back to a friendly port or rendezvous with the fleet. Usually, a number of marines would be included to provide security against the captured enemy crew. A junior or more senior shipís officer would be placed in command depending on the size of the prize. Command of a prize crew was much sought by junior officers as a means of gaining command experience and of coming to the notice of more senior officers.

prize money

Money from the sale of a captured enemy vessel and its cargo, awarded by a naval court to the officers and crew of the capturing ship. Allotment was made according to a formula, with the lionís share going to the officers by rank, and to the admiral under whose authority the ship operated. The sale of merchandise was on the open market but the Royal Navy often purchased captured warships.

pull [verb]

To row, especially a boat.


Arrangement of lines and blocks in order to obtain a mechanical advantage when hauling.


Warrant officer responsible for buying, stowing, and selling to the crew all manner of shipís stores (other than rations), including rum, tobacco, and clothing, usually on credit against earnings; because of this, he also served as de facto banker to the crew. Originally, he received no pay, being expected to turn a profit through their dealings, a policy which invariably caused suspicion among officers and crew. Later, he was paid the same as the boatswain or gunner but was required to post a bond with the Victualing Board on receiving his warrant. Service qualification was one year as a captainís clerk. He messed in the wardroom, did not stand a watch, and ordinarily assisted the surgeon in action.


Navigational instrument capable of taking sights or angles up to 90 degrees; predecessor of the octant.


Sides of a shipís sterm; relating to a direction between abeam and right aft. Also, each crewmanís station or assigned position when in action.


Deck above the main deck, over the after part of a ship; a shipís command and control center, the preserve of its officers.

quarter galleries

Constructed projections from the aft quarters of a vessel, fitted with sashes and ballusters, not only for convenience but as ornamentation to the aft part of the ship.

quarter gunner

Petty officer under the shipís gunner, responsible for the management of four guns and the training of their crews.


Petty officer responsible, with his mates, for the helm and for steering; also assists the master in stowing the hold and related duties.


Wooden wedge inserted beneath the breech of a gun to adjust its elevation.