Habitaculum – Original ancient name for the binnacle.


Hackett’s stations – (tge)

Hackle – To comb out straight the fibres when making rope, by means of a hackle-board.  From this came the phrase ‘to make ones hackles rise’.

Hackmatack – Hardwood CTC


Hack watch – See Deck watch. NTUS

Hadal depths – Hell ?

Hadley’s quadrant – NTUS19.03


Hag’s teeth – Loose strands of rope protruding from a badly made paunch mat.

Hail (vb) – 1. To call or salute a ship from another, by means of a hailer (verbally).  2. Said of a person’s origins: ‘He hailed from …’.

Hailing – SMS


Hakluyt Society

Halberd – A kind of spear, about 6 feet long, with a head that could be used for thrusting or cutting.  Also called a Bill.


Hale – Haul, “Hale and How”, “Hoise and Hale”

Hales Ventilator

Half – Half a point, i.e. 5 5/8 degs

Half a dog watch – A very short period of time.

Half-and-half – The equal share out of the profits from a fishing vessel, from the owner getting half and the crew getting the other half.

Half beam – A beam cut to form a hatchway.

Half beams

Half board – When a ship is turned up into the wind, as if about to tack, but falls off again on the same tack, the manoeuvre was called ‘half board’  SMS

Half-boom – SMS

Half-boom spreaders – SMS

Half breadth plan – NTUS 03.01

Half breadth staff – A wooden rod marked in half lengths of beams, used for measuring a vessel.

Half crown – A small bight made in a rope or line, with a crossing or riding turn and seized; used in the middle of back ropes and passing round the end of the dolphin striker or put into sail ropes.  Also chinkle.

Half deck – A deck above the main deck that does not continue for the whole length of the vessel.  Sometimes used to refer to those parts of the upper and lower decks used for officers’ accommodation.

Half decker

Half floor – One of the timbers extending from the keel to the lower end of the second futtock.

Half Four(etc) – In soundings =4 1/2 fathoms

Half hitch – A knot made by passing the end of the rope over the standing part, through the bight and laying it up to the standing part.

Half-legged reef points – SMS


Half Mast

Half Minute Glass

Half Pay

Half pigs – (tge)

Half poop – A poop deck that is not as tall as a man.

Half port – A cover over half a gun port, cut away to accommodate a gun barrel.

Half sea – The ancient term for mid-channel.

Half seas over – Seamen’s slang for being nearly drunk.

Half shot – Another seamen’s slang for being nearly drunk.

Half Sovereign

Half-sprit – Long standing gaff without boom

Half Sword

Half tide – The water level, or time, halfway between high and low water.

Half tide rock – A rock that is submerged at high tide but visible at low tide.

Half timber – A short futtock used in vessel’s with rounded or angled bottoms, instead of flat.



Halley, Edmond – Worked out why the winds blow as they do, in late 17c.

Halliard, Halyard, Haulyard – The rope and tackle used to haul a sail, yard or spar.

Halliard winch – A simple single drum winch used to replace a purchase on a halliard.

Halse – Hawse.


Halt timber – NTUS 03.05

Hamattan Wind


Hamble, The

Hambro line – A line made of six, nine or twelve strands used to strengthen reef holes.

Hammacoes – Hammocks.

Hammer & Anvil – Sport in which Man 1 gets on all fours and Man 2 is swung by his arms and legs to hit Man 1 base to base, thus sending Man 1 flying along the deck.

Hammerlock moor – SMS

Hammock ­– A hanging bed made of canvas suspended from the deck beams by clews at each end, used by seamen.  Hammocks were first introduced to ships by Columbus after he saw them in the new world in late 15c.

Hammock ­clews – A number of lengths of nettle stuff attached to each end of a hammock, by which it was suspended from the deck beams.

Hammock cloth ­– A tarpaulin cover to the hammock netting.

Hammock cranes and netting

Hammock lashing ­– Ropes lashed around a hammock when not in use, to secure it.

Hammock netting – Rows of netting along a warship’s sides and at the breaks of quarterdecks and forecastles, in which the crews tightly rolled hammocks were stored, when not in use, and where they doubled as protection against flying muck and bullets.


Hamper – See Tophamper.

Hance – (tge)


Hand – 1. (v) To take in sail.  2. A member of a vessel’s crew.

Hand a sail – (v) Furl a sail.

Hand grenades – Used in warfare at least from 16c.  Hollow cast iron or glass sphere weighing about two pounds, with a bursting charge of about four or five ounces of powder.



Handing – SMS

Handkerchief – Worn to protect coat from greasy pigtail* and as sweat rag in action.

Hand-lead and line – NTUS 19.01

Handling Chamber

Hand line – A fishing line, usually fitted with several hooks.

Hand mast – A length of timber suitable for making a mast.

Hand organ – A large holystone that would be dragged about the deck by two seamen pulling on attached lines, to clean the decks.

Hand over hand – The order given to the hands working a rope to continue hauling in a smooth way by alternating one hand in front the other along the rope.

Hand, Reef & Steer – The measure of an Ordinary Seaman as contrast with the skills of “A Sailor-Man”

‘Hands’ – The call to crewmembers to take up position and stand by.

Handsomely – 1. A boatwork instruction meaning to do something slowly, smoothly and carefully.  2. Seamen’s slang for with great care, from the boatwork term.

Hand spar – A length of timber suitable for making a spar.

Handspike – A wooden bar used as a lever, such as to work the windlass.

Handy billy – A small light tackle comprising a single and a double block, used for general purposes.


Hang an arse – Seamen’s term for hold back or hesitate, presumably from the enforced period of idleness most experience whilst sitting on the heads.

Hanger – Early sword, named for the way it was worn.   


Hanging bracket – A bracket fixed upside-down, i.e. with its horizontal part at the bottom.

Hanging Jack – Hand spit for roasting meat.

Hanging knee – An L-shaped bracket used to fasten a beam end onto the ship’s side, with its horizontal part fixed to the underside of the beam.  Invariably of naturally grown timber, until steel came along in 19c.

Hanging magazine

Hanging mat; nippers – SMS

Hang on with your eyelids – An instruction given to someone required to work in a place where it is unsafe to work with two hands.

Hang taut – The expression for a rope’s end that is a taut as a hand pull will make it.

Hang Judas – The expression for a rope’s or yarn’s end that is hanging loose.

Haniver – See Jenny Haniver.

Hank – A skein of rope, twine or spunyarn.

Hank for hank – Said of vessels tacking together and progressing to windward.


Hansa Cog


Hanseatic League


Happy ship – A ship in which the upper and lower decks got on well together, with the resultant high morale.


Harbour – NTUS 20.02

Harbour – #-due, #-master, #-watch, “#-Stow”

Harbourage – NTUS 20.02

Harbour Beer – Weak beer. Also Petty Warrant Beer.

Harbour drills – SMS

Harbour furl – The neat stowing of sails when coming into harbour.  A matter of much pride, or shame, depending on how good the crew were.

Harbour gaskets – Special decorative gaskets used in port to make the furled sails look neater.  The gaskets used at sea were longer and easier to use.


Harbour log – The record of a ship’s work while she is in harbour.

Harbour style – Seamen’s slang for easy and relaxed, there being no heavy work to do.

Harbour watch – The group of seamen assigned to stay on board when a ship is in harbour and carry out any necessary duties.

Hard – 1. A firm landing place on a foreshore.  2. Hard-a-lee, -a-port, # and fast, etc.

Hard a-lee – A helm order given when the conner wanted maximum helm.

Hard a-port – A helm order given when the conner wanted maximum helm to port.

Hard a-starboard – A helm order given when the conner wanted the rudder and ship’s head to carry to port.  Also ‘starboard the helm’.

Hard a-weather – A helm order given when the conner wanted maximum helm to the weather side.

Hard beer – Beer that is nearly sour

Hard bitted – Tied tightly.

Hard Down

Hard knee – A knee fixed edgeways to the stem and the cutwater, to strengthen the latter.

Hard-laid – Ropes in which the strands are tightly tortioned for added strength.

Hardly room to swing a cat – Referred to the cat o’nine tails.

Hard tack – Ship’s biscuit.

Hard to fathom – Deep, and so, on land, difficult to understand.

Hard-up “Hard-up Helm”

Hard up in a clinch – Seamen’s slang for being in a difficult position, out of which there is no clear route, from the action of two blocks clashing, or two ropes lashed together..

Hardly – With difficulty.

Hardwood Clippers

Harmattan – NTUS 17.03

Harness – (#-cask = Store for one weeks supply of salt meat etc)

Harness cask – The large open cask kept on deck, in which the salt meat was steeped (in sea water) on board prior to cooking, from the assertion that the horse had been stabled in it, without his harness.

Harness Room – An office or room from which the salt meat is issued, and in which it is sometimes stored.


Harping-iron – Harpoon.

Harpings – The strong planking extending as the forward ends of the wales and forming the heavy bows.

Harpoon – A spear used to fasten whales, comprising a barbed shaft fitted to a wooden shank and attached to the whale-line.


Harpooner oar – The foremast oar in a whaleboat.

Harquebus, arquebus – An early portable firearm that was fired from a tripod stand.  The name came to be generic for all early firearms.
Harquebusier, arquebusier – One who is skilled and qualified in using an arquebus.

Harriet Lane – one of the seamen’s name for tinned meat, from a girl murdered in 1874 or one that fell into the machinery in a tinned meat factory.

Harris, Sir Wm Snow- British innovator who first used a copper lightning conductor down masts in 1846, which was the first effective lightning conductor system. The down conductor was connected to copper plates on the hull and keel.


Harry Flatters – Seamen’s slang for taking a horizontal rest.

Harry Freeman’s – Something acquired free of charge, after a Tooley Street warehouse owner who issued free beer to his workers.

Haslar – The Portsmouth creek where the naval hospital was built in 1746 (when building started), to which sick seamen were rowed ‘up the creek’.

Haslar Hospital – Naval hospital in Gosport, completed in 1761, after it took 15 years to build; it was in use before finishing.

Hasty Pudding – US name for Burgoo.

Hatch, hatchway – A rectangular opening in the deck of a ship, providing access to another deck or the hold.

Hatch bar – A flat iron bar used to secure the hatch cover to the coamings.


Hatch beam – A removable beam across a hatchway that was taken out to facilitate loading and unloading.

Hatch coaming – The raised structure around a hatchway that prevents water from running into it.  The hatch bars were secured into the coamings.

Hatch on coaming – SMS

Hatch rash – A graze caused by hitting a shin on the raised coaming around a hatch.  Also coaming rash.

Hatch stopper – SMS

Hatchway – See Hatch. NTUS 01.01

Hatchway – After#, Fore#, Main#

Hatchway screen – Canvas screens rigged around hatchways during loading and unloading, especially of dirty, dusty or dangerous stores, or as a precaution against fire.

Haul – (v) To pull directly on a rope.

Haul – 1. The order given to the hands working a rope to heave on it.  2. A pipe call meaning: haul.

Haul and veer – A pipe call comprising the two calls, ‘heave round the capstan’ and ‘walk back’.

Haul away – A pipe call meaning: hoist.

Haul her wind – SMS

Hauling – The wind altering direction clockwise.  Also wind veering.

Haul off – To sail with the wind before the beam.

Haul of haul – The order given prior to going about, to cause all ropes and tackles to be pulled as tight as possible.

Haul of the headyards – SMS

Haul taut – 1. The order given to the hands working a rope to take up the slack.  2. A pipe call meaning: hands to pull hard on a rope.

Haul the wind – Sail closer to the wind.

Haul to the wind

Hauled her Wind

Hauling – SMS


Have the legs of – Be faster.

Have the R taken off – Apply to be no longer listed as a deserter.  ‘R’ was used to signify “Run” on the ships muster.




Having sea room – Far enough from the land for a vessel to be safe to scud before the wind.

Hawbucks – Ex-farmworker landsmen.

Hawse – 1. The part of a vessel’s bow where the hawse pipes are located.  2. Anywhere between the vessel’s head and the anchor to which she lies.  3. That part of the anchor cables ahead of the ship’s stem, which can be clear, or open, when they are not crossed, or foul when they are crossed, or worse.

Hawse block – A large wooden plug used to fill the hawse hole when a ship was in heavy seas, to prevent their entry through the hole.

Hawse bolster – The heavy planking above and below the hawse holes to protect against wear from the cable.

Hawse fallen – Of a vessel, to have pitched her head low and taken water in through her hawse holes.

Hawse hole – Hole cut through the heavy upper bow of a vessel, through which the anchor cables pass.

Hawse hook – A breast hook fitted to the upper deck.

Hawse pieces – The foremost timbers of a ship, usually parallel with the stem, with their lower ends adjoining the knuckle timbers or cant-frames.

Hawse pipe – A pipe between the hawse hole and the capstan, through which the cable could run.

Hawse plug

Hawser – A small cable used to sway up the topmast.

Hawser-laid – The term for a three-stranded rope laid right-handed.

Hawse timber – The heavy vertical bow timbers through which the hawse holes were cut.

Hazard – Dice game

Haze – To harass with overwork, or unsuitable work, or to pay practical jokes on.  See hazing.

Hazel rod fender – A fender made from bundles of hazel rods lashed together.

Hazing – Bullying by giving an unofficial punishment in which the offender was kept hard at unnecessary or dirty disagreeable duties.  Also, see haze.


Head – 1. The front or fore part and bows of the ship.  2. NTUS 1412  3. Part of mast above trestle tree.  4. The upper part and edge of a sail.

Head board – The foremost bulkhead of a vessel.

Head boom –

Head-Bumping – Sport in which two negroes were made to head-butt each other.

Head chute –

Head cringle

Head earrings – Ropes with which head of sail is stretched along yard.

Head earrings – SMS

Headfast – Moored by the head.  NTUS 2003

Head gear –

Head hole – SMS

Heading –  NTUS 1502

Heading – 1. The direction in which a vessel’s head is pointing.  Also ship’s head.  2. A heading wind was a bad wind.

Head irons – Iron frames attached to the ends of a trawl beam to lift it above the bottom and let the fish enter.

Head knee – NTUS 0307


Head ledge – A thwartship hatchway coaming.

Head line – 1. The line stitched into the upper edge of a flag.  2. The line used to lace a sail-head to its gaff or yard.

Head Money – Paid to Prester.

Headmost – Used to refer to the ship that is at the front of a fleet or squadron.

Head netting – Ornamental network decorating the bulkheads at the bow of a warship.

Head pump

Head rails –

Head reach –

Headreaching – SMS

Head rope – The upper rope at the mouth of a trawl net, fitted with floats to keep the net mouth open.

Heads – Formerly, a ship’s lavatory, comprising a number of seats over holes through the gratings in the bow of the ship, from their original location as a plank across the ship’s head, over the leeward bow wave, but the name later applies to any of the crews’ lavatories.

Head sail – Any sail set on the bowsprit, jib-boom and flying jib-boom.

Headsails, bonding – SMS

Head sea – NTUS 1705

Head sheets – 1. The sheets of jib and fore staysails.  2. The small platform or grating in a boat’s bow.  Also bow sheets.

Headsticks – Small spars rigged to the top of, usually, fore-and-aft sails, to stop their heads from twisting.

Head tide – A contrary tide.

Head timber – A timber supporting the gratings in the bow of the ship.

Headward –

Head water –

Head way, headway – A vessel’s forward movement through the water.  SMS

Head wind – A wind blowing from right ahead.  Also referred to as dead on end, or wind in the teeth.

Head yard, headyard – SMS

Heart – A circular or oval block of lignum vitae with a groove around the outside for turning into standing rigging and with the centre cut out to form a bed for lanyards.  Used instead of dead-eyes to set up fore-and-aft rigging.  Man of #,type of dead-eye, #strand  NTUS 0502

Hearth –

Heartily –

Hearts – (ecr)

“Hearts of Oak” – Seamen’s popular patriotic song written, by David Garrick in 1759 to commemorate the victories of that year.  Ships’ drummers would beat the rhythm when calling the crew to quarters: 
    Hearts of oak are our ships, hearts of oak are our men;

    We always are ready, steady boys, steady,

    We’ll fight, and we’ll conquer again and again….”

Heart thimble – A wooden or metal thimble with a heart-shaped central hole, circular at one end and tapered at the other.

Heart yarns – The inside strands of a rope.

Heave – 1. (v) To pull on a rope in a horizontal direction, usually by the rope being turned around a capstan.  2. The rise and fall of the waves.  3. (v) To move violently up and down in heavy seas.

Heave and hold – The order given to the hands working a rope to pull hard and hold any gain.

Heave & pall (or pawl) – Take in cable around capstan*, preventing run back by engaging pawls.

Heave and rally – The call to encourage hands on the.  NTUS 1102

Heave and rally – The order given to the hands working a rope or capstan to heave heartily.

Heave astern – To haul a ship sternwards by heaving on an anchor cable or a spring.

Heave away – The order given to start working the capstan.  Also heave round.

Heave Down, to – Turned on one side in order to clean the ship’s bottom

Heave down – To Careen.

Heaver – A wooden lever used to tighten a rope or strop by twisting it.

Heave ho – Good riddance.

Heave in sight – To become visible.

Heave in stays – To come into the wind when tacking.

Heavenly body – Any body on the celestial sphere, such as the moon, sun, etc.  Also celestial body.

Heave-to – To stop a vessel by bringing her head towards the wind and trimming her sails so that she can ride out heavy weather.

Heaving ahead – To move a ship by heaving in the cable from an anchor that has been set some distance ahead, thus pulling the ship towards the anchor.

Heaving alongside – Bringing a vessel to berth at the dockside.

Heaving short – To move a ship by heaving in the cable from an anchor that is almost vertically below the ship, or at short stay.

Heave in sight – NTUS 1204

Heave in stays – NTUS 1208

Heavenly body – NTUS 1507

Heaver – NTUS 1007

Heave round – The order given to start working the capstan.  Also heave away.

Heave round the capstan – A pipe call meaning: turn the capstan.

Heave taut – When weighing anchor, the order given to take the strain of the anchor cable by working the capstan.

Heave the lead – NTUS 1901

Heave the log – See Stream the log. NTUS 1901

Heave to – Stop in the water.

Heaving – 1 Being sick.  2 Filthy and smelly.

Heaving ahead – NTUS 0601

Heaving alongside – NTUS 2002

Heaving down – NTUS 2001

Heaving line – A small line, weighted with a monkey’s fist, thrown from a ship to a dockside or other ship, to be used for transferring a heavier rope or cable attached to it.

Heaving short – NTUS 0601

Heaving tackle – Heavy ropework for lifting and moving.

Heavy heave – SMS

Heavy press of sail – Drunk.

Heavy weather – To make heavy weather of something is seamen’s slang for exaggerating a problem.

Heck Boat – 17c three-masted cargo ship. Heck means “stern”, so term also sometimes applied to the boat suspended on davits at the stern of the ship.

Heel – 1. The junction of the keel and the sternpost.  2. The lower end of a topmast, that stands on a fid.  3. To lean over to one side or the other from the effects of the wind, the sea or of shifting cargo.  Also heel over.

Heel block – (tge)

Heel chain – The chain used to hold the heel of the topmast to the lower mast-head.

Heel chock – A timber stop bolted on top of the bowsprit to prevent the heel of the jib-boom coming too far inboard.


Heelers – (Lammermuir was one)

Heeling experiment – An operation in which a vessel is deliberately heeled over, in order to verify her ability to right herself.

Heeling moment – SMS

Heel Jigger

Heel knee – A shaped timber used to connect the keel to the sternpost.

Heel over – To lean over to one side or the other from the effects of the wind, the sea or of shifting cargo.  Also heel.

Heel rope – A rope passed through the heel of a spar, such as a jib-or studding-sail-boom, to haul it into position.

Heel Tackle

Heft – 1. Said of a trawl net caught on an underwater snag.  2. The underwater snag.

HEIC – The Honourable East India Company.

Heidelberg tun – The cavity in a sperm whale’s head that contains the finest sperm oil.  Also the case.

Height datum – Although soundings on charts are shown as the depth below the lowest water level, the height of navigational objects such as lighthouses and hills are measured from the highest tidal water level.  On land, the ordnance datum used to show contour heights, are measured from the mean sea level.

Height of tide – The vertical height of water above the chart datum at a particular place and time.


Hell-fire ship – A merchantman with a cruel reputation, which was hard to find crew for.

Helm – The tiller.  The term also came to include the whole mechanism of the steering gear of a vessel.  Each sailor took a turn on merchant ships  BDD

Helm-a-Lee – See helm’s a-lee.

Helm amidships – A helm order given when the conner wanted the helm brought back to amidships after it has been put to port or starboard.  Also ‘midships’, or ‘right the helm’.

Helm orders – The orders given by the person who is conning a vessel.

Helm port – The opening in the stern of a ship, through which the rudder stock passes to the helm.

Helm port transom – The heavy timber of the helm port.

Helm’s a-lee – 1. A helmsman’s answer to the helm order ‘down with the helm’, given by the conner when he wanted the helm pushed down to the lee side to put the vessel about.  2. The call made when a ship goes about.

Helmsman – A seaman steering a vessel.  In a merchant ship the helmsman was usually a quartermaster.  Also wheelman or steersman.


Hemp cable – SMS

Hemp rigging

Hemp Street – “Take a walk up Ladder Lane and down Hemp Street” – Seamen’s expression to describe hanging.

Hen coop – (tge)

Hen frigate – Whaler with a wife on board.

Hercules – A heavy trip hammer used to forge anchors.

Her Majesty’s Coastguard – Formed 1820 (1822?) by the joining up of the Water Guard, the Revenue Cutters and the Custom’s Riding Officers.  Originally to stop smugglers.

Hermaphrodite bark – ERR

Hermaphrodite Spar – Spare spar that could be formed into a topmast or a lower yard  CTC

Herring Busses

Herring lugger – A large drifter with two or three masts and lugsail-rigged fishing for herring.

Hide droghing – Seamen’s slang for taking cargoes of hides along the coasts of America.

High and dry – Said of a ship that has run aground in a position where her keel is exposed at low water.  The expression came ashore to mean well and truly stranded.

High bunts – SMS

High enough – A pipe call meaning: stop.  Also called avast.

High-Low-Jack & The Game – US Nautical card game                        

High tide – The highest water level reached during one tidal oscillation.  Also high water, or full sea.  cf low water and low tide.

High water – The highest water level reached during one tidal oscillation.  Also high tide, or full sea.  cf low water and low tide.

High water full and change – The tidal prediction term meaning the lunitidal interval at a given port on days of full and change.  Also establishment of the port, or vulgar establishment.

High wooded – Said of a ship’s boat with an exceptionally amount of freeboard.

Hitch – Any noose made around an object, or the standing part of a rope.

Hilsea Barracks – Marine barracks at Portsmouth.

Hinged rudder – SMS

‘His Ventilators On The Wind’ – Seamen’s expression for someone having his nose to the ground.

Hitching the messenger – SMS

HMS – His/Her Majesty’s Ship.

Hobbler – See Hoveller.

Hoekers – Hookers, in Dutch.

Hog – 1. The tendency of the middle, wider and more buoyant, part of a ship to rise up relative to the less buoyant stem and stern, due to their finer lines. this was a structural problem and was solved by strengthening. See hogging and huck.  2. A large brush made from twigs fastened between two timbers, used to clean a ship’s hull by hauling it along underneath the hull.

Hog frame – A strongly formed fore-and-aft frame in a vessel, provided to stop it from hogging.

Hogged – Said of a ship whose stem and stern sank lower than the midships section.

Hoggets – Yearling sheep.

Hoggin – Seamen’s slang for the sea.

Hogging – 1. The natural tendency of a ship to droop at bow and stern and to arch in the middle, caused by the higher buoyancy where the ship is widest.  More extreme in a ship with a relatively weak keel.  2. Scrubbing the bottom of a vessel.

Hogging strain – The strain which results in a vessel drooping to stem and stern, resulting in her back breaking if extreme.

Hogging truss – A cable run fore and aft to prevent hogging.

Hog piece – The relatively heavy timber secured inside the keel, from the fore to the after dead-wood, to which the garboard strake, floors and frames are attached.

Hogshead – 54 – 56 gallon cask.  500pounds + BDD

Hogwash – Seamen’s slang for nonsense and for the sea.

Hoist, or hoist away – 1. The order given to man all relevant lines and haul on them to lift a sail or spar into place.  2. (v) To lift a load by using a tackle.  3. The distance by which a yard or sail can be raised by its tackles.  4. That part of a sail that is bent to a yard or stay.  5. The first Pipe Call meaning hoist.  Sometimes called haul away.

Hoist away – See Hoist. NTUS 1101

Hoist in – Seamen’s slang for understanding a matter.

Hoisting flags, methods of – NTUS 1304

Hoisting gaff – ERR

Hold – 1. The internal cavity of the ship in which cargo, stores and ballast are stored.  2. A fort.

Hold a luff – To continue sailing close to the wind.

Hold beam – NTUS 0305


Holding ground – The seabed into which a ship’s anchor is required to do its job.  Good holding grounds included clay and mud bottoms, but foul or poor holding grounds include such conditions as soft mud, sand or rocks.

Hold on – To keep on course.

Hold pillars – The supports in a vessel’s hold, between the floor and beams of the hold, for deck support and strength.

Hold stringers – Fore-and-aft timbers at the sides of a vessel’s hold, for strengthening.

Hold well

Holiday – 1. A bare patch missed during the painting or varnishing of the surfaces of a vessel, from the assumption that the painter had had a break there.  2. A gap between items rigged to dry on a clothes line.

Hollow iron keel – A box-section keel formed from bending up an iron plate, as distinct from a box keel, which was assembled from flat plates riveted together by angle-bars.

Hollow plate stern-post – A stern-post formed in the same way as a hollow iron keel, by bending a flat plate instead of an assembly of plates and angle-bars.

Holmes storm & danger signal lights – SMS

Holystones – Soft white sandstone or pumice blocks, used to scrub wooden decks.  Large ones were called bibles and small ones were called prayer books.

Holystoning – (v) To use a holystone – what else?

Home – Said of an object secure in its right place.  e.g. sails are home when tightly clewed in; stores are home when securely lodged in the hold;  the anchor comes home when it is freed from the ground and hauled aboard.

Homer – A large ray.

Homeward bound – Heading for the home port.

Home Waters – The Channel; North Sea; Western Approaches; Atlantic Coasts of France, Spain & Portugal

Hong – Chinese mercantile house.

Honourable East India Company

Hood – A screen protecting a hatchway or companion way from the weather.

Hooding-ends – The ends of the planks that fit into rabbets of the stem and stern-post.

Hook – 1. Slang term for the anchor.  2. A triangular plate fixed to the fore end of the hull, for connecting the stringers and for strengthening.  3. A swivel or plain hook attached to the rope or iron block strapping, by which a block is attached.

Hook and butt – The name for a joint in a ship’s timbers or planks, made by scarfing.

Hook block – A block with a hook on its lower end, by which it could be attached.

Hook bolt – A bolt with a hook formed in one end, onto which attachments could be made.

Hooker, Hookers, Hoekers – 1. A periphrasis for ship, from a ship carrying a hook or anchor.  2. The generic name given to fishing boats on which hooks are used to catch the fish.

Hook Pots – Tin pots, part of mess* issue.

Hook rope – A rope with a hook attached at one end and used for various jobs.

Hook the cat – When weighing anchor, the order given to attach the cat tackle.

Hook the fish – When weighing anchor, the order given once the cat tackle has been removed, to attach the fish tackle and then to fish the anchor, bringing its arms up to lie on the anchor bed.

Hoop – Measure through which the tightly rolled hammock* must pass before being placed in the netting. Hence the expression “Go through the Hoop”, meaning get into trouble, if it did not go through.

Hooping, hoops – 1. Iron or other metal bands shrunk onto made-masts and spars at intervals, to hold their components together and to strengthen them.  2 The rings attaching a sail to a spar or mast, in such a way as to allow the sail to slide up or down.

Hope, The – A reach of The Thames.

Horizon – See Celestial Horizon.

Horizon coordinate system – A navigational system based on the observer.

Horizontal scarphs

Horn hoop to tiller – (tge)

Horn lantern – (tge)

Hornpipe – An originally Celtic folkdance played on a horn pipe, adopted by seamen, since about the 15c, and later played on an accordion.

Horns – 1 The points of a boom’s jaws.  2 The outer ends of the cross-trees.

Horn timber – The heavy timber extending aft and upwards from the keel, forming part of the structure of the counter.

Horrywaur – Good bye, from au revoir

Horse – 1 A foot-rope running from the opposite quarter of a yard to near the end.  2 A rope attached to the foremast shrouds, with a dead-eye to hold the spritsail sheet clear of the anchor flukes.  3. On a smack, a large iron strap about midships, from side to side, on which the main sheet slid.  4. A shallow wooden tray with three sides in which fishing lines are coiled ready for shooting and recoiled when hauled.  Lines lashed to the horse are said to have been horsed.

Horse block – On which the officer of the watch stood to call his orders.

Horse-jack stay

Horse Latitudes – 30N and 30S.  Where horses and cattle were thrown overboard to save water, if the vessel was caught in a long calm.

Horse Marines – Seamen’s slang for clumsy or awkward seamen.

Horse-piece – A block of blubber cut up in the mincing machine from a blanket-piece to make it easier to handle and quicker to try out.

Horses – SMS

Horseshoe clamp – An iron clamp fastening between the dead wood and the lower stem.

Horseshoe plate – The horseshoe-shaped plate fitted round the rudder stock, under the counter.

Horseshoe rack – The rack, shaped like a horseshoe and placed abaft the masts, to hold blocks acting as fairleads for the running rigging.

Horseshoe splice – NTUS 0512

Horse strop – (ecr)

Horsing – Caulking the seams in a vessel’s sides.

Hortator – A galley slave overseer ?

Hot press – A vigorous impressment, usually in times of dire national emergency, in which protections were ignored.

Houarios – Mediterranean sailing vessel.

Hounding – 1. Part of mast between trestle tree & deck CTC  2. That part of the bowsprit immediately outboard of the bed.

Hounds – The projections at the sides of the trestle tree at the top ends of upper masts, to support the trestle-trees and to where the yard ties run.  On main masts, the cheeks fulfil the same role.  Their location is the same as the fourth quarter of the mast, which is called the hounds instead.

Hounds band – A metal band around the upper end of a mast, to which the shrouds are fastened.

Hour angle – The angle at the pole between the observer’s meridian and the meridian through a celestial body at any time.

Hour circles – Great circles through the celestial poles, coinciding with the terrestrial meridians.  Also celestial meridians.


House (vb) – To make secure.

Housed bowsprit – Brought inboard

House Flag – The special flag of the firm to which a merchantman belongs.

House line – A loose laid line made of three strands, used to seize strops onto blocks.

Housing – Part of mast below deck CTC SMS

Housing – That part of the bowsprit immediately forward of its heel, which could be round, square or octagonal in section.  NTUS 0306

Housing (of bowsprit) – The inboard part of a vessel supporting the bowsprit.

Hove down – Cleaned and repaired, originally of ships, but eventually applied to anything

Hoveller – An unlicensed pilot or other boatman. Sometimes used to refer to smugglers and wreckers. Also called Hobbler.

Hove to – SMS

Hovering Act, The – 1784

Howe, Earl – “Black Dick”.

Howe’s Patent Close-Reefing Topsail – The first system of double topsails that superseded more complicated systems of self-reefing.  In Howe’s, both sails were laced together, but this later proved unnecessary.

How’s her head? – A request from the conner when he wanted to know the compass course being steered.

Hoy – A flat-bottomed sailing vessel.

Hoytaker – The person who arranged waterborne transport from the victualling yards.

Huck – To remove barnacles or marine growth from hull in Graving Dock or when being Careened.

Huddies – The spaces between a fishing net rope and the net.

Hudson‘s Bay Company – Est. 1670

Hues – The preservative tannin solution in which new fishing nets are steeped.

Huffle – Tow.

Hufflers – Unofficial pilots cum labourers

Hug – (v) To keep as close to the shore as possible.

Hulk – 1. The hull of a sailing ship, stripped of its masts and rigging, used for various fixed duties such as stores, magazines, barracks, hospitals, churches and prisons.  2. A broad cargo vessel, with its beam about half its length.  Originally a northern clinker-built keel-less, banana-shaped ship construction that evolved with the cog into the Baltic merchantman of the same name.

Hull – The body of a vessel.

Hull down – Said of a distant vessel that was only visible by its sails and masts, the hull being below the horizon.

Hulling – Floating free with neither rudder nor sail.

Hurricane – NTUS 1704

Hullock – SMS

Humbugged – Kept at work for nothing or no good reason.

Hummer – Solid wooden scraper used by the scavelman.

Hunting Sword – Hanger decorated with hunting scenes, introduced by Admiral John Benbow and popular by 1700.

Huntley Diving Boat – Submarine boats invented by Captain H L Huntley of the Southern States in the American Civil war, comprising converted boilers 36ft(11m) long by 6ft(1.8m) diameter, driven by muscle power turning a crankshaft rigged fore-and-aft and driving a large propeller at the stern.

Hurrah’s Nest – Seamen’s slang for a scene of confusion. “Everything on top and nothing to hand”.

Hurricane Chains – Rigged underwater across (e.g.) English Harbour, onto which towed anchors could snag in a hurricane, thus preventing the ship from being blown onto land.

Hurt Certificate – A document officially stating a seaman’s injuries, sustained in action.  The purser would purchase these certificates on the seaman’s retirement from the sea, as a form of pension payment.

Hussif – Seamen’s slang for his kit for repairing his clothing, from a corruption of ‘housewife’.

Hydrographer – NTUS 1804

Hydrography – NTUS 1804

Hydrometer, Sykes’ – An instrument that measured the density of liquid, used in the navy to check the proof strength of spirits, including rum.  Before its use the Purser had to verify proof of rum by introducing gunpowder and attempting to ignite it by means of a glass focussing sunlight.  It is alleged that, if the gunpowder did ignite the Purser was inevitably blown up, and if it did not then he was lynched by the crew for trying to cheat them.  Most Pursers were therefore glad when Sykes’ Hydrometer arrived on the scene.

I bar – An iron or steel bar with an I-shaped section.

Ice – Frozen water.  Arctic and Antarctic types and terms are as follows: Anchor Ice – Ice formed on the sea bed, when winds prevent the cold temperature from freezing the sea surface; Bergy Bits – House sized lumps; Brash – Fragments and roundish nodules, the wreckage of other types of ice; Crack – Any fissure; Drift Ice – Loose open ice, where area the of water exceeds that of the ice; Field – An area of ice whose limits are not visible from a masthead; Floe – An area of ice whose limits are visible; Growlers – Room sized greenish lumps, barely showing above water level; Hummocking – Process of build up through pressure; Hummocky Floes – Old ice with lumpy features, sometimes translucent due to salt draining away; Land-Floes – Heavy ice plus snow cover, land locked; Lane – Navigable crack; Lead – Navigable crack; The Pack – Any area of sea ice; Pack Ice – An area of floes, ‘Close’ or ‘Tight’ means touching, ‘Open’ means not  touching; Pool – Enclosed open water, roughly square or circular; Sludge or Slush – Freezing seawater in the early, soupy stages; Young Ice – Flat ice up to a foot thick.

Ice Anchor – A single-fluked anchor used to dig into ice to be used as an alternative anchorage.

Ice beam – A heavy timber beam used to protect the bows from ice.

Ice blink – Patchy light reflections in the polar sky, indicating distant sea ice and open water.      

Icebound – NTUS 2002

Ice-foot – A fringe of ice skirting Arctic or Antarctic shores, usually formed by sea spray.     

Ice lead – NTUS 2001

Ice master – The navigating officer of a whaling ship.

Idler – The seamen’s contemptuous name for any member of a ship’s crew that works only during the day and does not serve night duties, such as the boatswain, carpenter, etc.

If I wasn’t a gunner…. – Incantation used to time the firing of salute guns, e.g. “If I wasn’t a gunner I wouldn’t be here, number two gun fire, if I wasn’t a gunner I wouldn’t be here, number three gun fire, etc…..”.

I’m inboard – Seamen’s slang for being all right.  I’m all right, Jack.

Immortal Memory, The – What has become a traditional speech given by the guest of honour at Trafalgar Night dinners, in which Nelson’s achievements are mentioned, one of which is then expanded upon, as it applies to a current situation.

Impress or Imprest Service – The organisation who carried out impressments.  Sometimes called Press Gangs.  It died quietly and unmourned in 1833.

Impressment – The taking of seamen into the navy, or landsmen into the army, or vice versa, when normal recruitment levels failed to meet the numbers needed.  Originally, the intention was for only seamen to be persuaded to join the navy, by accepting an imprest, or advance payment of wages, and for those with protections (certificates of exemption from duty) to be excluded, but when things got difficult, anyone would do and protections were often generally suspended in times of great danger.  When recruitment could not be achieved by peaceful means, members of the Imprest Service had to resort to the force frequently, but often incorrectly, associated with the so-called Press Gangs.  Later impressment was renamed as ‘National Service’.

Imprest – Money paid in advance to a public servant constituting an advance of wages, by way of establishing a contract of employment.  Used initially by the Impress Service to persuade seamen to enter the Royal Navy, but later, force was more frequently applied.

Imprest Account – Similar to an overdraft; used by Victualling Board to control pursers’ and victualling contractors’ expenditure.

‘In’ – The order given to shorten sail.

In and Out – The Naval and Military Club in London, from its imposing gate pillars and the signs thereon.

In and out plating – A method of plating in which alternate rows of plating strakes overlap above and below the adjacent strake.

In ballast – Said of a vessel that has no cargo and is sailing only with ballast to help keep her trim.

Inboard – Said of any part of the ship or one of its pieces of equipment that is nearer to the longitudinal centreline of the ship.

In bows – The order given to a boat’s crew, when approaching the landing point, to raise the oars to the vertical, boat them and take hold of boathooks.  Also, just ‘bows’.

Inclination of ship – The angle of a ship’s list from the vertical.

Inclinatory needle – NTUS 1906

Independent piece – A tapered projection beneath the bowsprit.

Indiaman – Short for East Indiaman.

Indian Guard – Spanish Galleons guarding the silver fleet.

Indian’s Revenge – Tobacco.  BDD

Infernal Vessel – An explosive vessel; similar to fire ship but packed with explosives.  Also Machine Vessel.

Inferior Officers

In fighting – Boarding and taking.  cf Off-fighting.

In frame – The state of a ship under construction, when the frames were finished but without the planking.  It was beneficial for a ship to be left ‘in frame’ as long as possible, during building, to help it dry out and so reduce rot.

Ingenio – A sugar mill.

In haul – The parts of a tackle that brings a load inboard.

Inhauler – ERR

In irons – Said of a vessel with her head to the wind and unable to pay off on either tack.

Initial stability – The ability by which an upright vessel can withstand forces tending to make her heel over.

In mid-channel – Halfway across any channel, or river.

In mid-stream – In the middle of a current.

Inner bottom – The plating laid on top of the floors.  In a vessel with a double bottom, the upper layer of plating.

Inner post – A timber fastened along the fore side of the stern post, to strengthen it and to support the transom.

Inner turns – The turns of an earing, fastening the sail to the yardarm, that are inside the lift and closer to the corner of the sail.  See also outer turns.

In Order of Sailing

In Ordinary – See Ordinary.

Inshore – Close to land.  Also onshore.

Inside clinch – An anchor clinch.

Inside strake – A plate in direct contact with a frame member.

In soundings – NTUS 1501 Close enough to land to determine the depth by means of a lead line, indicating that the sea’s depth is reducing.

In stays – Said of a sailing vessel with her head to the wind as she goes about from one tack to another.

Intake – The amount of cargo that a ship can take in.

Intelligence – Information.

Intend, to – To attend to.

Intercept method – The basis of all modern navigation introduced in 1874 by Marc St. Hilaire of the French Navy.  Also, Marc St Hilaire method or the new navigation.

Intercostal keelson – A keelson formed of vertical plates fitted between the floors and connected to the bottom plates by angle-bars.

Intercostal plate – NTUS 0316


International code flags (1931) – NTUS 1305

Interval – The tidal prediction term meaning the period between the Moon’s southing and the next high water.  Also lunitidal interval.

In the Wind – Drunk.

In tidal waters – NTUS 1602

Inverted ensign – NTUS 1304

Investment – Blockade of enemy ports.

Invincible Armada

In way of – In line with.

Irish horse – A lump of salt horse (beef) that was more tough and grisly than usual, from the belief that Irish horses were worked longer by their poor owners.

Irish parliament – Lots of talking, but no conclusions.

Irish pendant – Seamen’s name for a frayed flag or a loose end of rope or twine, or a fender, left dangling free.

Irish pennants – Ragged and loose ends in rigging, or clothing.

Iron – A whaleman’s name for the harpoon.

Iron-bound – Block.

Iron-Bound Coast – Rocky with no anchorages.

Ironclad – Early term for armoured warship, from the initial practice of fixing iron plates onto the wooden structure of the ship.

Ironed – In irons.

Iron garters – A punishment in which the offender was shackled by his legs to an iron bar.

Iron Jackstay

Iron knee – (hgv)

Iron Littior – ?

Iron Monkey – A block with a quick release mechanism.

Iron Ship – The general term for ships built of iron instead of wood, first tried out in late 18c but taking over from wood during 19c.

Iron-sick – The condition of a ship in which the iron fastenings have worked loose from adjacent woodwork, due to corrosion.

Iron stopper – SMS

Iron topsail – An engine in a sailing ship.

Iron Teeth – A ship’s guns.

Ironwood – Used as block pins.

Island, The – The Royal Navy’s unofficial name for Madeira.

It flows tide and half tide – An expression for the fact that the tidal ebb starts three hours sooner inshore than offshore and for tidal streams that are reversed at half-flood and half-ebb.

It’s not my part of the ship – Seamen’s slang for something not being his responsibility.

Ivory – Shown by the sea when the wind gets up.

Jabot – A frilly cravat worn as part of the full dress uniform of a naval officer.

Jacht – Dutch term first coined early 17c referring to a new type of three-masted Barque rigged ship.

Jack – 1. The flag on the bowsprit jack-staff denoting a naval vessel.  2. Our friend, the seaman, in common and familiar parlance.

Jackanapes coat – Early name for the rough wool monkey jacket worn by seamen.

Jackass – A hawse plug.

Jackass barque, bark – A three-masted ship similar to barquentine but which carried fore-and-aft sails on its lower mainmast and square sails on its topmasts.  A rig with at least one fully square rigged mast, but otherwise unorthodox.

Jackass rig – Any unusual rig.

Jack block – A single block stropped with a button and eye arrangement by which it could be attached to the topgallant mast.

Jack-crosstrees– SMS   

Jack Dusty or Jack-in-the-Dust – Originally the Purser’s steward or seaman, assigned to issue flour in the bread room, whose title came with the job.  But later it also referred to the rating responsible for the book-keeping of the daily rum issue.  Also, Dusty, or Jack o’ the Dust.

Jacket – An additional timber or number of timbers fixed for protection onto the outside of a ship’s hull.

Jack Ketch – The Master-at-Arms.

Jack ladder – A ladder with wooden rungs and rope sides.

Jack line – A rope rove through the grommets of  a reef band, and used for reefing with a toggle on the jackstay.  Also reefing jackstay or reef line.

Jack-line-reef – A form of reefing arrangement resulting in a jack-line fore and aft of the sail, instead of individual reefing lines.  Also French-reef.

Jack Nastyface – Nickname for the cook’s assistant, or anyone else disliked by the crew, from the fictitious name put on petitions circulated in the early nineteenth century, exposing bad conditions.

Jack of all trades – A seaman capable of turning his hand to any necessary task.

Jack of rum

Jack o’ the Dust – Dusty, or Jack Dusty.

Jack pin – A pin-shaped belaying pin used in the shrouds.

Jack screw – A device used to compress soft goods in the hold, or to move heavy goods into place in the hold.

Jackson – To clap on a Jackson was to crowd sail.

Jackstaff – The flagpole at the bow, on the bowsprit cap, from which the jack, or national flag, is flown.  For the British, when the union flag is flown anywhere else but on a jackstaff, either at sea or on land, it should be called the ‘Union Flag’ and not the ‘Union Jack’.

Jackstay, Jack-stay – 1. A rope, batten, wire or iron stay carried on short stanchions fitted along the upper side of a spar or yard, to which the head of a square sail is bent, or attached.  2. A light jackstay is a rope rigged between two ships under way, for hauling loads across.  3. A heavy jackstay is the same, but heavier.

Jack Strop – Seamen’s slang for a troublemaker or sea-lawyer.  NTUS 1010

Jack Tar – Seamen’s slang for a sailor, but now used only in a derogatory sense.  From the tarred canvas worn by seamen in heavy weather.

Jackyarder – See Jackyard topsail. NTUS 0411

Jackyard topsail, jackyarder – A square sail set above a gaff sail, with its head attached to a small spar angled across the mast, like a lugsail.  Also lug topsail.

Jacob’s ladder – A rope or jack ladder rigged abaft a topgallant or royal mast, to save seamen having to shin up the mast.  Also, the ladder from a boat to a boat boom.

Jacob’s staff – An ancient wooden instrument used to measure altitudes of heavenly bodies, comprising a cross, or transversary, sliding on a staff that had graduated degrees marked on it.  Also arbalest, cross-staff or fore-staff.


Jag – The last tight pull on a sheet or bowline, etc.

Jaght – Dutch coastal trader.

Jail Fever – Typhus

Jail-prop – Habitual prisoner.

Jakt – Scandinavian coastal trader.

James the First – The First Lieutenant.

Jamie Green – See Jimmy Green.

Jammed – Said of rigging or cargo, etc., that has been wedged tight and is immovable.

Jamming – SMS

Janizaries – Turkish soldiers on Corsairs’ galleys.

Jankers – Punishment, extra work.


Jarvis brace winch, brake-winch

Jaunty – Seamen’s slang for the Master-at-Arms; probably a corruption of the French “gendarme”, or maybe gentilhomme” (but, on second thoughts, probably not the latter).


Jaw – 1. The open ended fitting of a gaff or a boom, by which it fits to the mast.  2. Seamen’s slang for backchat to a superior.

Jaw parrels – An arrangement of alternating trucks and ribs threaded onto a parrel rope, to keep the trucks separate.  Also called rib and truck.

Jaw rope – A rope fastened to the jaw of a gaff or boom to hold it fast to the mast, usually rigged with bull’s eyes to reduce chafing.

Jaws – (tge)

Jealousy – Used in Elizabethan times to mean mistrust or suspicion.

Jeer bitts – NTUS 0313 (Jear) CTC

Jeer block – SMS (hgv)

Jeer capstan – SMS (tge)

Jeers – Tackles used for hoisting (swaying) or lowering (striking) the courses.  On other sails, halyards perform the same function.

Jeminy – Neatness.

Jemmy Dux – See Jimmy Ducks.

Jemmy Green – See Jimmy Green.  SMS

Jemmy Legs – Master-at-arms.


Jenkin’s Ear (War of) – The story that it was presented, by Jenkins, to Parliament, in a jar, is a myth.

Jennet – A small Spanish horse.

Jenny Haniver – A fake mermaid.



Jerque note – Customs clearance?

Jervis(Admiral) – AKA ‘Old Jack’.

Jetsam – Goods or material which has been thrown overboard, or jettisoned.  See Flotsam.

Jettison – To throw goods or equipment overboard, usually to lighten ship in an emergency.

Jetty – NTUS 2002

Jewel block – A light single block attached to the ends of the main and fore yardarms, through which the studding sail halyard is run.

Jewing – Seamen’s slang for sewing and repairing.  Hence the Jewing Firm was a group of seamen running a tailoring business on board ship.

Jew’s harp shackle – An open shackle.  One was used to fasten the anchor to its chain.

Jib – A triangular sail set on a stay before the foremast and extending from the bowsprit or jib-boom.

Jibber the kibber – The old name for luring a ship onto the rocks, by rigging false and misleading lights.

Jib-boom – A spar extending the bowsprit and taking the forward stay and the foot of the forward jib.

Jib-boom outhauler – (ecr)

Jib-boom saddle – (ecr)

Jib downhaul – The rope used to pull the jibsail down to the jib-stay.


Jib guys – Ropes used to stay down the jib-boom against the lift of its sail.

Jib halyard – The rope used to hoist the jibsail.

Jib headed – The name for all triangular sails not set on a lateen yard.

Jib-headed mizzen – SMS


Jib-head topsail

Jib iron – An iron hoop fitted loosely around the jib-boom, holding the lower foremost corner of the jib, and allowing it to travel along the jib-boom.

Jib-of-jib boom – An extreme extension of the bowsprit, sometimes added to the flying jib-boom.

Jib of jibs – A sixth jib sometimes set at the outer end of the head sails.

Jib outhaul – The rope attached to the back of the jibsail and used to pull it outwards.

Jib sheet – The rope used to control and hold the clew of the jibsail.

Jib-stay – The foremast stay onto which the jibsail is set.

Jib, The cut of (someone’s) – Sailing warship’s would often cut down their jib sails to help them maintain point – i.e. keep their heading.  When a distant ship was sighted, the cut of the jib could be a clue to the observer as to whether or not the ship was a warship, and so give them a chance to escape.  A phrase that has come ashore.

Jib traveller – A sliding device used instead of a block?



Jigger – 1. The aftermost mast of a four masted ship.  2. A light tackle used to rig studdingsail booms.  3. A small tackle comprising a single and double block used to hold the anchor cable when it was being hauled.

Jigger bark – ERR

Jigger mast

Jigger tackle – A small light tackle comprising a single and a double block, used for general purposes.

Jill – Just enough wind to jill us along

Jimmie Green – See Jimmy Green.

Jimmy, or Jimmy the One – The First Lieutenant.  Originally Jeminy the One, but it became corrupt.

Jimmy Bungs – Seamen’s nickname for the ship’s cooper.

Jimmy Ducks, Dux – Seamen’s nickname for the ship’s galley boy or the butcher’s assistant, who was in charge of poultry on board.

Jimmy Green – A four-sided fore-and-aft sail set under the bowsprit and jib-boom by clippers in light airs.  Also Jamie or Jimmie Green.

Jimmy Legs – The Master-at-Arms.

Jimmy the One – Jimmy.

Joalies – Fishermen’s name for young herring.



Jobbing Captain – One who temporarily stood in for the ship’s real captain who was unavailable for some reason.

Job watch – See Deck watch. NTUS 1904

Jockey-roller – A roller spaced away from, but close to, the destination of a line, to ensure a more suitable angle of that line to its destination, and hence a better reaction.

Jogger shackle – A long bent shackle with a quick release pin, used when the chain cable is hauled round the bows to fit a mooring swivel.


Joggery – Weed substitute used instead of tobacco by Lascars.

Joggled timber – A frame member shaped so that each hull plank or strake slopes outwards, and so has the appearance of having been clinker-built, although not actually overlapping each other.

Joggling – The name given to the operation of shaping a plate or a frame flange to make the plate fit snugly and continuously to the frame.

John Company – Seamen’s nickname for The Honourable East India Company.

Johnny Newcombe – Greenhorn.

Joining shackle – A shackle with an oval pin fitted flush with the lugs, used to join lengths of chain cable together.

Jollies – Seamen’s nickname for the Royal Marines, particularly from Trained Bands.

Jolly Boat – Small ship’s boat used for general ferrying duties between ship and shore.  From a small yawl (jolle, julle, N European terms)  NTUS 0901 ERR

Jolly jumpers – Seamen’s name for all the moonsails.

Jolly Roger – The flag depicting a skull and crossed bones which is recognised by all to indicate that the wearer is a pirate, although it is probable that no self-respecting pirate ever did so, this flag being the result of fertile fiction writers’ minds.  The more likely flag used by a pirate, if any, was a plain black flag.  NTUS 1303 BDD

Jollywatt – 15c ship’s boat of four oars.

Jonah, Jonas – Seamen’s name for someone considered unlucky on board ship, from the biblical story of Jonah and the whale.

Jonah’s lift, or toss – A method of helping a Jonah to stop being one, by boosting him over the side on a dark night.

Jonathans– Americans.

Jonnick – Seamen’s slang for honest, true correct or fair.

Joss – Seamen’s slang for fortune, as in bad joss meaning bad luck, or joss stick being an offering to bring good luck.

Journal – The summarized transcription of the log book.  In the Royal Navy, the journal would be forwarded to the Admiralty for analysis.  Also fair log.

Judas – Seamen’s slang for something, particularly a piece of rigging, serving no purpose and hanging free.

Judgement day – Saturday, being the day on which many ships administered justice and punishment.

Jumbo wrists – Swollen wrists often experienced by trawlermen from the effects of hauling the nets.

Jumper – A person who unloads cargo by jumping.

Jumper guys – Ropes used to stay down the ends of the bowsprit whiskers.

Jumper on yardarm – SMS

Jumper stay – Any stay set up in heavy weather to prevent the yard from jumping out of place.

Jumper strut – SMS

Jumping – A method of lifting a load of cargo from a small boat by holding a rope attached to the load through a triatic stay and jumping off a platform, to hoist the load free of the boat.

Jumping ladder – A rope ladder hanging from a ship’s sides, usually only used by the crew.

Jump ship – To desert ship, or leave it without permission.

Jumpsurgee strop – A strong rope strop passing three times round a block and once round the thimble.  Made from an unlaid rope plaited into nettles.

Junior Officers

Junk – 1. The remnants of old rope, teased out, cut up and used to make oakum, swabs, mats, etc.  2. European name for three-masted Chinese sailing cargo ships. Sometimes used in suitable form as warships, pirate or fishing vessels.

Junk, Junks – Pieces of  boiled beef or pork.

Jury knot – A knot of three overlapping hitches used in jury rigs, to attach stays and shrouds.  Also a shamrock knot.

Jury mast – 1 A temporary set up to replace a mast lost in battle or storm; usually by replacing it with a large spare yard or spar.  2. A temporary mast fitted in a shipyard, whilst the vessel is under construction.

Jury mast knot – A knot of four overlapping hitches used in jury rigs, similar to a jury knot.

Jury mat – A temporary mat made of woven rope.

Jury rig – Any incomplete and unsatisfactory rig, but most often applied to a temporary set up made from available materials in an emergency.

Jury-rigged – A temporary arrangement of mast, rigging, rudder, etc., from its being ‘for the day’, or de jour as the French say.

Jury rudder – A temporary rudder rigged when the proper rudder has been damaged beyond use.

Jury steering gear – A temporary steering gear rigged when the proper helm has been damaged beyond use.

Jut – A push or shove.

Kaaied sprit – ERR

Kallebogas – Mixture of rum, sugar and small beer, after a similar North American drink. Also sometimes Callbolus.

Kanaka – Slang for a Pacific Islander.

Karfar – Viking warship.

Kauri Pine – Great mast timber from New Zealand after 1804.

Kaus – NTUS 1703

Kayar – Coconut fibre rigging, from rind of the nut, used by Lascars.

Keckling –Canvas and rope protection of anchor cable against seabed chafing.

Kedge – A small (5cwt) anchor first introduced late 18c, used as a secondary anchor, supportive to the bower anchor in bad holding ground.  Also used to move a ship around inside a harbour, by laying it out by boat and drawing the ship to it by means of the capstan – an evolution known as kedging.

Kedge forelock – (hgv)

Kedger – Beggar

Kedging Free

Kedging – SMS

Keel – The principal length of timber in a ship, running fore and aft and supporting the entire structure and frame of the ship.  Usually the first component laid in shipbuilding and comprising several shorter lengths of timber joined together by means of scarf joints.

Keel band, or stem band – The metal strip running up a boat’s stem.


Keel blocks – Short heavy timber blocks used to support the keel of a vessel in dry dock.

Keel hauling, keel dragging – 1. The old form of naval punishment in which a weighted victim was hoisted up a yardarm with a rope attached to him that had been passed under the ship, dropped into the sea, dragged under the ship, across the barnacle-infested hull and hoisted up to the opposite yardarm, half drowned.  Sometimes a cannon, the rogue’s gun, was fired over his head, just to add to the discomfort.  2. It became seamen’s slang for a dire threat of reprisal, so, in common language, someone who is keel-hauled has to undergo a great hard ship.


Keel plate – One of the plates of a flat plate keel.

Keels – Flat bottom boats.

Keelson, kells’n – The internal keel mounted over the floor-timbers immediately above the main keel, to provide additional strength to the structure.

Keelson board – The relatively heavy timber secured inside the centreline of a boat, above the floors, to hold the mast steps and the thwart pillars.

Keel staple – Metal staples, usually of iron or copper, used to hold together the false keel and the keel.

Keep her away – A helm order given when the conner wanted to warn the helmsman that he was too close to the wind.  Also ‘no nearer’, or ‘no near’, or ‘keep her full’.

Keep her full – A helm order given when the conner wanted to warn the helmsman that he was too close to the wind.  Also ‘no nearer’, or ‘keep her away’, or ‘no near’.

Keep her so – A helm order given when the conner wanted the vessel to continue sailing in the present direction when sailing close-hauled.  Also ‘very well thus’, or ‘very well dyce’, or ‘thus’.

Keep off – To ensure that a vessel keeps away from the land or another vessel.

Keep the land aboard – (v) To sail along within sight of the land.

Keep your luff – A helm order given when the conner wanted the vessel to come closer to the wind.  Also ‘luff’, or ‘keep your wind’, or ‘spring the luff’.

Keep your wind – A helm order given when the conner wanted the vessel to come closer to the wind.  Also ‘keep your luff’, or ‘luff’, or ‘spring the luff’.


Keckling – Type of cable protection comprising a small rope wrapped in the grooves of the cable.  cf serving, parcelling, worming, rounding, platting, link worming.

Kelter – Seamen’s term for all in order and in good condition.

Kelvin sounding machine – NTUS 1901

Kemp – A comb.

Kenning – The early Scottish expression for the approximate distance high land could be seen from the sea, which varied between 14 and 22 miles.

Kenning glass – See Spy glass. NTUS 1906

Kentladge, Kentledge – Permanent iron ballast.

Kerling – The mast step in Viking ships.

Kern – To make into grains or granulate.

Kersey Jacket – Early common attire.

Ketch – A two-masted fishing and coastal cargo ship first built about mid 17c in which the mainmast is fairly central with the mizzenmast well aft, but afore the tiller.

Kettle – A basket submerged for fishing, originally corrupted from keddle. Hence the common expression about fine kettles of fish.

Kevel block – NTUS 0300

Kevel, cavil – A thick horizontal timber bolted to a partner to form a large cleat at a ship’s sides, used for belaying large ropes.

Kevel head – The top extension of a frame member, raised above the level of the gunwale, used as a kevel.

Kevel (knight) – ERR

Khamsin – NTUS 1703

Kharif – NTUS 1703

Kicking strap – The American term for a rope fastened across the clumsy cleat under which the whale-line passed to keep it in place.

Kickling string – The cord that is worked through the gills of herring to carry them.

Kid – 1. Metal dish for carrying food from the galley.  2. To signify something and signal it.  3. A tub.

Kiddle – Wicker fish-basket.

Kid – Gloves

Kidney dagger – 16c seamen’s weapon, named after the place in the belt where it was kept.

Kidney Pads – (leather, for the lash)

Kids – The compartments used to hold the catch in fishing vessels.

Kill Devil, Killdevil – Rum, an alternative name, coined originally by slaves.

Killick – A type of stone anchor, or other old anchor or just a small stern anchor.  The term came to apply to any leading seaman or leading hand, because of his fouled anchor sleeve badge.

King spoke – NTUS 0309

Kink – A tight bend or loop in a rope, caused by its having been twisted too hard or carelessly drawn from a coil.

Kilderkin – 18 gallon cask.

King Post

King’s Bedchamber, The – Seamen’s’ slang for the Spithead area, because it was so safe.

King’s Bounty

King’s (or Queen’s) Hard Bargains – 1. Useless sailors.  2. Quota men.

King’s Letter Boys – Established in 17th Century by Samuel Pepys, modified in 1730 to RN Academy, Plymouth.

King spoke – The spoke of the steering gear, marked with a brass cap, that indicates when it is vertical that the helm is amidships.

King’s Ship

King’s (Queen’s) shilling – The bounty paid to a volunteer on enlisting.  This was sometimes found in the bottom of a proffered pint of ale, the acceptance of which meant the recipient had volunteered, albeit involuntarily.

King’s Yarn

Kintal – See Quintal.

Kippage – An old term, from equipage, meaning the equipment of a ship, including the crew.  A ship and its kippage.

Kit – See Mess Kit.

Kitchen boat – A small boat or ship, equipped to cater for royalty or similar dignitaries, on a cruise in ships that were less suitable for the cooking parts, which were often considered important.

Kites – Small light good weather sails set at extremities of studding sails*, but more usually confined to the unusual Skysails.

Kites – SMS

Knarr – Viking merchantman.

Knave – of wheel. (tge)

Knee – An angled timber piece used to connect the beams of a ship with her sides or frames.  They were sometimes arranged at different angles to suit their natural shape or to accommodate a gun port.  See also lodging and hanging knees.

Knee of the head – The cutwater or foremost part of the stem, which is in the form of a widening leading edge, to assist in parting the waters as a vessel moves forward, fixed to the bows by means of the cheeks of the head.  This also supports the figurehead.


Knee timber – An alternative name for a wooden bracket, or knee.

Knight heads, knightheads – Two heavy timbers mounted just behind the foremast, one on each side of the stem, supporting the bowsprit which is fixed between them, the ends of the windlass and, sometimes, as bitts for the anchor cable.  Originally carved with the heads of knights.  Also called bollard timbers.

Knights of Malta, The – An order formed younger sons of aristocratic European Catholic families to fight the ‘Eternal War’ against Islam.

Knittle – A small line made of two or three rope yarns twisted hard together between thumb and finger, with the twist of the rope starting in the middle and the ends whipped.  Also nettle.

Knittle-reefed – ERR

Knob – An officer or other member of the upper class, from ‘noble’, used in disrespectful way.

Knock down – Take something apart, such as a used cask.

Knock out – The order given on a trawler, to knock out the pin of the towing block and so release the warp, in preparation of hauling the net.

Knock the gilt off the gingerbread – Spoil a joke by coming in with the punch line out of turn.

Knot – The unit of speed of a vessel under way.  1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour = 1.151 land miles per hour.  From the use of the knotted log line to determine a vessel’s speed.  The use of the phrase “knots per hour” is a certain indicator of the user’s lack of familiarity with matters nautical.

Known position – A vessel’s position determined by reference to seamarks or landmarks.

Know the ropes – Seamen’s slang understanding the rigging, fully, from which it came to mean being experienced, especially to know all the dodges.

Knuckle – 1. A sharp angle in one of a vessel’s frame members.  2. A sharp bend in a jetty or the edge of the pier-head, from which a ship turned with the tide to depart.  Hence, when a ship was ‘on the knuckle’ she was ready to leave.  3. In the 19c the customary salute was to touch the clenched fist to the forehead in acknowledgement of having received an order.  ‘Knuckle under’ came to mean, getting on with something.

Knuckle-timbers – The foremost cant frames, in the bow.

Koff – Overflow fish-well towed behind peter-boat, or similar welled fishing-boat, comprising perforated wooden container with opening in top.

Kreng – A whale carcass with all blubber stripped off and the head emptied of spermaceti; left to float away from whaler.

Krengers – Whaler crewmen who did the initial trimming of a carcass.

Krennel – A small rope cringle, used for the bowline brindles on a square sail.

Kuff – A two-masted full-bodied coastal cargo ship with well rounded hull ends and with pronounced bow and stern sheer, used on Dutch/Belgian coasts during 18 and19c.

Kurnowic purposes – ? Smuggling.

Kye – Navy nickname for chocolate and for a hot drink served on watch, made from melted solid slabs of chocolate.