The Navy Department Library
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A Glossary of terms Used With Small Boats
Abaft: A term used to describe the position of one object relative to another, in which the object referred to is farther aft than the other. For example, the mainmast is abaft the foremast.
Abeam: in a direction at right angles to the centerline, and refers to an object outside the ship.
Advance: the distance gained toward the direction of the original course when turning.
Aft: at, near, or in the direction of the stern.
Aground: resting on the bottom.
Alongside: beside a pier or vessel.
Amidships: usually in the line of the keel, but sometimes halfway between bow and stern; usually corrupted to "'midships."
Anchor: an iron device so shaped as to grip the bottom and hold a vessel at her berth by the chain or rope attached.
Anchor Buoy: a small buoy attached to the crown of an anchor by a light line, usually painted a distinctive color, and used to indicate the actual position of the anchor when it is down. If an anchor buoy floats on the surface, it is said to be watching (the anchor).
Astern: the bearing of an object 180 degrees from ahead; behind the vessel; abaft the stern.
Bail: to dip water out of a boat.
Beacon: an aid to navigation, placed on or near a danger, usually unlighted.
Beam: the greatest width of a vessel; athwartship timber or member.
Bearing: the direction of an object expressed either in terms of compass points or degrees, true or relative.
Bend: to make fast; for example, to bend a cable is to make it fast to the anchor; a knot used in joining two lines.
Bilge: the curved part of a ship's hull where the sides and flat bottom meet.
Bilge water: water which collects by seepage or leakage in the bilges of the ship.
Bitter end: the last end of a rope or the last link of a cable that is doing important work.
Bitts: a pair of iron or wooden heads on board ship set vertically in the deck to which mooring or towing lines are made fast.
Block: a contrivance consisting of a frame or shell made of wood or metal which supports a sheave or roller over which ropes are run.
Boat: as used by seamen the term applies to small craft and not to a vessel.
Boathook: a wooden staff with a metal hook and prod at one end used for fending off or holding on when coming alongside a ship or dock.
Boat plug: a threaded plug fitted in the bottom planking of the boat at the lowest point to drain the bilges when the boat is out of water.
Bollard: an upright wooden or iron post on a dock to which hawsers may be secured; sometimes called a "nigger head."
Bow: the front end or head of a vessel.
Broach to: to be thrown broadside on, in surf, or in a seaway.
Burdened vessel: the vessel required by the Rules of the road to keep clear of another vessel.
Buoys: floating beacons, moored to the bottom, which by their shape and color convey valuable information as to position.
Cable: a heavy rope or chain, generally used in reference to chain or rope bent to the anchors.
Cardinal points: the principal points of the compass--North, South, East and West.
Cargo net: a square net made of heavy line and used to sling case goods or small package freight. It may be hung over the side to debark troops in an amphibious operation.
Centerline: an imaginary straight line running the length of the ship between bow and stern.
Chafe: to wear the surface of a rope, spar, or boat by rubbing.
Clear: leaving port with all formalities concluded; to empty a hold; to work clear; as of a shoal; to straighten out or untangle.
Cleat: a fitting of wood or metal with two projecting horns around which ropes are made fast.
Coaming: the raised framework about deck openings and cockpits in open boats; used to prevent the entry of water.
Cockpit: an uncovered compartment in a boat, usually for passengers.
Course: the direction steered by a vessel, expressed in degrees.
Cowls: bell-shaped air funnels or scoops, attached to ventilating trucks capable of being trimmed into or away from the wind.
Coxswain: the enlisted man in charge of a small boat and serving as steersman.
Davits: (pronounced da'-vits) small cranes that project over the ship's sides and are used for hoisting and lowering boats.
Davy Jones' locker: the bottom of the sea.
Dead ahead: directly ahead of the extension of the centerline of the vessel.
Dead in the water: said of a ship when the ship has no headway or sternway in the water.
Deck: corresponds to the floor of a building.
Discharge screw current: that portion of the water which is driven out from the screw. This current is formed along compact lines and exerts considerable pressure.
Dogs: small, bent metal fittings used to secure watertight doors, hatch covers, manhole covers, etc.; also metal rods which are driven into blocks at the bottom of a dry dock to prevent blocks from floating. On the LCVP and LCM(3) dogs hold the ramps secure.
Double bottoms: watertight subdivisions of a vessel next to the keel and between the outer and inner bottom, protecting the ship in case of damage to the outside plating.
Draft: the depth of water from the waterline to the vessel's keel.
Dragging anchor: to haul the anchor along the bottom when it fails to grip the bottom.
Ebb tide: that period in the tidal current when the water is flowing away from the land; ebb tide is divided into 3 phases which are referred to as the first of the ebb, the strength of the ebb, and the last of the ebb.
Embark: to go on board a vessel preparatory to sailing on a voyage.
Even keel: said of a vessel when she is floating level.
Fairway: an open channel, mid-channel.
Fall: the rope which is used with the blocks to comprise a tackle.
Fast: to make fast is to secure.
Fathom: 6 feet; used as a measure of the depth of water.
Fender: a device of canvas, wood, or rope, used over the side to take the shock of contact between ship and wharf or other vessel when alongside.
Fend off: to prevent touching by pushing off in coming alongside, or in leaving a pier or vessel.
Flemish down: to coil a line flat down on deck, each fake outside of the other beginning in the middle and close together so that the finished job resembles a mat.
Foul: jammed; the opposite of clear.
Foul anchor: said of an anchor when the chain is twisted about.
Frapping lines: lines which are led out around the lifeboat falls and in on deck in order to prevent the lifeboat from swinging when it is raised or lowered in a seaway.
Freeboard: the distance from the main deck to the water.
Gear: a general term for a collection of spars, ropes, blocks, and equipment.
Grapnel: a small anchor with several arms used for recovering lost articles or bodies of drowned persons from the bottom, or for anchoring dories or skiffs.
Gripes: metal fastenings for securing a boat in its cradle; canvas bands fitted with thimbles in their ends and passed from the davit heads over and under a boat for securing for sea.
Ground: a vessel grounds if she runs ashore or becomes fast to the bottom.
Ground tackle: a term used to include all anchor gear.
Gunwale: the upper edge or rail of a vessel or boat's side.
Hail: to address a nearby vessel. Also, a man or vessel hails from his or her home port.
Hatches: deck openings providing vertical access to a space below decks.
Haul: to pull. The wind hauls when it changes direction clockwise, but the most popular terms for this is veering.
Heave: to throw; exert a pull on a line; the rise and fall of a vessel at sea.
Heave to: to bring the vessel's head or stern to the wind or sea and hold her there by the use of the engines and rudder.
Heaving line: a light line having a "monkey fist" or small weighted bag at its end to aid in throwing. It is thrown to a pier or another vessel as a messenger for a hawser.
Hitches: used to secure a rope, either end or bight, to a hook, ring, spar, or another rope.
Hold: a large lower compartment of a vessel for the stowage of ballast, cargo, and stores.
Hull: the framework of a vessel, together with all decks, deck houses, the inside plating or planking, but exclusive of masts, yards, rigging, all equipment, and all items generally classed as superstructure.
Hurricane: a cyclonic storm whose winds blow with a velocity of 65 knots over water.
Inboard: toward the centerline in relation to the sides of the vessel.
Keel: the timber or bar running the entire length of the hull from stem to sternpost and forming the backbone of a vessel from which rise the frames or rigs, stems, and sternpost.
Kick: the distance the vessel moves bodily away from the direction of a turn, by the action of the water on the rudder; the swirl of water toward the inside of the turn when the rudder is put over.
Knot: a measure of speed, not distance, equal to one nautical (6080 ft.) per hour; a tie or fastening formed with a line.
Land breeze: a breeze coming off the land as the air over the land cools to a point below the temperature of the sea.
Lazarette: a compartment used for storage purposes in the stern of the ship.
Lee: away from the direction of the wind.
Leeward: the direction away from the wind.
Left-handed propeller: when viewed from aft, turns counter-clockwise while driving a boat ahead.
Left rudder: the movement of the rudder to the left of the center line of the boat.
Life buoy: a ring buoy made of cork and covered with canvas used in lifesaving.
Life preserver: a coat of buoyant material, usually kapok, to be worn to keep a person afloat.
Lookout: the man stationed above decks for observing and reporting objects seen.
Lubber's line or point: a black line on the forward inner side of the compass bowl, placed there to represent the bow of the ship and used to steer a course by indicating the ship's head.
Mid-channel buoy: a black and white vertically striped buoy (United States) placed in the middle of a channel; may be passed on either side.
Moored: to lie with both anchors down. A vessel is moored to a pier or buoy when well fast with mooring lines.
Nun buoy: a buoy having a conical top and painted red; found on the starboard hand on entering a channel from seaward and always numbered with even numbers.
Offshore wind: one blowing from the land.
Outboard: toward the sides of the vessel in relation to the centerline; or outside the vessel entirely.
Overtaken: said of a vessel when she [is] overhauling another vessel.
Pad eye: a metal eye permanently secured to a deck or bulkhead used for securing lines and cables.
Painter: the line in the bow of a small boat for towing or making fast.
Pass a line: to carry a line to or around something or reeve through and make fast.
Pay out: to let out chain or ease off on a line.
Pelorus: a navigational instrument used in taking bearings; consists of two sight vanes, revolvable about a dumb compass.
Pivoting point: that point within a vessel around which she turn[s].
Port: the left side of a vessel looking forward; an opening in a ship's side; a harbor for embarkation and discharge of cargo.
Privileged vessel: the vessel having right of way and required to hold her course and speed.
Quarter: the general area between the waist and the extreme stern.
Range: the distance in yards from the ship to the enemy, or target; two or more objects in line to indicate the course to steer in order to avoid danger.
Range light: the white light shown on a vessel's mainmast, which when used with the masthead light indicates the direction of her course.
Reef: a dangerous ridge of rock or coral lying at or near the surface of the water; in sailing vessels, to reduce the area of the sail.
Right-handed propeller: when viewed from aft, turns clockwise while driving the boat ahead.
Right rudder: the movement of the rudder to the right of the centerline of the boat.
Rope: generally speaking, refers to cordage whose circumference is greater than 1 inch. Made of twisted strands that are in turn made up of twisted yarns. Aboard ship, practically all the ropes used are called lines. Exceptions include man ropes and bell ropes. To say wire rope is correct usage.
Rudder: a flat structure, hung vertically on the sternpost and used to steer the vessel by offering resistance to the water when turned to an angle with the centerline.
Rudder amidships: that position of the rudder when it parallels the keel line of the ship.
Running lights: all lights required to be shown during peace-time by a vessel when she is underway.
Salvage: to save a vessel or her cargo from danger; recompense for saving a vessel or her cargo.
Samson post: a single bit forward on a small boat; a short mast supporting auxiliary cargo booms.
Screw: the propeller.
Screw current: is the current caused by the action of the propeller which draws the water into the propeller shaft. It is discharged as a rotary current in the opposite direction. When the propeller is backing, the current comes from aft and is discharged forward.
Sea anchor, or drogue: a drag thrown overboard and towed to hold a vessel to the wind and sea.
Sea breeze: the term is generally applied to any breeze coming from the ocean.
Sea-painter: a long line leading from the bow of a lifeboat to the ship and used to shear the lifeboat clear of the ship when the boat is water-borne.
Secure: to make fast; safe; the completion of a drill or exercise on shipboard.
Sea: the direction in which a current flows; also the direction in which a vessel is forced by the action of tide, wind, or combined force of both.
Sheave: (pronounced shiv) the roller of a block over which the fall runs.
Sheer: the longitudinal upward curve of the deck; a sudden change in course.
Slack: the direct opposite of taut in a line; to ease up or release the tension in a line.
Slip: berth for a ship between two piers; also, let go the anchor cable.
Small Stuff: small cordage usually designated by the number of threads; refers to a line under 13/4 inches in circumference.
Smart: snappy or seamanlike.
Splice: to join two ropes by tucking the strands in different ways according to the purpose for which the finished product is intended.
Stadimeter: an instrument for measuring the distance of an object when its height is known.
Stand by: an order to be prepared to execute an order or maneuver; a seaman who is subject to call if needed during a watch.
Standing part: the fixed part of a line, the part made fast.
Starboard: the right side of a vessel looking forward.
Steerageway: the slowest speed of a vessel at which the rudder will act to change the ship's course.
Stern: the back end of a vessel.
Storm: a wind having a force of 11 Beaufort scale, or 56-to 65 knots; it may be accompanied by some form of precipitation.
Suction screw current: is that portion of the screw current moving into the propeller.
Surf: the swell of the sea breaking on the shore.
Swell: movements of the sea, having greater length than ordinary waves, normally caused by the wind of a storm which is some distance away.
Tactical diameter: the perpendicular distance between the path of a ship on the original course, and the path of the ship when a turn of 180 degrees has been completed with constant rudder angle.
Tarpaulin: a heavy, treated canvas used as a covering; also called paulin.
Taut: hauled tight; with no slack; strict as to discipline.
Tiller: a bar of iron or wood connected with the rudder head, leading forward, by which the rudder is moved.
Toggle: a small wooden or iron pin grooved about its center with a small rope spliced around it, used to receive the becket or eye of another rope to join them together.
Tow: to pull another vessel through the water by means of a line or cable; in towing, tow refers particularly to the vessel or vessels being towed.
Towing bitts, or towing posts: vertical timbers securely fastened for use in towing or mooring.
Transfer: the distance gained at right angles to the original course when turning.
Transom: the planking across the stern of a small boat.
Trim: shipshape; the manner in which a vessel floats on the water whether on an even keel or down by the head or stern.
Trough: the hollow between two wave crests.
Turning circle of a ship: the path followed by its center of gravity when the vessel makes a complete turn of 360 degrees with a constant rudder angle.
Unbend: to cast adrift or untie; loosen.
Underway: a vessel is said to be underway when she is not at anchor, nor made fast to the shore, nor aground.
Up anchor: an order given to heave up the anchor and get underway.
Wake: the track of a vessel left astern due to the propeller action and the cutting of the water by the ship.
Warp: to haul a ship ahead by a line or anchor.
Water breaker: a small cask used for holding drinking water, usually carried in ship's boats or rafts.
Waterline: the line indicated along the side of a ship by the plane of the surface of the water; a line may be painted on the side of the ship to indicate the trim for various loads.
Waterlogged: filled with water but still afloat.
Weather: toward the point from which the wind blows; the side toward the wind; to windward.
Weigh: to raise the anchor off the bottom.
Whaleboat: a very seaworthy, double-ended, single-banked, pulling boat; if powered, it is referred to as a motor whale-boat.
Wharf: a projecting structure extending out to a depth of water sufficient to accommodate a vessel alongside.
Wheel: the steering wheel of the ship.
Whipping: a method of winding stout twine around the end of a rope to prevent it from unlaying or fraying.
White cap: the white froth seen on the tops of waves in a breeze.
Winch: a piece of machinery which operates a horizontal shaft, fitted with drums by which lines are hove in.
Windward: toward the wind.