More Nautical Words and Terms Pleasure Boaters Should Know

06/07/2020
Posted by: Pen Marine

Sound like a pro and impress your fellows next time you head out to sea

Not too long ago, we published a short article featuring some of the words that are commonly used in the nautical word, including some of the sayings that originated from the sea. Here’s another set to increase our nautical vocabulary.

Let’s start with the basics

Buoy. Pronounced ‘boy’ (although these things are gender neutral), a buoy is a float or marker at sea that is anchored at a particular spot to serve as a navigation mark, usually for hazards. You can learn more about the various types of buoys at the Power Craft Driving Course.

Deck. It’s the floor of a boat or ship. If a ship has more than one floor, terms like lower deck and upper deck are used to provide more information.

Fender. Cars’ ocean-going counterparts have fenders too. It’s usually a foam or air-filled bumper that helps minimise or eliminate damage to the hull when boats bump into docks or each other.

Hull. Speaking of which, the hull is the shell and framework that provides the basic floatation of the ship.

Keel. It’s the backbone of a ship that runs along the bottom of the hull. The phrase to ‘keel over’ means someone fell over and died, and on a ship it means the ship has turned over and is in high danger of capsizing.

Knot. On a string, a knot is a loop of said string that is used to fasten it to something, but it can also denote speed on water. In fact, one knot is one nautical mile per hour, or 1.85 kilometres per hour.

Flank. We usually know it to mean the side of something, but flank denotes the fastest speed possible for the craft, one step faster than ‘full speed’. Why ‘full speed’ is not actually full speed, is anyone’s guess.

Ahoy. A casual greeting or hailing at sea, sort of like a ‘hello’.

Ho! Unlike its modern usage, ‘ho’ is used as an interjection at sea to catch the attention of the crew, for example, ‘Land ho!’ would mean that land has been sighted.

Moving on to some fun sayings

By and large. In the world of sailing, ‘by’ means a sailboat is going into the wind, and ‘large’ means she is sailing off the wind. Sailors would say ‘by and large this ship sails very well’, and so it is now a common everyday metaphor.

Slush fund. Today, we know it to refer to money that is often kept aside for unsavoury purposes. In the heydays of ocean travel, leftover fat (known as slush) that was a byproduct of brewing salt beef would be kept by the cook of the ship, and once back on land it would be sold. The proceeds from this is then used to buy things for the crew, hence the term ‘slush fund’.

Dressing down. Thin and worn sails would be treated with wax or oil to renew their effectiveness, and it was called dressing down the sails. Officers would do the same to the sailors, also to ‘renew their effectiveness’, and the saying has now passed on to common usage.

First rate. It was an actual rating system for ships in the 16th century. A first rate line-of-battle ship has 100 or more guns, and the rating system goes all the way down to sixth rate.

Footloose. When a sail is not secured properly the bottom part of the sail, known as the foot, will dance randomly in the wind. Now you know where the iconic movie gets its name.

Groggy. This is another word for sleepy or befuddled. Grog is an alcoholic drink commonly taken at sea, and sailors who were drunk from it were ‘groggy’.

Swing a cat. No, men-at-sea of yore were not feline abusers. A cat o’ nine tails is a whip with many tails that is used for the most severe infractions at sea in the olden days. Out of this rose a few more, like there’s ‘no room to swing a cat’.

The nautical world is a fascinating one, isn’t it? So many of its sayings are still being used today, and even simple words like ahoy are constantly being used on boats. There are so much more that we can add to the list, and we hope you’ve enjoyed this light hearted article. Come join us at sea if you would like to find out more!