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  Terms of Service ~ Nautical Terms A to Z

Sometimes you just need to know more than the "pointy" end is the front and the "round" end is the back of a ship. Don't ever call your ship a boat.  You are cruising on a SHIP. If find yourself in a BOAT, you are either tendering ashore or your ship is sinking. 

Incidentally, a former US Navy officer told me there is no such thing as "disembarkation" and if "the troops at Normandy had been told to report to their disembarkation stations, there never would have been an invasion." He contends that "debark" is the proper term, period. However, both are listed in my Oxford dictionary and are used interchangeably. 


Abeam – At a right angle to the ship’s length; off the side of the ship.
Adrift – Drifting or floating without power.
Afloat – At sea; on board ship.
Aft – Toward or in the back of a ship.
Ahead – Something ahead of a ship’s bow.
Ahoy – Greeting between sailors, a call used for hailing.
Alleyway – A corridor, hallway, or passageway.
Alongside – Used when a ship is beside a pier or another vessel.
Amidships – Halfway between the bow (front) and the stern (back) of a ship.
Anchor – A heavy metal weight used to moor a ship
Anchorage – The place where a ship is anchored or lying at anchor.
Anchor Ball – The black ball hoisted above a ship’s bow to indicate the vessel is anchored.
Ashore – On the shore or land.
Astern – Aft or toward the stern (back) of a ship.
Athwartships -- From side to side, across the ship.
Atoll – A ring shaped coral reef enclosing a lagoon.
Aye-Aye – Yes; to agree or see 'eye-to-eye' on a matter.


Backwash – Receding waves created by movement of a ship.
Bail – To scoop water out of a boat.
Ballast – Heavy material placed in a ship’s hold for stability.
Bar – An obstruction, usually a sandbar caused by tidal currents or wave action near shore.
Bay – Broad inlet of the sea where the land curves inward.
Beam – A ship’s breadth at its widest point.
Bearing – A compass direction relative to a fixed point, usually measured in degrees.
Beaufort Scale – Scale of wind speed ranging from 0 (calm) to 12 (hurricane force).
Belowdeck – Downstairs; anything beneath a ship’s main deck.
Bells – Audible sounding of the ship's time. One bell sounds each half hour progressively for a total of eight, beginning at half past the hours of 4:00, 8:00 and 12:00.
Berth – A ship’s place at a wharf, dock, pier, or quay; a passenger’s bed.
Bilge – The almost flat part of the ship’s hull below the waterline.
Boat – The tenders and lifeboats carried by a ship.
Boat Stations – The space allotted for each passenger during lifeboat drill or any  emergency when lifeboats are lowered.
Bow – The forward (front) end of a ship.
Breeze – A hurricane.
Bridge – The operational superstructure of a ship; the navigational and command center.
Bright Work – The polished metal fittings of a ship.
Bulkhead – A wall or upright partition separating a ship’s compartments.
Bunkers – The space where a ship’s fuel is stored.
Bulwark – A ship’s side above deck.


Cabin – A room or compartment on a ship.
Cable Length – One-tenth of a sea mile or 608 ft.
Captain – The highest-ranking officer on a ship.
Cargo – Goods or baggage carried on a ship.
Cat – Catamaran or boat with parallel twin hulls.
Chart – A nautical map used for navigating a ship.
Colors – The national flag or emblem flown by a ship.
Companionway – An interior stairway.
Course – Measured in degrees, the direction in which a ship is headed.
Crew – Those people manning a ship, except the captain or officers.


Davit – A device used to raise and lower lifeboats.
Deadlight – A ventilated porthole cover that prevents light from entering.
Debark – To leave a ship.
Deck – The flooring on a ship.
Disembark (also Debark) - To leave a ship.
Dispensary – The medical clinic, from where medications are dispensed.
Dock – A pier or jetty where a ship is berthed.
Draft – The depth of water needed to float a ship; the measurement from a ship’s waterline to the lowest point of it keel. 


Embark – To go on board a ship.

Fathom – A measure of six feet.
Fantail – The rear overhang of a ship.
Flagstaff – The pole at a ship’s stern where the flag of the vessel’s country of registry is flown.
Flare – The upward and outward curve of a ship's hull at the bow.
Flotsam – Wreckage floating at sea.
Foghorn – The signaling device used to warn ships in fog.
Fore – The front of a ship.
Forward – The front of a ship.
Freeboard – The part of a ship’s hull or weatherdecks above the waterline.
Free Port – A port that is free of customs duty and regulations.
Funnel – The metal chimney on a ship for exhausting smoke and combustible gases into the atmosphere.


Galley – A ship’s kitchen; where food is prepared.
Gangplank – A moveable ramp or stairs for boarding or disembarking from a ship.
Gangway – Opening in a ship’s bulwark; a bridge laid from ship to shore.
Guest – A ship’s passenger.
Gulf – A deep ocean inlet with a narrow mouth.
Gunwale – The upper edge of the side of a ship.


Hatch – An opening or door on a ship, either vertical or horizontal.
Hatchway – The opening in a ship’s deck for cargo.
Hawser – Thick rope or cable for mooring or towing a ship.
Head – A bathroom on a ship or the bow of a ship.
Helm – The apparatus for steering a ship.
Hold – The cargo storage area of a ship.
House Flag – The flag designating the company that owns a ship.
Hull – The frame and body of a ship exclusive of the masts or superstructure.


Infirmary – The ship’s clinic for medical treatment.


Jetsam – Discarded material thrown overboard to lighten a ship’s load.

Keel – The main lengthwise member along the base of a ship.
Keelhauling – Punishment by dragging an offender under the keel of a ship and up the other side.
Kit – Personal belongings; luggage.
Knot – A unit of ship’s speed equal to one nautical mile per hour.


Leeward – Toward the side sheltered from the wind.
Lifeboat – A small boat used for emergency evacuation of a ship.
Life Jacket – A personal flotation device.
Life Raft - A collapsible lifeboat, usually stored in containers on weather decks.
Line – A length of rope.
Locker – A closet or compartment for storage of clothing and personal belongings.

Manifest – The list of a ship’s passengers, crew, and cargo.
Mist – Fog, haze, or drizzle.
Monkey's Fist – A knot at the end of a line thrown to line handlers on the dock. The smaller line is used to bring the hawser ashore.
Muster – To assemble the passengers and/or crew
on a ship.


Nautical Mile – One-sixtieth of a degree of the earth’s circumference.  The international nautical mile equals 6076.1 feet; the British nautical mile equals 6080 British imperial feet (6 feet = 1 Fathom, 100 fathoms = 1 cable, 10 cables = 1 mile, 3 miles = 1 league); the US nautical mile equals 6080.2 US feet; the French nautical mile equals 1852 meters.


Officers – The persons holding positions of authority or trust on board a ship.
Overboard – From a ship into the water.
Overhead – The ceiling on a ship.


Passageway – A corridor or hallway.
Passenger – A traveler on a ship.
Pitch – Plunging in a longitudinal direction; the up and down motion of a ship.
Pilot – Person licensed to navigate ships into or out of harbors or through difficult waters.
Port – The left side of a ship when facing forward.
Portal – An opening.
Ports-of-call – The places a ship stops during a journey.
Portholes – The round windows in a ship’s hull.
Posh – Smart, upscale, plush, superior.  From the abbreviation, "Port Out, Starboard Home," indicating which cabins were cooler and thus more desirable on the journey from England to the Far East.
Promenade – Usually outside, a deck that fully or partially encircles the ship, popular for walking and jogging.
Punt – A flat-bottomed boat or raft used by the side party for work about the ship's water line. Also serves as a floating dock for passengers using tenders to shuttle to and from shore.
Purser – The chief financial officer of a ship.
Purser's Desk – A ship’s banking and accounting center, usually located in the lobby.


Quarters – Living accommodations on a ship.
Quay – A berth, dock, or pier.


Radio Room – A ship’s communication center where messages can be sent and received.
Rat Guard – A large round object positioned on hawsers securing the ship to the shore that prevents rats from climbing the hawsers and gaining entry to the ship.
Roll – Side-to-side movement of the ship.
Rudder – A finlike device astern and below the water for steering a ship.


Salon – A meeting room or lounge on a ship.
Screw – A ship’s propeller.
Scupper – A hole at the edge of a ship’s deck that allows water to run off.
Sick Bay – The ship’s clinic for medical treatment.
SOLAS – Safety Of Life At Sea.  The international rules and laws to protect passengers, ships, companies, countries, and the environment.
Squall - brief rain shower.
Stabilizers – Operated by gyroscope, retractable finlike devices below the waterline that extend from a ship’s hull to reduce roll and provide stability.
Stack – The ship’s smokestack or funnel for exhausting smoke and gases.
Staff – People responsible for passenger services on ships.
Starboard – The right side of a ship when facing forward.
Stern – The rear (back) end of a ship.
Stow – To put away belongings and other objects.
Suite – A set of rooms.

Tender – A vessel attending a larger one; used to ferry passengers to and from shore at ports-of-call.
Thrusters – Fan-like propulsion devices under the waterline that move a ship sideways.


Underway – Moving through the water.


Vacuum Toilet – Efficient waste evacuation system using vacuum suction for flushing.


Wake – The track left on the water’s surface by a moving ship.
Waterline – The line along which the surface of water touches a ship’s hull.
Weather – A storm.
Weatherdeck – An outer deck exposed to the weather.
Windward – On the side from which the wind is blowing.


Yaw – The horizontal movement of a ship from left to right that deviates from the course as set, usually the result of heavy seas.

Zephyr The west wind; a gentle breeze.

Okay... there is no "X" but if you happen to have one, let me know.

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