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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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K
Killick – A small anchor. A fouled killick is the substantive badge of non-commissioned officers in the RN. Seamen promoted to the first step in the promotion ladder are called 'Killick'. The badge signifies that here is an Able Seaman skilled to cope with the awkward job of dealing with a fouled anchor.
Keel – The central structural basis of the hull
Keelhauling – Maritime punishment: to punish by dragging under the keel of a ship.
Kelson – The timber immediately above the keel of a wooden ship.
Kissing the gunner's daughter – bend over the barrel of a gun for punitive spanking with a cane or cat
Know the ropes – A sailor who 'knows the ropes' is familiar with the miles of cordage and ropes involved in running a ship.

L
Ladder – On board a ship, all "stairs" are called ladders, except for literal staircases aboard passenger ships. Most "stairs" on a ship are narrow and nearly vertical, hence the name. Believed to be from the Anglo-Saxon word hiaeder, meaning ladder.
Laker –Great Lakes slang for a vessel who spends all its time on the 5 Great Lakes.
Land lubber – A person unfamiliar with being on the sea.
Lanyard – A rope that ties something off.
Larboard – The left side of the ship (archaic, see port). cf. starboard. Derived from the old 'lay-board' providing access between a ship and a quay.
Large – See By and large.
Lateral System – A system of aids to navigation in which characteristics of buoys and beacons indicate the sides of the channel or route relative to a conventional direction of buoyage (usually upstream).
Lay – To come and go, used in giving orders to the crew, such as "lay forward" or "lay aloft". To direct the course of vessel. Also, to twist the strands of a rope together.
Lay down – To lay a ship down is to begin construction in a shipyard.
League – A unit of length, normally equal to three nautical miles.
Leech – The aft or trailing edge of a fore-and-aft sail; the leeward edge of a spinnaker; a vertical edge of a square sail. The leech is susceptible to twist, which is controlled by the boom vang and mainsheet.
Lee side – The side of a ship sheltered from the wind (cf. weather side).
Lee shore – A shore downwind of a ship. A ship which cannot sail well to windward risks being blown onto a lee shore and grounded.
Leeway – The amount that a ship is blown leeward by the wind. See also weatherly.
Leeward – In the direction that the wind is blowing towards.
Let go and haul – An order indicating that the ship is in line with the wind.
Letter of marque and reprisal – A warrant granted to a privateer condoning specific acts of piracy against a target as a redress for grievances.
Lifeboat – A small steel or wood boat located near the stern of a vessel. Used to get the crew to safety if something happens to the mothership.
Line – the correct nautical term for the majority of the cordage or "ropes" used on a vessel. A line will always have a more specific name, such as mizzen topsail halyard, which describes its use.
Liner – Ship of The Line: a major warship capable of taking its place in the main (battle) line of fighting ships. Hence modern term for most prestigious passenger vessel: Liner.
List – The vessel's angle of lean or tilt to one side, in the direction called roll.
Loaded to the gunwales – Literally, having cargo loaded as high as the ship's rail; also means extremely drunk.
Loggerhead – An iron ball attached to a long handle, used for driving caulking into seams and (occasionally) in a fight. Hence: 'at loggerheads'.
Lubber's line – A vertical line inside a compass case indicating the direction of the ship's head.
Luff – 1. The forward edge of a sail. 2. To head a sailing vessel more towards the direction of the wind.
Luffing 1. When a sailing vessel is steered far enough to windward that the sail is no longer completely filled with wind (the luff of the sail is usually where this first becomes evident). 2. Loosening a sheet so far past optimal trim that the sail is no longer completely filled with wind. 3. The flapping of the sail(s) which results from having no wind in the sail at all.
Lying ahull – Waiting out a storm by dousing all sails and simply letting the boat drift.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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