Boating Life

62 Useful Nautical Terms That You Should Know

February 27, 2020
Ingman Marine
Helpful Tips
February 27, 2020
Ingman Marine
Helpful Tips

Some of these nautical terms will make you want to meet whoever could have possibly come up with some of these interesting words. These terms will cover the anatomy of a boat, directional sea terms, terms used while on a running boat and even a couple of slang terms for fun.

What exactly are "Nautical Terms"?

The phrase ‘Nautical Terms’ is relatively new. In the past, they were called ‘sailing terms’. Whatever the name, these words and phrases are simply associated with boats, ships and sailing. Like kitchen shorthand or terms specific to science, ex. ‘beaker’.

Some of these nautical terms can be rather silly; however, most really come in handy when speaking about boating. Whether they are new age or created back when ‘pirates’ were popular, they all have their own specific meaning. Knowing the difference can sometimes mean the difference between running aground, shipwrecking or smooth sailing.

The Anatomy of a Boat

These terms will all correlate with a portion of a boat.

  1. Bow : The front end of a ship generally offers extra seating/storage or a fishing platform.
  2. Amidship : Quite intuitive, means the central point of the boat. In many recreational boats, this is where the steering console can be found.
  3. Stern : Backend of a vessel typically features additional seating, fishing platform or livewells and storage.
  4. Port : When standing at the stern, facing the bow, the side to your left is considered port. Tip: remember l + e + f + t = 4 & p + o + r + t = 4. Both left and port have 4 letters.
  5. Starboard : Always using the back of the ship as an anchor, facing towards the bow, the right side of the ship is considered the starboard side.
  6. Port Quarter : Rear left side of a ship.
  7. Starboard Quarter : Rear right side of a ship.
  8. Port Bow : Front left side of the boat.
  9. Starboard Bow : Front right side of the boat.
  10. Cockpit : The location of the steering compartment. In recreational vessels, the cockpit normally consists of the steering console and the captain’s chair.
  11. Helm : Steering apparatus, for power boats, generally consists of a steering wheel and a throttle lever to control the speed of the boat.
  12. Anchor : Hefty metal weight that holds a ship in place when not tied to a dock or underway.
  13. Marlin Board : More commonly known as a ‘swim platform’ to recreational boaters, is additional deck space on the stern to make getting to the water easier.
  14. Beam : The widest part of a ship.
  15. Chines : Where the bottom of a v-shaped hull meats the sides of the vessel.
  16. Keel : A structure that runs along the centerline of the bottom of a boats hull.
  17. Gunwales : Upper edges of a ship’s sides.
  18. Bilge : Lowest part of the boats hull where the bottom begins to ramp up to meet the sides.
  19. Cabin : A private enclosed room generally outfitted with a small bed (aka berth) and small head at minimum but can be as luxurious as studio apartment.
  20. Cuddy : This is a form of a cabin. A cuddy cabin is normally on the smaller side with little to no room to stand up straight, a small head. It may or may not contain a small berth too.
  21. Galley : Sailors term for a kitchen on board.
  22. Pier : A ramp that extends from the ship to the land.

Directional Sea Terms

Want to sound like a true seaman? Try some of these directional terms when running your vessel.

  1. Forward : This doesn’t reference the motion of the boat, but actually the motion of the people on the boat. When asked to go forward they are telling you to move towards the bow of the ship.
  2. Aft : The opposite of forward is backward. When asked to go aft, you are expected to make your way back towards the stern of the ship.
  3. Ahead : Now we are talking about the movement of the vessel. Ahead references the forward movement of the boat.
  4. Astern : The marine version of reverse. To move astern is to have the vessel reverse out of an area, like a boat slip.
  5. Topside : To move from any lower deck to the upper deck of the vessel.
  6. Leeward : Also shortened to ‘Lee’ is the direction that is opposite the movement of the wind, essentially moving into the wind.
  7. Windward : Opposite of leeward, references the direction in which the wind is blowing; when a ship is moving with the wind.
  8. Underway : Underway simply references a boat being in motion. Typically used when ‘underway’ toward a specific location.
  9. Course : When asked for the course, the captain is asking if the ship is moving in the proper direction towards the course’s destination.
  10. Heading : The heading is the current cardinal direction in which the vessel is moving (North, South, East or West).
  11. Chart : Used in past and present tenses to either map a route currently or to already have ‘charted’ course.
  12. Bearing : References the direction in which an object on a chart is located.
  13. Headway : The percent of progress made on the ships course.
  14. Fast : To firmly hold the ships, position steady.
  15. Flank : Maximum speed of one’s vessel.
  16. Moor : The act of docking a ship.

Terms Used while the Boats in the Water

These are the terms you may hear the captain yelling at it’s crew or the lookout shouting to the navigator of the vessel.

  1. Awash : When the boats deck has become slightly covered in seawater.
  2. Bail : Act of tossing seawater or rainwater overboard, that has collected in the bottom of the boat.
  3. Capsize : When the boat is overturned in the water.
  4. Lookout : The crew member that stands watch to observe the surrounding waters.
  5. Deadrise : References the angle that is between the keel and the horizontal line of the sea.
  6. Draft : This measures the depth of the ships bottom below the waterline.
  7. Log : A record of the boat’s daily operations.
  8. Obstruction : An impassible object in the water that forces the boat to change its course.
  9. Pilot : The navigator of the vessel, not to be confused with the captain of the ship.
  10. Following Sea : Fittingly references the waves coming from behind the boat.
  11. Marina : A fuel point or a place to store your boat.
  12. Beacon : A fixed navigational point directly attached to land, such as a lighthouse.
  13. Lay : Commonly used shorthand to give ‘come’ and ‘go’ orders to the crew.
  14. Pitchpole : To capsize a boat end over end, instead of overturning.
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Nautical Slang

Slang can be found in even the most proper of industries, but let’s be honest, we all know the marine industry is not known for their eloquent speaking. Learn some of the slang you could hear by weekend warriors, professional anglers, or large ship crews.

  1. Decking : This is a common threat that someone will hit another person so hard they will fall to the ‘deck’.
  2. Deep Six : Means there is plenty of water under the keel.
  3. Chock-a-Block : To secure exposed goods on the deck tightly, usually commanded during high seas.
  4. Cuts No Ice : Used when a ship is not making much progress when moving through fields of ice.
  5. Castaway : There are 2 nautical meanings here: a person who is cast adrift or ashore, or the deliberate act of causing a ship to wreck or be marooned.
  6. Come Hell or High Water : Most people have heard this one, meaning to do whatever it takes to get to where you need to go.
  7. Dead in the Water : More formally called ‘becalm’, means to be stopped in the water with the lack of power to the motor or wind in the sails.
  8. Don’t Rock the Boat : To keep things the way they are; to not agitate any situation into a large ordeal.
  9. Pickled : Used to reference when a person is drunk.
  10. Skipper : Often used in the military, skipper is slang for the Captain.

Farewell Sailor

Now you can find your way around a ship, follow nautical directions and understand what to do on a boat and even use a little nautical slang with the big boys. You may not be able to run with the pirates, but we hope we supplied you with a good beginner’s version of the nautical dictionary.

Happy Boating!

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