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Glossary of nautical terms

This is a glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, many date from the 17th-19th century.

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Cabin – an enclosed room on a deck or flat.
Cabin boy – attendant on passengers and crew.
Cable – A large rope; also a measure of length or distance. Equivalent to (UK) 1/10 nautical mile, approx. 600 feet; (USA) 120 fathoms, 720 feet (219 m); other countries use different values.
Canister – a type of anti personnel cannon load in which lead balls or other loose metallic items were enclosed in a tin or iron shell. On firing the shell would disintegrate releasing the smaller metal objects.
Cape Horn fever – The name of the fake illness a malingerer is pretending to suffer from.
Capsize – When a ship or boat lists too far and rolls over, exposing the keel. On large vessels, this often results in the sinking of the ship.
Capstan – A rotating wheel mounted vertically, used to wind in anchors or other heavy objects; and sometimes to administer flogging over.
Captain's daughter – The cat o' nine tails, which in principle is only used on board on the captain's (or a court martial's) personal orders.
Careening – Cause the ship to tilt on its side, usually to clean or repair the hull below the water line.
Cat – 1. To prepare an anchor, after raising it by lifting it with a tackle to the Cat Head, prior to securing (fishing) it alongside for sea. (An anchor raised to the Cat Head is said to be catted). 2. The Cat o' Nine Tails (see below). 3. A cat-rigged boat or catboat.
Catamaran – A vessel with two hulls.
Catboat – A cat-rigged vessel with only one sail, usually on a gaff.
Cat o' nine tails – A short nine-tailed whip kept by the bosun's mate to flog sailors (and soldiers in the Army). When not in use, the cat was kept in a baize bag, hence the term "cat out of the bag". "Not enough room to swing a cat" also derives from this,
Cat Head – A beam extending out from the hull used to support an anchor when raised in order to secure or 'fish' it.
Centreboard – A removable keel used to resist leeway.
Chafing – Wear on line or sail caused by constant rubbing against another surface.
Chafing Gear – Material applied to a line or spar to prevent or reduce chafing. See Baggywrinkle.
Chain shot – Cannon balls linked with chain used to damage rigging and masts.
Chain-wale or channel – A broad, thick plank that projects horizontally from each of a ship's sides abreast a mast, distinguished as the fore, main, or mizzen channel accordingly, serving to extend the base for the shrouds, which supports the mast.
Chase guns – Cannons mounted on the bow or stern. Those on the bow could be used to fire upon a ship ahead, while those on the rear could be used to ward off pursuing vessels.
Chine – A relatively sharp angle in the hull, as compared to the rounded bottoms of most traditional boat hulls.
Chock-a-block – Rigging blocks that are so tight against one another that they cannot be further tightened.
Clean bill of health – A certificate issued by a port indicating that the ship carries no infectious diseases.
Clean slate – At the helm, the watch keeper would record details of speed, distances, headings, etc. on a slate. At the beginning of a new watch the slate would be wiped clean.
Cleat – A stationary device used to secure a rope aboard a vessel.
Clew-lines – Used to truss up the clews, the lower corners of square sails.
Club hauling The ship drops one of its anchors at high speed to turn abruptly. This was sometimes used as a means to get a good firing angle on a pursuing vessel.
Coaming – The raised edge of a hatchway used to help keep out water.
Compass – Navigational instrument that revolutionised travel.
Corrector – a device to correct the ship's compass.
Courses – The mainsail, foresail, and the mizzen.
Coxswain or cockswain – The helmsman or crew member in command of a boat.
As the crow flies – A direct line between two points (which might cross land) which is the way crows travel rather than ships which must go around land.
Crow's nest – Specifically a masthead constructed with sides and sometimes a roof to shelter the lookouts from the weather, generally by whaling vessels, this term has become a generic term for what is properly called masthead. See masthead.
Cuddy – A small cabin in a boat.
Cunningham – A line invented by Briggs Cunningham, used to control the shape of a sail.
Cunt splice – A join between two lines, similar to an eye-splice, where each rope end is joined to the other a short distance along, making an opening which closes under tension.
Cuntline – The "valley" between the strands of a rope or cable. Before serving a section of laid rope e.g. to protect it from chafing, it may be "wormed" by laying yarns in the cuntlines, giving that section an even cylindrical shape.
Cut and run – When wanting to make a quick escape, a ship might cut lashings to sails or cables for anchors, causing damage to the rigging, or losing an anchor, but shortening the time needed to make ready by bypassing the proper procedures.
Cut of his jib – The "cut" of a sail refers to its shape. Since this would vary between ships, it could be used both to identify a familiar vessel at a distance, and to judge the possible sailing qualities of an unknown one.
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