An Introduction to Naval Terms

Patrick O'Brian is a master of naval jargon, and such mastery can at times be overwhelming. This glossary is by no means exhaustive (hence "introduction") but should help you gain your sea-legs for your voyage!

|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|

A

able seaman

Knowledgeable sailor.

afore

To the front of the vessel.

aft

To the rear of the vessel.

aloft

High in the masts or rigging.

amidships

In the middle of the vessel.

astern

Behind.

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B

bar

Shallow water in entrance to harbour.

barque

Three-masted ship.

beam

Width of ship.

bear away

Change direction to sail before the wind.

bilges

Bottom compartment of ship, usually filled with waste water.

boarding nets

Nets strung out from ship’s side to stop boarding.

bowlines

Ropes attached to sails to pull them forward.

bowsprit

Spar at the front of a ship.

box haul

Sharp turning of a ship.

brace

Rope used to hold direction of a sail.

brigantine

Two-masted ship.

bring to

Slowing a ship so that it almost stops by heading it into the wind.

bulkhead

Internal partitions of ships.

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C

cable

Heavy rope.

cable (length)

240 yards.

capstan

Large cylindrical device that sailors inserted poles into to help haul up cables.

careen

Lying a ship on its side to allow its hull to be cleaned.

caulking

System of using unpicked rope and pitch to seal gaps in planks.

close-hauled

Rigging a ship to sail directly into the wind.

cutter

single-masted small ship.

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D

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E

en flute

A warship without some, or all, of its cannons.

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F

flag officer

Admiral.

fore

Front of a ship.

forecastle

Small deck at front of ship.

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G

gaff

Yard supporting top of a sail.

gasket

Platted rope holding sails to yards.

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H

halyards/halliards

Ropes to raise or lower sails.

haul off

Move away.

heave to

Stopping a ship by heading it into the wind.

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I

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J

jib

Triangular sail at prow of ship.

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L

landsman

Inexperienced sailor.

larboard

Port.

lateen sail

A triangular sail.

leeward

Same direction as the wind.

log-line

A knotted rope and piece of wood that measures a ship’s speed.

luff

Turn a ship closer to wind.

lug sail

A four-sided sail.

lying to

Position a ship is in after being brought to.

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M

mast

Vertical spar from which sails and spars are attached.

midshipmen

Junior-ranking officers who would assist in the control of the crew.

mizzen

Rear of a ship.

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N

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O

ordinary seaman

Sailor with limited experience.

orlop deck

The lowest deck on a vessel.

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P

packet

Small, fast ship for sending dispatches and orders.

petty officer

Included gunner’s mates, quartermasters, master-at-arms, carpenter, bosun and cooper, the ship’s master, chaplain and surgeon

pinnace

A ship’s boat.

plying

Turn to windward.

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Q

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R

ratlines

Ropes attached to a ship’s shrouds that are used as ladders.

reef

Lessen sail area by tying parts of it to the mast.

royals

Square sails sitting beneath the topgallants.

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S

sheets

Ropes attached to bottom corners of sails.

shrouds

Support ropes attached to the masts.

square-rigged

A ship rigged with square sails at its bow.

stays

Forwards and backwards support ropes for the masts.

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T

tack

Way of a ship zig-zagging into the wind or turning it by steering to windward.

top

Platform around the mast.

topgallant

Highest of the three spars used to make a mast.

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U

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V

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W

wear

Turn a ship by moving prow in direction of the wind.

windage

How far a ship is blown off course by the wind.

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X

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Y

yard

Horizontal spar that holds up the sails.

yardarm

Outer sections of the yard.

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Z

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Courtesy of The Napoleonic Guide.

Dr. Maturin suggests further reading

Recently Entered in the Log

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2 Comments on An Introduction to Naval Terms

  1. I reccommend the book “A sea of words” http://books.google.com.ar/books/about/A_Sea_of_Words.html?id=JKY8yZFChX4C&redir_esc=y with the same useful properties!

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