Saccharum - Rum, alternative name.

Sack - White wine from Spain or Canary Islands.   

Sackcloth and Ashes - Ancient sign of mourning, leading to Cockbilled rig as a similar mark of respect.     

Sack rat - A sleepy individual.

Sacoleva - ERR

Saddle – 1. A notched piece of wood fastened onto one spar and forming a chock, or rest, for another.  2. A section of a monkey block hollowed out to fit against the convexity of the yard to which it is attached.

Safety hook – A cargo hook with a hinged lock over the point, to stop the load slipping off.

Sagging - The opposite of Hogging, in which the hull droops amidships.       

Sag – To make excessive leeway, or drift to leeward.

Saik - ERR

Sail - A shaped expanse of fabric, usually canvas, used to harness the power of the wind and drive the vessel.  Square sails are suspended from spars set across the vessel and fore-and-aft sails are set on stays or gaffs along the line of the vessel.

Sail - Ship, used “Number of sail” meaning number of ships, eg “200 sail”, being a largish convoy. 

Sail burton – A tackle rigged at the topmast heads, used to hoist the sails.

Sail close to the wind - NTUS 1011

Sailcloth – Flax or cotton canvas of sail-making quality.

Sail clutch – An iron band used to attach a sail to a mast.

Sail cover – A protective cover over a furled sail, usually made of canvas.

Sail ho - NTUS 1101

Sail hook – A metal hook used to hold pieces of canvas together whilst being sewn.

Sail hoop – An iron band used to attach a sail to a mast and allow it to raise and lower.

Sailing - 1. Using sails as the means of propulsion of a vessel.  2. Leaving the  point of departure

Sailing barge - SMS      

Sailing Boat - Generic term for waterborne vessels propelled by wind against sails, usually up to about 40ft(12m) long.       

Sailing directions - See Pilot. NTUS 1807

Sailing free – Running free.

Sailing instructions – 1. The orders issued to a ship for a particular assignment.  2. The orders issued by the commander of a convoy to the ships of that convoy, detailing signals, rendezvous, etc.

Sailing orders – The orders issued to a warship, detailing departure and arrival times, speed and various duties.  A ship under sailing orders is ready to go to sea, with shore leave restricted.

Sailing Ship - Generic term for waterborne vessels propelled by wind against sails which, because of their size and design, were not called sailing boats.       

Sailing Speed -      Theoretically the maximum speed of a sailing ship is between 1.25 and 1.5 times the square root of the waterline length.

Sailings, The - NTUS 1506

Sailing ship routes - NTUS 1701

Sailing thwart – The fore-and-aft thwart running along the centreline of a boat and holding the mast.  In small boats it was sometimes athwartships.

Sailing trim – The proper trim for a ship for sailing.

Sailings – The representation on paper of a vessel’s path.

Sailmaker – The crew member who is responsible for assembling and repairing sails and all other canvas items on board.  Nicknamed Sails

Sailmaker’s eye splice - NTUS 0512

Sailmakers Mate -

Sailmaker’s tools - Shook, Marlin spike, Fid, Pinker (a straight marlin spike), Heaving mallet, Serving mallet    

Sailmaker’s whipping - NTUS 0512

Sail needle – A heavy duty needle with a triangular cross section at the tip.

Sailor – Anyone who goes to sea to earn a living.  In the Royal Navy, a rating below the rank of Able Seaman who works on deck.

Sailor King - Nickname of William IV of England, due to his naval service. 

Sailor’s Baptism - A classic rite of passage by novices first crossing the line BDD

Sailors’ Disgrace - Foul anchor flag. Red flag with gold(foul) anchor and cable. Standard of the Lord High Admiral. Also used as a mark on ships or goods arrested by Admiralty and on naval ordnance. 

Sailor’s Knife -

Sailor’s whipping - See American whipping. NTUS 0512

Sail Plan -     

Sail room - The storeroom for a ship’s sails.

Sails - Usually Flax Canvas. US white cotton- distinctive.      

Sails – The nickname for the sailmaker.

Sails, to take the wind out of (someone’s) – To sail too close to another vessel to let their sails properly draw the wind.  This phrase came ashore to refer to the practice of spoiling someone’s efforts.

Sail twine – Fine line used by sailmakers, comprising the best long hemp, beaten, spun, well dressed and laid into two or three strands.  Also seaming twine.

Saint Elmo’s Fire - A luminous discharge of electricity into atmosphere. Also Corposants.

Saint Helena - Stop off on the way home from East Indies, much loved by seamen as it was considered to be healthy. BDD

Saint Nick’s Clerks – French privateers.

Saitea – A small Algerian(?) merchant ship.

Sakers - 5 pounders

Salamanders - SMS      

Sale before the mast - An auction of a dead crewmember’s kit, the proceeds of which were sent to his widow or family.  Consequently, high prices were often paid for items not really wanted.

Sallie Rovers - Algerian pirates     BDD

Sally Port -

Sallying - Sallying a ship is having the crew run en masse from side to side, to rock the ship free in pack ice.

Salmagundi, Salmagundy - Chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, and onions mixed with oil and condiments

Saloon - The primary passenger accommodation in a passenger vessel, or the officer’s mess in a merchant ship.

Saloupe - Powdered root, used to make a hot drink not unlike coffee.

Salt - The term for an experienced sailor.

Salt Beef - Was hung in sea to freshen it       

Salt beef squire – NTUS 1011

Salt Drogher -      

Salt-Eele - Rope end used for punishment.     

Salthorse – 1. The tough old salt beef served at sea.  2. A long-serving naval officer without a speciality.

Salt Jack -

Salt junk –Salt beef, from the seamen’s assertion that any old junk was thrown into the meat casks.

Saltpetre - Nitrate ore, used in the manufacture of gunpowder.  A valuable S American Pacific cargo.  Initially it came from India and was very dear.

Salt Pork       

Saltwagin’ - To earn wages from the sea{salt}. Became salvaging.

Saltwater Pump    CTC

Saltwater Soap

Salute - Hand salute started in Victorian times, as she objected to men in uniform being bareheaded, except when proper.

Salutes – Odd number of shots for a joyous occasion, even number for deaths, etc.

Salutes - ERR

Salutes - 11Gun for Commodore.  

Saluting Base -    

Saluting Days -    

Salvage - 1. The recovery of a vessel from danger, under certain very specific maritime laws.  2. The recovery of a ship or her contents after she has sunk.  3. The value put on the recovered ship or her contents, decided by maritime courts and depending on the difficulty of the recovery and the conditions under which the ship came into distress.  4. Rope made out of yarns laid parallel, untwisted and bound together, or marled.

Sambuk - A fast, two-masted sailing ship of the Arab Dhow type first known in the Middle Ages and still used to this day.

Samp - To lull, of sea or wind

Sampan - A flat-bottomed sailing or oared boat, between 10 and 33ft(3-10m) long, used on Chinese and other far eastern rivers, the larger ones being used as houseboats and transporters(Chinese ‘shan pan’ means three planks).      

Samson line – Line weighing about one pound and usually in 30-fathoms lengths.

Sampson-, Samson-post – 1. Short posts projecting through the deck forward of the fore-mast, onto which the main and main-topmast stays are secured.  NTUS 0315, 0701  2. The single bitt located about amidships on small vessels, just before the mast, and used for belaying the cable.

Samson post – A short heavy steel mast from which the derrick is supported and stayed, located about midway between the ship’s side and her centreline.

Sand Glass -

Sand strake – The name for a garboard strake in a boat.

Sand warped – Said of a vessel stranded on a sandbank at ebb tide.

Sandy Bottoms - Very rare gift of a whole tot for a big favour.

Sangoree - A drink of rum, lime juice and sugar.

Santa Ana - NTUS 1703

Santa Cruz - A brand of rum.

Sap -

Saronic Cycle, The – The moon’s 18 year cycle in the heavens – a table of which was used in one method of finding longitude.

Satchel – The name for a trawl net, given by trawlermen.

Saucer – The iron bearing set and bolted into the deck, into which the capstan spindle turns.

Sauve Tête – Netting rigged in battle twelve feet above deck, to protect crew against falling debris.

Save-all – A small fair-weather sail occasionally set under the lower studding sails or the driver boom.  Also water-sail.

Save-all topsail -   ERR

Savee - Comprehension.

Sawbones - Naval slang for a ship’s Medical Officer, originally the surgeon who did such things.

Sawyer -

Saxboard – A boat’s top strake.  Also sometimes called the sheer strake.

Scabbard -

Scaffie - NTUS 0807

Scalbote - Dinghy or harbour boat.

Scaldings! - Warning cried by carrier of hot food on board

Scam pavias - Small fast Maltese sailing vessel whose name means ‘runaways’.

Scamping - Doing negligently.

Scandalize – A way of mourning the dead by trimming the yards in different directions and letting the sails hang loose.

Scandalized - To lower the peak of a schooner’s mainsail

Scandalizing mizzen, etc - SMS 

Scant – A wind that draws ahead of the ship.

Scantline - NTUS 0302

Scantlings - Square sectioned pieces of timber, comprising the hull structure of a vessel as a whole.      

Scant wind - SMS  

Scapho - ERR

Scarf – 1. The name of the type of joint used to join two timbers, and the action of doing it, by shaping them in such a way as to avoid the need for any thickening at the join, whilst ensuring they will not pull apart, by means of a simple ‘hook and butt’ arrangement.  2. The lines cut in a whale’s carcass to enable the blanket pieces to peel off neatly.

Scavelman – Raked up the mud and waste collecting in docks.

‘Scend - Abbreviation of ascend, use to refer to the rapid rise of a vessel’s bows out of a trough between waves, at which action the bow would be a-scending.  Compare with pitch, when the bows were going the other way.  NTUS 1206

‘Scend – The raising of a vessel’s head when her stern drops into a wave trough.  The opposite of pitch.

‘Scend of the Sea -

‘Scending - Tossing        CTC

Scheik - A 17c single-masted oared sailing ship of the Black Sea, about 50ft(15m) long with a 12ft(3.5m) beam, used as a troop transport.         

Schmack - A 16 to 19c single-masted, flat-bottomed Dutch coastal sailing ship, occasionally using a mizzen.       

Schnigge - A fast oared sailing ship of northern Europe used during the 10 to 19c, primarily 10 to 12c. The name in German means snail, due to the ship’s gliding motion through the water.   

Schokker - A 13 to 19c Dutch sailing fishing vessel typified by the schokker boom, which could be swung out over the ship’s side for catching fish or handling the trawl nets. 


Schoolie - Schoolmaster

Schooner - Sailing ships rigged predominantly with fore-and-aft sails whose origins go back to about 1700.

Schooner brigantine - A two-masted staysail schooner.

Schooner ketch - A rig using a Billy-boy foremast as a topsail schooner and an aftermast as a ketch.

Schoot -

Schuyt - A simple barge-type vessel used for bulk transportation. This term has been applied to various types of ships, originally an old Norse rowing boat of 10c, then in the Middle Ages it was a fast sailing despatch and reconnaissance vessel attached to fleets, in the Hanseatic period they were German and Dutch coasters and in the 19c it came to refer to northern European freight barges, whilst in the Baltic schute means a broad three-masted ship with pointed hull fore and aft.

Schwer anchor - SMS

Scilly Light - Lighthouse on St Agnes island in the Scilly Isles, west of Land’s End.

Scimour – See skimmer.

Scirocco - NTUS 1703

Scoop – A small bailer.

Scope - The length of anchor chain paid out to let the ship swing safely at a single anchor.

Scorbutic – The term for conditions that caused scurvy.

Score – The groove or grooves cut into the outside of a block to take the strop.

Scotch Coffee - Burnt bread boiled in water and sweetened with sugar.

Scotchman - A smooth wooden or stiff hide guard fixed over the standing rigging, to protect the prevent chafing.

Scourge -

Scouse – 1. Seamen’s food; an abbreviation of lobscouse.  2. A Liverpudlian, from the word lobscouse.

Scran – 1. Seamen’s term for food; one of many.  2. Personal gear left lying about is collected and kept safe in a Scran Bag – to be redeemed on payment of a small fine.

Scraper – 1. Three cornered Reefers hat or Cocked Hat.  2. A bent and sharpened iron tool used to clean a ship’s bottom by scraping.

Scratch a Man’s Back - Flog.       

Scratch - Nickname of writer.

Scratch-platter – A seaman’s meal made of whatever odds and ends where available.

Screen bulkhead – 1. The upper deck bulkhead shutting off the fore or aft ends of the midship accommodation.  2. The dividing wall between the gallery and the cabin, framing the cabin windows.

Screws - Bowlines

Scribes – Seamen’s nickname for a writer.  So, also for the ship’s clerk, of various types.

Scrieve board -  for lofting   

Scrimshanker - A shirker, or one who is work-shy.

Scrimshaw – Artefacts and ornaments made by whalemen from the teeth and bones of whales.

Scroll, scroll head - The ornamental carving or moulding at the stem of a vessel that does not have a figurehead.

Scrope net - Trawl.

Scroper - A salvaging smack.

Scrub (vb) – NTUS 1011

Scrub round - NTUS 1011

Scrub Hammocks Mornings -

Scud – (v) To run before a gale with the minimum sail set, if any.

Scull – 1. A light curve-bladed oar.  2. (v) To propel a boat by using a single oar in the stern, moved in a figure-of-eight pattern that causes turbulence that moves the boat forwards.

Scupper – 1. An opening in the ship’s side, usually lead-lined, through which water would carry off back to the sea.  Also Lee Scuppers and Weather Scuppers.  2. The water trough under galley stove.

Scuppered - NTUS 1012

Scupper hose - A short length of canvas or leather piping fixed outside a scupper, to project the exiting water away from the ship’s sides.

Scupper leather - A leather covering at a scupper that would act as a valve and prevent water re-entering through its intended exit route.

Scupper lip - A flange under the scupper outlet, used to project water away from the ship’s sides

Scupper shoot - A short gutter projecting outwards from the scupper, used to project water away from the ship’s sides.

Scupper nail - A nail with a large head and a short shank.

Scupper shoot - NTUS 0315

Scurvy – Seamen’s disease caused by lack of Vitamin C, through not having fresh vegetables on board ships on long voyages.  The symptoms included swollen gums, spongy flesh, the tendency for old wounds to open up, tiredness and eventual death if untreated.

Scurvy grass - A kind of mustard.

Scuttle – 1. (vb) To purposely sink a ship, by opening her sea-cocks and so letting the sea into her, usually to prevent her falling into enemy hands.  2. (vb) To open a barrel, as in the scuttle(d) butt.  3. (n) A small circular window, or any small hatchway or opening in a vessel’s side, deck or hatch cover, usually with a cover that could be closed in heavy weather.

Scuttle, or scuttled, butt – A cask kept on deck, with a lid and ladle, containing fresh (when available, if not, then what would be described as ‘drinking’) water.  The practice of crewmembers gathering at the scuttle butt for refreshment, and talking whilst doing it has resulted in the term ‘scuttle butt’ also meaning the latest news, as in “Have you heard the scuttle butt about . . .?”

S’death! - God’s death

Sea - 1. The water that covers two thirds of planet Earth.  2. The waves, or a single wave, or a swell.  A long sea has a long fetch and a short sea has a short fetch.  NTUS 1705

Sea acorn - The barnacle.

Sea anchor – Any device used to slow down a vessel, or hold her head to the sea in bad weather, usually comprising sails attached to spars lashed together, that was dragged along against the flow.

Sea-atlas - NTUS 1804

Sea battery – The assault of a seaman by the master of a ship whilst at sea.

Sea Beer- Stronger beer than Harbour Beer.                                          

Sea Beggars - A band of exiled Flanders protestant rebels in struggle for independence from Spain, who formed a North Sea pirate group in the 1560s.  Initially tolerated by England and allowed to operate out of Dover, this arrangement fell foul of subsequent peace with France and Spain.

Sea boat - 1 A small working boat.  2 A sweet sailing ship was known as a good sea-boat.  Also see Accident boat.

Sea boy – A rating less than eighteen years of age.

Sea breeze - NTUS 1701

Sea buoy - See Farewell buoy. NTUS 1803

Sea caps - See White horse. NTUS 1705

Sea captain – Originally, the master of a sea-going vessel, but now the term for an officer who has been issued a certificate of competency to be master of a sea-going vessel.

Sea-card - See Sea-chart. NTUS 1804

Sea-chart - NTUS 1804

Sea cheers - Calls to encourage crewmen in their labours.  eg ‘Heave my hearties!’ or ‘Rouse him up’.  Sea shanties without the song.

Sea Chest                                             

Sea compass - See Mariner’s compass. NTUS 1906

Sea cutter                                             

Sea daddy - One who took a new crewmember in hand, to show him the ropes, and all the other things he would need to master if he was to survive and be safe to his crewmates.

Sea Dandy – See Afterguard                                           

Sea of Darkness – Early European name for the north Atlantic.

Sea Dog                                         

Sea Fencibles – Started in 1798 as a coastal militia of fishermen and boatmen.  Amalgamated with the Impress Service in 1803 to form a local force against invasion.

Sea fret – 1.  A land breach or passage made from erosion by the sea.  Sometimes just ‘fret’.  2. A sea fog blown over the land.

Sea gait - See Swell. NTUS 1705

Sea gaskets- SMS                                          

Sea going – A vessel certified as suitable to make deep-sea voyages, as distinct from coastal and inland craft.

Sea-harping – The sound of wind resonating the rigging.

Sea kindliness – The capacity of a ship to cope with all sea conditions, especially heavy ones.

Sea lawyer - A shark, for obvious reasons.  See also messdeck lawyer, with which this is sometimes confused.

Sea legs – The measure of a person’s aptitude at walking steadily about on board when a vessel is under way.

Sealer - Ship hunting seal.

Seam - A fore-and-aft joint between planks, filled with oakum and sealed with pitch.

Seaman – A person below the rank of officer, who works on deck to operate the vessel.

Seamanlike - An action properly carried out neatly and practically was seamanlike.

Seaman’s eye - The only trusty way to judge the effects of wind, tide and current on a ship’s motion, even including modern aids.

Seamarks - Navigational aids.

Sea Martinet                                        

Seamen – Able#, Ordinary#, Landmen                                           

Sea mile – A measure of distance of one minute of arc on the meridian.  Because of the flattened shape of the earth the actual distance varied between 6,046 feet at the equator and 6,108 feet at the poles, with the standard sea mile being taken as 6,080 feet.  Also nautical mile.

Seaming palm – A light duty hand protector comprising a leather strip with a metal cup sewn into the palm, used as a thimble for the sailmaker’s needle to be forced through canvas when doing light seam work.

Seaming twine – Fine line used by sailmakers, comprising the best long hemp, beaten, spun, well dressed and laid into two or three strands.  Also sail twine.

Sea of Darkness - Early European seamen’s’ name for the North Atlantic.

Sea Officers – Have general authority aboard ship                                        

Sea painter – SMS

Sea pie – A seamen’s dish comprising alternating layers of meat and vegetables between crusts of pastry, called double or triple deckers from their depth.

Sea reach – The reach between the last bend in a river and its place of discharge into the sea.

Searoom - Space to manoeuvre, needed in abundance in a sailing vessel.

Sea suction - NTUS 0314

Seat board – (tge)                                          

Sea story - A true -ish, but exaggerated story, which did not always confine itself strictly to the facts.

Sea suction - A submerged opening in a vessel’s hull, through which sea water could be drawn, for cleaning purposes.

Sea Time                                               

Seat of Ease                                          

Seat support(tge)                                          

Sea-turn - SMS                                              

Seaward – In a direction away from the land.

Seaworthy – Said of a vessel that is in a fit condition to go to sea.

Second futtock - The piece of a frame second from the keel.

Second hand – The rank immediately beneath skipper on a fishing vessel.

Second Port Payment - The practice of paying off the crew when the second offloading port was arrived at        BDD

Second tier pigs(tge)                                            

Secret block – A block in which the shell completely encloses the sheave, leaving just a small hole through which the rope passes.

Secretary’s cabin                                         

Secure - 1 Finish work, or a particular task.  2 Make fast to something naval (parcels and shoelaces are ‘tied up’).

See a grey goose at a mile - The traditional call from the lookout to signify that the morning was now sufficiently bright to do that thing, taken as the official start of the day on board.

Seel – (v) To make a sudden roll to one side.


Seine – A bag-shaped fishing net with its upper parts buoyed and the lower weighted.

Seistan - NTUS 1703

Seize-Up(vb)- Also Seize-To                                         

Seizing - NTUS 0512

Seizing Stuff                                        

Self-mousing hook – A hook with a mousing that permits easy hooking without accidental slippage.

Selvagee strop – Several rope yarns marled together with spunyarn to from a soft sling that is less likely to slip.  Used to attach the hook of a tackle to a rope.


Semaphore    CTC

Semi-diurnal tides - See Diurnal.

Send - Words used to describe sea-wave action, or pitch of swell.

Sending Down Spars                                           

Senhouse slip – A short length of chain by which the inboard end of the anchor cable was attached to the cable locker, with a quick-release slip hook that would pass through the cable’s open link.

Sennit, Sennet – Braided cordage.  See Sinnate.

Separation – Various materials used to keep separate cargoes or items of cargo apart.

Separation cloths – Large sheets of fabric used to keep different bulk cargoes apart or to protect cargoes that must stay dry from moisture.

Seron - A bale or package made up in animal’s skin.

Serpentine - Gun                                          

Serpentine Powder - A coarse, unstable, early form of gunpowder, comprising a chemical mixture with the main ingredient being saltpetre, which was very prone to separate in storage and decay in damp.  See corned powder.


Serve – (v) To tightly bind the ends of a rope with spunyarn and canvas or hide or similar, to prevent fraying.  Serving is done with a serving mallet.

Service, to press into – The practice of impressment – by press gangs and the Imprest Service (cf).

Services of cables- SMS                                        

Serving - SMS                                        

Serving (twine wrapped around parcelled rope)                                              

Serving board – A flat wooden board with a handle used to serve a rope with spunyarn.

Serving mallet – A mallet scored with a semi-circular groove used when applying a tight serving to a rope.

Set – 1. The order given to finally put a sail into operation.  2. The direction of tidal flow.

Set sail – To let a sail fall and trim it to draw.

Settee - See Couch

Settee - Spanish ship.

Settee mizzen sail        ERR                                

Settee rig       ERR                                

Settee sail (mizzen course)    ERR                                

Set the land – Take compass bearings of land features to establish position.

Setting & Taking In Sails                                           

Setting strop- SMS

Setting the Watch- Ceremony at end of day to denote cessation of hostilities for the night. See “Beating the Retreat”.

Settle – (v) 1. To gradually ease the pressure on a rope by slackening it bit by bit.  2. To lower a sail slightly to make reefing it easier.

Settle the land – To lose sight of the land by sailing away from it and causing it to drop below the horizon.

Settling halliards- SMS                                               

Set up - To tighten up the standing rigging and remove any slack.

Seven bells - As eight bells denotes the end of a watch, seven bells means not quite finished off, as when someone has had seven bells knocked out of them.

Seven Year War-1755-62                                            

Sew – (v) To need a greater depth of water to float, stating the difference between the water-level and the vessel’s flotation-mark.  Also sue.  Pronounced ‘soo’. Said of the depth of water to reduce: “the water sewed to 3 fathoms.”

Sewn boat - A particular form of boat construction, in which it is built of two layers of Honduras mahogany, fixed at right angles to each other and sewn together with copper wire.

Sextant - NTUS 1904

Sextant- By John Campbell                                           

Shackle – A semi-circular ring of iron with an eye at each end, through which an iron bolt passes to close the opening, used to hook a tackle or to join lengths of chain.

Shackle bolt – A bolt with a shackle at one end.

Shackle crow – A tool shaped like a crowbar but with a shackle at one end, used to withdraw bolts.

Shackle key – A key with a square end, used to screw flush-headed shackle pins.

Shaft – The longest section of an oar; namely the rounded middle section between the loom and the blade.

Shag Breeches- Long napped rough cloth breeches.                                             


Shake – The term used by shipwrights for a split or crack in timber, caused by the weather or by drying out in the sun.

Shake down, Shakedown Cruise - A short cruise immediately after launching or a refit, when everything is in place and settles down, including the crew – with any luck.  From.  It has come ashore to mean the period during which a new installation is allowed to operate before being put into full service, to find the usual teething troubles.  This is from the need for the rigging in a newly rigged ship to stretch and settle and then be tightened up before the ship could perform well, together with the action of sand and gravel ballast, when first loaded.

Shaken- Cask reduced to constituent parts for storage and return to cooper.

Shake out a reef – Take out a reef and reset the sail.

Shakes – The term used by shipwrights for timbers that are badly split and unfit for use and so of little value.

Shaking down casks- SMS

Shaking out reefs- SMS

Shakings- The dust and pieces falling from working ropes, and odd scraps of yarn, sacking and canvas, traditionally the mate’s perquisites for selling. Also Junk.                                       


Shallop- A term used in European navies for the largest or second largest rowing or sailing boat carried on board ship, replaced in the Royal Navy by the name Longboat.                                               

Shamal - NTUS 1703

Shamfered – To be damaged or to have the edge taken off something, as would happen in a warship on the receiving end of an enemy broadside.  From ‘chamfered’.

Sham Gallery - A sham gallery.

Shamrock knot – A knot of three overlapping hitches used in jury rigs, similar to a jury knot.

Shanghai – The seamen’s name for Crimping around the Pacific Basin; namely, to abduct a sailor, usually by getting him drunk or drugged, and enlisting him on a ship other than his own while he was insensible.

Shank - Shaft forming the main part of an anchor, joining the fluke-arms to the stock                                         

Shank painter – The short rope or chain used to secure the anchor to its billboard when stowed.

Shank Painter Chain - held fluke of anchor on deck   CTC

Shanty – A song sung on board to ensure the hands work in unison.  Sometimes inaccurately called a chanty.  These were not allowed in the later RN.

Shape Course                                               

Shareman – A trawlerman who was being paid under the system by which he only received a share of the profit – or a share of the loss on a bad trip.


Shark Meat- A dead slave                                             

Shark’s mouth - A dip in an awning, where it is stretched locally to avoid a rope or some other part of the rigging.

Sharp end - The technical term for the bow of a vessel.  The front of a ship, where most of the action is on going into battle.  Compare with its opposite number, blunt end.

Sharp trimmed – 1. The yards of a square-rigger braced as far forward as possible.  Also sharp up.

Sharp up – 1. The yards of a square-rigger braced as far forward as possible.  Also sharp trimmed.

Sharqui - NTUS 1703

Sheath- Ship’s encasement against worm.                                              

Sheathing - The covering nailed over the outside of the parts of a ship’s bottom that would normally be under water, to protect it against marine growth and fouling, usually of copper but originally of soft timber planking.

Sheathing nail - A nail cast from a copper and tin alloy, used to fasten copper sheathing to a wooden hull.

Sheave – A solid grooved pulley fixed inside a block, over which the rope runs.

Sheave hole – The aperture in a block into which the sheave is fastened.

Sheep’s feet- SMS                                         

Sheepshank – A method of shortening a rope by looping the rope back on itself with each loop end taken round the standing part in a half hitch.

Sheer – 1. The angle between the ship and the anchor cable when riding at a single anchor.  2. (v) To stray off course because of incorrect or difficult steering of the vessel.  3. The longitudinal curve of a vessel’s decks or sides.

Sheer batten - A wooden or metal bar lashed across the shrouds, immediately above the dead-eyes, to prevent the shrouds from twisting.  This batten was usually fitted with belaying pins.  Also sheer pole or stretcher.

Sheer, breaking- SMS                                          

Sheer head lashing - NTUS 0512

Sheer Hulk                                           

Sheering- SMS                                              

Sheer legs – A canted tripod made of three masts lashed together and guyed, used to lift heavy loads.

Sheer lashing - NTUS 0512

Sheer legs - NTUS 0701

Sheer line - The line formed by a vessel’s main or upper deck, where it meets the side.

Sheer mast – One of the spars forming sheer legs.

Sheer off – To move a vessel away at an angle.

Sheer plan - A ship construction drawing showing all side view horizontal and vertical sections of a vessel.

Sheer-pole - A timber or metal spar running across the foot of the standing rigging, serving as a lower ratline and also preventing the rigging from twisting when being set up.  See Sheer batten.

Sheer rail - The lowest continuous line of planking in the bulwarks.

Sheer strake – 1. A plating strake that runs alongside the line of a deck.  2. A boat’s top strake or plank, onto which the gunwale and capping are attached.  Also sometimes called the saxboard.

Sheer, The- Upward curve of the Hull towards bow and stern.                                        

Sheet - A rope shackled to the clew of a sail and used to control the clew of the sail when transferring from tack to sheet, and vice versa, i.e. when going about.


Sheet & bower anchors (hgv)                                              

Sheet Anchor - The second or third, after the best bower and second bower, and usually largest anchor, shipped next to the fore channel at all times, kept in readiness for the emergency of the best or second bower anchors giving way.  Being heavier (it weighed 8400lbs), it was not used unnecessarily, the usual practice being to use the bower anchors.  When they were used, they had to be relied on, as there was no further expedient after the sheet anchor, hence the use of the term in everyday modern language to denote someone reliable.

Sheet Anchor Man

Sheet bend – A knot comprising a loop made in one rope and the end of another taken up through it, round both parts of the looped rope and then back through its own bight.

Sheet Bitts- Strong posts to which ropes from sails were secured. See Bitts.

Sheet cable – The cable attached to the sheet anchor.

Sheet Fairlead       CTC

Sheet home – 1. To haul the sheets as taut as they can be.  2. The order given to give a final haul on the sheets.

Sheet quarter block(hgv)

Shelf (or shelf piece) - Heavy fore-and-aft timbers fixed to the insides of a vessel’s frame, to form the support for the deck beams.

Shell – 1. The outer casing of a block.  2. A vessel’s external planking.

Shellback - A long-serving sailor, who is suspected of having barnacle shells encrusted on his back from his long immersion in the sea business.

Shell lugs - Short pieces of angle, fitted between deck stringer plates and the outside plating.

Shell plating - The plates covering the outside of a vessel’s hull.

Shies - Beach palisades

Shift - Change clothes.

Shifting – 1. Separating the blocks of a choked tackle.  2. The action of a loose cargo moving from side to side under the motion of the ship.

Shifting backstay - An unreliable supposed oppo.

Shifting boards – Planks temporarily fixed to the centre hold pillars to prevent bulk cargoes or the ballast from shifting.

Shifting flying jibboom- SMS                                             

Shifting masts, etc- SMS

Shifting Sails - The operation of removing a ship’s sails, and replacing them with others.

Shift of butts - The staggered positioning of butt joints.

Shift Off His Turn - To avoid proposing, and hence paying for, a toast, which is usually taken in turn around the table.                                                             

Shift of wind - SMS                                               

Shift tack - To change ones mind.

Shimmer – The silver glitter under the water of fish caught in the net, looked for by driftermen to indicate that they had a catch.

Shiners - Coins (Yankee).

Shinbreaker - Whaleman’s name for steering gear.

Shingle ballast- SMS                                            

Shingles, hollow top(tge)                                            

Ship (vb) – 1. To send someone or something by ship.  2. To fix something in its place.

Shipbreach - Shipwreck.

Shipentine – US term for Four-masted barque rig                                  

Ship fever – Typhus on board ships, caused by unhygienic conditions on long voyages.

Ship handling – The art of getting a vessel to go where it is wanted.

Ship house - Medieval winter housing for warships.

Ship husband, ship’s husband – The owner’s representative on a merchant vessel, responsible for contracts in port, recruiting the crew, etc.  Originally he was the boatswain.  2. The owner of a ship chartered to the East India Company, or similar.

Ship husbandry - Maintaining, provisioning and looking after a ship.  A ship’s husband is the boat swain, who does just that.

Ship it green - Take unbroken waves along a ship’s upper deck in heavy weather.

Shipkeeper - Caretaker of a ship in harbour.

Shipmaster – Whoever is in charge of a vessel; sometimes used instead of master.

Ship Money – Originally a tax on coastal towns and counties, used to pay for royal ships that defended them in time of war.  In 1633 Charles I extended it to cover all counties and caused a furore that contributed to his downfall and to the Civil War.  Ship Money was also used to create the first generation of professional naval officers, rather than gentlemen adventurers.

Ship of the Line- See Line of Battle.                                            

Ship Rig – Three masts each with square sails.

Ship’s Articles       SMS

Ship’s Boat - A rowing or sailing boat belonging to a ship and carried on board or towed behind, used for transport between ship and shore or other ships. The following primary types were commonly carried:

Rate Displacement   Approx Crew   Boats Carried

    I     1520tons                       600              Longboat,

    II     720tons                       260              Longboat,

    III            550tons                       140              Longboat,

    IV            290tons                       100              Longboat,

    V      185tons                         60              Longboat

Ship’s Boys                                           

Ship’s Company – Typically comprised: Captain; Lieutenants; Commanders; Flag Captain (all these  are Commissioned Officers); Warrant Officers are: 1Master; 2Surgeon; 3Purser (a standing officer); 4Gunner; 5Boatswain; 6Carpenter – then the Chaplain (all the above were Sea Officers); Inferior Officers are: Armourer; Gunsmith; Sailmaker; Schoolmaster; Cook; Surgeon’s Mates; Master at Arms (an Inferior Warrant Officer); Petty Officers are: Midshipmen; Master’s Mates (mates for short); Sailmaker’s Mates; Yeomen of the Powder Room; Armourer’s Mates; Carpenter’s Mates; Purser’s Steward; Captain’s Clerk; Cook’s Mates; Gunner’s Mates; Corporal (Assistant to Master at Arms); Quartermaster & their Mates; Yeomen of the Sheets; Boatswain’s Mates; Coxswain of the Barge; Captains of the Tops etc; Quarter Gunner (one per 4 guns); Gun Captains; Seamen; Idlers; Steward’s Mate; Yeomen of the Boatswain.

Ship’s Cook

Ship’s Corporal – Petty Officer under the Master-At-Arms, employed as a policeman on board.

Shipshape – Everything present, neat and in it correct place.

Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion – See Bristol.

Ship’s head – The direction in which a vessel’s head is pointing.  Also heading.

Ship’s Name- Reply to Watchman’s Challenge if boat contained the Captain of a ship.                                        

Ship Soke - The name for an administrative area of land, in the middle ages (8-11c), from which taxation was levied in the form of ships and men.  The landowners provided the ship and the men came from the people.

Ship’s papers – The documents required to be carried by a merchant vessel to show her ownership and compliance with regulations.

Ships that pass in the night – The expressed opinion that one may not meet again, from the fact that many old ships would in fact pass each other without knowing their names and without ever meeting again.

Ship’s time – The time of day on board ship, changing from one day to the next at noon, so being 12 hours before the civil day.  This practice stayed until 1925.  cf civil day.

Ship’s Yeoman- (Am)                                          

Ship’s Yeoman’s Storeroom- (Am)

Ship Their Quarterdeck Faces - Officers look serious.                                               

Ship Visiting -+137

Shipwreck – 1. The loss of a ship on a coast or at sea.  2. Someone visibly experiencing the effects of a morning after an enthusiastic run ashore.

Shipwright - A skilled tradesman trained to build or repair ships.

Shipyard - A place where ships are built or repaired.

Shittle nets - Nets that have been rolled by the wind when laid out for drying

Shiver – The shake in the luff of a sail as the vessel’s head comes up into the wind.

Shiver the mizzen topsails                                         

Shoal (vb) – NTUS 2001

Shoal - NTUS 2001

Shock - To cook something was to give it a shock in the galley.

Shoe – 1. A large triangular wooden plate fixed to an anchor’s flukes where the holding ability of the ground is soft.  2. A small wooden block used to protect the ship’s side from the anchor bill when the anchor is hoisted.  3. A piece of heavy timber used to house the heel of a derrick or sheer leg.

Shoe block – A block made up of two single blocks cut from one piece of wood, with the two pins at right angles to one another, used for the legs and falls of the buntlines.

Shoeing an anchor- SMS                                             

Shoes - Temp protective reinforcement to whaleboat bow and keel.

Shole - The bottom reinforcing component of the rudder, used for protection against the ground.

Shonky - NTUS 1012

Shooks of Staves                                          

Shoot, Shooting - The action of throwing a trawl net overboard.

Shooting in stays – Going rapidly about from one tack to another with plenty of way on.

Shooting the sun – Measurements of the altitude of the sun.  Also sun sights.

Shop - Nautical talk.

Shore - 1. A large timber used to prop the sides or bottom of a vessel’s hull on a building cradle, or when otherwise aground.

Shore leave - Authorised leaving of a ship.

Shore of Emergence – or Emergent Shore.    The geographical term for a regular, flat, shoreline with offshore bars, etc.  Sea water dumps onto them.

Shoreward – Towards the land.  Also landward.

Shoring up- SMS                                           

Short - See Shoot. NTUS 1401

Short Allowance Money – Paid to seamen as recompense when the full allowance of victuals could not be issued.

Short Clothes- Seamen’s’ clothes                                         

Shorten and trim sail – The order given to take in unwanted sails and adjust those remaining.

Shorten in – To take in some of the anchor cable to lessen the length by which the ship rides.

Shorten sail – 1. Reduce the sail area by reefing it while under way.  2. The order given to reduce the sail area.

Short gaff bezan rig -

Short handed – Said of a vessel that has less than its normal complement of crew.

Short jaw – The term for a rope laid with its strands forming an angle of more than 45° from the run of the rope.

Short rations - 1. Reduced issue of rations.  2. Reduced issue of anything.

Short stay – Said of a taut anchor cable that extends away from the bows less than one and a half times the depth of the water.

Shot – 1. Said of fishing nets that have been deployed.  2. An early type of anchor.

Shot across the bow - NTUS 1012

Shot garland - NTUS 0300

Shot in the locker - NTUS 1012

Shot locker - NTUS 0300

Shot-netting - Nets filled with a dozen, or so, shot and stored near each gun to stop them rolling about in action.

Shot’ of cable - Two or more cables spliced together to make a longer cable for deep water. 

Shot Plug                                              

Shot rope – A long rope formed by splicing onto another, to lengthen it.

Shoulder - NTUS 0502

Shoulders - Those parts of hull immersed when ship heeled, thus taking most pressure and giving most resistance. CTC

Shoulder block – A large single block with a fat arse tapering towards the sheave, used on the yards, where the shoulder helped to prevent jamming between block and yard.

Shoulder of mutton sail - NTUS 0414

Shove off – The order given to a boat’s bowman to cast off the painter and push the bow off from the ship or wharf.  Also bear off.

Show a leg! – When ‘wives’ were allowed on board sailing ships in dock, when seamen were denied shore leave, the call to rouse the early watch would include this phrase, on the basis that a smooth and/or shapely leg dangled from a hammock would mean the occupant was not a seaman and so could be allowed to stay there another hour.

Show pole- SMS                                            

Show the flag - Make a diplomatic foreign visit.

Shrapnel - 1 Pieces of an exploding shell or bomb, from Mr Shrappnell, who invented such a device.  2 Useless foreign cash.

Shreep - To clear away, as mist, etc

Shrink, shrunk - Iron hoops were shrunk onto masts and spars by heating them up to red-hot, sliding them into position and dowsing them with water to cool them, and so shrink them.

Shroud - A rope or wire rigging component running from the masthead to the ship’s side, used to support the mast laterally.  Of Hempen rope, “three strand shroud laid”, tarred outside.

Shroud bridle – A short rope used to hold running rigging to a shroud.

Shroud cleat – A cleat, often made of oak, with two arms and with the inside hollowed and grooved to fit the shrouds onto which it was seized.

Shroud deadeye(hgv)                                           

Shroud hoop - A metal band with eyes through which the upper ends of the shrouds are fastened.

Shrouding the foresail- SMS                                               

Shroud knot - NTUS 0511

Shroud-laid – The term for a rope made of four strands, laid right-handed.

Shroud knot – A method of joining shrouds by unlaying their ends and single walling the each of the loose ends around the standing part of the other rope, against the lay, and tapering, marling down and serving the ends.

Shroud plate - 1 An iron plate on the side of the hull, holding the dead-eyes, onto which the lower ends of the shrouds were secured.  2 An iron hoop with projecting rings, at the lower masthead, which takes the lower dead-eyes of the futtock shrouds.

Shroud stopper – A short rope used to hold together a shroud that has parted.

Shroud stretcher   ERR                                

Shroud truck – A short cylinder used as a fairlead for running rigging, where the rope runs through lengthwise, with a groove along its length by which it could be seized onto a shroud.

Shrub - A popular prepared drink made with the juice of a citrus fruit, plus sugar and rum, or some other spirit.

Shy Cock - Coward                                        

Shy – Cowardly, or overcautious. See Fight Shy.                                             

Sick & Hurt Board       

Sick Bay – The sick berth.

Sick Berth - The proper name for the area used to treat and accommodate the sick and injured members of a ship’s compliment.  A ship’s Doctor’s home base, where he does his worst.  The name is a corruption of ‘Sick Berth’, due to the curved shape of bow resembling a bay window.

Sick Berth- Earl St Vincent instructed a sick berth to be prepared in ships of the line, to be located under the forecastle and with a roundhouse for use of the sick. See

Sick Quarters      

Side - The part of a ship between the gunwale and the lower edge of the main-wale, or the water-line, from the stem to the stern.

Side bar keel - A keel made up from two side plates with the keelson fitted in between.

Side battens  

Side benches – The fore-and-aft seats in a boat.  In a lifeboat they would cover the buoyancy tanks.

Side boy – A crew member who stands at the gangway of a Royal Navy ship, to salute visiting dignitaries, and who runs messages and performs other general duties.

Side fishes - The side pieces of a made mast.  Also called fish sides or aris pieces.

Side keelson - Fore-and-aft timbers on both sides of the keelson, provided for extra strength along the vessel.

Side ladder - A rope ladder suspended over a ship’s side, for access to or from the boats.

Sidelight - The glass part of a scuttle in a vessel’s side.

Sidereal time – Time based on the rotation of the Earth relative to the stars.  Also right ascension of the meridian.

Side skids – Hardwood runners temporarily rigged on a ship’s side against which heavy loads could be slid without causing damage.

Side stitch – An extra line of stitching to give added strength to the seam of a sail.

Side tackles - SMS

Side Trees - Sides of made mast      CTC

Sidelights - Two carried between sunset and sunrise, red to starboard and green to larboard.

Sight – Measurement of the vertical angle between the horizon and a celestial body or the angular distance between two bodies.  Also observations.

Sighter - The first try at something new, from the practice of making a sighting shot at a target before getting serious.

Sighting the anchor- SMS   

Sighting the bottom – Examining a vessel’s bottom in a dry dock to determine the extent of necessary repairs.

Sight reduction – The name for the process of producing a position from observed information.  Also reducing an observation.

Sights - Observations to help in finding the ship’s position.

Signal flags – The usual positions at which signal flags were worn included: Crossjack yardarm; Ensign staff; Fore shrouds; Fore topmast; Fore topsail yardarm; Fore yardarm; Main backstay; Main shrouds; Main topmast; Main topmast shrouds; Main topsail yardarm; Main yardarm; Mizzen backstay; Mizzen peak; Mizzen shrouds; Mizzen topmast; Mizzen topmast shrouds.

Signalize - To show one’s flag, particularly showing an admiral’s flag in battle.

Signal Rockets     

Signal Slate  

Signalling- Howe’s “Signal Book” 1782, based on numerary system, revised 1790. “Signal Book for Ships of War” issued in 1799 by Admiralty. In 1800 Sir Home Popham’s “Telegraphic Signals or Marine Vocabulary” enabled each C-in-C to say exactly what he wanted by signal.

Silence of crew- SMS    

Silent hours - The period when the ship’s bell was not struck, except in an emergency, between Pipe down and Call the hands.  No bells were struck after the four struck at 2200 until the one struck at 0830.

Silk Sock Gentry- See Afterguard

Silver Fleet- Spanish fleets from the New World carrying silver plundered from natives.      

Silver pits – A deep narrow sea valley south of the Dogger Banks which was once one of the world’s richest fishing grounds.

Simoom, Simoon Winds - NTUS 1703

Simple rudder- SMS     

Simple whip - A single block purchase.

Sin bosun - A vicar.

Singing- Not usually permitted on Men-of-War when pulling on ropes, etc   

Single banked – 1. A boat pulled by one oarsman on each oar.  2. Having one oar at each thwart.

Single-day tides - See Diurnal.

Single frame - A frame section formed from a single angle-bar.

Single purchases- SMS

Single shoulder block(hgv) 

Single-Stick- Contest hitting each other over the head with Great Gun Rammers 

Single-tree mast - A lower mast made from one piece.

Single whip – A small light tackle comprising a fall reeved through a single block.

Singling up – Taking in as many of the mooring lines as possible while still keeping a vessel secure, so that she can be quickly unmoored when the time comes to do so.

Sink (vb) – 1. To drop beneath the surface of the water and go to the bottom.  2. To drop out of sight over the horizon.  3. To carry out such damage to another vessel to cause it to drop beneath the water.

Sinker – 1 The weight on the end of a diving marker line, or similar.  2 A suet dumpling.

Sinking- SMS

Sinking a strand – The evolution of splicing a three-strand rope to a four-strand rope, by opening the extra strand into three and sinking these before they enter the splice.

Sink Ships – Machine ships of the 17th century.  Also Smoke Ships.

Sink the land - Steer away from land until it disappears over the horizon.

Sinnate (Sennit, Sennet)- Braided or plaited yarn.     

Sippers - A small drink from an oppo’s tot, given in payment for a service rendered.  Two sippers equal one gulper.

Sirmarks – Diagonals on a half-breadth ship construction plan.  These indicated the points on moulds where bevelling had to be applied.

Sister block – The cylindrical double block that is seized to the topmast shroud and used to reeve the reef tackle pendants and lifts of the topsail yards.

Sister blocks - Blocks mounted side-by-side on a bracket or mounting.

Sister keelsons - Keelsons fitted each side of the vessel, along the inside of the bilges.

Sith, sithens - In Elizabethan times, since.

Six Upon Four-+102     

Sixpenny Office-WW149    

Sixteen Bells- Struck at midnight on New Year’s Eve by youngest crew member, denotes eight bells for old and eight bells for New Year.

Sixty-fourth – The share-owning system used in shipping, in which a ship’s value was divided into sixty-four equal shares, each of which represented a part ownership in the vessel.

Skargardsflottan- Finnish warship designed to operate between the islets and rocks off Finnish coast.

Skate - Seamen’s slang for someone who misbehaves ashore, despite being good at his shipboard job.

Skate - NTUS 1012

Skead – The wooden racks in a whaleship’s hold where the barrels were stowed.

Skedway, The -Deep water channel in the shallows off Suffolk     

Skee-man – The officer in charge of a whaleship’s hold.

Skeet – A long-handled dipper used to throw water onto sails or the deck.  Also called scoop.

Skeg - A wooden knee used to strengthen the heel joint between the keel and the sternpost.

Skerries,The - A tide race off Anglesey.       

Skerry boats - Danish brigantine type

Skiatic- SMS  

Skid beam - A beam over the booms above the main deck, supporting the boat deck and onto which the ship’s boats were stored.

Skids - Wooden contrivances on which the ship’s boats rest.



Skimmer – 1. An iron hoop with rope netting, used by the scavelman to scoop flotsam from around docks.  2. A medieval term for a pirate.  Usually used as ‘skimmer of the seas’ or similar.  Sometimes ‘scimour’.

Skin - A vessel’s external plating and timbers.

Skinful - Said to describe a person who was up to the brim with drink.

Skinners – Whaler crewmen whose task it was to skin the carcass.

Skinning a sail – Making the exposed surface of a furled sail smooth and tiddly.

Skin The Rabbit – Fold sail canvas onto the yard.

Skipjack- A Single-masted North American oyster dredger about 40 to 80ft(12-24m) long, whose hull design was adopted for small yachts.        

Skipper – Officially, the title of the master of a fishing vessel, but often used colloquially for the master on any vessel.




Skuta- Scandinavian coastal trader.


Skylight - A hinged, glazed window in the deck, and often a raised construction above the deck, providing light and air to the cabin below.

Sky Pilot - Seamen’s name for a clergyman.

Skyrasas - Turkish merchant vessel.

Skysail - A small triangular sail, seventh in ascending order from the deck, used only in light winds.  Also Skyscraper.  

Skyscraper - A small triangular sail, seventh in ascending order from the deck, used only in light winds.  The Americans borrowed the term, as they did many other things, and claimed it as their original.  If set above a moonsail, it would be called a stargazer.

Slab – The slack part of a sail that hangs down when the leech lines are hauled up.

Slab hatch covers - Hatch cover sections comprising planks in frames that could be lifted by a crane or derrick.

Slap in - Make a written request.

Slab lines - Small lines passing from the foot to the head of a sail, via blocks behind the yard, leading them to the middle of the yard and thence down to the deck, and used to gather it up for furling.

Slab points, etc- SMS

Slack – 1. Not taut, so applied to someone who was lazy and undisciplined.  2. The order given to loosen the running rigging to facilitate the handling of the yards and sails.  3. Slack hammocks was the name for the punishment given for being late turning to through oversleeping.

Slack Away   

Slack Captain      

Slack in stays – Going slowly about from one tack to another with only just enough way on.

Slack mooring- SMS     

Slack of a rope – That part of a rope that hangs loose.

Slack of sail   ERR

Slacken off- SMS  

Slackness- SMS     

Slag off - Say something un-nice.

Slam – (v) To strike the waves heavily with the forefoot when pitching.

Slammer – Prison.

Slant of the wind – A wind from a direction that may be usable for sailing.

Slatches - Wind squalls   BDD

Slate – 1. The watch keeper would record the day’s progress on a slate, in the form of details of directions, speeds, distances, etc.  At the end of the watch the relevant details would be transferred into the ship’s log and then the slate would be wiped clean and the next watch keeper would start with a clean slate.  2. Slates were used for midshipmen’s workings out during lessons. 

Slatting – 1. The action of sails flapping against the mast when the vessel’s head comes too close to the wind.  2. Said of the noise made by a ship pitching and rolling in a calm.

Slaughter House-+126

Slave Ship - Fast light brigs or schooners used to transport abducted slaves from Africa to America, after the slave trade had been outlawed. Ships of about 250tons were crammed with up to 500 slaves and the quality, or even amount, of care taken of them was poor, often resulting in the death of half the load. Slave ships were not usually given large crews and their conditions were not much better than the slaves. It was not a popular profession and did not usually attract the best quality seamen.

Slaves - Thought improper on King’s ships by the Admiralty as ships were British Territory.

Slave Trade


Sledway – Channel off east coast                   

Sleek(n)- Smooth water left in wake of whale

Sleeper - A knee used to connect a transom to the vessel’s after frame.

Sleepy juice - Strong drink.

Sleeveless - In Elizabethan times, useless.

Slew - To turn something on its own axis.

Slew Round  

Slide blocks  

Sliding bed(hgv)   

Sliding Gunter – 1. A light upper mast fastened behind the mast, to carry royals, skysails, etc.  2. An early form of slide-rule.

Sliding pawls- SMS       

Sling cleats(tge)   

Sling( parrel)(ecr)  


Slings- SMS

Sling –1. (v) To pass a chain around a yard to protect against damage, or to pass a rope around anything, to lift it.  2. The rope or chain support for a fixed yard and the area at which it is attached.  3. A rope used to hold a barrel or similar load and attach it to a tackle.  4. Two spans of chain or wire by which boats are hoisted.  5. Small 16c gun.  6.  Retire to bed.  The full expression of ‘I intend to sling my hammock’ was rarely used.

Sling cleat – A cleat of various sizes, used for various jobs, from gammoning the bowsprit to securing lashings.

Sling your hammock - Seamen’s name for packing up and going, usually permanently.

Sling your hook! - Go elsewhere to fix up your hammock clew hooks, put politely.

Slip – 1. An inclined masonry surface built between a shipyard and the water, on which new vessels are constructed and from which they are launched.  2. A device designed to achieve the instant release of a cable, usually in the form of a hinged hook with a quick-release link.  3. (v) To release the inboard ends of mooring lines.

Slip and proceed - Unmoor from a jetty and head for sea.  Came to be used for getting on with the next task.

Slip hook – A hinged hook off which the load could be easily slipped when it was opened.

Slip knot – 1. A running knot made on a rope’s own standing part, along which it is free to run.  2. An overhand knot in which a bight is taken through, allowing the knot to untie when the free end was pulled.

Slip one’s cable - To die.

Slippery hitch – 1. Any badly made hitch that fails to hold.  2. A hitch or bend that has a bight taken through at the end, allowing the hitch to untie when the free end was pulled.

Slipping the cable- SMS       

Slip rope – A mooring rope whose end has been passed through the ring of a mooring point and brought back and secured on board.  By releasing one end and hauling on the other the vessel is freed from the mooring and retains her rope.


Slip stopper – A short length of chain with a slip, or pelican, hook, used to fasten the anchor to the billboard, from which it is instantly released by freeing the hook.


Slobgollion- Substance solidifying in Spermaceti tubs    

Slockstered Away- Tempted away(?)   


Sloop rig - Single-mast, gaff, bowsprit, with triangular headsails and with square topsails

Sloop-of-war - English generic name for any ship below 6th rate whose captain was a Master & Commander

Slop chit - Anything that is one’s responsibility is on one’s slop chit, from the clothing list, or chit, that seamen would have their slops recorded on, for later payment when they drew pay.

Slope off - Leave furtively.

Slop out - Wash thoroughly.  Nothing to do with clothing slops and all to do with water from a bucket slops.

Slop room - Storeroom for spare clothing for the crew.

Slop Ships - For examination, cleansing and clothing of new recruits.  See Guardo.       

Slops - Clothing, not usually of the finest quality, held in the slop chest for sale to crew members who may have shipped aboard with inadequate clothing – especially if they have been pressed.  It could be purchased from the purser, from the Slop Chest. From ancient “sloppe” or “slyppe”, meaning loose garment.

Slopseller - Slops supplier to the Purser.       

Slow-match - Used to fire guns.

Sludge- See Ice      

Slug, slugg - Mariner’s term for a slow-sailing vessel.

Slung gaff      ERR

Slush - The fat skimmed off the cauldrons of boiled meat.  This was sometimes used to protect rigging, but was mostly sold to the purser for making candles.  The money so raised was known as a slush fund.

Slush bucket – 1. A bucket holding a mixture of linseed oil and tallow soap used to grease the masts where the parrels run and the blocks and running gear.  2. A bucket used by the cook to keep the skimmings from boiling salted meat.

Slush Down  

Slush fund – Came from the fat skimmed from the top of the cauldron by the cook, who was allowed to sell it to the purser for making candles.  The money he collected became the first slush fund.

Slush Tub      

Slush(1)- See Ice   


Smack    ERR

Smack Smak - Main spritsail, mizzen (smak) lateen

Small – The part of an anchor’s shank directly below the stock.

Small arms chests (4 or 5 on quarterdeck)(tge)   

Small Arms - Musket, Musketoon, Pistol, Cutlass, Boarding Pike, Axe, Tomahawk.    

Small beer - Cheap beer with low alcohol content

Small circle – A circle on the surface of a sphere, whose centre was not at the centre of the sphere, such as a parallel of latitude.

Small stuff – Any line or cordage less than one inch in diameter.

Smart in stays- SMS     

Smelling the ground – Said of a vessel running into shallow or shoaling water and proving more difficult to steer because of currents and back surges.  A vessel looses helm response when she has smelt the ground, or approaches shallows.

Smith, Capt John - See Sea Grammar, pub 1627.

Smiting line – A single line of rope onto which several yarn stops are attached to hold a furled sail; when the smiting line was withdrawn the sail would rapidly unfurl.

Smoked Us(etc)

Smoke sail – A small sail used to protect the galley funnel, or a forge, from blowing smoke and sparks wherever they was unwelcome.

Smoke Ships – Machine ships of the 17th century. Also Sink Ships.

Smoking - Smoking tobacco was forbidden outside the galley.

Smooth log – A log kept by the ship’s mate, compiled from entries in the deck, or rough, log and prepared by the mate for the master’s signature.  Also called the mate’s log.

Smug Boat – Chinese dragon boat of about 70 rowers.

Smugglers-# & Debtors were the only felons knowingly taken into HM Navy     


Snacks    Shared the profit was called “went snacks”

Snaffle - A metal fitting on a yard or boom, through which the pin of the goose-neck was attached, by which the boom works.

Snail-creeping - Gouging out grooves in timbers to assist air-flow.

Snake – 1. One way of securing the seizing on a single rope, by taking the yarn ends under and over the lower and upper parts of the seizing, to form a zigzag pattern across it.  2. Viking ship of about 20 to 25 rooms.

Snake pit - Untidy messdeck.

Snaking stays- SMS      


Snake’s honeymoon, or wedding - A tangled set of ropes and lines on deck.

Snap hook – A hook with a spring strip across the mouth to hold the load securely in place.

Snatch – A fairlead with a spring across its mouth to prevent the rope from slipping.

Snatch block – A block with an opening on one side that enabled the rope to be laid onto the sheave.

Sneer - ‘Cracking on to make all sneer again’ was an expression used to indicate that maximum speed was achieved, but at the immediate risk of mast or rigging failure.  ‘All sneered again’ was used when it had, sometimes fatally, in bad conditions.

Snoods – A light fishing line by which fishing hooks are attached to the main long line.

Snorter - A small strap, usually rope, on the end of a light yard, to which halyards and lifts are attached.  Sometimes incorrectly called snotter.

Snotter - A loop of rope or metal encircling a mast of a sprit rig and holding the lower end of the sprit against it.  2 Any loop used to prevent slipping.

Snotty - Seamen’s nickname for a midshipman.  Tradition has it that Nelson ordered three buttons to be sewn onto midshipmen’s sleeves, to stop them wiping their noses on their cuffs.

Snow - A rig the same as a brig but with a trysail mast abaft the main mast.

Snowball hitch - Seamen’s name for a badly made knot that will not hold.

Snowmast- SMS    

Snub – (v) To suddenly stop a rope or cable as it is running out, by various methods, such as taking extra turns, applying a stopper or by using the windlass brake.

Snubber – A short cable stopper used to temporarily stop a rope.

Snubbing line – A rope used as a restraint whilst warping a vessel, to prevent unwanted swings.

Snub Up, To - onto anchor cable   

Snug down – Reduce sail and generally prepare for heavy weather.

Snug Down, To - To reef sails and generally prepare everything in readiness for foul weather.      

Soaker, Soker- Old hand.

Soap Stone    

Sodden - In Elizabethan times, used to refer to boiled food.

Sodomy-Death penalty awarded & executed   

Sod’s law - The ‘law’ that states that things will always go wrong at the least convenient time and place.  Also, the Law of Imbuggerance.

Sods opera – Ship’s concerts were arranged and performed by seamen of the Ship’s Operatic and Drama Society, and were often used to get one back at officer’s and to settle old scores painlessly.  Ashore it usually, and unfairly, means any poorly produced performance.

Soft-iron spheres - See Correcting magnets. NTUS 1906

Soft-laid – The term for a rope laid loosely and with little torsion, to make it more pliable.

Soft tack – Bread, as we know it, baked at sea.

Soft tack -

Soft Tommy- Bread, as distinct from ship’s biscuit.

Soger - A laggard or malingerer.     

Sogering – The same as ‘Working Tom Cox’s Traverse’; i.e. to work deliberately slowly as through having been humbugged.  It also sometimes was used to describe simple skiving.

Soke - Local government area.  See Ship Soke.

Solano - NTUS 1703

Solar tides -

Soldier’s hole- SMS      

Soldier’s wind - Sailing with the wind abaft.

Soldier’s wind - NTUS 1701

Sole – 1. A piece of timber fastened to the foot of a rudder to bring it in line with a false keel.  2. The deck surface, or floor to a landsman.

Sole plate      

Solid bar stern post - A stern post formed from a solid piece of iron or steel.

Solsticial tides – Tides of greater than average range occurring during the June and September solstices.

Son of a gun - Seamen’s slang compliment for a seaman alleged to have been born ‘tween decks at sea, from the time when wives lived on board and gave birth between the guns.

Soogee moogee – A mixture of soap or soda and water used to clean woodwork and paintwork on board.

Sotweed - Raw tobacco leaf    BDD


Soul and body lashing – Spunyarn lashed around the body and through openings in oilskin garments to keep out the weather.

Sound (vb) – NTUS 1901

Sound - NTUS 2001

Sound, The- Passage between Denmark and Sweden.      

Sound Dues – Charged by Denmark for shipping to pass through the Sound.

Sounding - NTUS 1901

Sounding board - On which the slavemaster of a galley beat time for the rowing rhythm.

Sounding pipe – A tube in any tank or other liquid storage vessel, through which the sounding rod could pass.

Soundings - NTUS 1807

Sounding rod – A graduated rod used to measure the depth of a liquid cargo in its compartment.

Soundings - first appeared on charts in 1560.

Soundings calls – ‘Marks’ were the fathom depths marked on the lead-line, at 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 13, 15, 17 and 20 fathoms.  ‘Deeps’ were the fathom depths not marked.  The sounding calls were as follows:

    At 5 fathoms               ‘By the mark, five!’
At 5¼ fathoms     ‘And a quarter, five!’
At 5½ fathoms     ‘And a half, five!’
At 5¾ fathoms     ‘A quarter less, five!’
At 6 fathoms               ‘Deep, six!’
’No bottom!’; ‘No bottom at 20 fathoms!’

Sound off - Play a bugle call.

Southerly buster - NTUS 1703

South-west monsoon - NTUS 1701, 1703

Southern Oceans, The - Storm tossed chain. Also Southern Fifties.     

Sowed Up – Drunk.

Sovereignty of the sea - A legal nicety invented by the English in late 13c in a dispute with France.  Subsequently more often exploited in court by those seeking compensation from acts of piracy by subjects of the English kings.

Spade man – The whaleship crewmember who cuts the blubber into horse pieces, while the gaff man holds it up with a gaff.

Spadroon - 1780s straight long sword that was unsuccessful and consequently disappeared.

Span – 1. The wire or rope support to the peak of a gaff or boom.  2. A measure of length of about nine inches.  3. Any rope fastened at both ends, so that a block and tackle could be attached at its middle.  4. A short line attached by its middle to a stay, and with blocks or thimbles at its ends, to be used as fairleads for other ropes.

Span - Sheet on gaff        CTC

Span block – A type of block lashed in pairs around the mast, to take the studding sail halyards.  The span is the length of rope holding the blocks.

Spanish bowline – A knot made to produce two firm loops on a bight, used to haul a man aloft or in staging or jury rigging.

Spanish burton – A simple tackle comprising two single blocks.

Spanish catting- SMS   

Spanish fox – A line made by splitting a single strand of rope and re-laying it in the opposite direction, used for seizing and to make paunch mats.  Sometimes just ‘fox’.

Spanish lifts- SMS

Spanish reef – An untidy reef in a sail.

Spanish windlass – A contrivance of two ropes attached to a line secured to a crossbar which, when turned, would draw the ropes tightly together.  Used to tighten dead-eyes.

Spanker Outhaul- Rope used in hauling out the spanker.     

Spanker – The main fore-and-aft sail set with a boom and a gaff on the mizzen.

Spanker boom - The boom of the main fore-and-aft mizen sail.

Spanker gaff - The gaff of the main fore-and-aft mizen sail.

Spanking – Said of a brisk, lively wind.

Spanning Key- To wind the mainspring of a flintlock. 

Span shackle - An eye-bolt with a shackle attached, fastened to the deck and used to lash an article or boat down.

Span tackle - A heavy metal bolt fixed at the forecastle deck, with a strong socket in which the cat davit sat.

Spar - The general name for a rounded length of timber used as a yard, gaff or boom.

Spar ceiling – Loose battens and boards used to keep a cargo away from direct contact with a ship’s sides whilst leaving airways for ventilation and protecting the cargo from moisture.

Spar-Deck - Upper deck from bow to stern, in certain types of vessel.  Sometimes a temporary deck constructed of spars supported by beams.

Spare anchor- SMS       

Sparling-boat - Sprat boat.

Sparlingfare - A haul of sprats.

Spunyarn job - Seamen’s term for a badly performed or temporary job.

Spar plan(tge)       

Sparring- Fist fight.      

Spar- Rounded piece of timber such as a yard, gaff or boom.

Sparrowfart - Dawn.

Speaking trumpet – A funnel like hand-held tube through which orders could be called to amplify them.

Specie- Coin

Specksynder – The chief harpooner on a Dutch whaleship, who shared command with the captain.  The word means ‘fat cutter’.  Also speksioneer.

Spectacles, spectacle clew, spectacle iron – Three or four rings formed into a single fitting at the clew of a sail, onto which the bolt-ropes, sheets, etc., were attached.  Also clew iron.

Spectacle plate(hgv)     

Speculum Oris - Punishment device put in the mouth of swearers or blasphemers        BDD

Speel Yacht- Dutch name for pleasure craft which first became popular in 17c, with two masts and tall transom and bulwarks to protect passengers from the elements.

Speksioneer - Whaler/ harpooner.

Spell – A period spent on duty.

Spencer – 1. A fore-and-aft sail attached behind a lower main or fore mast, by means of an auxiliary mast called a spencer mast.  2. Fore and aft gaff sails of a square rigger, except the driver or spanker.

Spencer mast - An auxiliary mast placed immediately behind a main mast or a fore lower mast, to which a spencer sail is attached by hoops.

Spend, to - To lose a mast, etc.

Spend – (v) To allow a broken mast or sail to be carried away in bad weather.

Sperone - The beak on a brigantine

Spert, Thomas - The first Master of Trinity House, in 1512.

Spets - Skewers upon which fish are strung to dry.

Spherical angle – Is expressed either in arc or in time.

Spherical sailing – Any sailing by navigation that takes account of the roughly spherical shape of the Earth.  Also globular sailing.

Spherical triangle – A three-sided closed shape on the surface of a sphere, having as its sides three great circles.

Spherical Trigonometry      

Spider - An outrigger, usually in the form of an iron bracket, used to keep a block away from a ship’s sides.

Spider band, spider iron - A metal band around the lower masts, with sockets to take the belaying pins.

Spidereen - Seamen’s term for a mythical ship.  When asked to disclose the name of his ship, a seaman would say ‘The spidereen frigate with nine decks’.

Spidereen frigate - See Spidereen. NTUS 1012

Spider hoop - A metal band around the masts, to take the shackles of the futtock shrouds.

Spider iron - See Spider band. NTUS 0402


Spike – 1. (n) The pointed tool used for rope work.  2. (vb) To spoil an enemy gunner’s fun by driving a spike hard into the touchhole of his, presumably temporarily, captured gun and cutting it off flush with the breech, thus rendering it useless.

Spike-boom - A single piece boom or bowsprit.  Also spike bowsprit.

Spike bowsprit - A simple one-piece bowsprit.  Also spike boom.

Spike Bowsprit – Combined jib-boom and bowsprit

Spike bowsprit - NTUS 0406

Spile- To pierce Casks to prevent bursting     

Spilling lines - Alternatives to buntlines, used to the same ends, but rigged on the after side of sails.

Spill – (v) To bring a vessel up into the wind and make the weather leech of a sail shake out its wind.

Spiller – A light fishing line used in North Cornwall, to which up to 2,000 hooks were attached.

Spilling line - A line connected to the foot of a sail, and up the after side, and used to spill the wind from the sail prior to furling.  Spilling lines were alternatives to buntlines.

Spin a yarn - Elaborate a story, usually to cover up a misdemeanour or to strengthen its chat-up value, from the laborious task of making yarn from old ropes.

Spindle – 1. The timber core of a made mast.  2. The heavy iron-footed shaft about which the capstan revolves.

Spindle eye - See Artificial eye. NTUS 0512

Spindle staysail    ERR

Spindrift - NTUS 1705

Spinnaker – A modern large triangular baggy sail used in yachts when sailing before the wind.

Spinnaker boom - A light boom used to extend the foot of the spinnaker.

Spiral bracing- SMS     

Spirit - One who enticed naive street people into service at sea      BDD

Spirit room   

Spirit room- SMS  

Spirket - The name for the space between floor timbers.

Spirketting - Planks running between the sills of the ports and the deck waterways.

Spirketing     CTC

Spitfire, spitfire jib – A small triangular jib made of heavy canvas and used as a storm sail on a cutter.

Spitfire staysail -

Spithead - The area of sea between the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth harbour.

Spithead nightingale – 1. Boatswain’s Mate, so called from the piping aboard of senior officers.  2. The Bosun’s whistle.

Spithead pheasant - Seamen’s term for smoked herring, namely kippers or bloaters.

Spithead Revolt or Mutiny- See also Valentine Joyce, leader of mutineers.

Spitkid – 1. A bucket, breaker, or similar, used as a messdeck rubbish bin, originally for spitting into when chewing tobacco.  2. Someone who was found to have spat on the deck was required to wear a spitkid, or spittoon, around their neck as a punishment.




Splashboard- SMS 

Splay tackle – A two-block tackle rigged fore-and-aft, used to move and hold the heels of sheer legs.

Splice - 1 Join two things together.  2 Marry.  3 Splice the mainbrace is a celebratory issue of grog.

Splicing hammer – A tapered hammer used when splicing.

Splicing the main brace - Order for issue of an extra tot of rum, usually to reward a job well done, especially under adverse conditions.  From the fact that the main brace was rarely spliced or rejoined if damaged.


Split - 1. Said of a sail torn by the wind.  2. Said of a ship’s bottom that has been opened up by rocks or the shore.

Split belly – Said of a torn trawl net.

Split lug – A lug sail split into two parts at the mast, with the fore part used like a jib and the after part attached to the mast.

Splitting tacks – Modern expression for tacking on the lee bow of another yacht in racing.

Split topsail- SMS 

Spoiled - In Elizabethan times, despoiled or pillaged.

Spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar - To fail to satisfactorily complete a task through failing to invest in sufficient materials.  Usually advised in the negative.

Spoke - A projecting hand hold on the outside of the steering wheel.


Sponge tub(tge)    

Sponsons - The galleries fore and aft of paddlewheels.

Spooming – Running before the wind and sea.

Spoondrift - NTUS 1705

Spoondrift - Fog ??

Spooning- SMS      

Spotted dog - A duff with currants or raisins.

Spouter - Seamen’s term for a whaleman or whale ship.

Spray - NTUS 1705

Spread Bracket     ERR

Spreader - on topmast trestle tree  CTC

Spreaders – 1. Metal or timber extensions fastened onto the cross-trees to spread the topgallant and royal backstays (or the topmast backstay in a fore-and-aft rig).  2. Metal bars rigged horizontally from the bows of a small vessel, to widen the spread of the head sheet.


Spring – 1. Rope from side or end of ship to anchor cable.  2. A crack through a mast or yard, rendering it unsafe.

Spring – 1. A rope run from the stern of a ship to her anchor cable or mooring point, by which the direction of her head can be adjusted.  2. (v) To use the spring.  3. The call for extra effort in a whaleboat, such as ‘spring your oars’.

Springald - A heavy mounted cross-bow.

Spring a leak - Said when a leak develops.

Spring a luff – 1. To come nearer to the wind when sailing close-hauled.  2. To sail into the wind and then drive to leeward when the ship has lost some headway.

Spring block – A block having a spring connection to a ring bolt, to allow it to yield to the jerks of the working rope.

Springing – 1. The loosening of a plank in a vessel’s hull.  2. Changing a vessel’s position by hauling on her spring.

Springs - Ropes rigged onto anchor or mooring lines to enable the ship’s position to be moved.

Spring stay - 1 An extra rope rigged above a stay to act as a substitute in case of damage.  2 Another name for a triatic stay.

Spring-stay - A stay running horizontally between the main, mizzen and jigger mast caps.  Also triatic-stay.

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

Spring tides – Tides of greater range occurring when the sun and Moon are aligned and so reinforce each other’s effect, at New and Full Moon.

Sprit – 1. A diagonally positioned boom supporting a square fore-and-aft sail.  2. The spar or spars keeping the sheers of a sheer hulk at the correct angle.

Spritsail, sprit-sail – 1. A square sail set under the bowsprit.  2. A fore-and-aft sail set upon a sprit.  Conventionally ‘spritsail’ is used as the name for the fore-and-aft sail extended by the sprit and ‘sprit-sail’ is the square sail set on a yard crossing the bowsprit.  Spritsail and spritsail-topsail, were replaced by Jib and Fore-Topmast-Staysail

Spritsail collar stop(tge)      

Spritsail gaff - The yard rigged below the bowsprit to take a spritsail.

Spritsail sheet       Block      

Spritsail sheet knot – A knob knot made on a spritsail sheet knot strop, by the rope being rove through a block, the strands unlayed and the ends formed into an irregular crown.

Spritsail sling saddle(ecr)   

Spritsail topsail – 1. A small square sail set on a small vertical mast stepped into a top on the bowsprit.  A practice that did not continue after the early eighteenth century.  2. Later, the name was given to a second square sail set under the jib-boom, in addition to the spritsail.

Sprit topmast ERR

Spruce Beer- Beer made by adding young fir cones to fermented malt. A good antiscorbutic.

Spruce, Essence of- Used for brewing   

Sprung - 1. Said of a split mast or spar.  2. Said of a loosened plank in the ship’s side that is projecting outwards from the hull.

Sprung a butt - Said of a ship that leaked through a loosened butt joint.

Spume - NTUS 1705

Spunger - Sponger or social parasite.

Spunyarn - NTUS 0509

Spun-Yarn – Ship made rope, from Junk       

Spunyarn - A three-strand line spun out of old rope-yarns knotted together.  Must ships carried a spunyarn winch, and the spinning of such yarn was a favourite occupation in fine weather.

Spunyarn stops- SMS   

Spur - A timber prop between a vessel’s bilge and the bilgeway.

Spur beam(tge)     

Spurling line – The small line attached to the wheel or tiller and leading to the cabin tell-tale or indicator showing how much helm is being applied.

Spurling pipe - A tube leading from the cable locker to the cable deck or forecastle, through which the vessel’s cable passes.  Also called the navel pipe.

Spurnwater - See rigol. NTUS 0315

Spurs – Iron spikes worn on a whaleman’s boots whilst he was working on a carcass.


Squall - NTUS 1701

Square – 1. The order given to adjust the yards to be square with the ship.  2. The square upper part of an anchor shank, attached to the stock and the ring.

Square Away - Yards etc put back to rights.  

Square frames      

Square knot – 1. Another name for the reef knot.  2. A knot made to fasten two ropes crossing at right angles, by making an S-shaped knot in one rope and passing the other rope through it.

Square meal - A seaman’s plate was wooden and square, from which came this expression, meaning a good meal.

Square off - Seamen’s term for making tidy, especially of clothing and caps.

Square rig - Full uniform.

Square-rigged - Said of an officer or crewman in full uniform, or otherwise ‘properly’ dressed.

Squared away - Put away tidily.

Squared off - Tidied up.


Square sail - Four cornered sail set on a yard athwartships.   

Square Sennit - A cunning plait which makes a four square bar.

Square the Cro’jack Yard’  

Square the yards – To trim the yards so that they are at right angles both to the masts and to the centreline of the hull.

Square tuck - The perpendicular or oblique aft end of a vessel’s hull.

Square Up     

Square yards - Make friends with someone after an argument, or, at least, make up the differences.

Squeegee - A tool with a cam-head, used on the bending slab to shape frames.

Squeegee – A cleaning tool comprising a rubber or leather edge fixed across a handle and used to push water from the decks.

Squeeze box - Accordion.

Squilgee – A squeegee, but in American.

Squilgee strap - SMS    

Squitters - Loose bowel movements.

Stability - The ability of a vessel to remain upright when afloat, or to return to upright after heeling over.

Stable equilibrium - The state of a vessel when she is upright and stable whilst afloat.

Stacken cloud - NTUS 1705

Staff - Reply to Watchman’s Challenge if boat contained an Admiralty Staff Officer.

Stage - A platform rigged over a ship’s sides from which work to the sides could be done.

Stage lashing – Soft-laid flexible rope used to lash working platforms, known as stages.

Stag horn - NTUS 0300

Stagger juice - Rum, or some other strong drink.

Stairs- Landing stage.    

Staith – A quayside built high and with tracks on it, from which coal trucks, or similar, could tip their loads directly into the hold of a vessel moored alongside.

Stalboats - Stowboats.

Stanchion - 1. A pillar supporting a deck beam or a bulkhead.  2. Small wooden or metal pillar supporting bulwarks, rails, etc.

Stanchion - A fixed deck support.

Stand – Said of a sail working correctly.  Also taut leech.

Standard – 1. Reply to Watchman’s Challenge if boat contained a member of the Royal Family.  2. The sentry’s warning shout when he sees the Royal Standard on an approaching boat.  3. An inverted knee, mounted above instead of below the deck and with the vertical part pointing upwards.

Standard compass - NTUS 1906

Standard knee - A heavy right-angled piece of timber with one arm bolted horizontally to a beam, the other to the ship’s side to give strength.

Standard Ration WW89      

Standard time – The old arrangement by which local people kept local mean time.

Stand by - Be ready to carry out the next order instantly.

Stand by – 1. Get ready.  2. Wait.  3. Be appointed to a ship that is still getting ready for sea duty.

Stand by to lay on your oars – oars – give way – The sequence of orders given to a boat’s crew, when about to salute another boat or to check their way for another reason.  ‘Stand by’ warns the crew – at ‘oars’ the crew take one oar stroke and feather their oars at gunwale height – at ‘give way’ they resume pulling.

Stand by to toss oars – toss – The sequence of orders given to a boat’s crew, when about to salute another vessel or to check their way for another reason.  ‘Stand by’ warns the crew – at ‘toss’ the crew raise their oars to the vertical.

Stand by to trail – trail – The sequence of orders given to a boat’s crew to remove their oars from the rowlocks and trail them in the water alongside, either by holding the looms or by using trailing lines.

Stand down - Relax and proceed with normal duty.

Stand in – Sail towards land.  cf stand out.

Standing backstay(tge)

Standing block – The fixed block in a tackle that does not move when the fall is hauled on.

Standing lift  ERR

Standing lifts- SMS      

Standing lug – A lug sail in which the forward lower corner of the sail is attached to the deck at the foot of the mast and the yard stays at the same side of the mast when tacking.

Standing off and on – Sail alternately towards and then away from the land.  The usual need for this was when arriving at an unfamiliar harbour at night, or when awaiting the arrival of a pilot.  Also simply ‘off and on’.

Standing Officers- Warrant officers who stay with ships even when in ordinary. 

Standing Orders - The written orders of what should be done each normal day.

Standing part – The fixed part of a rope forming part of a tackle.

Standing rigging - The fixed rigging supporting the masts.

Standing waves – Water flowing over submerged objects, giving the impression of immobility.

Stand into danger - Steer the ship on a course that will take it into a dangerous situation.  Also used in everyday speech, as a warning of imminent problems.

Stand of the tide – The period at high and low water when the water level is apparently static.

Stand-on – To continue towards the destination.

Stand out – Sail away from land.  cf stand in.

Stand To

Stand up – Sail close to the wind.

Staple - The organization, in a port, holding the monopoly for a commodity.

Staples- SMS 

Starboard - The right-hand side of a vessel, looking forward.

Starboard tack – The tack with the wind on the starboard side.

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

Starboard Watch  

Starbolins, Starbowlines - Members of the starboard watch.  See larbolins.

Stargazer – A triangular fine-weather sail set above a moonsail.  If set above a skysail, it would be called a skyscraper.

Stark calm- SMS   

Star knot – A knob knot made with a five-sided symmetry.

Starry Vere - The Honourable Edward Fairfax Vere.

Star sights – Observations of stars at twilight to determine a vessel’s position.

Start – 1. To get the anchor to break free from the ground.  2. (v) A punishment in which the offender was struck with a starter, or short length of rope, usually as an encouragement to work harder.

Start buntlines- SMS    

Start(By Bosun)     



Start- SMS     


State Barge- Barge used for state occasions and carrying the coat of arms. Rowed by sailors in full dress uniform 

States - Men of importance.

States – The Abbreviation of The States General, the governing body of The Netherlands in 17c.


Station bill – The list of all crewmembers, in which their posts and emergency duties are detailed.

Station buoy (US) – See Watch buoy. NTUS 1803

Station lines(ecr) 

Station Pointer – A navigational instrument used to plot a position obtained by horizontal sextant angles.  Also three-arm protractor.

Station Ships – Those permanently based at an overseas station.

Statute mile – A distance of 5,280 feet.  cf sea or nautical mile and geographical mile.

Staunch - Said of a well-built, strong and leak-free ship.

Staunching - NTUS 0303

Stave - Of a barrel  

Stave off - To push a boat, or some other floating object, away from a ship’s side or jetty by means of a boat-hook, spar or similar implement

Stay - A rope used to support a mast in the fore-and-aft direction.  See Gob line. NTUS 0408

Stay block(hgv)     

Stay hole – One of the holes in the front edge of a staysail or jib, used to lace the sail onto its stay.

Staying & Wearing     

Stayplates      CTC

Staysail – Any of the triangular, sometimes quadrilateral, sails set on a stay, except one of the head sails, which are jibs.

Stay snaking(ecr) 

Stays - Ropes supporting masts or spars.  See also Shrouds and “In Stays”.     

Stay tackle – A tackle comprising double and single blocks strapped with hooks and thimbles, used to hoist boats and things in and out of the hold.

Stead - Help.

Steady – 1. A helm order given when the conner wanted the ship to be kept on her present course when sailing large.  The helmsman would reply with ‘steady it is, sir’.  2. A word used prior to a command being given, as notice.  Also it describes the character of a reliable hand.

Steady Cooks       

Steadying lines – Ropes that are attached to a boat’s gunwales and leading to a ring at the slings, used to keep the boat upright when hoisted.

Steady it is, sir – A helmsman’s answer to the helm order ‘steady’, given by the conner when he wanted the ship to be kept on her present course when sailing large.

Steady Spit Box Musterer- Regular spittoon orderly.  

Steady Sweepers  

Steadying out the bowline- SMS 

Stealer - An extra, or shaped, plank used to compensate for the tapering ends of a vessel, to obviate the need for too thick or thin plank ends.

Steam tugs- SMS   

Steamer - One of those new-fangled vessels that will not last.

Steamer, tacking- SMS


Steep Tub      

Steer - To direct the course by using the rudder, steering oar, or whatever.  Not only direct a vessel, but also give advice.  From the latter, comes a bum steer, meaning the advice was not good.

Steerage – 1. After part of quarterdeck, in front of Main Cabin, from where ship was steered.  2. Accommodation forward of the main cabin and inferior to it.  3. The living quarters of the boat steerers in an American whaleship.

Steerage passenger – A passenger carried between decks and allotted less space than cabin passengers.

Steerage way – Enough speed through the water for the rudder to answer.

Steer east north east (e.g.) – A typical helm order given when the conner wanted the ship to steer the particular given course.

Steering chains - The chains that lead from the barrel connected to the steering wheel to the tiller, by which the vessel is steered.

Steering compass - CTC

Steering crutch – A crutch near the stern-post, used for a steering oar.

Steering gear - The helm mechanism, comprising the ropes and chains between the steering wheel and the tiller.  Patent steering gear was a later development that did not use ropes and chains for steering.

Steering oar – A heavy oar used to steer a boat when a rudder would not answer, such as in surf or on a whaleboat, the latter having a right angled handle on the loom so that two hands could be used.  Most early ships and boats normally used steering oars.

Steering sail – A name sometimes used instead of studding sail.

Steering wheel - Sometimes just called ‘the wheel’ or ‘the helm’, this is the wheel on the quarterdeck at which the helmsman does his job and steers the vessel.

Steersman – 1. An old English title for the office that became ‘master’.  2. A seaman steering a vessel.  In a merchant ship the helmsman was usually a quartermaster.  Also wheelman or helmsman.

Steeve - The angle of the bowsprit relative to the waterline.

Steeved - Raked of bowsprit 36deg. with horizon.

Steeve of bowsprit - Its angle of slope to the horizontal.

Steeve-up bowsprit - A bowsprit arranged to pivot up at the bitts, and usually rigged to starboard of the stem.  This was the common set up for spritsail barges, which could work in closely with other vessels, and so often wanted the bowsprit up out of t

Steeving - The angle of the bowsprit to the horizontal.

Stem - The vertical member of the ship’s structure uniting the sides of the vessel at the fore end, rising from the keel, with the bowsprit resting on its upper end, and into which the ship’s planking is set.

Stem band - See Keel band.

Stem fender – A fender attached at the stem.

Stem head - The upper end of the stem post.

Stem knee - A heavy angled timber connecting the stem to the keel.

Stemming – Keeping a vessel virtually stationary by steering into a current or tide whilst maintaining sufficient way to hold her position.

Stem piece - A wedge-shaped timber located each side of the stem post, between that and the knight heads, to accommodate and support the bowsprit.

Stem post - The heavy, often composite, timber component forming the foremost part of a vessel’s frame and extending up from the fore end of the keel.

Stemson - The curved timber aft of the apron, supporting it’s scarf.

Step - Mast-step

Stepped Mast

Stepping the Mast”- When a new mast was stepped on a new ship, those on board would all contribute to good luck coins to be placed under the mast.      

Stepsod carriage(hgv)  

Stern - The rear end of a vessel.

Stern anchor – A stream anchor.

Stern boats, etc- SMS    

Stern chase – The pursuit of another vessel from directly astern.  A stern chase is a long chase.

Sternfast - Moored by the stern.

Stern-fast - NTUS 2003

Stern frame - The whole stern assembly, comprising the stern post, the transom and the fashion pieces.

Stern gallery

Stern knee - The knee that strengthens the joint at the heel of the inner-post.

Stern-ladders - Rope ladders suspended from each side of the stern.

Stern lantern (1 large & 2 small)(hgv) 

Sternmost - Refers to a ship that is the furthest astern of a fleet or squadron.

Stern port - A gun or ventilation port in the stern.  Sometimes also used for loading/unloading cargo.

Stern-post - 1. The heavy iron or steel vertical post member of the ship’s structure running from the upper deck to the after end of the keel, uniting the sides of the vessel at the after end of the keel and supporting the rudder.

Stern sheets – The aftermost part of a boat, extending from the last thwart to the stern.

Sternson - The curved timber used to join the keelson and the inner-post.

Stern timber 

Stern walk - An open balcony across the stern.  These fell out of fashion at about the turn of the 19c, but soon came back again.

Sternway - The movement astern of a vessel.

Steve – vb.  To ‘stiffen up’ a soft cargo using presses, etc.

Stevedore – A port worker, paid to load or unload a ship.  Often sailors between voyages.

Steward – The crew member on a passenger ship whose duties were the feeding, cleaning and tucking-in of passengers.

Steward’s cabin

Steward’s room    

Stick a cringle - NTUS 0512

Stick a Fork into Deckhead Beam - Tradition that signified the time for youngsters to leave the Midshipmen’s’ Mess, or Gunroom, to allow the Oldsters to get on with their drinking, or worse, after 1850 when youngsters’ Grog was stopped.  At Captains’ discretion Grog could still be issued to Mids and Boys 1st Class.

Sticks - 1. The ship’s masts.  2. Seamen’s nickname for the Royal Marine Bugler, from his others skills as a drummer.  

Stiff – 1. Having a good stability.  Said of a vessel that is not easily inclined or heeled.  The opposite of crank.  2. Heavy.

Stiffeners - Vertical angle irons inside steel masts  CTC

Stiffening – Any ballast or weights placed in a ship to improve her stability, from the early practice of lashing stiffening booms to a ship’s sides on both sides.

Stiffening web - Webs welded inside steel masts and spars to strengthen them.

Stiff gale- SMS      

Stiffness- SMS       

Still – 1. The pipe for Silence and Stand Still, at Colours.  2. To make Drinking water from seawater.

Stinkers – Useless fish that have fed off tainted food.

Stink Pots - A popular weapon with eastern pirates and privateers made from saltpetre, limestone, asafoetida(a noisome gum resin) and decayed matter, usually fish, packed in earthenware jugs. These were ignited and thrown from the mast tops onto an enemy ship, where the awful smell discouraged the enemy from fighting, or at least weakened their fighting spirit. Sometimes Stink Pots were hung from the Yardarms And cut loose to fall on the enemies deck when their ship came alongside.

Stirk - A young bullock or heifer.

Stirrup - A short rope used to attach the foot-rope, on which the sailors stand when aloft, to a yard.  The foot-ropes were passed through eyes in the lower ends of the stirrups, which were firmly fastened to the yard.

Stitch Through Nose- A dead man was sewn into his hammock, with the final stitch through his nose. It was alleged that it was a final check that he was not faking his demise.    

Stitch up - A set-up, aimed at embarrassing an oppo, from the old trick of sewing up his trouser legs.


St. Nick’s Clerks – French privateers.

Stock – The cross arm fitted at the top of an anchor’s shank right angles to the arms, by which the anchor was made to tilt up and let the flukes dig into the ground and not simply drag flat along the ground.

Stock-a-bate - Pocket money.  A term originally used by fishermen, from the expression for those poorer parts of the catch that were kept out of the main auction sale and sold off ‘on the side’, thus raising pocket money for the crew.                      

Stockfish - Dried cod.

Stockholm tar - Dark liquid gum.  See Tar.

Stock lashing- SMS      

Stocks - The whole structure of the slipways, on which the cradle and, consequently, the vessel is built.

Stock tackle – The tackle used to keep the anchor stock vertical and away from the ship’s side whilst it was being fished.

Stokers- SMS 

Stomach-Piece - 1. Curved timbers of uniform section, fixed below the stem and above the leading end of the keel.  Also Apron.

Stone-bow - A cross-bow or catapult for throwing stones.

Stone frigate - Seamen’s slang name for a shore establishment.

Stoned - Drunk.  No connection with drugs.

Stonehouse Hospital-Plymouth, completed 1762, 2 years to build      

Stonnicky - Seamen’s name for a rope’s end used to chase the unenthusiastic crew members.

Stood – Travelled.

Stool       ERR

Stool bed(hgv)       


Stop – (v) Lightly tie up a sail, or anything else, with spunyarn.

Stoppage - A punishment, by withdrawal of a privilege, such as leave.

Stopper – A short length of rope secured at one end and used to relieve the strain on a loaded rope or cable.

Stoppering – Holding part of a rope under tension by using a short rope stopper, leaving that part of the rope not under strain to be handled easily.

Stopper knot – A type of crown knot made near the end of a stopper, by walling a three-stranded rope against the lay and whipping the ends.

Stoppermen   Bittmen  

Stoppermen or mast party.

Stoppers before all – When weighing anchor, the order given to temporarily hold the anchor cable by means of stoppers, while the anchor is stowed.

Stopping - 1 Something used to seal a leak.  2 The securing of a furled sail.

Stopping a tide- SMS    

Stopples - Seamen’s name for items used to temporarily stop holes in ship’s hull.  Could mean wadding, maybe Dutch

Stops – 1. The turns of spunyarn taken round the end of a rope in order to fasten it to another rope.  2. Projections on the topgallant mast to hold the rigging in place.

Storekeeper – The crew member responsible for all the stores on a merchant vessel.


Storm bonnet- SMS      

Storm Canvass     

Storm gaff(ecr)     

Storm glass - Seamen’s name for early water barometers.

Storm-jib       cf Jibsail  

Storms - SMS 

Storm sails – A set of smaller but heavier sails used in bad weather conditions.

Storm staysails- SMS   

Stove in - Said of a cask, boat or barrel that has been damaged by external force, such as when a plank has been smashed.

Stow - 1. Put away neatly and securely.  2. To properly arrange a cargo, or any article, for carrying.  3. To furl sail to make a “Neat Harbour Stow”.

Stowage – 1. The disposition of a ship’s cargo.  2. The branch of seamanship concerned with economically and safely loading cargoes in holds in such a way as to protect them and ensure a good trim for the ship.

Stowaway – Any person who hides on board ship to get free passage.  If found he would be made to work his passage and would risk being turned over to the relevant authorities when the ship reaches port.

Stowboat - Inshore fishing boat using nets but whilst anchored in the tidal flow.

Stowing anchor- SMS

Stow it - Seamen’s slang for shut up.

Strachan, Sir Richard – AKA ‘Mad Dickey’.

Straddle - Fire a gun to each side of a target, in order that the third shot is bang on target.  Similar to ranging, but the other way.


Straight hand spike(tge)     

Straight rush - Boiled meat and vegetables, cooked, served and eaten in a hurry.

Straights, The- Straits of Gibraltar, sometimes The Med.      

Strain bands – Reinforced bands of canvas used to strengthen the belly of the sail.

Straining screw – A threaded cylinder with a swivel at one end and an eye at the other, used on awning ridge ropes, guard chains, or similar.

Strake - 1. A continuous strip of planking running horizontally along a ship’s side, stretching from bow to stern of the hull. Also streak.

Strand – Any twist of rope yarn laid up with others to form a rope.


Strap a Shoe-Block      

Strap-bound block – A type of block with rope or iron strap fitted into grooves from top to bottom of the cheeks.  The strap would hold the device by which the block would be slung.

Stray Line- Thin line 20 Fathoms long, used to get Log-ship clear of wake.  

Streak - See Strake.

Stream anchor – A spare anchor of about one third the size of a bower anchor, carried at the stern of a ship and used where there is insufficient room for the ship to turn with wind and tide.

Stream current – A narrow, deep, fast-flowing current.

Streaming the buoy- SMS    

Stretch – (v) To sail close-hauled with all sails set.

Stretcher – The heavy wooden batten in a boat’s bottom, against which the oarsman would brace his feet when rowing.  See Shear batten.

Stretchers & Cudgels  

Stretching the weather wheel rope- SMS  

Stretch off the land - Seamen’s slang name for a short nap, from the fact that a crew could relax on the seaward leg of a tack along the coast.

Stretch your eyes - Said of something that will make your eyes pop in surprise or wonder.

Strike (vb) – 1. Generally, to let down a flag, sail, topmast or yard.  2. Crews would often strike the sails to prevent a ship from leaving port until they were paid.  Hence it was an organised stoppage of labour, and the term is applied to all such events today on land.  3. To lower something.  Specifically, to lower the colours as a signal of surrender to an enemy.  4. To hit the shore or touch bottom when passing over shallows.

Strike colours – To surrender a ship, signified by striking the colours.

Strike down - Lower something into a hold.  Sometimes ‘Strike into hold’.

Striker – 1. Assistant, from the habit of mates who would hit out frequently, at those considered tardy.  2. A right-angled paintbrush used to get into difficult places.

Strike-ropes, strikes - A type of brail.

Strike sail – To lower a sail as a salute or a mark of respect.

Strike Topsail- Salute to HM ships by merchantmen and foreigners.     

String - The highest range of side planks on a vessel’s interior.

Stringer - A longitudinal structural member, joining frames.

Stringer plate - Horizontal plates riveted to the ends of deck beams and along the vessel’s sides.

Stringers - Fore-and-aft timbers fixed across the inside of a vessel’s frames, for strengthening and to form supports for the decks.

Strip the Ship - Send down all spars and ropes      

Strip to a gantline – To remove all upper works and rigging, leaving only the lower masts with gantlines rigged, ready for re-rigging.

Stroke – 1. The complete action of an oar from entering the water until it emerges again.  2. The distance that a single oar stroke achieves through the water.  3. The aftermost oarsman, responsible for setting the rhythm of the stroke.  4. The name of the oar wielded by the stroke oarsman.

Stroke & Away     

Stroke oar - See Stroke.

Strongback – A long spar used in a stowed boat to support a boat cover.

Strop - The piece of rope spliced into a wreath surrounding the body of a block in order to suspend it.  Also came to refer to someone wanting a fight, being an abbreviation of obstreperous.

Strop and toggle – A quick release device used on slings and similar devices.

Strop, the, putting on - A game.  A strop is a grommet or rope ring.  The two players kneel down facing each other, the strop is placed over their heads, and the men then try to pull each other over by the strength of their neck muscles.

Strop - A grommet of rope formed into one or more rings.

Struck down - When Beat to Quarters is called, everything not needed during the fray was struck down to the hold, to avoid it becoming matchwood, and a danger to all from flying splinters.

Studding Sail (Stun’s'l) 

Studding sail, etc- SMS

Studding-sail boom - A spar rigged from the yards in light winds, upon which studding sails are set.  Usually called stunsail booms.

Studding-sail halyard bend – A bend used to fasten the halyard by passing two turns around the yard, with the end taken round the standing part of the rope and back through the two loops.

Studs of chain cable- SMS   

Stuff - The mixture of materials used to cover the bottom of a ship, such as tar, oils, varnish, etc.

Stum - To fumigate a cask with sulphur to stop contained liquor from fermenting.

Stump head(ecr)   

Stump mast - A lowermast rigged without tops and with no masts above it.

Stump topgallant mast - A topgallant mast with no royal mast above it.

Stumpy   A type of barge                       

Stunsail booms - Studding sail booms. NTUS 0407

Suahili - NTUS 1703

Subaltern- (Am)? 

Sub-celestial point – The point on the Earth’s surface where a celestial body is directly overhead at a given moment in time.  Also geographical position.

Submerge – The event that is the aim of seamen to avoid happening.

Submergent Shore – Or shore of submergence.  The geographical term for irregularly indented, offshore islands, rocks, etc.  Sea water erodes them.

Submit- (Respectfully)  

Success - In Elizabethan times, fortune, whether good or bad.

Suckets - Candied, or otherwise preserved, fruits.

Sucking the Monkey – 1. To steal spirits from a barrel by sucking it out through a straw.  From the popular unlawful way of obtaining liquor by substituting the milk in coconuts to bring it aboard, and then sucking it out with a straw; the bottom of the coconut was said to resemble a monkey’s face.  2. Get drunk from the above definition.

Sue – (v) To need a greater depth of water to float, stating the difference between the water-level and the vessel’s flotation-mark.  Also sew.

Suffolk Cheese    

Sugar Droghing - Caribbean coastal trade      BDD

Sugar Islands- West Indies   

Suit of sails – The complete set of sails used for a given weather condition.  Many ships carried three sets, suitable for fine, moderate and storm conditions.

Sulphur – Used in the manufacture of gunpowder.  Came from Italy.


Sumner line – The discovery by American Captain Thomas Sumner, in 1837, that an altitude observation yields a position line.  Also line of bearing.

Sumner method – A method of establishing a position line by calculating two or more positions at various latitudes and joining them.

Sun dogs - Parhelia.

Sunk - Trinity House lightship established 1799.

Sun over the foreyard - Seamen’s slang name for time for a drink, from the habit of many officers to allow themselves their first drink after noon, when the sun appeared over the foreyard.

Sun sights – Measurements of the altitude of the sun.  Also shooting the sun.

Supercargo – The representative of the owner of the cargo on a merchant vessel, responsible for contracts in port, loading and unloading, etc.  Originally he was called the cargo superintendent, but titles like that deserve abbreviating.

Supernumeries- Pilots, newly raised men transferring, survivors, soldiers, passengers, admirals and their entourage, commodores on flagships    

Superstructure - Any construction raised above the upper deck, such as the quarterdeck or a caboose.

Supper-4pm(30 minutes)       

Supper – A pipe call meaning: dinner, or supper is ready.  Supper was called at 4pm and lasted for 30 minutes.

Supple Jack  

Supporters - Knee timbers under and supporting the cat heads.

Surf - NTUS 1705

Surf Boat- A broad ship’s boat, with a higher prow and stern and a lower freeboard amidships, of the 18 and 19c which was used to land on open shorelines and built to withstand the strains and shocks of surf.

Surge – (v) To suddenly slacken a rope or cable to let it run out or to take a turn around the capstan.

Surge - Move with a wave.


Surgeon’s cabin   

Surgeon’s Hall      Barber-Surgeon’s Hall, Monkwell Street

Surging the messenger- SMS      

Sussex Oak- “Best” timber for shipbuilding  

Sutler – Brewer?

Suttle – To sell provisions to seamen.  To sell naval property.

Sutton Hoo Ship- A ship grave of a king of the Angles, probably King Redwald who was buried in 630, found in Sutton Ho in Suffolk in 1938, comprising the remains of a 91ft long by 14ft wide (27.4 by 4.3m) oared ship.       

Sutton’s Tubes- Or Sutton’s Ventilator. 

Swab - Epaulette.

Swab – A mop made from unlaid rope strands usually fastened to a wooden handle, used for cleaning decks and paintwork.

Swab and lubber - Menial and clumsy

Swabber - The ‘officer’, a rating, responsible for cleanliness of the ship.

Swab hitch – A method of attaching a swab to its lanyard in a way that lets it be readily detached after use, in order to dry it.

Swabs- Epaulettes. 

Swallow – The space between the sheave and the shell of a block, through which the rope runs.

Swallow the anchor - Seamen’s slang for leaving sea service or retiring.

Swamp (vb) – To allow a vessel to become in danger of sinking through being awash with water.

Swash – The term for turbulent surf created on a shelving shore.

Swashway, Swatchway – A channel crossing a shoal or bank.

Sway – 1. (v) To hoist an upper mast or spar into position.  2. The order given to hoist a yard or mast.

Sway away – The order given to hoist an upper yard or mast.

Swaying - Hoisting.

Sway up - Raise.

Sweat - Torture used as retribution, in which candles are placed round the Mizzen-mast and about 25 men surround it, with cutlasses and sharp implements: culprit enters and is required to dance a jig around the mast, while each man runs his instrument into his posteriors.

Sweat up – (v) To give a sharp haul on a rope to gain the last few inches.

Sweep – (v) To drag the bight of a rope along the sea bottom to hook and recover a lost anchor, or some other sunken object.  2. A long heavy oar once used in galleys and similar, but more recently only used in barges and lighters.

Sweepers! - The frequent pipe call for deck sweepers to muster to sweep the decks of dust and shakings.

Sweeping – Sideways movements of a whale’s tail on the surface.

Sweeping for an anchor- SMS     

Sweepings – Loose goods that have leaked or escaped from their containers in the hold, which are swept up to gather them.

Sweeps – 1. Oars.  2. Any cleaner, from the frequent practice of sweepers being called to clear up some dirt on deck.

Swell - NTUS 1705

Swifter – 1. The aftermost shroud on each side of the fore and main masts.  2. A rope with a cut splice halfway along and a thimble at one end, which is passed over a notch in a capstan bar and hitched over the end of the other bars to give handholds to let more men heave at the capstan.

Swifters - The aftermost shrouds, and last to be fitted, on the fore and main masts.

Swifting – A way of making a rope taut by frapping it.

Swig – (v) To make a right-angled haul on a taut rope to obtain maximum tension.

Swim – 1. The overhanging parts of a ship, at the bow or stern that increase the water-line as she is loaded, thus increasing her buoyancy.  2. Swim – The sudden movement of a whole shoal of sprats or herrings that can be of immense benefit to drifters.

Swimhead -

Swimmer - A sailor who chose to go to sea rather than gaol.

Swimmers - Seamen’s name for a fish, or its fins.


Swimming line - The waterline at which a ship floats.

Swin – Channel off east coast                 

Swing – (v) The side to side movement of a vessel at anchor, from the effects of wind and tide.

Swinging boom – A boom swung out from a ship’s sides, to which boats could be moored when the ship is in harbour.

Swinging the arm – The rocking back and forth of a quadrant or sextant to achieve a more accurate measurement of altitude.  Also rocking the quadrant, or sextant.

Swing a Cat - Referred to the swinging of the Cat-o-nine-tails.     

Swing around the buoy - Loaf around.

Swinging all yards- SMS      

Swinging boom - NTUS 0903

Swinging ship - NTUS 1906

Swinging the arc - NTUS 1903

Swinging the lamp - Seamen’s slang for telling a tall story.

Swinging the lead - Seamen’s slang for feigning sickness or not pulling one’s weight, from the habit of a lazy leadsman of standing a swinging the lead, which was the easy bit, before casting it and then having to haul it back.

Swing Ports - Iron doors in the ship’s side which open outwards to free the decks from water.

Swing the lamp - Stretch the facts behind a story.

Swing the lead - Pretend to work.

Swipes - Cheap beer found in port, or left overs in used glasses.

Swivel - SMS  


Swivel block – A pivoted block that could turn easily.

Swivel Guns 

Swivel piece – A short length of cable with a swivel at one end, used to attach the cable to the cable locker or to the anchor ring.

Sword – A long thin piece of wood used to beating down rope strands when making up sword matting.

Sword, types – Cutlass: Introduced late 18c.  Actually a short sabre.  Dirk: Elongated elaborate knife of late 18c.  Regularly used by midshipmen in 19c.  They were originally probably made from broken swords.  Fighting Sword: A straight sword of mid 18c.  Hanger: An early sword, named for the way it was worn.  Hunting Sword: A hanger decorated with hunting scenes, introduced by Admiral John Benbow and popular by 1700.  Naval Sabre: Mid 19c curved sword.  Presentation Sword: A decorative small-sword given by the administrators of the Patriotic Fund (1750-1850) to naval officers, for brave deeds.  Spadroon: 1780s straight long sword that was unsuccessful and consequently disappeared.

Sword Knot - Used to tie the sword to the wrist, to avoid losing it in a melee.  It became decorative.

Sword matting – A mat made up from strands of small rope or spunyarn woven over and under rope strands and then beaten flat with a sword.

Sword Mount – The proper name for a sword handle.

Sword Patriotic Fund - Set up by merchants to support dependants of recipients of Presentation Swords.

Sword Scabbard - Sword sheath.

Swordspoint (at) – Seamen’s slang for quarrelling.

Sword sheath.

Sybarite & Persian-+21       

Synodical month – The tidal prediction term meaning the interval between one New Moon and the next.  The average lunar month is 29½ days.  Also lunation, or lunar month.

Syphering - NTUS 0302