|Glossary of nautical terms
This is a glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, many date from the 17th-19th century.
Mainbrace – The brace attached to the mainmast.
Mainmast (or Main) – The tallest mast on a ship.
– Sail control line that allows the most obvious effect on mainsail
trim. Primarily used to control the angle of the boom, and thereby the
mainsail, this control can also increase or decrease downward tension
on the boom while sailing upwind, significantly affecting sail shape.
For more control over downward tension on the boom, use a boom vang.
Man of war – a warship from the age of sail
Man overboard! – A cry let out when a seaman has gone overboard
Marina – a docking facility for small ships and yachts.
Soldiers afloat. Royal Marines formed as the Duke of York and Albany's
Maritime Regiment of Foot in 1664 with many and varied duties including
providing guard to ship's officers should there be mutiny aboard.
Sometimes thought by seamen to be rather gullible, hence the phrase
"tell it to the marines".
Mast – A vertical pole on a ship which supports sails or rigging.
– A small platform partway up the mast, just above the height of the
mast's main yard. A lookout is stationed here, and men who are working
on the main yard will embark from here. See also Crow's Nest.
– Either the commander of commercial vessel, or a senior officer of a
naval sailing ship in charge of routine seamanship and navigation but
not in command during combat.
Master-at-Arms – A non-commissioned
officer responsible for discipline on a naval ship. Standing between
the officers and the crew, commonly known in the Royal Navy as 'the
Matelot – A traditional Royal Navy term for an ordinary sailor.
Mess – An eating place aboard ship. A group of crew who live and feed together,
deck catering – A system of catering in which a standard ration is
issued to a mess supplemented by a money allowance which may be used by
the mess to buy additional victuals from the pusser's stores or
elsewhere. Each mess was autonomous and self-regulating. Seaman cooks,
often members of the mess, prepared the meals and took them, in a tin
canteen, to the galley to be cooked by the ship's cooks. As distinct
from "cafeteria messing" where food is issued to the individual hand,
which now the general practice.
Midshipman – A non-commissioned
officer below the rank of Lieutenant. Usually regarded as being "in
training" to some degree. Also known as 'Snotty'. 'The lowest form of
animal life in the Royal Navy' where he has authority over and
responsibility for more junior ranks, yet, at the same time, relying on
their experience and learning his trade from them.
Mizzenmast (or Mizzen) – The third mast on a ship.
staysail – Sail on a ketch or yawl, usually lightweight, set from, and
forward of, the mizzen mast while reaching in light to moderate air.
fist – a ball woven out of line used to provide heft to heave the line
to another location. The monkey fist and other heaving-line knots were
sometimes weighted with lead (easily available in the form of foil used
to seal e.g. tea chests from dampness) although Clifford W. Ashley
notes that there was a "definite sporting limit" to the weight thus
Moor – to attach a boat to a mooring buoy or post. Also, to a dock a ship.
Navigation rules – Rules of the road that provide guidance on how
to avoid collision and also used to assign blame when a collision does
Nipper – Short rope used to bind a cable to the "messenger" (a
moving line propelled by the capstan) so that the cable is dragged
along too (Used because the cable is too large to be wrapped round the
capstan itself). During the raising of an anchor the nippers were
attached and detached from the (endless) messenger by the ship's boys.
Hence the term for small boys: 'nippers'.
No room to swing a cat – The entire ship's company was expected
to witness floggings, assembled on deck. If it was very crowded, the
bosun might not have room to swing the 'cat o' nine tails' (the whip).
Oilskin Foul-weather gear worn by sailors.
Oreboat –Great Lakes Term for a vessel primarily used in the transport of iron ore.
Orlop deck The lowest deck of a ship of the line. The deck covering in the hold.
Outhaul – A line used to control the shape of a sail.
Outward bound – To leave the safety of port, heading for the open ocean.
Overbear – To sail downwind directly at another ship, stealing the wind from its sails.
Overfall - Dangerously steep and breaking seas due to opposing currents and wind in a shallow area.
Overhaul – Hauling the buntline ropes over the sails to prevent them from chaffing.
Overhead – The "ceiling," or, essentially, the bottom of the deck above you.
Overreach – When tacking, to hold a course too long.
Over the barrel – Adult sailors were flogged on the back or
shoulders while tied to a grating, but boys were beaten instead on the
posterior (often bared), with a cane or cat, while bending, often tied
down, over the barrel of a gun, known as (kissing) the gunner's
Overwhelmed – Capsized or foundered.
Owner – traditional Royal Navy term for the Captain, a survival
from the days when privately-owned ships were often hired for naval
Ox-Eye – A cloud or other weather phenomenon that may be indicative of an upcoming storm.