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Nautical Terms

Nautical Terms and Phrases

TermDefinition
Ahoy ship-toship or ship-to=shore combination greeting and attention-getting term, usually when one party is unknown to the other.
Airdale part of the aircraft-related crew.
All hands a directive or reference applying to everyone hearing the message, usually directing them to perform their specific function as part of a collective task for the ship to accomplish, as in "All hands to quarters," "All hands up anchor," etc.
Anchors aweigh the anchor has broken contact with the floor or surface at the bottom of the body of water.
Arresting cables Each carrier-based aircraft has a tailhook, a hook bolted to an 8 foot bar extending from the after part of the aircraft. It is with the tailhook that the pilot catches one of the four steel cables stretched across the deck at 20-foot intervals, brining t
Aye or Aye Aye an acknowledgment of an order with the understanding that the receiver will execute the order.
Barge small boat used to transport personnel or light cargo.
Before the mast refers generally to the enlisted part of the crew, especially when comparing them with officers. On sailing ships, this was a literal term referring to the physical position of the enlisted sailor whose living quarters on the ship were in the forecastle (
Belay to make fast or secure to a pin or cleat, as in "belay that line"
"Belay that" disregard the order or information referred to, or cease work if the order has already been partially executed.
bilge water that has leaked into the ship and/or wastewater that can accumulate in a holding tank or empty space until it is pumped out.
binnacle list a ship's sick list. On a sailing ships, a binnacle was the stand on which the ship's compass was mounted; a list of men unable to report for duty was given to the officer or mate of the watch, who kept the list at the binnacle.
black gang or blackgang the engine room crew
bluejacket enlisted sailor
boarding a small boat or entering a car Wehn boarding a small boat or entering a car, juniors enter first and take up the seats or the space beginning forward, leaving the most desirable seat for the senior. Seniors enter last and leave first.
boatswain or bosun the sialor or petty officer in charge of the deck force or a specific section of the ship's crew.
boot camp basic training given to new (recruit) sailors and Marines. During the Spanish-American War (1898-1902), sialors wore leggings called boots; this came to mean a Navy or Marine recruit.
boot ensign the most senior ensign of a Navy ship, squadron, or shore activity. In addition to his or her normal duties, the boot ensign teaches less-experienced ensigns about life at sea, planning and coordinating wardroom social activities, making sure that the off
bow the front of the ships
Bravo Zulu well done
Bridge This is the primary control position for every ship when the ship is under way, and the place where all orders and commands affecting the ship, her movements, and routine originate.
Brightwork Any trim or highly polished surface; this originally referred to polished metal objects, especially topside (on the deck of teh ship). Bright woodwork is wood that is kept scraped and scrubbed. Both usually have a connotation of painstaking attention to d
"Bring ship to anchor" Bring the ship to a halt and drop the anchor.
Bulkhead a wall or other vertical surface, especially on a ship.
Butterbar someone with the lowest rank officer rank, pay grad O-1, ensign, whose rank insignia is one gold-colored rectangular barl usually carries a connotation of a lack of experience.
"Cast off all lines" Disconnect or let go all lines connecting a ship with a dock or another ship.
Catapults The four steam-powered catapults thrust a 48,000-lb. aircraft 300 feet from zero to 165 miles per hour, in two seconds. On each plane's nose gear is a T-bar that locks into the catapult shuttle, which pulls the plane down the catapult's length. The flight
chit a voucher or replacement for money or service, usually used on board ship
"Come lef/right to course" Make a slight change in course or heading, usually less than 15 degrees.
Course the ship's direction or compass heading, expressed in degrees or, less frequently, in cardinal directions.
Coxswain the helmsman of a ship. Originally the coxswain (pronounced "coxun") was the swain (boy servant) in charge of the small cockboat kept aboard for the ship's captain, which was used to row him to and from the ship. With time this has come to mean the helmsm
Davy Jones' Locker the floor of the ocean.
Deck floor or other horizontal surface, especially on a ship.
dogwatch the period of time at sea between 4 and 6 pm (first dogwatch) or 6 and 8 pm (second dogwatch)
drill a standardized sequence of actions designed to react to a possible situation, used to practice skills and improve proficiency
duffle or duffel a sailor's personal effects. referring not only to the sialor'sclothing but also the seabag in which he carries and stows it, the term comes from the Flemish town of Duffel near Antwerp, where a rough woolen cloth made there was often used to make the sea
Ease the rudder Decrease the current rudder angle (with zero degrees being amidships. This command is normally given when the ship is turning too fast or is coming to the course required, e.g., "Ease your rudder to 5 degrees."
Elevators Each of the four deck-edge elevators can lift two aircraft from the cavernous hangar deck to the 4.5 acre flight deck in seconds.
Fathom a standardized nautical unit of measurement equaling 6 feet, usually referring to depth of water
"gangway" Get out of the way; make way for someone or something coming through an area.
General drills emergency drills involving the entire ship's crew, such as abandon ship, general quarters, collision, and fire drills.
General quarters All hands man their battle stations on the double (at a run).
Handsomely slowly and carefully.
hatch doorway
head a ship's toilet, or, a more generally, any toilet.
Holystone a soft sandstone used to scrub the decks of a ship; sailors had to kneel as if in prayer when scrubbing the decks. Also refers to the fact that holystone is full of holes, like a petrified sponge.
Jones, Captain John Paul (1747-1792) Acknowledged as the "Father of the American Navy," Revolutionary War naval hero. AS a ship's captain, he made daring raids along the British coast, including the famous victory of the Bonhomme Richard over HMS Serapis, where Jones is reputed to have said,
Keelhaul A naval punishment used by some European navies in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In this practice, a rope was rigged from yardarm to yardarm passing under the bottom of the ship, and teh offender was secured to it, some times with weights on his
"Keep her so" maintain the present course`
Knot a unit of speed measuring one nautical mile (1.15 statute miles, 1.85 km,
Make a hole Get out of the way; make way for someone or somethign coming through an area.
"Man overboard" a command directing designated sailors to man their boat or boats and pick up the man as soon as possible; special conditions may apply for wartime.
"Man your boat" a command for all hands or designated sailors to take their stations in the boats used for abandoning ship or moving outside the ship to another ship, dock, etc.
Marine Corps Birthday One of the most famous Marine customs is the observance of the Marine Corps Birthday. Since 1921, the birthday of the Marine Corps has been oficially celebrated each year on November 10, since it was on this date in 1775 that the Continental Congress reso
Mayday internationally recognized distres call used on voice radio for vessels and people in serious trouble at sea or in the air. Derived from the French m'aidez ("help me") and officially recognized by an international telecommunications conference in 1948.
"Meatball" a series of lights that aids carrier pilots when lining up for landing. In the center are amber and red lights with Fresnel lenses. Although the lights are always on, the Fresnel lens makes only one light at a time seem to glow, as the angle at which the
Nautical mile unit of measurement used in air and sea navigation equal to 1,852 meters or about 6,076 feet; derived from teh lenght of one minute of arc of a great circle.
"Now hear this" a phrase used to call attention to directions, information, or a command to follow.
Officer of the deck (OOD) is always on the bridge when the ship is under way. Each OOD stands a four-hour watch and is the officer designated by teh commanding officer to be in charge of the ship. The OOD is responsible for the safety and operation of the ship, includign navigatio
On the double quickly, on the run.
"Pipe down" Be quiet.
Piping On sailing ships, boatswains in charge of the deck force used whistle signals to coordinate and direct tasks such as setting sails, heaving lines, and hoisting anchors, including a pipe signal for hoisting distinguished or higher-ranking visitors aboard.
Port Referring to the left side of a ship when facing the bow, or front.
"Pri-Fly" Primary Flight Control is the control tower for the flight operations on the carrier. Here, the "air boss" controls takeoffs, landings, aircraft in the air near the ship, and the movement of planes on teh flight deck, which resembles a well-choreographed
Running lights Required on all boats over 15 feet (5 m) by the International REgulations for PRevention of Collisions at Sea, these lights are red on the left (port) side, green on teh right(starboard) side, and white to the rear. Side running lights are visible from bo
Rudder amidships Orient the rudder along the long axis of teh ship; straight ahead.
SCUBA an acronym for "self-contained underwater breathing apparatus"
Scuttlebutt gossip or rumors; because sailors stopped to talk and exchange gossip when they gathered at the cask of drinking water (called a "scuttlebutt") on board sailing ships, this became Navy slang referring to information or speculation, and eventaully slang fo
Semper Fedelis Latin for "always faithful," the motto of the Marine Corps
Semper Paratus Latin for "always ready," the motto of the Coast Guard.
Shipshape in good order and function; squared away
Smoking lamp If it's "lit" you have permission to smoke, if it's not, you don't. Seldom used literally.
Sonar underwater detection device using sound and echo detection.
Starboard the right side as one is facing forward.
"Steady as you go" Maintain the course the ship is on at the moment teh command is given.
Stern the rear of the ship.
Striking the colors/ensign/flag Lowering or "striking" the ship's flag is the universally recognized sign of surrender.
Swab down to wash something such as a deck, usually with the help of a water hose and mops.
"Toe the line" Once a literal command to gather on deck with one's toes on a line, now it means to give full obedience to orders or give extra attnetion.
Created by: thecorbyfactor