Knowledge Center

Nautical Lingo

Here are some commonly used nautical terms that you might need to know – some current, some dating back to the 17th – 19th century.

Nautical Terms

AFT - Near, toward or in the rear (stern) of the ship.

AMIDSHIPS - In or toward the middle of the ship; the longitudinal center portion of the ship.

BATTEN DOWN - To secure all open hatches or equipment while under way.

BEAM - Width of the ship (amidships) between the widest point of its two sides.

BERTH – 1) Dock, pier or quay (key). 2) sleeping accommodation (bed) in a cabin

BOW - Front or forward portion of the ship.

BRIDGE - Navigational and command control center of the ship.

BULKHEAD - Upright partition (wall) dividing the ship into cabins or compartments.

COLORS - A national flag or ensign flown from the mast or stern post.

COURSE - Direction in which the ship is headed, usually expressed in compass degrees.

DEADHEAD – The repositioning of a ship from one embarkation point to another typically without passengers

DEBARKATION / DISEMBARKATION – The process of having passengers leave the ship at the end of a cruise

DOCK - Berth, pier or quay (key).

DRAFT - Measurement in feet from waterline to lowest point of ship's keel.

EMBARKATION – The process of boarding passengers onto a vessel prior to sailing

FATHOM - Measurement of distance equal to 6 feet.

FORE / FORWARD - Toward the front or bow of the ship.

FUNNEL - The smokestack or "chimney" of the ship.

GALLEY - The ship's kitchen.

GANGWAY - The opening through the ship's bulwarks (or thru the ship's side) and the ramp by which passengers embark and disembark.

HELM - Commonly the ship's steering wheel, but more correctly the entire steering apparatus consisting of the wheel, the rudder and their connecting cables or hydraulic systems.

HOLD - Interior space(s) below the main deck for stowage of cargo.

HOUSE FLAG - The flag which designates the company to which the ship belongs.

HULL - The frame and body (shell) of the ship exclusive of masts, superstructure, or rigging.

KEEL - A longitudinal member extending from stem to stern at the bottom center of the ship from which all vertical framing rises.

KNOT - A unit of speed equal to one nautical mike per hour (6080.2 feet) as compared to a land mile of 5,280 feet.

LEAGUE - A measure of distance approximating 3.45 nautical miles.

LEEWARD - (Pronounced Lew-ard)-In the direction of that side of the ship opposite from which the wind blows.

LINE - Any rope smaller than a hawser.

MANIFEST - A list or invoice of a ship's passengers, crew and cargo.

MIDSHIPS - (See Amidships)

NAUTICAL MILE - 6080.2 feet, as compared to a land mile of 5,280 feet.

PORT - The left side of the ship when facing forward toward the bow.

POSH – The colloquialism for “grand” or “first-rate” has its origin in the days of ocean steamship travel between England and India. Wealthy passengers would, at considerable cost, book round-trip passage as “Port Outward, Starboard Home” to secure a cabin on the cooler side of the ship while crossing the Indian Ocean.

QUAY - (Pronounced-key) A dock, berth or pier.

REGISTRY - The country under whose laws the ship and its owners are obliged to comply, in addition to compliance with the laws o the countries at which the ship calls and/or embarks/disembarks passenger/cargo.

RUDDER - The fin-like device astern and below the waterline which when turned to port or starboard will cause the bow of the ship to respond with a similar turn.

RUNNING LIGHTS - Three lights (green on the starboard side, red on the portside and white at the top of the mast) required by international law to be lighted when the ship is in motion between sunset and sunrise.

SCREW - The ship's propeller.

SPACE RATIO - A measurement of cubic space per passenger. Gross Registered Tonnage divided by number of passengers ( basis two) equals Space Ratio (rounded to nearest whole number).

STABILIZER - A gyroscopically operated fin-like device extending from both sides of the ship below the waterline to provide a more stable motion.

STACK - The funnel or "chimney" from which the ships' gasses of combustion are freed to the atmosphere.

STARBOARD - Right side of the ship when facing forward toward the bow.

STEM - The extreme bow or prow of the ship.

STERN - The extreme rear of the ship.

STOW - To fill or load a ship with cargo or provisions.

SUPERSTRUCTURE - The structural part of the ship above the main deck.

TENDER - A smaller vessel, sometimes the ship's lifeboat, used to move passengers to and from the ship and shore when the ship is at anchor.

WAKE - The track of agitated water left behind a ship in motion.

WATERLINE - The line at the side of the ship's hull which corresponds with the surface of the water.

WEIGH - To raise, e.g., to "weigh" the anchor.

WINDWARD - Toward the wind, to the direction from which the wind blows.

YAW - To erratically deviate from the ship's course, usually caused by heavy seas.