|Glossary of nautical terms
This is a glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, many date from the 17th-19th century.
Parrel – A movable loop, used to fasten the yard to its respective mast.
Part brass rags – Fall out with a friend. From the days when cleaning materials were shared between sailors.
Pay – Fill a seam (with caulking or pitch), or to lubricate the
running rigging; pay with slush (q.v.), or protect from the weather by
covering with slush. See also: The Devil to pay. (French from paix,
Paymaster – The officer responsible for all money matters in RN
ships including the paying and provisioning of the crew, all stores,
tools and spare parts. See also: purser.
Pier-head jump – When a sailor is drafted to a warship at the last minute, just before she sails.
Pilot – Navigator. A specially knowledgeable person qualified to
navigate a vessel through difficult waters, e.g harbour pilot etc.
Pipe (Bos'n's), or a Bos'n's Call – A whistle used by Boatswains
(bosuns or bos'ns) to issue commands. Consisting of a metal tube which
directs the breath over an aperture on the top of a hollow ball to
produce high pitched notes. The pitch of the notes can be changed by
partly covering the aperture with the finger of the hand in which the
pipe is held. The shape of the instrument is similar to that of a
Pipe down – A signal on the bosun's pipe to signal the end of the
day, requiring lights (and smoking pipes) to be extinguished and
silence from the crew.
Piping the side – A salute on the bos'n's pipe(s) performed in
the company of the deck watch on the starboard side of the quarterdeck
or at the head of the gangway, to welcome or bid farewell to the ship's
Captain, senior officers and honoured visitors.
Pitch – A vessel's motion, rotating about the beam axis, so the bow pitches up and down.
Pitchpole – To capsize a boat end over end, rather than by rolling over.
Pontoon – A flat-bottomed vessel used as a ferry or a barge or
float moored alongside a jetty or a ship to facilitate boarding.
Poop deck – A high deck on the aft superstructure of a ship.
Pooped – 1. Swamped by a high, following sea. 2. Exhausted.
Port – Towards the left-hand side of the ship facing forward (formerly Larboard). Denoted with a red light at night.
Press gang – Formed body of personnel from a ship of the Royal
Navy (either a ship seeking personnel for its own crew or from a 'press
tender' seeking men for a number of ships) that would identify and
force (press) men, usually merchant sailors into service on naval ships
usually against their will.
Preventer (Gybe preventer, Jibe preventer) – A sail control line
originating at some point on the boom leading to a fixed point on the
boat's deck or rail (usually a cleat or pad eye) used to prevent or
moderate the effects of an accidental jibe.
Privateer – A privately-owned ship authorised by a national power
(by means of a Letter of Marque) to conduct hostilities against an
enemy. Also called a private man of war.
Prow – a poetical alternative term for bows.
Pusser – Purser, the one who is buys, stores and sells all stores
on board ships, including victuals, rum and tobacco. originally a
private merchant, latterly a warrant officer. Also, in modern use, a
term for the Navy in general (pussers) or a sailor in particular (a
Principal Warfare Officer – PWO, one of a number of Warfare branch specialist officers.
Queen's (King's) Regulations – The standing orders governing the
Royal Navy of UK issued in the name of the current Monarch.
Quarterdeck – The aftermost deck of a warship. In the age of
sail, the quarterdeck was the preserve of the ship's officers.
Quayside – Refers to the dock or platform used to fasten a vessel to
Radar – Acronym for RAdio Detection And Ranging. An electronic
system designed to transmit radio signals and receive reflected images
of those signals from a "target" in order to determine the bearing and
distance to the "target".
Radar reflector – A special fixture fitted to a vessel or
incorporated into the design of certain aids to navigation to enhance
their ability to reflect radar energy. In general, these fixtures will
materially improve the visibility for use by vessels with radar.
Range lights – Two lights associated to form a range (a line
formed by the extension of a line connecting two charted points) which
often, but not necessarily, indicates the channel centerline. The front
range light is the lower of the two, and nearer to the mariner using
the range. The rear light is higher and further from the mariner.
Ratlines – Rope ladders permanently rigged from bulwarks and tops
to the mast to enable access to top masts and yards. Also serve to
provide lateral stability to the masts.
Reach – A point of sail from about 60° to about 160° off
the wind. Reaching consists of "close reaching" (about 60° to
80°), "beam reaching" (about 90°) and "broad reaching" (about
120° to 160°)
Reduced cat – A light version on the cat o'nine tails for use on boys; also called "boys' pussy".
1. Reef: To temporarily reduce the area of a sail exposed to the wind,
usually to guard against adverse effects of strong wind or to slow the
2. Reef: Rock or coral, possibly only revealed at low tide, shallow
enough that the vessel will at least touch if not go aground.
Reef points – Small lengths of cord attached to a sail, used to secure the excess fabric after reefing.
Reef-bands – Long pieces of rough canvas sewed across the sails to give them additional strength.
Reef-tackles – Ropes employed in the operation of reefing.
Rigging – The system of masts and lines on ships and other sailing vessels.
Righting couple – The force which tends to restore a ship to
equilibrium once a heel has altered the relationship between her centre
of buoyancy and her centre of gravity.
Rigol – The rim or 'eyebrow' above a port-hole or scuttle.
Roll – A vessel's motion rotating from side to side, about the
fore-aft axis. List (qv) is a lasting tilt in the roll direction.
Rolling-tackle – A number of pulleys, engaged to confine the yard
to the weather side of the mast; this tackle is much used in a rough
the Ropes' refers to the lines in the rigging.
Rope's end A summary punishment device.
Rummage sale – A sale of damaged cargo (from French arrimage).
Running rigging – Rigging used to manipulate sails, spars, etc.
in order to control the movement of the ship. Cf. standing rigging.