|Glossary of nautical terms
This is a glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, many date from the 17th-19th century.
Sagging – When a trough of a wave is amidship.
Sail-plan – A set of drawings showing various sail combinations recommended for use in various situations.
Saltie – Great Lakes term for a vessel that sails the oceans.
Sampson post – A strong vertical post used to support a ship's windlass and the heel of a ship's bowsprit.
Scandalize – To reduce the area of a sail by expedient means
(slacking the peak and tricing up the tack) without properly reefing
Scud – A name given by sailors to the lowest clouds, which are mostly observed in squally weather.
Scudding – A term applied to a vessel when carried furiously along by a tempest.
Scuppers – An opening on the side rail that allows water to run off the deck.
Scuttle – A small opening, or lid thereof, in a ship's deck or hull. To cut a hole in, or sink something.
Scuttlebutt – A barrel with a hole in used to hold water that sailors would drink from. Also: gossip.
Sea anchor – A stabilizer deployed in the water for heaving to in
heavy weather. It acts as a brake and keeps the hull in line with the
wind and perpendicular to waves.
Sea chest – A valve on the hull of the ship to allow water in for ballast purposes.
Seaman – Generic term for sailor, or (part of) a low naval rank
Seaworthy – Certified for, and capable of, safely sailing at sea.
Self-Unloader – Great Lakes slang term for a vessel with a
conveyor or some other method of unloading the cargo without shoreside
Sennet whip – A summary punitive implement
Shakes – Pieces of barrels or casks broken down to save space.
They are worth very little, leading to the phrase "no great shakes".
Sheer – The upward curve of a vessel's longitudinal lines as viewed from the side.
Sheet – A rope used to control the setting of a sail in relation to the direction of the wind.
Ship – Strictly, a three-masted vessel square-rigged on all three
masts, though generally used to describe most medium or large vessels.
Derived from the Anglo-Saxon word 'scip'.
Ship's bell – Striking the ship's bell is the traditional method of marking time and regulating the crew's watches.
Ship's company – The crew of a ship.
Shoal – Shallow water that is a hazard to navigation.
Shrouds – Standing rigging running from a mast to the sides of a ships.
Sick bay – The compartment reserved for medical purposes.
Siren – A sound signal which uses electricity or compressed air to actuate either a disc or a cup shaped rotor.
Skipper – The captain of a ship.
Skysail – A sail set very high, above the royals. Only carried by a few ships.
Skyscraper – A small, triangular sail, above the skysail. Used in light winds on a few ships.
Slop chest – A ship's store of merchandise, such as clothing,
tobacco, etc., maintained aboard merchant ships for sale to the crew.
Slush – Greasy substance obtained by boiling or scraping the fat
from empty salted meat storage barrels, or the floating fat residue
after boiling the crew's meal. In the Royal Navy the perquisite of the
cook who could sell it or exchange it (usually for alcohol) with other
members of the crew. Used for greasing parts of the running rigging of
the ship and therefore valuable to the master and bosun.
Slush fund – The money obtained by the cook selling slush ashore. Used for the benefit of the crew (or the cook).
Small bower (anchor) - The smaller of two anchors carried in the bow.
Son of a gun – The space between the guns was used as a
semi-private place for trysts with prostitutes and wives, which
sometimes led to birth of children with disputed parentage. Another
claim is that the origin the term resulted from firing a ship's guns to
hasten a difficult birth.
Sonar – A sound-based device used to detect and range underwater targets and obstacles. Formerly known as ASDIC.
Spanker – A fore and aft, gaff-rigged sail on the aft-most mast of a square-rigged vessel.
Spar – A wooden pole used to support various pieces of rigging and sails.
Spindrift – Finely-divided water swept from crest of waves by strong winds.
Spinnaker – A large sail flown in front of the vessel while heading downwind.
Spinnaker pole – A spar used to help control a spinnaker or other headsail.
Splice – To join lines (ropes, cables etc.) by unravelling their
ends and intertwining them to form a continuous line. To form an eye or
a knot by splicing.
Square meal – A sufficient quantity of food. Meals on board ship
were served to the crew on a square wooden plate in harbor or at sea in
good weather. Food in the Royal Navy was invariably better or at least
in greater quantity than that available to the average landsman.
However, while square wooden plates were indeed used on board ship,
there is no established link between them and this particular term. The
OED gives the earliest reference from the U.S. in the mid 19th century.
Squared away – Yards held rigidly perpendicular to their masts
and parallel to the deck. This was rarely the best trim of the yards
for efficiency but made a pretty sight for inspections and in harbor.
The term is applied to situations and to people figuratively to mean
that all difficulties have been resolved or that the person is
performing well and is mentally and physically prepared.
Squat effect is the phenomenon by which a vessel moving quickly through
shallow water creates an area of lowered pressure under its keel that
reduces the ship's buoyancy, particularly at the bow. The reduced
buoyancy causes the ship to "squat" lower in the water than would
ordinarily be expected.
Standing rigging – Rigging which is used to support masts and
spars, and is not normally manipulated during normal operations. Cf.
Starboard – Towards the right-hand side of a vessel facing
forward. Denoted with a green light at night. Derived from the old
steering oar or 'steerboard' which preceded the invention of the
Starter – A rope used as a punitive device. See teazer, togey.
Stay – Rigging running fore (forestay) and aft (backstay) from a mast to the hull.
Staysail – A sail whose luff is attached to a forestay.
Steering oar or steering board – A long, flat board or oar that
went from the stern to well underwater, used to control the vessel in
the absence of a rudder.
Stem – The extension of keel at the forward of a ship.
Stern – The rear part of a ship, technically defined as the area
built up over the sternpost, extending upwards from the counter to the
Stern tube – The tube under the hull to bear the tailshaft for propulsion (usually at stern).
Stonnacky – A punitive device.
Strake – One of the overlapping boards in a clinker built hull.
Studding-sails (pronounced 'stunsail') – Long and narrow sails,
used only in fine weather, on the outside of the large square sails.
Surge – A vessel's transient motion in a fore and aft direction.
Sway – A vessel's motion from side to side. Also used as a verb meaning to hoist. "Sway up my dunnage."
Swinging the compass – Measuring the accuracy in a ship's
magnetic compass so its readings can be adjusted – often by
turning the ship and taking bearings on reference points.
Swinging the lamp – Telling sea stories. Referring to lamps slung
from the deckhead which swing while at sea. Often used to indicate that
the story teller is exaggerating.
Swinging the lead – Measuring the depth of water beneath a ship
using a lead-weighted sounding line. A sailor who was feigning illness
etc to avoid a hard job was said to be 'swinging the lead'.