Eagre – A steep and sometimes violent tidal wave in a river, caused where it narrows and the depth decreases.  Also bore or tidal bore.

Earring – Short lengths of line used to attach the top corners of a square sail to the yard arm.

Earring cringle – A cringle in the upper corner of a sail.

Earring jackstay- SMS

Earn your salt – Earn your pay.

Ear pounding – A heavy telling off.

Earring Rope

Earthkins – Models of planet Earth, made from lodestone in 16c, on which magnetic variation was studied. First for Dr Wm Gilbert, who called them Terellas.

Ease away – The order given to the hands working a rope to gradually slacken the rope or its tackle.

Ease off – (v) To gradually slacken the pressure on a taut rope.

Ease springs – To pass water, from springs being mooring lines that get strained when a ship moves at anchor.

Ease the helm – A helm order given when the conner wanted the helm to come more amidships.

Easing – See Dropping, NTUS1702

Easing the helm – SMS

Easterland – The territory of the Hanse merchants on the Baltic.

Easterlings – Old English name for the Hanseatic League.

Easterly – Dreaded wind in the English Channel, because it delayed home-coming ships.

East India Company-Honourable; Dutch; Prussian, 1st fleet 1601

East Indiaman

East Indian yaws – SMS

Easting down – Seamen’s slang for the longer route to Australia, via the Cape of Good Hope.

Eastland Company, The – Established 1579, trading finished cloth with Baltic countries and Poland, for timber and naval supplies.

Easy – Take care, or take less effort at a task.

Eat my Hat

Eat the wind – Seamen’s slang for taking an opponent’s wind.


Ebb tide – The movement of water away from the shore, or downstream, caused by the falling tide.  Also re-flux.

Ecliptic – The apparent yearly path of the sun amongst the stars.  It is a great circle at an angle of 23°27’ to the celestial equator.

Ecliptic coordinate system – A navigational system devised with reference to the ecliptic.

Ecod! Egad! – By God

Eddy – The circular movement of water.


Efficient deck hand – The modern term for a certified competent seaman.

Ekeing – 1. A piece of timber used to lengthen another, such as a supporting beam.  From this comes the expression ‘to eke out’.  2. The moulding and carving of a quarter-gallery.

Ekeing rail – (tge)

Elbow – The second step towards a foul hawse, when a ship riding by two anchors turns through 360° and the cables cross a second time.

Elbow round turn

Elbow in the cables – SMS

Elchie – An ambassador.

Elephanta – NTUS1703

Elevating screw – (hgv)

Elevation – Guns

Elevation – NTUS1807

Ell – An old measure of length, of 45 inches.

Elliott’s eye – SMS

Elm – Did not rot if kept immersed – hence used for keels.

Elm tree pump

Elsinore cap – A seaman’s hat made in the shape of a cap and made from dog’s skin with the hair still attached.

Embayed – NTUS2001

Embezzlement – In maritime terms, the illicit breaking of a cargo on being boarded by a privateer.

Embrail – Brail up a sail by using the brails.

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

Emigration Ships – From 17c, ships settlers emigrants to America and Australia.

Encumbered vessel – Said of a vessel so heavily laden that she could not sail efficiently.

End for end – The action of reversing a worn rope, to bring the unworn end into use or to reduce chafing on the worn end.

End on – Said of a ship viewed directly from the bows, or any object viewed from the front.

End ring – A metal strap fastened around the ends of yards, to prevent splitting.

En Flute – ‘Like a flute’, i.e. with gun-ports empty.

Engine – An old name for a trawl net.

English log – See Common log, NTUS1901

Englishmen’s Strait – The name given by the Spanish and others to the unfound north west passage around America, for which the English constantly searched.

English sennit – A simple plait of three strands, formed by the left and right outer strands being alternately brought into the middle, crossing the inner strand each time and laid tightly parallel to the preceding strand.

English splice – SMS

Ensign – Two Ensigns flown during action, with a third one in reserve. Red ensign denotes full Admiral, centre position. White ensign denotes Vice Admiral, in the van. Blue ensign denotes Rear Admiral, rear position. After 1864 the white ensign denotes RN, the red ensign denotes merchant marine and the blue ensign denotes public office and others, such as commonwealth ships. White ensign hoisted in the morning in silent respect, as part of “Colours” ceremony.

Ensign at half mast – NTUS1303

Ensign staff – (hgv)

Entering – ‘Boarding and entering’ was a phrase commonly used to describe taking an enemies vessel.  In fact ‘boarding’ means placing one’s vessel alongside the opponent and ‘entering’ means going onto/into that vessel to take it.

Entering ropes – Two ropes hanging at the sides of the accommodation ladder.

Entrance – The foremost underwater part of a vessel, from the fact that this part ‘entered’ the water a-head.  See also Run.

Entry port

Epact – The Moon’s age.

Epact for the month – The tidal prediction term meaning the age of the Moon on the first day of the month.

Epact for the year – The tidal prediction term meaning the age of the Moon on 1 January.  This can be found by dividing the year by 19 and multiplying the remainder by 11.

Epaulettes – Two only after 3 years as Post Captain- also 3 gold stripes at cuffs.

Epoch – The set time span used to measure the seconds gained or lost by a chronometer.

Equation of time – The difference between mean and apparent time at any moment in time.

Equinoctial – The apparent heavenly line coinciding with the terrestrial equator.  Also celestial equator.

Equinoctial tides – Tides of greater than average range occurring during the Spring and Autumn equinoxes.

Equinoxes – The points where the planes of the ecliptic and equator intersect with the sun’s declination at oI.

Erratic wind – The converse of a steady wind.  Also variable wind.

Escutcheon – The plate on a vessel’s stern where her name and port of registry are displayed.

Essex Smack- A shallow draught, cutter-rigged boat about 36feet long with flush deck, primarily used to dredge for oysters, but occasionally used for cargo.

Establishment – 1. Admiralty Scale, also known as Wise Rules  2. The navigational establishment of a land-based position, such as a port, was expressed in compass directions based on the time of Full and New Moons, i.e. local tide times.  See High water full and change, NTUS1601

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

Euloe – A scull.

Euphroe, euvro – An oblong block without sheaves, usually made of ash, with regularly spaced holes through it; used to separate rope strands or to form the crowfoot in the suspension of an awning.  Also uphroe.

Euphroe block
Even keel – Said of a vessel who is neither ‘by the head’ nor ‘by the stern’, but floating with a horizontal keel.

Every inch of it – The order given to the hands working a rope to take up any last slack.

Every man for himself! – The final order given on a sinking ship, that all seamen hoped not to hear, until inevitable.

Evolution – Any sequence of co-ordinated actions carried out in compliance of an order, such as, “Hoist the main course!”, or “Captains repair aboard the flag!”, or “Beat to quarters!”

Exchanging for Duty – WW221

Excise Duty

Excise Men

Ex-meridian altitude – An altitude not measured at noon, perhaps because of cloud cover, from which the meridian altitude can be reduced by reference to tables.

Eye – The loop formed in the top end of a rope, shroud or stay to go over a mast – or any similar loop formed at the end of a rope.

Eyes – The parts of a ship near the forward hawse-holes.

Eye-bolt – An iron bolt fastened through the decks, with an eye projecting above, through which ropes or tackles can be fastened.

Eyebrow – See rigol

Eyelet hole – A reinforced hole is a sail.

Eye of the wind – The direction from which the wind is blowing.  Directly to windward.  Also wind’s eye.

Eyes in two watches – Descriptive of someone whose eyes fail to coordinate, usually through drunkenness.

Face piece – Timber fastened to the knee of the head to enlarge and shape it.

Factory – Compound created and protected by merchants in foreign parts, at which they gathered their trade goods prior to shipping.  A trading station or enclave of factors in trade.

Fag-end – 1. The name for when nothing is left of a rope but its end.  2. An un-whipped rope end that is coming unravelled.

Fagged out – Old rope ends were fagged out, so when one resembled such a state one was said to be fagged out, too.

Fag out – Fray a ropes end.  So, the fag end of anything.

Fair – Clear, unobstructed, suitable.  Consequently: fair course to steer, fairway of a harbour channel, fairlead for a sail’s sheet, fair copy of a document.

Fair (v) To make correct, repair, or return a vessel’s damaged component to its correct form, shape or dimensions.

Fair curve – A winding line used in designing a ship that follows the shape of that part of the ship.

Fairing – 1. Shaping by adze.  2. A description of a type of wind, which was good.  3. Carrying out corrections to a ship’s design plans before she is built.

Fairing Pieces – on rudder. CTC

Fair in place – To fair a vessel’s component without removing it from the vessel.

Fairlead – Any fixture used to lead any rope through.

Fairlead pendant – Lines rigged between shrouds to prevent blocks and gear from slatting against the mast.

Fairleads – Bull’s-eyes or thimbles seized onto rigging, or smooth holes through battens, etc., to provide a constrained route for running rigging, to prevent tangling.  Rings of wood or iron by means of which running rigging is led in any direction.

Fairlead saddle – (ecr)

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

Fair loom gale – SMS

‘Fair Wars!’ – A called offer of quarter to an enemy.

Fairway Buoy – A buoy marking a fairway, with safe water on both sides of itself.

Fair weather – NTUS

Fair wind – Ideal weather conditions.  Came to refer to favourable conditions in other fields.

Fake – 1. A single turn of a rope that has been coiled down..  This term is interchangeable, in modern usage, with the term ‘flake’, probably due to incorrect transcription over the years.  A stack of fakes is called a cheese. 2. A haul of fish.

Falchion – A broad curved sword.

Falconet – A gun of about 78 inches long, firing a 1½ pound shot.

Fall – The loose rope end of a tackle that the crew would haul on to operate the purchase.

Fall astern – 1. To fall behind in a chase.  2. Said of the land as a ship sails away from it.

Fall away – The action of a vessel’s head deflecting to leeward of the course.  Also fall off.

Fall down – To drift downstream in a river.

Fall foul of – To be obstructed by another ship.

Fall home, falling home – See Tumble home.

Falling Sickness – Seamen’s name for the effects of a beating.

Fall in with – To meet another vessel by chance.

Fall not off – A helm order given when the conner wanted the helmsman not to let the ship fall off the wind.  Also ‘nothing off’.

Fall off – The action of a vessel’s head deflecting to leeward of the course.  Also fall away.

Fall out – Said of the sides of a vessel when they slope upwards and outwards.

Fall wind – See Gust, NTUS

False Colours

False keel – A secondary protective keel attached beneath the true keel to protect the ship if it should run aground.

False keelson – The second keelson, fitted inside the main keelson, for additional strength.

False light – (tge)

False Muster – Muster that includes names entered to falsely give them Sea Time.  See False Time.

False rails – Lengths of timber fastened to a rail for added strength or for decoration.

False stem – A shaped cutwater fixed to the stem to give a better shape.

False stern-post – The reinforcement timbers fastened to the stern post.

False tack – SMS

False Time – Sea Time earned through being entered on a False Muster. This was most commonly used by ship’s commanders to help further the careers of fellow officer’s sons, who needed to demonstrate that they have experience at sea before passing their lieutenant’s exam.  Less often, False Musters were used for illegal pecuniary advantage to the captain.

Fancy line – 1. The line acting as a downhaul, by running through the jaws of a gaff.  2 The line used for close-hauling the lee topping lift.

Fancy Piece – Stern carving


Fane – A weathercock.

Fanfaronade – Foolishness.

Fanning breeze – A wind not strong enough to keep the sails filled.

Fanning of the masts – SMS

Fanny – 1. An oval mess trap, from its origins as a meat tin, used at the time Fanny Adams had been murdered and dismembered.  2 Messdeck fannies (sometimes called monkeys) were used for grog, holding about four pints, and were polished and decorated.

Fanny Adams – NTUS

Fardage – Dunnage used with bulk cargo.

Fare – Early word for haul or catch.

Farewell buoy – NTUS

Farol – A faggot of burning wood used as a signal.

Farthell, furl – SMS

Fartill-boat, Fertle-boat – Obscure word for measure.

Fash – A crooked or irregular seam in the planking.

Fashion pieces – NTUS

Fast – 1. Said of a thing made secure.  Usually used in the term to make fast, meaning to secure.  2. Any rope or chain attaching a vessel to a dock or quay, named after the part of the vessel from which it comes, such as bow-fast or stern-fast.

Fashion & Filling pieces

Fashion pieces – The aftermost pieces of a vessel’s frame, from which the shape of the stern is derived, fixed between the stern post and the wing transoms.

Fast fish – A whale that has been killed and so has become the legal property of those fast to it.  Also a whale that has been marked with a waif-pole to show who has harpooned it.

Fat – A cask.

Father – Seamen’s slang for the commanding officer, usually the captain.

Fathom – The nautical measure equalling six feet, usually of depth or rope length.  “Wherever you find a fathom of water, there you will find the British”, said Napoleon. If one could not see the bottom of a problem one was said not to be able to fathom it.

Fathom curves – See Fathom lines, NTUS

Fathom lines – NTUS

Faulty Relief – +62

Favourable wind – SMS

Fay – To join timbers so closely as to make the join perfect.

Fearnought Trousers


Feather – (v) To turn the blade of an oar so that it is horizontal when out of water, to reduce wind resistance.  A good thing to do.

Feather-white – A sea was feather white with foam

Feeding gale – An increasing storm.

Felloe (of wheel) – (tge)

Felt – +79

Felucca – Southern boat similar to brigantine, but double ended, 42′ long, 8’beam

Fencible – In Elizabethan times, used to describe somewhere or something easy to defend.  See Sea Fencibles.

Fender – Any device used to protect a vessel from chafing or impact.  See also puddings.

Fender bolt – A bolt with an exceptionally large head that was used as a fender to protect the ship.

Fenders – NTUS

Ferula – Punishment for swearing. BDD

Ferrule – (tge)

Fetch – 1. The extent of the stretch of water over which the wind has been blowing and so over which the swell is generated.  The longer the fetch, the longer the pitch of the waves.  2. The length of distance between waves.

Fetch away – To leave the shore and drift with the wind and tide.

Fetching the pump – Priming the pump by pouring water into the top to purge air from above the plunger.

Fetch up all my lee-way with a wet sail – Pay up my debts.

Fid – 1. A heavy wooden pin or a spike of wood or iron, with a square section and shoulder at one end, inserted through a hole in the heel of the topmast into the trestle-tree to fix it in place.  Came to refer to a heavy load of papers, or similar.  2. A tapered wooden tool used as a marlin spike.

Fidded – Said of a finally fixed topmast, with its fid in place.

Fidded topmast – Separate from lower mast

Fiddle – SMS

Fiddle block – A single-shelled block in which two sheaves turn on separate pins, a larger one above a smaller, thus permitting two ropes to be worked at the same time.  Used where the flatter fiddle block was more suitable than the fatter double block.

Fiddles – Strips of wood fastened around table tops on board to stop articles from sliding off in bad weather.

Fiddle head – A decorative scroll shaped carving at a vessel’s bow, similar to the scroll of a violin – hence the name.

Fiddler’s Green – The general name given, by seamen, to an inns area on shore, considered by them to be the sailors’ imaginary Heaven, where the only hardship was choosing which pub, dance or lady to enjoy.  It was often used to describe an easy time, more often in the negative, such as “This is not Fiddler’s Green!”, meaning an opportunity for relaxation has been misjudged and is non-existent.

Fiddler’s Green

Fiery edge – To ‘take off the fiery edge’ was to attract the first firings of a ship, fleet or battery and to fire back, causing disarray and/or damage, to lessen the fire upon following ships.

Fife rails – Racks of regular holes located around the decks and at a ship’s sides, into which belaying pins are housed for securing the ship’s ropes and falls.

Figure-head – The carved figure, usually of a human or animal, fixed under the bowsprit onto the stem.

Figure of eight – NTUS

Filibuster – A pirate, probably from the Dutch word vrijbuiter, meaning freebooter or smuggler.

Fill (vb) – NTUS

Filler – NTUS

Filling – See Filler, NTUS

Filling room – NTUS (tge)

Fife-rail – The pin-rail around the bitts, because it looked like a fife due to line of holes CTC

Figgy duff – A sweet suet pudding.

Fighting canvas – Usually reefed topsails.  Courses were never down, as they would just get in the way.

Fighting Sword – Straight sword of mid 18c.

Fighting Instructions – And Additional ##

Fighting stoppers – SMS

Fight Shy – Show cowardice, or at best extreme caution.

Figu – Plantain.


Figure of eight – A simple knot made by passing the end of a rope round the standing part and through the bight, used to stop a rope slipping through a sheave.

Fill – (v) To trim a vessel’s sails to catch the wind.

Filling half timber – (tge)

Filler, filling – A filling piece in a made mast.

Filling – SMS

Fillings – The side parts of a three part timber covering to mast hoops, to protect the sails from being chafed on them.



Fine – End.

Fine lines – Said of a vessel with a fine entrance and narrow beam.  Also clean lines.

Fine metal and Coarse metal – Grades of gunmetal; there was a 3:2 price difference between the two grades, so quality versus quantity choices had frequently to be made when ordering new ordnance to be manufactured.

Fine trim – Seamen’s slang for being in good spirits.

Fine weather flop – The unexpected dash of water over a vessel’s side in fine weather

Fir built ships – Emergency expedients, only done during hostilities. Took half the time to build but lasted half as long as oak in service.

Fire-and-Lights – The Master-at-Arms, whose nightly duties included checking that all fire and lights had been extinguished.

Fire boom – (ecr)

Fire bucket

Fire Engine

Fire Engine – Force pumps carried on larger ships.

Fire bucket – (hgv)

Fire-pence – Dues paid by merchant vessels passing lighthouse/beacons, used to maintain those lights.  First ordinance by Henry III in 1261.


Fireships of the sally port – Strong drinks.

Fire-shot – Incendiary shells.

Firing on the roll – SMS

Firk – To beat a midshipman* with a knotted rope. See also Cob.

Firkin – An 8-10 gallon cask.


Firm – A member or members of the crew who perform a service for payment, such as the dhobie firm.

First Dog – The Dog Watch of 1600 to 1800.  See Last Dog, for obvious reasons.

First light – The first appearance of daylight in the eastern sky before sunrise.  Also dawn, or daybreak.

First Luff – American sailors’ name for First Lieutenant.

First mate – The chief officer, under the master, of a merchant vessel.

First meridian – A semi-great-circle on the world, from pole to pole and perpendicular to the equator, from which longitude is reckoned.  Also prime meridian.

First Rate – A first rate ship was the largest sailing warship at any given time.  The rating of warships was based on the number of heavy cannon they carried; small cannon and carronades were not counted.  The ratings varied over time, but conventionally it is useful to take first rate as meaning a ship with 100 or more heavy cannon.  First rate is an expression that has come ashore, to mean ‘the best’, which follows.

First reef – SMS

First turn of the screw pays all debts – Seamen’s recent slang for the fact that a ship leaving harbour meant debts owed by its crew were unlikely to be recovered. Later version of ‘Paying all debts with the topsail sheet’.

First Watch – 2000 to 2359.

Fish – 1. (v) To hoist up the flukes of an anchor once it has been catted, before stowing it on the anchor bed.  2. (v) To mend a mast or spar by binding a splint to it.  3. A convex shaped section of wood used to reinforce a damaged mast or spar, fastened in pairs on both sides of the damaged section, as splints.  4. The davit used to fish the anchor.

Fish davit – A derrick used with the cat-davit to hoist the flukes of an anchor to the billboard.

Fish Days – 1563 Legislation to enforce fish consumption and thereby strengthen the Navy by effectively creating a nursery for, and reserve of, seamen.

Fisherman’s bend – A knot made by passing the end of a rope through the ring of an anchor, making a half hitch through both parts and a half hitch round the standing part, with the end stopped.

Fishes – See fish pieces.

Fish front – A strengthening piece in a made mast.

Fish Hooks – Fingers, especially when frozen.

Fishing – NTUS

Fishing and catting

Fishing – Angling

Fishing – Joining spars etc

Fish pieces – A convex shaped section of wood used to reinforce a damaged mast or spar, fastened in pairs on both sides of the damaged section, as splints.  Sometimes simply called fishes.

Fish room – (tge)

Fish sides – The side pieces of a made mast.  Also called side fishes or aris pieces.

Fish’s tit – Nothing.  Used such as “I don’t give a fish’s tit” when meaning “I don’t care”.

Fish-tackle-burton – A burton rigged from the fore topmast head, to be used to lift the anchor when no anchor crane or davits are rigged.  Also fish-tackle pendant or fore-topmast-burton.

Fish-tackle pendant – See fish-tackle-burton.

Fish Tackle – A heavy tackle used for getting the anchors over the bows.  CTC

Fitting out – NTUS

Fix – A vessel’s position determined by the intersection of two or more position lines.

Fixed light (F) – NTUS

Fixed point, reefing – SMS

Fixing the Enemy – To strike.

Fizgig – A trident or harpoon.

‘Flag!’ – Reply of a ship’s boat, to a challenge from a ship, when a Flag Officer is being carried.  Also, the cry of a sentry who spots the approach of a boat wearing an Admiral’s Flag.

Flag (The) – The flagship.

Flag Captain

Flag halliard sheave – (tge)

Flag Jack – Seamen’s name or the Flag Lieutenant.

Flag lieutenant – An officer in the Royal Navy who is assigned duty as the personal aide to a flag officer.

Flag locker – NTUS (hgv)

Flag Officer – An Admiral.  Red: [Full] Admiral –  Centre squadron; White: Vice-Admiral –  Van squadron; Blue: Rear-Admiral – Rear squadron.

Flags – 1 The Yeoman of Signals.  2 The nickname of the Flag Lieutenant.

Flags, types – Ensign, jack, commodore’s broad pennant, commissioning pennant(tge)

Flagship – The command ship of a fleet or squadron, wearing the Admirals’ Flag, and so accommodating that Admiral or highest ranking officer.

Flag Signal

Flagstaff – (hgv)

Flag wagger – When semaphore was introduced, the signalman.

Flake – 1. (v) To coil a rope flat on the deck, with a twist to allow it to run smoothly and without tangling.  A rope would be flaked into a tiddly coil, or flaked down on deck for a thorough inspection.  In modern usage this term is interchangeable with ‘fake’, probably following incorrect transcription over the years.  2. (n) A light platform or staging rigged over the side for the seamen to stand on when working on the ship’s hull.

Flake a mainsail – To take in a gaff sail and secure it to the boom, in bights on both sides.

Flaking the cable – SMS

Flam – CTC

Flambard – Coastal boat used in Normandy in 18/19c, about 26feet long and open. Usually a fishing      boat, but often used as a pilot or supply boat.

Flamming – SMS

Flamming tackle – A tackle worked through its own port in a ship’s side and used to haul an anchor to the side when stowed vertically.

Flange bows – Bows with a flared shape.

Flap – Seamen’s slang for panic or confusion.

Flare – The upward and outward curve of the bows.  SMS CTC

Flashing light (FL) – NTUS

Flat – The Mids’ living space aft of the lower gun deck.

Flat aback – 1. The situation of a vessel with her sails aback and pressed against the mast.  2. Seamen’s slang for surprised.

Flat aft – Said of a fore-and-aft sail with its sheet hauled as taut as possible.

Flat-in – To haul the clews of a fore-and-aft sail as far aft as possible.  Also flatten.

Flate plate keel – A keel outside the bottom shell plating, formed of a horizontal plate with angle-bars for strengthening.

Flats – All types of flatfish.

Flat seam – A seam between two joined pieces of canvas, in which the edges overlap.

Flat seizing – NTUS

Flat sennit – A simple plait of more than three strands, formed by each strand passing over two adjacent strands, and laid flat.

Flatten – To haul the clews of a fore-and-aft sail as far aft as possible.  Also flat-in.

Flatting in – SMS

Flaunching plan – ?

Flax – Sail Linen *46 – Sails were made of Flax Canvas.

Flax rope – Rope made of flax, which is twice as strong as the more usual manila rope of comparable size.

Flead, fleane – Flayed.

Fleet – 1 The Royal Navy.  2 To move a heavy object in small careful increments.  3 The area of a ship’s side to be reached from one position of a painter’s cradle.  4 A creek.


Fleeting – Repositioning and separating the blocks, or other components, of a tackle to improve its efficiency.  Also overhauling.

Fleeting the turns – SMS

Fleet the cable – On a windlass.

Flemish coil – A tiddly method of coiling a rope flat on deck, used in port to help the ship look good.

Flemish eye – NTUS

Flemish eye-knot – BDD

Flemish fakes – Coils of rope on deck.

Flemish horses – 1. Additional foot-ropes rigged on yards having reefing sails.  2. The outermost footrope of a yard.

Flemish ropes – Coils

Flensing – Cutting blubber from a whale’s carcass.

Flesh Bag – Seamen’s slang for a shirt.

Fleute, Flute, Fluyt, Fluite, Fliete, Vliete – Dutch three-masted freight ship from 15c.

Flewers – A seamen’s term for those who fish inside the lawful limit, those who take fish below the legal size limit and for river fishermen.

Flewes – A kind of fishing net.

Fliete – Dutch three-masted freight ship from 15c.

Flinch – To flense or slice the blubber from the carcass of a whale.

Flinder’s bar – See Correcting magnets, NTUS

Flintlock – Used on later cannon.

Flip – A drink made from rum or brandy mixed with beer and sugar and heated, usually having been smuggled aboard.

Floating dock – NTUS

Floating light – See Light-vessel, NTUS

Floating Republic – So-called republic of self-styled President Robert Parker, leader of the Nore Mutiny in 1797.

Floe – See Ice.

Flogged around the fleet – The most serious punishment short of hanging, that usually had the same result, but more painfully.  It was a sentence to be flogged a dozen (or more) at each ship of the fleet, in a small boat rowed from ship to ship.

Flogging – +111

Flog [ or flogging] a dead horse – Seamen’s slang for doing something for nothing, or no good reason.  This is from the fact that a month’s work was called a dead horse, for which the crew were paid in advance.  On the last evening of the month the men would flog a straw-filled effigy of a horse being paraded around the ship, after which it would be thrown overboard.  The expression came ashore from the fact that the crew would not work hard during the first month, having already been paid for it.

Flog the glass – Tap the hourglass when no-one was looking, to make the sand run faster, and so shorten the watch – theoretically.  Came to mean do something to shorten ones trick, or period of duty.

Flood tide – The movement of water towards the shore, or upstream, caused by the rising tide.  Also flow, or flux.

Floor – That part of the bottom of a vessel extending horizontally each side of the keel, on which it would rest if grounded.  See also Floor timber, NTUS

Floor head – The upper end of a floor timber.

Floor hollow – The shape formed by the top surface of a floor timber.

Floor, rise of – SMS

Floors – The vertical plates extending between bilges, onto which the frames are attached.

Floor-timber – That part of a vessel’s frame that forms the lowest members of the frame, where they cross and are fixed to the keel – between the keel and the keelson – and forming the bottom of the vessel.


Flotas – *52

Flotation lines – SMS


Flotsam – Goods or material found floating in the sea. See also Jetsam.

Flour stowage

Flow – The movement of water towards the shore, or upstream, caused by the rising tide.  Also flood tide, or flux.

Flower of the winds – See Compass rose, NTUS

Flowing sheet – The sheet of a sail that has been eased off when the sail is full and the vessel is running free.

Flow of wind – SMS

Flue – Barb on harpoon.

Fluid compass – See Liquid compass, NTUS

Fluite – Dutch three-masted freight ship from 15c.

Fluke – The widened and usually pointed end of the arms of an anchor.  The bit that digs into the ground and holds the anchor in place.

Fluke bar – An iron bar fitted with a number of hooks, that was dragged along the seabed to impale fish.  Also called a murderer.

Flukes – A whale’s tail.

Fluky – Said of a light variable wind.


Flurry – The final convulsions of a lanced whale.

Flush Deck – A ship with A continuous upper deck, at one level from stem to stern, or without a break or step and lacking a quarterdeck and forecastle.

Flush plating – A style of plating with the edges of plates butt jointed and the joints made fast by means of butt straps.

Flute – Dutch three-masted freight ship from 15c.

Flux – 1. The movement of water towards the shore, or upstream, caused by the rising tide.  Also flow, or flood tide.  2. Dysentery.

Fluyt – Dutch three-masted freight ship from 15c.

Fly block – SMS

Fly-boat – A small fast-sailing vessel.

Fly-by-night – A large sail used only for sailing downwind, that required very little attention once it had been set.

Flyer – SMS

Flying – Not coming down to the deck.

Flying backstay – SMS

Flying Dutchman – See Dutchman, Flying.

Flying fish

Flying fuse – Lighted match sealed in with explosive.

Flying jib – SMS

Flying jibboom – SMS

Flying jibstay – ERR

Flying kites – Wearing extra, light sails, eg studdingsails.

Flying moor – SMS

Flying the Blue Pigeon – Flying the lead round the Leadsman’s head in a circle prior to casting.

Fock mast – SMS

Foist – A small light two-masted Levant galley or Portuguese vessel with about eighteen to twenty oars a side.

Foke sails – SMS

Folkestone cutter – Official name for cutters in the RN


Following Sea

Following sea – See Head sea, NTUS

Following wind – NTUS SMS

Folt – To lap up a wet sail loosely to let the air in, as opposed to folding it.

Foo-foo, poo-poo – Seamen’s slang for something effeminate or not well understood.  For example, talcum powder was called foo-foo powder, and some technical object could be called a foo-foo pump, etc.

Food – Types of food commonly eaten by seamen:  Burgoo – Dog’s Body – Dough-Boy(American) – Dunderfunk – Lob-Dominion – Lobscouse – Scouse – Skillagalee – Soft Tack – Soft Tommy.  All are listed in their alphabetical position.

Foot – The lower edge of a sail or the lower end of a mast.

Foothold cleat – (hgv)

Footing of topmast – (ecr)

Foot loose – 1. An unsecured bottom of a sail, which would flap freely.  2. Said of a vessel so disengaged from the dockside to permit her to get under way whenever she chooses

Foot-rope – 1 A rope, taughtly fastened about four feet under yards and jib-booms, for crewmen to stand on when working on the sails.  2 The rope sewn into the lower edge of a sail.

Footwaling, foot-waling – Ceiling.  NTUS (tge)

For, Towards – Superstition demands that one sails “For”or “Towards” a destination, not “To”, otherwise the sea will repay the arrogance of confidence badly.

Forbes, Robert B – SMS

Force of Attraction

Fore – In the forward part of a vessel.

Fore and aft – Arranged in a front to back or back and forth direction in relation to a vessel’s long axis.

Fore & aft carlings – (hgv)

Fore and aft line – The imaginary line drawn between stem and stern, along the keel.

Fore-and-aft rig – A modern term for a Petty Officer’s uniform, from the fact that his trouser creases are at the front and back of his legs.

Fore-and-Aft Sails – Those arranged between masts as distinct from those square sails on yards.

Fore brace bitts

Fore bitters – Songs sung around the fore-bitts when a watch is off duty in the forecastle.

Fore bowline – The rope leading from the leech of the foresail to the deck.

Fore bridle – Tackle used to control the trawl beam.

Fore cabin – The part of a ship’s passenger accommodation second in importance to the saloon.

Fore capstan

Forecastle – The forward end of the upper deck, between the beak-head and the foremast.  Used as seamen’s quarters in merchant vessels.

Forecastle Man

Fore cat-harpins – NTUS


Fore course – The foresail.  The principle sail on the lower foremast.

Fore drift rail hance – (tge)

Forefoot – Timber at the leading edge of the keel, joining it into the lower end of the stem.

Fore-ganger – The first eighteen feet of hemp line attached to a whale harpoon and joined to the whale-line.

Fore halyard – The rope used to hoist the foresail.

Fore-hold – The part of a vessel’s main hold forward of the main hatchway.

Fore hood – The foremost plank in a strake.

Fore-hooks – Breast-hooks.

Foreign mud – Opium, as called by the Chinese.

Fore jeer capstan – NTUS

Fore-line beck – A box located amidships in a whaleship, in which the whale-line was coiled.

Forelock – Before threaded bolts were available the forelock was a small curved wedge driven through a hole in the end of a shackle pin or bolt to hold it firmly in place and to stop it drawing out.

Foremast – The forward mast in a ship with more than one mast.

Fore-mast – Also used to refer to ‘before the mast’, etc.

Foremast Jack


Foremast partners – (tge)

Forenoon Watch – 8am – noon

Fore-peak – Foremost compartment under the deck, in the angle of the bow, for storing ropes and gear.

Fore rake – Those parts of a vessel’s bows that rake forward of the keel.

Fore-reach – To move forward while sailing close to the wind or when going about.

Fore sheet – The rope which holds and controls the clew of the foresail.

Foreshore – The part of the shore between the low and high tide levels.

Fore side fish – Fore piece of made mast. CTC

Foresight – A short metal upright fitted to the gun top to reduce the tendency towards elevation.  A dispart sight.

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

Forestage – The projecting forecastle of a carrack.

Forestay carried away – SMS

Fore stay collar – (ecr)



Foretopman – A seaman whose station is in the foretop, or the fore topmast.

Fore-topmast-burton – See fish-tackle-burton.

Foretopmast Head – The lookout usually sat here.


Forge ahead – To move quickly ahead through the action of the wind on the sails.

Forge over – To sail hard to get over a shoal.

Fork in the Beam – Signal in mids mess for mids to go to their hammocks when oldsters required or recommended, usually a time of serious drinking or ribaldry, or both.

Formers – *59

Forrard – Dialect for forward.

Forward – Referring to the part of a ship that is towards the bow.

Forward jackline – SMS

Forward Officers

Fother – (v) To close up a leak by using a spare sail or piece of canvas drawn over the hole.

Fothering, forthering

Foul – Said of anything that is unfavourable, such as a foul wind that blows from an unsuitable direction, a foul coast that has hidden dangers, foul cables that are entangled, a foul bottom that is encrusted with marine growth, etc.  Foul berth, wind – SMS

Foul anchor – An anchor that has either got caught up in some way on the sea bottom or has got its own cable tangled around it.

Foul berth – NTUS

Foul bill – Said of a ship whose bill of health cannot be authenticated, usually when the port of departure is infected.

Foul bottom

Foul ground – NTUS

Foul hawse – The situation of two hawsers severely crossed and twisted, caused by the effects of wind and tide moving the anchored vessel about its cables.

Foul weather – NTUS

Foul wind – NTUS

Founder – Of a vessel, to fill with water and sink.

Fourcant – NTUS

Four s’s – The four points taught to sailors that should be checked before sailing: steering gear, side-lights, side ports and stowaways.

Fox – NTUS

Fouling hawse – SMS

Foul winds – BDD


Fourcant – A rope composed of four strands.

Four fingers – The usual measure of spirit served in a straight glass, four fingers high off the bottom of the glass.

Four Point Bearing

Four-poster – A four masted ship.

Fowler – Small breech-loading anti-personnel gun.

Fox – Three or more yarns twisted together and smoothed down, used to make gaskets or bands, or similar, for seizing, or weaving a mat, etc.

Fox, John – of Woodbridge in 16c. – ?

Fox-hauling – SMS

Foy – The British term for a meeting between two whaleships when crews would meet socially.  The American equivalent word was gam.

Frame – One of the structural ribs of the ship.  One piece of the curved timbers forming transverse members of the ship’s structure, branching from the keel.  Those at right angles to the keel are square-timbers and those at oblique angles are cant-timbers.  At the bow the foremost are knuckle-timbers, and at the stern they are fashion-pieces.  Also rib, timber.  See futtocks, floor timber, top timber.  NTUS

Franklin lifebuoy – SMS

Frap – To pass a hawser or chain under a vessel’s hull and make it tight across the deck, to hold the hull from opening up too much in an emergency.  Also undergird.

Frap a sail, to – ERR

Frap – See Undergrid, NTUS

Frapped – Tied down tightly, by drawing ropes and shrouds together.

Frapping – Turns of rope between the components of a lashing, to tighten the lashing.  NTUS

Frapping the hull – SMS

Frappings of the Breech

Frazil-ice – Ice in the process of forming on the sea.

Free – Said of a ship sailing with the wind abaft the beam.

Free and easy – Originally an old sailing term meaning all the sheets (sail control ropes or running rigging) could be eased and the ship could run free before the wind.

Freeboard – The distance between the water-line and the upper deck.

Freebooters – BDD

Freeing Ports – Openings in bulwarks designed to let out the sea washing the decks.

Free Mart Fair – At Portsmouth

Free Ships, Free Goods – The cry of Neutrals.

Free traders – Smugglers.

Freight or Freight Money – Earned by a Captain, and his Admiral, on a % basis for carrying freight, usually of a particularly valuable kind such as bullion, on a Royal Navy ship.

Freighting Specie

French anchor – SMS

French bowline – A bowline knot with two turns made before the end is passed up through, round the standing part and back down through the turns.  Usually used on slippery ropes.

French bunt – SMS

French flaking the cable – SMS

Frenchified – Seamen’s term for suffering from the ‘clap’.

French lug – A lug sail with the lower edge attached to a boom that stays on the same side of the mast when tacking, despite the yard dipping around it.  Also balanced lug.

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

French sennit – A flat plait formed of more than three strands, by laying strands regularly over and under adjacent strands, laid tightly parallel to the preceding strand.

French shroud knot – A method of joining two shrouds, each of three or four strands, by unlaying them, laying the ends in a crown over the join and tucking the ends in.

Fresh – NTUS

Freshen ballast – To turn over the shingle or stones ballast in the hold, to clean it – or at least to stir it around a bit.

Freshening – NTUS

Freshen ones hawse – Have a nip of spirit.

Freshen – To shift the nip of a rope or cable by slackening it a little.

Freshen the nip – To ease a rope along a bit so that a fresh portion is nipped, to prevent friction chafing on one place all the time.

Freshen the wind – NTUS

Fresh gale – SMS

Freshwater Pump – CTC

Fret – A land breach or passage made from erosion by the sea.  Sometimes ‘seafret’.

Friday while – Seamen’s slang for a long weekend (Friday to Monday) leave.

Frieze, friezing – The painted and/or gilded decoration around the upper parts of a ship’s quarters, stern or bow.

Frigate – 1. Originally a Arab-Algerian oared sailing ship about 50feet long with two lateen-rigged masts.  In about 1650 the English adopted the term to apply it to warships of up to 64 guns who had an emphasis on speed.  Frigate2  Frigate3


Friskin – See Freshening, NTUS

Fritters – Pieces of blubber that have been Tried Out.

Frizzen – The part of a flintlock onto which the gunhammer struck.

Frock – Sailors’ jumpers.

Frogged tunic

Front fish & fillings – (tge)

Front-fish – The front part of a three part timber covering to mast hoops, to protect the sails from being chafed on them.

Frost – NTUS

Frost smoke – Condensing water vapour which forms a mist over open sea in cold weather, in cold climates.

Frothy – A vessel with too little ballast

Frumenty – A dish made by simmering whole wheat grains, sweetened with honey or raisins.

Fuglemen – Soldiers or marines placed in front of trainees to demonstrate motions, etc.

Full and by – 1. Sailing close to the wind with the sails full.  2. A helm order given when the conner wanted the vessel not to come too close to the wind, whilst staying full and not shaking.

Full-bloods – Clippers.

Full due – 1. When something has been finally set up it is said to have been “set up for full due”.  2. It has become the seamen’s term for finality.

Full house – Seamen’s slang for 1. a mixed grill, or 2. everything that is going, probably from the card game poker.

Full-Rigged Ship

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

Full set – Beard with moustache and sideburns.  Nothing less, except nothing at all, allowed for seamen.

Fulton Submersible – Submersible designed by Robert Fulton and built in 1801, intended to approach an enemy ship, submerge, and then attach a mine to the enemy hull.

Fumigations – +66

Funeral – The moment when the last remnants of a whale’s carcass is cut adrift from a whaleship.

Funnel – Mast funnels were metal sleeves made to fit on the topgallant hounds, or stop, to prevent the rigging cutting into the mast.

Furicane – Hurricane.

Furl – (v) Gather in a sail and secure it with gaskets.

Furl sail to make a “Neat Harbour Stow

Furlers – SMS

Furling in a body – Loosen a sail at the yardarms and gather it neatly at the centre of the yard.  Usually done in port.

Furling, a course, etc – SMS

Furlinglines – ERR

Furling line – A line used to bind a sail to its mast when it was furled.  Also called a gasket.

Furmenty, frumenty – A dish of wheat boiled in milk and seasoned.

Furniture – The equipment of a vessel, as distinct from the consumable stores.

Furring – The adding of extra layers of planking above and below the waterline, to increase beam and so reduce crank.

Fuse-hose – A fuse made of leather and not very successful.
Fusil – ?

Futtock, foot hook – The middle section of a frame, joining floor timbers to top timbers.  (tge)

Futtock band – See Futtock hoop, NTUS

Futtock hoop, futtock band – An iron band around a lower mast, with eye-bolts to take the futtock shrouds of the topmast.  Also spider band.

Futtock plank – The first ceiling plank, next to the keelson.

Futtock plate – An iron plate with dead-eyes, fixed at the edges of the lower top, to take the futtock shrouds of the mainmast and the rigging of the topmast.

Futtock shrouds – Rope shrouds running from the top downwards to the futtock loop, around the lower mast, or to staves on the lower shrouds, to support the top.

Futtock stave, or staff – A short length of wood or metal attached to the upper parts of the shrouds, onto which the cat-harpins are attached.

Futtock timbers – Middle sections of the futtocks.

Fysher – Fishing boat.

Gabarre – ?Type of French vessel (English ‘Proselyte‘ was one at Bastia in 1793).

Gabble – Seamen’s word for chat and banter.

Gable – Cable.

Gackle – To shorten or lengthen the anchor cable.

Gads – Iron darts and soft soap, used as weapons thrown from the deck of one ship onto another.

Gaelic – Was forbidden in the Royal Navy, as any secret language was thought to foment mutiny.

Gaff – A spar onto which the head of a fore-and-aft sail is attached, fitted to the mast by a jaw.  The boom at the head of a gaff sail.

Gaffer – A trawler owner.

Gaffers – Cod smacksmen, from their use of gaffs to land their catch.

Gaff Jaws

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

Gaff sails – SMS

Gaff topsail – A light triangular or sometimes four-sided head-sail, which had its upper end extended on a small gaff hoisted to the topmast.

Gaff trysail – SMS

Gagging – +116

Gain the Commission, To – Traditionally, the first officer to board an enemy prize taken in action earns from it a commission to command her.  Not always – ‘interest’ sometimes prevented it.

Gale – NTUS

Galeasse – A vessel somewhat of a compromise between a Galleon and a Galley.


Galeone – A small, oared, ancient Roman sailing ship.

Galeote – A small medieval half galley with sails and 16 to 20 oars on each side.

Galiot – A two-masted 17c Dutch coaster.

Galivat, grab – Native boats mounting 4 or 5 guns.  Forerunners of the Bombay Marine.

Gallanting – Towing by tug.

Galleass – A two-masted flush-decked coastal ship used for fishing and cargo around Pomeranian Baltic coast from mid 18c. About 200tons and 66feet long with bilge keels or flat bottomed and usually schooner-rigged, with auxiliary oars, and with broadside guns.


Galled – Said of a mast, spar or rope that has been chafed.


Gallery – The balcony projecting aft of the stern, or from the quarter, of an older ship.

Galley – 1. Cook’s domain.  2. A two-masted boat of about 35 feet long, usually with a dipping-lug rig and a drop-keel and oars.  It was very popular with captains of the early Royal Navy.  Deal galleys were reckoned to be about the fastest small sailing boats ever.  3. A 17c oared personnel transport used on the Thames.

Galley Fire


Galley Packet – Rumours heard by crewmembers who were smokers and who gathered around the galley.

Galley pepper – The ash and soot that fell from the galley onto the food being prepared.

Galley-ranger – A crewman who was not a member of a mess.

Galley stove


Gallied whale – A whale that has panicked into making short dives or simply floating still with fear, making it an easy target for a harpooner.

Galligaskins – The wide tough canvas breeches worn by seamen.

Galliot – A small galley.

Gallipot – A small earthenware pot.

Gallivat – An armed rowing boat of the East India Company.

Gallizabra – A small fast 16c oared Spanish sail warship.

Galloper – An Admiralty lightship established 1803.

Gallow (vb)

Gallow bitts – A vertical structure used to stow spars, yards, etc., on deck.

Gallows top – The cross timbers at the top of the gallows bitts.

Gally – To frighten a whale.

Gam – The American term for a meeting between two whaleships when crews would meet socially.  The British equivalent word was foy.

Gambier – AKA ‘Dismal Jimmy’

Gamming – Ship talk, whalers.

Gamming chair – Chair made usually from an old barrel, in which whalers’ women could be disembarked for a gam, with dignity.

Gammoning – Rope (sometimes chain) lashings holding the bowsprit down to the knee of the head, against the upward pull of the forestay.

Gammoning fish – (ecr)

Gammoning knee

Gammoning knee extension piece

Gammoning lanyard – (ecr)

Gammoning piece

Gammoning ring – (ecr)

Gang – 1. The name for the complete set of shrouds for one side of a mast.  2. A row of meshes in a net.

Gang-board – NTUS Narrow platform joining quarterdeck to forecastle. (Marine’s walk)

Gangboards – NTUS 0313

Gang casks – Medium sized water casks, used to bring fresh water from shore.

Ganger – SMS

Gangplank – The device rigged between ships alongside one another, used for access therefrom and thereto, and vice versa.

Gangs – Denotes a large quantity.

Gangway – 1. The bridge from the shore to the ship’s entrance at the side.  2. Any narrow passageway on board ship.  3. A passage formed through the cargo to enable access to areas needing regular inspection.  4. A clear path between two points.  If cried by an officer, it meant ‘clear a path’.

Gantlet, run the, or gantlope, or gauntlet – A form of Royal Navy punishment ‘enjoyed’ by those who had transgressed against their fellow crew members, in various ways.  The offender was sat on a grating and pulled, or would be required to march, up to three times, between two ranks of crew members, each of whom would be armed with a starter or similar weapon.  His march would be encouraged by someone walking behind him with the point of a sword caressing his spine, and the armed crewmen would be expected to greet the passing felon with gusto, expressed in the strength with which they struck him.  This was a serious and dangerous form of punishment, often resulting in injury to the recipient and often dreaded more than a conventional flogging.  It was abolished early in the nineteenth century.  Often mistakenly called ‘run the gauntlet’, in which form it has penetrated shore-based language.

Gantline, or girtline – A rope rove through a single block at a lower mast-head, used to set up the rigging.

Gantlope – Early version of gantlet.  See Gantlet, run the. NTUS

Gaol-fever – Typhus.

Garbled – The practice of mixing rubbish with the cargo was known as ‘garbling’; a prohibited practice, hence the cargo so treated was said to have been garbled.

Garbler – A sorter or sifter of spices, carried on large 16c merchant ships.

Garbling – The practice of mixing rubbish with the cargo.

Garboard Planks – Thicker.

Garboards – CTC

Garboard strake – The longitudinal line of plating or outer planks immediately each side of the keel, let into grooves in the keel, called garboard strake rabbets.

Garland – A collar of rope around the head of a mast to support the standing rigging and stop it chafing against the mast.

Garnet – A tackle hooked onto the triatic stay and used for hoisting heavy goods, comprising double and single blocks stropped with a hook and thimble.

Gash – Seamen’s slang for something left over, so available free.

Gasket – A line attached to a yard and used to secure a furled sail.

Gaskets – Dangerous group of rocks west of Alderney.

Gast-cope – An unpaid volunteer boy on an unpaid trial voyage aboard a cod smack or herring drifter.

Gate at crosstrees – SMS

Gather way – To begin moving through the water.

Gauntlet – One form of punishment was for a felon to run between his crewmates, each of whom was armed with knotted nettles and who struck him as he passed.  See Gantlope.

Gay-bao – ERR

Gear – 1 The collective term for all the ropes, lines, tackle, etc., of a particular sail.  2. Fittings, tools, etc. generally. NTUS

Geared capstan – SMS

Geers –

Gelid Sea –

General Average –

General Quarters –

General – Post (not rank) of the commander of any expedition, whether maritime or   military.

Gentoo – A gentile or non-Mohammadan.

Geographical mile – A measure of distance of one minute of arc at the equator, making it 6,087 feet.

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

Germe – Egyptian two -masted lateen Nile sailing vessel.

Geswarps ? On which boats are rigged to swinging booms.

Getting down the track – SMS

Ghost Along – CTC

Ghosting – SMS

Gibbet – The frame structure from which a noose was rigged and so from which a hanging person was required to dangle.

Gibbet Island – An exposed island on the River Thames, where pirates were conspicuously hanged.

Gibbous –

Gig –

Gildings – Fish that have been attacked and mutilated by dog-fish after having been caught in the nets.

Gilguy – See Dooflicker.

Gilkicker Mark – Navigational mark at Gosport.

Gill – +106

Gimbals –

Gimbleting, gimleting – Turning an anchor round by its stock to get it into the right position for stowing on the anchor bed.

Gimcrack –

Gimletting – See Gimbleting, NTUS

Gin Block – CTC

Gingall – A heavy musket or light swivel gun fired from a rest.

Gingerbread – The fancy gilded carving around a ship’s stern was nicknamed gingerbread, from which knocking the gilt of the gingerbread came to mean taking the shine off something.

Gin Pennant – Green and white pennant, signal to invite all to a party aboard.  – +21

Gin-tackle – A two block purchase.

Girder – A strong long iron or steel beam.  In a ship, this term is specifically applied to longitudinal components under the sides of decks, or along the centreline of the decks.

Girdling the hull – SMS

Girt – Said of a ship that is so tightly anchored on two anchors that she is not free to swing to wind and tide.

Girtline – A rope rove through a single block at a lower mast-head, used to set up the rigging.  Also gantline.

Give way starboard (or port) – NTUS

Give way back port (or starboard) – NTUS

Give way oars – NTUS

Give way port, etc. – See give way starboard, etc.

Give way starboard, back port oars – The order given to a boat’s crew to turn a boat suddenly towards port by one side pulling and the other backing.  Of course, give way port, back starboard oars results in a mirror image.

Give way together – The order given to a boat’s crew to commence rowing.  The stroke is always taken from the aftermost oarsman in a single banked boat and from the starboard aftermost oarsman in a double banked boat.

Glass – 1. The name given to a period of one half an hour, from the fact that the hour-glass was made of glass, and that one turn lasted thirty minutes.  2. The hour-glass itself was called the glass.  3. Telescopes were colloquially called glasses.  4. As were barometers, where the actions of the spirit or mercury indicators were described as a rising or falling glass, etc.  5. Gloss.

Gleet – Penis, in seamen’s slang.

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

Glorious First of June – The first fleet action of the French Revolutionary Wars, fought 400 miles west of Ushant in 1794 and considered one of the greatest convoy actions in naval history. French Rear Admiral Louis Thomas Villaret de Joyeuse lost the battle but succeeded in drawing Lord Howe’s fleet away from The Chesapeake Bay grain convoy, which escaped.  Preservation of the convoy was Villaret-Joyeuse’s main purpose and he was under threat of the guillotine from Robespierre if he had failed.

Glory hole – An odd space where litter, deck sweepings or gear is pushed out of sight.

Glut – A small piece of canvas sewn into the middle of the top of a square sail, through which an eyelet to take a line was formed.

Gnomonic chart – A chart constructed on the gnomonic projection.

Go about – Change from one tack to another.

Go ahead – To move straight ahead.

Gob line, or rope – 1 One of a pair of ropes or chains running from the end of the dolphin striker, back to the sides of the bows to stay the jib-boom and the flying jib-boom against the forward and upward tensions, to which they are subjected.  Also called martingale backrope, or stay.

Go by the board – Said of a piece of mast or other equipment that breaks off from the deck and goes overboard.

Godown – A far-eastern warehouse.

Going free – Sailing before the wind.

Going large – Said of a vessel sailing with a fair wind and all sails drawing.

Golden Hind – Sir Francis Drake’s flagship for his circumnavigation of the world in 1577-1580. Originally called Pelican, this ship was about 75 feet long with a 19 foot beam and a tonnage of up to 150 tons, had 18 guns, three masts square-rigged but with a lateen sail on the mizzen and had a crew of up to 164 men (returning after disease and distress with a crew of just 54 men but also with a booty of £2,225,000 in gold).

Golden number – A factor of the Moon’s nineteen year cycle, used in the sixteenth century calculations of the Moon’s age, for navigational purposes.

Gone Adrift – Said of a sailor who had not returned from leave.  Not to be confused with a deserter, a sailor who had gone adrift was expected to turn up before long, probably showing evidence of over indulgence.

Goneys – Albatrosses.

Gong buoy – See Whistle buoy, NTUS

Good full – SMS

Good Voyages – Carrying freight for Captain’s profit – stopped late 17c

Goodwin (later North Goodwin) – Trinity House lightship established 1795.

Goodwin Sands – Known by seamen as The Great Ship Swallower.

Go off – Change tack.

Goose-neck – A universal joint between a boom and its mast or other fixed base.

Gooseneck Joint – CTC

Goose wing – In a square-rigged vessel, the arrangement of a course or foresail with its weather clew hauled up to the yard and the lee clew hauled down and spread.

Goose-winged – The arrangement of a fore-and-aft rigged ship with sails set alternately to port and starboard.  Also wing and wing.

Goosewinging a sail – SMS

Gordon – (1782-1869) Admiral of the Fleet.  The last governor of the Royal Naval Hospital Greenwich, after a distinguished career as a fighting captain.  Seen by some as the ‘real Hornblower’, as the parallels between his and the fictional character’s exploits have been recorded.

Gore – An angle cut at ends of sailcloth to increase width or depth.

Gorge – The swallow of a block.

Goring – Any sail that widens towards its foot, from the word ‘gore’, a tailor’s term for a wedge-shaped piece of cloth.

Goring cloth – The wedge-shaped outer cloth of a topsail, that made the sail widen towards its foot.

Go through the hoop – The test of a correctly lashed up hammock was to pass it through a standard hoop.  Failure meant relash it.

Go to the Bilboes – Be put in leg irons, from Bilbao, Spain, where they were made

Governor of an Island – A marooned seaman. BDD

Grab, galivat – Native oared boats mounting 4 or 5 guns.  Forerunners of the Bombay Marine.

Grabby – Old name for a Marine.

Grab-lines – 1. Lines that run vertically up a reefing sail and used to haul up the sail, with jack-line-reefing.  2. The familiar lifelines hanging in bights around a lifeboat.

Grab rail – A handrail fastened around a deckhouse.

Grab ratline – A line attached above the rim of the top, to help crewmen climbing up the shrouds.

Grab rope – SMS

Grabs – Indian galleys.

Graduation – NTUS

Graft(vb) – NTUS

Graft – 1. A type of straight splice.  2. The decorative cover formed over a graft splice.  3. (v) To make a graft splice, or a cover for it.

Grain – The water ahead of a moving vessel.

Grains – An American name for a multiple-headed barbed harpoon used to catch seals and fish.

Grain space – The total internal volume of a ship’s hold.


Grampussing – Punishment of half drowning by pouring water down sleeves while arms are held up.

Granado – An early explosive shell.

Grand bankers – Schooners from various countries, line-fishing on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland.

Grandissimus – A whale’s penis, sometimes over six feet long and one foot diameter.

Grand Fleet – Our Western Squadron or Channel Fleet.

Grand magazine

Granny – An insecure knot comprising two identical half knots.

Granny Knot

Grapnel – A four-pronged anchoring or dragging device made up from four hooks on a central shaft.

Grappling – 1. Using a grapnel.  2. An old term for a grapnel.

Grating – The open grid covering for a hatch, used to provide light and ventilation, but covered with tarpaulin in foul weather.


Grave – To clean off a ship’s bottom by burning away all accretions and treating it all over with tar.  This in obviously done with the ship ashore or in a dock, in the latter case known as a Graving Dock.

Gravel(The) – Urinary complaint.

Graveyard watch – The Middle Watch, from 0000 to 0400, from the quietness of these hours.  Also grave-eye watch, from the difficulty experienced by the watchkeeper in trying to keep his eyes open.

Graving – Cleaning a ship’s bottom by breaming.

Graving dock – NTUS

Graving piece – A wooden patch or inset used to repair a hole in a rotten or otherwise damaged plank.

Great Cabin – (tge)

Great circle – A circle on the surface of a sphere, whose centre is at the centre point of the sphere, such as the equator.

Great Guns – CTC

Great, Middling and Minor Repairs – Three grades of repair and refit to ships in royal dockyards.

Great Ships – The term applied to 1st and 2nd rates.

Great Ship Swallower, The – Goodwin Sands.

Great Sticks – Trees felled for masts,  hence Great Masts

Great Timbers

Great Wen – London.  A wen is a wart.

Grecian splice – NTUS

Green coat – Seamen’s slang for feigning ignorance in order to escape being held responsible for something and so avoid punishment.  To wear a green coat.

Greener gun – NTUS


Greenlanders – Whalers around Greenland.

Greenlandmen – Whalers around Greenland.

Greenland Ship – Sailing ship equipped for journeys to the north of Greenland, for seal hunting and whaling, from about 12c.

Green rub – Seamen’s slang for an undeserved rebuke.

Green sea – NTUS

Greenwich Hospital – Established 1664 by Charles II, for veteran seamen.  Received pay due to deserters

Greenwich Mean Time – The mean time on the meridian of Greenwich.  Also universal time.

Greenwich Pensioner – Seamen’s nickname for a standard wooden leg.

Gregale – NTUS

Grego, greygoe – (Am) Sailor’s surtout, or short heavy coat.

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

Grete bote – 15c ship’s boat of eighteen oars.

Greygoes – Short heavy coats.  Also Grego’s.

Gribble or Gribble worm – (Limnoria) A small crustacean, one eighth of an inch long, that makes shallow burrows in timber hulls, which weaken them.  Found in temperate latitudes, as distinct from the Teredo worm, which is found in tropical latitudes.

Gridiron – A heavy framework of girders used to hold a vessel upright in a dry dock.

Griff – Seamen’s slang for information.

Gripe – 1. (v) To tend to windward of the course with a wind on the quarter.  2. The curved outer surface of the forefoot.

Gripes – Two pieces of sword matting or other form of lines that cross over the outside of a ship’s boat and keep it hard against the griping spar, from which “the longboat was cut loose”.

Griping – SMS

Griping spar – A long spar covered by canvas puddening, held between the davits and against which the boat was firmly held.

Grippa – 15/16c Mediterranean oared sailing ship about 55 feet long and 10 feet wide, similar to Brigantine.

Grippos – Seamen’s slang for something for free.

Groat – An Elizabethan coin worth four pence.

Grog – Mixture of rum and water named after Vice Admiral Edward Vernon, who issued the first general Grog order in 1740 and whose nickname was Old Grogram (grog-rum), after the fabric of his waterproof cloak.  The daily allowance to each crewman was one Gill, or seamen could take money in lieu. Usually issued as Three Water Grog, meaning a 3:1 mixture of water:rum.  Often referred to by seamen as “Due North” – neat rum; “Due West” – pure water; “North West” – half and half; “North North West”- 2/3 rum etc.  Neaters diluted two and one.  It would not keep once diluted, so could not be stored or hoarded.  Also called bubbly.  After Admiral Vernon (Old Grogram), who first ordered it in the West Indies in 1740.

Grog-Fast – A form of punishment in which the felon was issued no grog for a period of sentence.  This was not considered a trivial punishment.

Groggy – The condition of seamen who had too enthusiastically partaken of grog.  A term that has come ashore to not unreasonably denote an unsteadiness.

Grog money – Substitute for grog paid to teetotallers.

Grog-Oh! – The call to inform the crew that grog was about to be dished up.  This was not often missed by crews who were alert for the call.

Grommet – 1. A small rope ring made and stitched around a hole in canvas to prevent it fraying.  2. The name given to apprentice or trainee seamen, from the Spanish word ‘grumete’.

Grop – NTUS

Grossmast – SMS

Ground – Seabed.

Ground (vb) – NTUS

Groundage – Quay or shore dues on docking.

Ground rope – The tough bottom rope attached to the D-shaped mouth of a trawl net to protect it from chafing.

Groundswell – Sea waves from distant stormy areas.

Ground tackle – Anchors and their cables.

Ground tier – The lowest tier of casks or cargo stowed in a hold.

Group flashing (Gp.Fl.) – NTUS

Group occulting (Gp.Occ.) – See Group flashing (Gp.Fl.), NTUS

Grow – Said of a cable’s direction away from the ship towards its anchor.

Growl – Seamen’s slang for a conversation between crew members in the forecastle.

Growlers See Ice.

Grown spar – A spar made from a single piece of tree.

Guano – Phosphate and ammonia rich fertiliser comprising seabird dung, which was a valuable S American Pacific cargo.

Guard Boat – Deployed by Guard Ship* and used to patrol fleet in moorings. Also the response to “Boat Ahoy!” challenge, if appropriate.

Guard irons – Curved iron bars fixed over ornamental carvings or figures, on a vessel’s head or quarters, to protect them from damage.

Guardo – (US) Receiving ship for temporary quartering of enlisted men; Guardo-move – Trick played on a novice in a receiving ship.

Guard rails – Either iron safety rails, or chains suspended between stanchions, along a ship’s sides where the deck is exposed to the sea.

Guards – In Elizabethan times, blue and green stripes used as decoration.

Guardships – Warship on escort duty, appointed in rotation to watch squadron anchored together.  Deployed Guard Boat.

Gudgeon – A metal, usually bronze, clamp fastened to the stern post into which the pintles of the rudder fit, providing the hinged mechanism part of the rudder assembly.

Guernsey – Or Guernsey Jacket.

Guerre de Course

Guess warp – A rope attached to the shore and the vessel that can be used to move the vessel by hauling on the inboard end.  cf warp.

Guest Warp – Rope with a Turk’s Head worked at intervals, rigged down the accommodation ladder.

Guess (or Guest) warp boom – A boom rigged from the side of a vessel to provide a temporary mooring for a small boat.

Guffey, guffies – A marine or jolly. +98

Guinea boats – Fast smuggling boats.

Guinea Coast – The west coast of Africa, from Sierra Leone to Benin, where there were many defending Portuguese forts in Elizabethan times.

Guinea Pigs – Inexperienced sailors, or midshipmen on Company Ships.



Gulf-Weed – Found mid-Atlantic.

Gull – Old word for stream or channel.

Gullies – Sea-gulls, Cape Horn pigeons, etc.

Gulper, Gulpers – A long single swallow of grog from an oppo’s tot, repaying a favour owed, or a debt.  Two sippers equals one gulper.

Gun – Usually referred to heavy cannon (cf), but also referred to small cannon and carronades.



Gun Crane

Gun Crew

Gun deck – NTUS 0300 0305

Gunfleet, The – Deep water channel in the shallows off Harwich, on the Essex coast.

Gunhammer – The striking part of a flintlock, onto the frizzen.

Gun Layer


Gunnel – Seamen’s slang for Gunwale.

Gunnels under – Seamen’s slang for being overloaded with work, or with drink (drunk).


Gunner’s daughter – A midshipman being punished by spanking whilst laying over a gun was said to be ‘marrying the gunner’s daughter’.

Gunner’s Mates

Gunner’s store

Gun port – NTUS 0300 0305 +42 (hgv)

Gun port lid – NTUS

Gun Racks

Gun-room, Gun Room – The Gunner’s quarters in the main compartment at the after end of the lower gun-deck of a man-of-war, used by the gunner or as a mess for lower-ranking officers, where also younger midshipmen slung their hammocks.

Guns – Slings, fowlers, bassils, top-pieces, hail-shot pieces, hand-guns.

Guns – For 16c guns see Clowes Volume1, p410.

Gun, Son of a – If a child was born aboard a warship – a not unknown occurrence – it usually happened between guns on the gun deck, and if the father was not known, the infant was entered in the ship’s log as a ‘son of a gun’.

Gunstock Rudder CTC

Gunter – See Gunter’s scale, NTUS

Gunter’s scale, or Gunter – A flat wooden ruler engraved with lines and scales, used in making navigational calculations.

Gunter’s sector – NTUS

Gunwale – This was the uppermost strake on a ship’s side, but in modern times has come to refer to the upper edge of the bulwark.  Also gunnel.

Gun Wharf

Gurry – Glutinous substance on whale skin.

Gush – See Gust, NTUS

Gusset plate – A flat plate fastened at a joint, and so shaped to suit, to make the connection and for strength.


Gut, The – Gibraltar Bay.

Gut, Ghut – Strait Street in Valetta, Malta.

Gut – A narrow strait.

Gutter bar – An angle bar that forms the inboard side of a deck waterway.

Gutter-ledge – A cross-bar running fore-and-aft across large hatchways, to support the covers.

Gutter-way – The channel formed between the gunwale and the gutter-angle on the upper deck.

Guy – 1. A rope used to steady a heavy load whilst it is being hoisted.  2. A rope rigged to give lateral control of a boom.  3. The rope extending from the mainmast to the foremast of a merchantman, onto which blocks were suspended for hoisting cargo goods.

Guy pendants (ecr)

Guys – SMS

Gybe – (v) To move a boom-sail from one side of the mast to the other when sailing before the wind.

Gyp – To gut a fish.