|Glossary of nautical terms
This is a glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, many date from the 17th-19th century.
Fathom – A unit of length equal to 6 feet, roughly measured as the distance between a man's outstretched hands.
Fender – An air or foam filled bumper used in boating to keep boats from banging into docks or each other.
Figurehead – symbolic image at the head of a traditional sailing ship or early steamer.
Fireship – A ship loaded with flammable materials and explosives
and sailed into an enemy port or fleet either already burning or ready
to be set alight by its crew (who would then abandon it) in order to
collide with and set fire to enemy ships.
First rate – The classification for the largest sailing warships
of the 17th through 19th centuries. They had 3 masts, 850+ crew and
Fish – 1. To repair a mast or spar with a fillet of wood. 2. To
secure an anchor on the side of the ship for sea (otherwise known as
First Lieutenant – In the Royal Navy, the senior lieutenant on
board; responsible to the Commander for the domestic affairs of the
ship's company. Also known as 'Jimmy the One' or 'Number One'. Removes
his cap when visiting the mess decks as token of respect for the
privacy of the crew in those quarters. Officer i/c cables on the
forecastle. In the U.S. Navy the senior person in charge of all Deck
First Mate – The Second in command of a ship
Flag hoist – A number of signal flags strung together to convey a message, e.g. 'England expects...'.
Flank – The maximum speed of a ship. Faster than "full speed".
Flatback – A Great Lakes slang term for a vessel without any self unloading equipment.
Fluke – The wedge-shaped part of an anchor's arms that digs into the bottom.
Fly by night – A large sail used only for sailing downwind, requiring little attention.
Following sea – Wave or tidal movement going in the same direction as a ship
Foot – The bottom of a sail.
Footloose – If the foot of a sail is not secured properly, it is footloose, blowing around in the wind.
Footrope – Each yard on a square rigged sailing ship is equipped
with a footrope for sailors to stand on while setting or stowing the
Forecastle – A partial deck, above the upper deck and at the head
of the vessel; traditionally the sailors' living quarters. Pronounced
'focsle'. The name is derived from the castle fitted to bear archers in
time of war.
Founder – To fill with water and sink → Wiktionary
Fore – Towards the bow (of the vessel).
Forefoot – The lower part of the stem of a ship.
Foremast jack – An enlisted sailor, one who is housed before the foremast.
Forestays – Long lines or cables, reaching from the front of the vessel to the mast heads, used to support the mast.
Freeboard – The height of a ship's hull (excluding
superstructure) above the waterline. The vertical distance from the
current waterline to the lowest point on the highest continuous
watertight deck. This usually varies from one part to another.
Full and by – Sailing into the wind (by), but not as close-hauled
as might be possible, so as to make sure the sails are kept full. This
provides a margin for error to avoid being taken aback (a serious risk
for square-rigged vessels) in a tricky sea. Figuratively it implies
getting on with the job but in a steady, relaxed way, without undue
urgency or strain.
Furl – To roll or wrap a sail around the mast or spar to which it is attached.
Gaff – The spar that holds the upper edge of a sail. Also a long hook with a sharp point to haul fish in.
Galley – the kitchen of the ship
Gangplank – A movable bridge used in boarding or leaving a ship at a pier; also known as a "brow".
Garbled – Garbling was the (illegal) practice of mixing cargo with garbage.
Garboard – The strake closest to the keel (from Dutch gaarboard).
Global Positioning System – (GPS) A satellite based
radionavigation system providing continuous worldwide coverage. It
provides navigation, position, and timing information to air, marine,
and land users.
Grapeshot – Small balls of lead fired from a cannon, similar to
shotgun shot on a larger scale. Used to hurt people, rather than cause
Grog – Watered-down pusser's rum consisting of half a gill with
equal part of water, issued to all seamen over twenty. (CPOs and POs
were issued with neat rum) From the British Admiral Vernon who, in
1740, ordered the men's ration of rum to be watered down. He was called
"Old Grogram" because he often wore a grogram coat), and the watered
rum came to be called 'grog'. Often used (illegally) as currency in
exchange for favours in quantities prescribed as 'sippers' and
'gulpers'. Additional issues of grog were made on the command 'splice
the mainbrace' for celebrations or as a reward for performing
especially onerous duties. The RN discontinued the practice of issuing
rum in 1970. A sailor might repay a colleague for a favour by giving
him part or all of his grog ration, ranging from "sippers" (a small
amount) via "gulpers" (a larger quantity) to "grounders" (the entire
Groggy – Drunk from having consumed a lot of grog.
Gunner's daughter – see Kissing the G.'s D.
Gunwale – Upper edge of the hull.