Below is a list of terms meant to help you "speak the language" of the historical maritime sailing trade. The list is by no means exhaustive, so if you have any words you would like to see added or any that you think need correcting, please don't hesitate to contact us.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M
N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Abreast: Side by side, or opposite to. Any objet is in a line with the beam of the vessel.

Aft/after: The back of a vessel

All secure/All fast: Command to take final turns around pin or cleat

Aloft: Above deck, i.e. up there

Backing a Sail: A situation wherein a sail is filled on the opposite side from the tack which it is currently running.

Baggywrinkle: 1) Chaffing gear attached to the topping lifts and running backstays which prevents the standing rigging from tearing the sail. 2) Relative to the South American Flying Squirrel. 3) Evidence of tallship baldness.

Bear off: To adjust course from a point "on the wind" to a point of sail "off the wind"

Beating: Sailing the vessel as close to the wind as possible. Also referred to as close hauled.

Belay: To make a line fast by turning it in a figure-eight configuration around a cleat or belaying pin. Also to stop or cease.

Belaying Pin: A pin on a pinrail to which a line is belayed.

Bend: The twisting or turning of a rope so as to fasten it to another rope or line, or to some object as a spar or sail.

Bight: A curve in any part of the line that is between the two ends

Bilge: The area on a vessel that is underneath the sole

Bitter end: The inboard end of a cable or line. The physical end of a line.

Block: A single pulley
Block and Tackle: A system of pulleys and lines on the vessel

Bobstays: One or two wire lines or chains leading from the dolphin striker aft to the bow of the vessel

Boom: The wooden spar to which the foot of the sail is lashed.

Bow: The front (or less blunt end) of a vessel.

Bulkheads: Vertical partitions separating compartments.

Bulwarks: The side of a vessel extending up from the deck.

Bunt: The middle of a square sail.

Cabin: Living space below decks.

Caprails: The flat horizontal surface on top of the bulwarks

Chafe: To wear the surface of a line or sail by rubbing against a solid object.

Chafing Gear: A winding of small stuff, line, canvas, baggywrinkle around spars and rigging to prevent chafing.

Cleat: A heavy piece of wood or metal having two horns which lines may be made fast or belayed to.

Clew: The lower corner of square sails or the lower after most corner of a fore-aft sail.

Coil: To lay a line in clockwise circular turns.

Companionway: The passage way area of a hatch leading below decks.

Course: The direction in which a vessel is intended to sail.

Crossjack: The lowest yard on the sloop, which does not have a sail on it. (pronounced cro'jack).

Crosstrees: Horizontal supports at a mast head, used to spread the attachment area of the mast's shrouds; where the topmast shrouds are attached.

Current: The horizontal movement of water caused by tidal and non-tidal influences.

Cutter: A sloop with multiple headsails.

Davit: The device used to swing objects on and off a vessel.

Docklines: Lines that connect a vessel to a pier or dock.

Downhaul: A line connected to the head of the sail which is pulled to help overcome the friction of the sail's hanks against the sail's stay in hauling down the sail.

Ease: To give slack

Eye: A loop at the end of a line usually made permanent by splicing or seizing.

Fairlead: The proper direction in which to lead a line or a bend.

Fake: To lay down a length of line so that it will run our rapidly with out kinking. The coils are laid with each end over the preceding end.

Fenders: Buoys or tires attached to lanyards that protect the hull of the vessel from docks, pilings, and other boats.

Flying Jib: The forward most heads'l.

Foot: The bottom edge of a sail.

Foredeck: The lower deck of the vessel forward of the mast, aka, main deck or gun deck.

Forward: The "front" of the vessel.

Foul: To become tangled, or unable to run smoothly. A bad smell.

Futtock Shrouds: The small shrouds that runs from the outer edge of the crosstrees to a spot lower down the mast. They serve to counteract the upward pull from the topmast shrouds.

Frames: The ribs of a ship.

Gaff: A wooden spar that is lashed to the head of the sail.

Gangway: The railed passageway connecting a vessel to a pier or dock.

Gantline: A small line used to run things aloft.

Guys: Lines, shrouds or chains used to support booms, davits, and the bowsprit, etc. laterally. They are used in pairs.

Halyard: A line that hauls up a sail.

Handybilly: A single or double luff tackle used in jobs on a vessel

Hanks: Metal fittings attached to the luff of a sail that connect the sail to the stay.

Harden Up: To adjust course from a point of a sail "off the wind" to a point of sail "on the wind."

Head: Marine toilet

Head of Sail: Upper most edge or corner of sail.

Headsail's: The sails located forward of the mast.

Heave: To haul or pull on a line; to throw a heaving line.

Heaving Line: A line with a thin diameter in which a monkey's fist is attached to one end and the dock line is attached to the other end. The heaving line is then thrown to a person on the dock who then pulls the dock line to the dock.

Helm: The tiller that controls the rudder.

Helm's a-lee/
Hard a-lee:
The tiller is placed hard over on the leeward side, signaling the helmsman is attempting to tack the vessel.

Hitch: Locking the line over itself when belaying.

Hold: When handling a line, to belay temporarily and wait for further instructions.

Hoops: Wooden rings fitted around the mast to which the luff of the sail is attached.

In Irons: A situation wherein a vessel remains in the eye of the wind, unable to tack to either side.

Jackstay: A wire line on which the tops'l is bent to and an excellent object to clip into when aloft.

Jam: To wedge tightly.

Jaws: The part of the boom and gaff that reach around the mast, extending from the spar like arms.

Jig tackles: A block and tackle system that increases the mechanical advantage applied to the tops'l halyard, throat, and peak.

Kink: A short bight caused by too much twisting of the line.

Knot: A general term for a hitch or bend

Knot: A unit of speed, one nautical mile per hour.

Lanyard: A line made fast to anything to secure it. Lines rove through deadeyes for setting up standing rigging such as shrouds and guys.

Lay: The twist of a stranded line, usually to the right

Lazyjacks:Lines running vertically along side of mains'l to aid in furling the sail as it is lowered.

Leech: The trailing edge of a fore aft sail or the outboard edge of a square sail.

Leeward: The direction in which the wind blows; the side of an object that is sheltered from the wind.

Line: The nautical term for rope. Any piece of cordage that has at least 3 strands twisted or braided, that is on a vessel which has a purpose (see rope).

Locker: A chest or box to stow anything

Log: A line with a chip of wood on it that measures the speed of a sailing vessel.

Luff: The forward or leading edge of a sail.

Luff the sail: To bring the vessel closer to the wind causing the sail to shudder.

Mains'l: The largest sail set from the tallest mast.

Make fast: To secure a line to a pin or cleat with a hitch.

Marlinespike: An iron or steel pin sharpened at one end that is used to splice lines, tighten knots, or loosen knots.

Martingale: A short spar underneath the bowsprit, used for guying down the headstays, also referred to as Dolphin Striker.

Mast: The vertical spar which the sails and yards are attached to.

Midships: The "middle" area of a vessel.

Mousing: Seizing of line or wire over hooks and shackles.

Overhaul: To pull line through a block so as to make it slack.

Outboard:Outside or away from a ship's hull.

Pay out: To slack off a line or to let it run out.

Peak: The aft end of the gaff.

Pier:A wood or masonry structure extending from land in to the water, enabling vessels to dock.

Pilling: A vertical wooden, concrete, or metal pole driven in to the bottom of the harbor.

Pinrail: Rails located on the vessel's deck where belaying pins are located.

Port: The "left" side of a boat, or a direction as "to turn to port" 2) an opening for light and/or ventilation, 3) a general area of shore establishment having facilities for landing and maintaining vessels. 4) type of red wine.

Port Tack: When the wind is coming from the port side of the vessel.

Quarter: The part of a vessel's side between the after part of the main channel and the stern of the vessel.

Quarterdeck: The part of the deck abaft of the mainmast.

Quarter lifts: Wire supporting the after most end of the boom

Rake: The inclination of a mast from perpendicular.

Ratlines: Lines running horizontal across the shrouds, used to step on when going aloft.

Ready About: Signal that the boat is about to tack.

Reef: To shorten sail area

Reef knots: The knot used to tie reef points together, i.e. square knots

Reef Points: Small pieces of line attached to both sides of the sail that are used when reefing, to tie the sail down along the boom.

Reeve: To pass the end of a line through a block, deadeye, or any other opening.

Rigging: The general term for all the lines aboard a vessel. Also the common term for the shrouds and the ratlines.

Rope: Spooled line on a boat, or these six lines which are called ropes: Bellrope: line attached to hammer of the bell; Bucketrope: lanyard attached to bucket; Boltrope: line sewed along the edge of the sail; Footrope: lines which you stand on when on the yard; Manropes: lines hung over the side to facilitate climbing up or down the bulwarks; Tillerope: is the rope by which the tiller is worked.

Rudder: The control surface, usually aft, that steers the vessel.

Running: Sailing with the wind behind the vessel.

Scuppers: Small openings in the bulwarks that allow water to drain from the deck.

Scuttlebutt: Gossip, rumors, so called because sailors used to gather around the scuttlebutt, a cask used for drinking water.

Secure:To attach, fasten, or make fast.

Seize: To fasten lines with small stuff

Serving: Covering and protection placed on standing line

Set: To raise sail; the direction of a current.

Shackle: A metal link fitting with a pin across the throat, used to connect lines to anchors, fasten blocks to spars, or lines to sails.

Sheets: A line used in setting a sail, to keep the clew down. On square sails the sheets run down through the yardarm, on fore/aft sails the sheets pull the boom to one side of the sail

Ship: A vessel with three masts and square sails on each mast; to take something aboard; to place gear in place.

Shipshape: In good order, in good condition, properly rigged.

Shrouds: A set of lines reaching from the mastheads to the vessel's sides to support the masts.

Sloop: A vessel with a single mast.

Small stuff: Term for spun yarn, marline, and small line used for seizings and mousings.

Spar: A general term for a mast, boom, yard, gaff or pole on a vessel.

Splice: To join to ends of a line together by interweaving their strands.

Spreading Post: The small spar at the base of the shrouds that spreads the shrouds and keeps them square. Also known as Squaring Staffs.

Square: Yards are squared when they are horizontal and at right angles to the keel.

Square-rigged: A term applied to those ships which have yards at right angles with the length of the keel and the lower mast; it is used in contra-distinction from vessels that have fore and aft sails.

Stays: Heavy lines or wires used in supporting the vessels masts. They typically run from the masthead to the deck in a fore or aft manner.

Staysail: The after-most headsail. It runs along the main fore stay.

Stand by: An order to be prepared.

Stand Down: An order to step back, or stop.

Standing Part: The part of a line or block which is made fast to and object, in opposition to the hauling end.

Standing Rigging: The part of a vessel's rigging which is made fast and not hauled upon. Typically tarred black.

Starboard: The "right" side of the vessel.

Steaming light: A white light located on the upper mast, illuminated at night or in limited visibility when the vessel is under motor power.

Stern: After end of the vessel.

Stinkpot: A sailor's jocular term for a motorboat, typically a pleasure craft that is being driven by a landlubber.

Stow: To put a way; secure.

Strike: To lower sails or colors.

Sweat: The process of hauling on a line.

Swinging the lead: An expression derived from heaving the lead line that suggests the person speaking is making it up as they go.

Tack: To turn the bow of the vessel through the eye of the wind, i.e. "coming about;" 2) The forward bottom corner of a sail or the bottom edge of a square sail.

Tackle: A purchase formed by a line rove through one or more blocks.

Tail: To assist in sweating a line.

Take a Turn: To pass a line around a pin or cleat.

Take in: To haul in slack on a line

Taut: Tight

Throat: The forward end of the sail or gaff.

Tides: The vertical rise and fall of ocean water, caused by the gravitational forces of the moon and sun.

Topsail: The Square sail that is bent on to the topsail yard.

Topsail yard: The upper yard of the two yards on Providence.

Trim: To adjust the sails for the most efficient drive on any given course.

Two-blocked: When two blocks are drawn completely together.

Underway: A vessel not at anchor or aground or made fast to the shore.

USCG: United States Coast Guard

Wake: Wave like turbulence caused by a moving vessel.

Whip: To lash the end of a line to prevent it from unlaying.

Windward: The direction from which the wind is blowing.

Yard: A spar, crossing the mast on which square sails are fitted.


© 2018 Providence Maritime Heritage PNTDN.