Boating Tips

Boating Tips


Safety Tips
Safe Trailering by Jim Smith
Boater’s Judgment and Maturity
By Chief Warrant Officer Jim Krzenski
Commanding Officer, U.S.C.G. Station Fort Pierce, FL
Crew Overboard by Jim Smith
Crew Overboard – Quick Question
Required Equipment for Recreational Boats
Marine Radio Procedures
Choosing and Using the Correct PFD
Navigating Bridges
How Locks Work
How to tie useful knots (animated)
Passenger/crew orientation by Janice McArthur
When You Radio for Help on the Water
By Chief Warrant Officer Jim Krzenski
Commanding Officer, U.S.C.G. Station Fort Pierce, FL
Getting Help on the Water
Anchoring Tips – by Bill Wallace
Epirbs – Life Insurance at Sea
Lights and Dayshapes
Dayshapes – what they mean
Heavy Weather Preparations
Heavy Weather Boat Handling
Hurricane Preparation
By Chief Warrant Officer Jim Krzenski
Commanding Officer, U.S.C.G. Station Fort Pierce, FL
Hurricane Prep for your boat



Boat Handling Tips Boat Docking – An Introduction by Charles Low
Maneuvering in a Narrow Channel
Docking & Undocking
Docking Tips continued
Your Boat’s Aground – What Now?
Maintenance Tips Bright Ideas contributed by Bob Pone,
The Marine Do-It-Yourselfer
Troubleshooting the Over-Heating Engine
Winterizing Your Boat
Outboard Motor Maintenance
Checking Bilge Pumps
Through-hull Fittings
Useful Information Drug-Testing and Maritime Law
from Capt. Alan E. Spears.
Windsurfing Don’t Get in Over Your Head –
contributed by Lawrence Pearlman
Everything About Marine Sanitation
by Peggie Hall, President of Peal Products
Buying a Boat
Preventing Boat Theft
International Code Flags
Boating Accident Reporting – It’s the Law
An Overview of GPS
The Pros and Cons of Documenting Your Boat
Hull Identification Numbers – What they Mean
Calculating the Distance to Horizon
Lightning Protection
Boating Etiquette
Printable checklists
and logs
A Float Plan
Trip Log
Ship’s Log
Predeparture Check List
Tools & Spare Parts List


Understanding and Utilizing the Secrets of Waves

Understanding and Utilizing the Secrets of Waves


Any time you picture a body of water larger than a puddle, one of the first things that comes to mind are the rolling waves, or the surf lapping at the shore. Well, at least that’s what happens with me… But waves are much more than tranquil anomalies, they can be dangerous and destructive to any vessel in almost any body of water. Understanding how waves are made, how they normally behave, and how to predict their response to weather can make the difference between a smooth, comforting time on the water and a bumpy, frightening experience.

The first rule of waves, especially in the open ocean, is that there are no rules. Kind of a hypocritical statement considering the intent behind this article, but it is a hard, cold fact. There are simple physical factors that makeup the “normal” wave, but within the forces of nature, there a myriad of other factors that need be considered into the equation. Regardless, an understanding of what makes a “textbook” wave can be of considerable merit to the sailor. What we will examine here are the laboratory examples of wave creation. How, in a perfect world, waves would behave. In reality, alternating weather patterns, varying water depths, opposing currents, fetch obstruction and a multitude of other factors may change the way waves in a particular area react.


Keeping all of that in mind, we’ll throw out reality and concentrate on theory for a few minutes here. There are three factors that make up waves:

  • Wind speed Length of time the wind has blown
  • Distance of open water that the wind blows over; called fetch

All of these factors have to work together to create waves. The greater each of the variables in the equation, the greater the waves. Waves are measured by:

  • Height (from trough to crest) Length (from crest to crest) Steepness (angle between crest and trough)
  • Period (length of time between crests)

wave1.gif (4556 bytes)

There are theoretical limitations, however, for each variable. If there is a limited fetch, say 10 nm to land, and the wind is blowing at 36 knots, the waves will be 7′ high no matter how long the wind blows. Whereas for a 36 knot wind with an unlimited fetch blowing for 56 hours can create waves of 63′.



Speed (knots)

Fetch (nm)

Height (feet)

Length (feet)





































The table above demonstrates the relationship between wind speed and fetch.

Both in theory and in reality, waves are never created in one uniform height. Waves fall into a systemic pattern of varying size. Therefore, in order to classify wave height we determine the significant wave height, which is the average of the highest 1/3 of the waves in a system. This is how weather reports will specify wave height. Once you have the significant height, it is simple to determine the theoretical average height, the highest 10% and the highest wave sizes in a given area. Mathematically speaking, it’s simple arithmetic based on predetermined ratios:

Average height


Significant height


Highest 10%




To determine any one of the wave sizes, take the significant height and multiply it by the numerator in the applicable ratio. For example, if the significant height is 10′, the average height is 6.4′ (10 x .64), the highest 10% of the waves will be 12.9′ (10 x 1.29), and the highest waves will be 18.7′ (10 x 1.87 ).

We can also determine the speed or period of a wave mathematically by multiplying 1.34 times the square root of the wave’s length. [This number originates from many years of scientific research on wave speed.] Hence:

  • A 40′ wave travels at 8.48 knots ( 1.34 x sqrt of 40 [6.33])
  • A 50′ wave travels at 9.48 knots ( 1.34 x sqrt of 50 [7.07])
  • A 100′ wave travels at 13.4 knots ( 1.34 x sqrt of 100 [10])


Waves take their time to develop; they don’t spontaneously erupt from the ocean. It takes a certain speed of wind to blow over a certain distance for a considerable length of time to create lasting waves.

There are three different types of waves that develop over time:

  • Ripples
  • Seas
  • Swells

Ripples appear on smooth water when the wind is light, but if the wind dies, so do the ripples. Seas are created when the wind has blown for a while at a given velocity. They tend to last much longer, even after the wind has died. Swells are waves that have moved away from their area of origin and are unrelated to the local wind conditions — in other words, seas that have lasted long beyond the wind.

The definition of swells can be a bit confusing when you understand that waves never actually go anywhere . The water does not travel along with the waves, only along with the current — two mutually exclusive elements of water animation. If two people stand at either end of a long rope and undulate their arms up and down in an equal rhythm, waves will develop along the length of the rope that appear to move from one end to the other. The rope fibers aren’t actually moving at all, other than up and down. This is exactly what is happening with waves. The speed, or velocity of the wave is measured by how long it would take a wave to pass a given point crest to crest — say a line drawn on the ground beneath the rope. There is a slight movement of the water particles within a wave, but we’ll get into that in a little bit.Waves can be further described as:

  • Non-Breaking
  • Breaking

A non-breaking wave, is a “normal” rolling wave. A breaking wave is one who’s base can no longer support it’s top and it collapses. Depending on the size, this can happen with considerable force behind it — 5 to 10 tons per square yard. Enough force to crush the hull of a ship. When the ratio of steepness of a wave is too great, it must break. This happens when a wave runs into shallow water, or when two wave systems oppose and combine forces. The steepness ratio is expressed as the height to the length. A 1:24 is a long, shallow swell found in deep waters. A 1:14 and up is a wave that is too steep to stay together. This can also happen if the wind quickly grows strong and actually blows the top (crest) off the base of the wave. Wave characteristics also change in shallow water. Imagine if the rope that we talked about earlier was lowered to the ground so that the troughs of the waves hit the floor. This gives you some idea what happens when a wave hits shallow water, only the height and period won’t change, just the length and hence the steepness (as the length changes, so does the height to length ratio). Once the ratio gets high enough (like fractions, the closer together the numerator and denominator, the higher the fraction — 1:1 is the highest [that would be a wave at a right angle with the length exactly as long as the height.]) the wave will break.

Water Depth (feet)

Wave height (feet)

Wave length (feet)

Period (seconds)

150 +









15 (breaks)




15 (breaks)




Water particles within a wave have different patterns of movement based on whether it is a breaking wave or not. In a normal wave, there is an orbital movement of the water particles. This is best demonstrated by a cork floating in the water. As the wave rises, the cork spins in place (pushed by the orbital motion). This is a very passive movement, whereas the lined particle movement of a breaking wave is very aggressive — hence much more destructive.

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cork4.gif (863 bytes)


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The images above demonstrate the orbital motion of a cork floating in the water as a wave passes from right to left. The cork’s position actually never changes other than a slight rotation.


The interrelationship between the wind and the waves is so important to skippers that a completely new classification system was designed as a guideline incorporating both wind speed and the wave conditions most readily found at those speeds. This system, called the Beaufort Scale , was developed in 1805 by Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort of the British Navy. It is a guideline for what can be expected in certain conditions and a weather classification system. It assumes open ocean conditions with unlimited fetch.


Wind Speed


Sea Conditions





Smooth, like a mirror.



1 – 3 knots

Light Air

Small ripples, like fish scales.

1/4′ – 1/2′


4 – 6 knots

Light Breeze

Short, small pronounced wavelettes with no crests.

1/4′ – 1/2′


7 – 10 knots

Gentle Breeze

Large wavelettes with some crests.



11 – 16 knots

Moderate Breeze

Increasingly larger small waves, some white caps
and light foam.



17 – 21 knots

Fresh Breeze

Moderate lengthening waves, with many white caps
and some light spray.



22 – 27 knots

Strong Breeze

Large waves, extensive white caps with some spray.



28 – 33 knots

Near Gale

Heaps of waves, with some breakers whose foam
is blown downwind in streaks.



34 – 40 knots


Moderately high waves of increasing length and edges of crests
breaking into spindrift (heavy spray). Foam is blown downwind in well-marked streaks.



41 – 47 knots

Strong Gale

High wind with dense foam streaks and some crests rolling over.
Spray reduces visibility.



48 – 55 knots


Very high waves with long, overlapping crests.
The sea looks white, visibility is greatly reduced and
waves tumble with force.



56 – 63 knots

Violent Storm

Exceptionally high waves that may obscure medium size ships.
All wave edges are blown into froth and the sea is
covered with patches of foam.



64 – 71 knots


The air is filled with foam and spray, and the sea is
completely white.


Aside from just wind speed, the temperature is also a factor in creating waves. Warm air (which rises) moving over water has a less acute angle of attack on the surface than does cool air (which sinks). A cold front moving across open water will create much steeper waves and hence create breakers sooner than a warm front moving at the same speed.

Also, a change in wind direction over existing waves can create confusion and hence larger waves. If a wind has been blowing northeast over an open body of water for three days and suddenly switches to northwest over that same body of water, new wavelettes will form within the existing system of waves. The energy of both systems will multiply to create larger waves.

When a wave system meets a current flow one of two things can happen. If the wind and current are both going the same direction, it tends to smooth out the waves, creating long swells. If the current and wind are moving in contradicting directions, it will create much steeper and more aggressive waves.


So, what does all this mean? Why is it important to know how waves are made? Well… You can determine several things from waves.

One of the things you can tell based on waves, is boat speed. This assumes that your vessel is a displacement ship, like a keelboat, and not a planing one like a speedboat. When sailing a displacement vessel, the boat is constantly displacing a large chunk of water as it moves along. The heavier the boat, the deeper the trough it carves through the water. Now, along with the physics of waves we discussed above, we can add that the faster a wave travels, the longer it is. As a boat’s speed increases, the number of waves that it pulls along the hull decreases until the boat is actually trapped between the crest and trough of a single wave that it has created itself moving through the water.

onewav.gif (2582 bytes)

We know, from above, that the speed of a wave can be determined by the formula of 1.34 times the square root of the wave length. Since a displacement boat, traveling at top speed, is trapped in between the crest and trough of it’s own wave, we can also determine theoretical hull speed with this same formula using the boat’s L.W.L (Waterline length or length on waterline).

[It’s important to note here that L.W.L. is not the same as L.O.A. (Length overall) which is what most people use to describe a vessel. A 22′ Catalina (22′ being it’s L.O.A.) does not necessarily have a 22′ L.W.L.

A boat with a L.W.L. of 30′ has a theoretical hull speed of 7.34 knots. (1.34 x sqrt of 30 [5.48]) Now, very rarely will a boat ever reach her theoretical hull speed. This happens in the most perfect of conditions. However, since at that top speed the boat is trapped in a single wave, at lesser speeds, there will be more waves along the hull; proportionately so. If there are two waves on the windward side of the vessel then the boat is traveling at 1/2 theoretical hull speed. If there are three waves, then the boat is traveling at 1/3 that speed. You can fairly reliably judge your boat’s speed by counting the number of wave crests on the windward side between bow and stern and divide that number into your theoretical hull speed. Using this method, you can create a Dead Reckon plot without a speedometer.

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Theoretical hull speed (trapped in one wave)

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1/2 Hull Speed, two waves along the windward side

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1/3 Hull speed, three waves along the windward side

You can also quickly spot shoals by watching the waves. A shallow area will create breakers in the middle of otherwise normal seas — this can help you further estimate your position by finding the shallow area on your chart and taking a bearing to that area.

Understanding the relationship between wind speed and fetch can also help you plan your trip and avoid uncomfortable situations. Limiting the fetch you sail in will limit the maximum size of waves that you encounter for a given wind speed, and thus further ensure that you don’t encounter a situation beyond your experience level.

Wind speed

Theoretical Max Wave Height

50 % Fetch

75% Fetch

100% Fetch

7 – 10 knots

2 feet

3 nm

13 nm

25 nm

17 – 21 knots

8 feet

10 nm

30 nm

60 nm

28 – 33 knots

20 feet

22 nm

75 nm

150 nm

41 – 47 knots

40 feet

55 nm

150 nm

280 nm

56 – 63 knots

63 feet

85 nm

200 nm

450 nm

By limiting the percentage of fetch (based on the theoretical max) you can considerably limit wave height that you will encounter. The theoretical max wave height above is based on an unlimited fetch and wind duration. By selecting a fetch in one of the three columns to the right of that max, you can adjust the theoretical max by that percentage. For example, in a 17-21 knot wind, with a 60 nm fetch and an unlimited wind duration, you can encounter 8 foot high waves. If you limit that fetch to 10 nm at the same wind velocity, you will encounter 4 foot high maximum waves. (50% of 8 feet).

You can determine wind direction by watching the ripples on the surface of the water (Swells may be running contradictory to current winds). Keep an eye out for shifting winds this way as the smaller waves are the greatest natural indicators at sea of wind direction. Also, using the Beaufort Scale, you can roughly determine wind speed based on the wave conditions — for instance, white caps generally form at around 12 knots of wind.


One last area to cover before we close this opus, and that is how to handle waves encountered at sea. Whether large rolling swells, or choppy breakers, the surface activity at sea can be one of a skipper’s most challenging obstacles. The following are some guidelines on how to deal with waves.

In order to avoid big waves:

  • Avoid shallow water. Not only does shallow water create breakers that move at more destructive and higher velocity than “normal” waves, but due to the sinusoidal movement of a wave, the actual nominal sea level is hard to determine. In reality, the nominal sea level is slightly below the center of trough and crest. In shallow water, you are more likely to run aground, even if the chart says you’re okay. Not to mention this can be a bumpy ride.
  • Don’t go upwind in big waves. This particularly applies to sailors who when tacking upwind will be crossing large waves at a relative angle of 45º to the bow. For sailors working upwind with escalating winds, plan to make your upwind progress before the winds build and sail downwind with the large waves later.
  • Use land as a natural breakwater. Sailing in the lee of an island will create smaller waves as the wind comes off land and then toward your vessel.
  • If the waves are so big that you can feel them pushing your boat sideways, or backward — turn into the wave. Try to hit the crest at a perpendicular angle and head off again just as the crest reaches the bow. This minimizes the surface area that the waves can push upon. Sailors be sure to keep steerageway by heading off once you’re on the crest.
  • You can estimate the height of waves by knowing your eye height above the water. If, when standing at the helm, your eye is 10′ above the surface of the water, waves just at the horizon line will also be 10′ in height.
  • When sailing in big seas, the true challenge is to pay attention. In reality you can never predict what a wave system will throw at you. Waves can suddenly come up from sideways, or a large threatening wave may pass quietly while a small one might break violently into your boat. Being alert and reactive is your best bet. Don’t concentrate on one area too much, but rather the whole picture.
  • Watch the weather reports. Not just for the day you are planing to sail, but the week before as well. Remember that a sudden shift in wind pattern contrary to what was happening for several days can create much larger waves in that area. You may be looking at a great fishing spot and NWS tells you that there are only 10 knot winds from the southwest there, however, what you don’t know is that the winds were blowing 10 knots from the northeast for the past five days — hence the significant wave height in that area is double what it should be for the conditions…

You can get real time wave reports over the internet from the National Weather Service.

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Above is an example buoy report from the internet. It clearly shows the date, time, sky conditions, weather description, temperature, wind direction, wind speed, speed of wind gusts, water temperature, significant wave height, wave period and visibility in miles.

Once you have a better understanding of wave systems, it can make your time on the water much more enjoyable. Being able to maintain a slight degree of control over what you will face while venturing out will help maintain your comfort level. Whether out for a short jaunt or a circumnavigation adventure, take care, keep a keen eye and enjoy.

International Code Flags or Signaling Flags

International Code Flags or Signaling Flags

Although you may never see them displayed except at fleet parades, around naval installations, and areas with heavy international shipping traffic, International code flags are used to signal between two ships or between ship and shore. Also called signaling flags, they are a set of flags of different colors, shapes and markings which used singly or in combination have different meanings. The flags include 26 square flags which depict the letters of the alphabet, ten numeral pendants, one answering pendant, and three substituters or repeaters.

Only a few colors can be readily distinguished at sea. These are: red, blue, yellow, black, and white; and these cannot be mixed indiscriminately. You will notice, for clarity, the flags shown are either red and white, yellow and blue, blue and white, or black and white; besides plain red, white, and blue.

One-flag signals are urgent or very common signals (see meanings below). Two-flag signals are mostly distress and maneuvering signals. Three-flag signals are for points of the compass, relative bearings, standard times, verbs, punctuation, also general code and decode signals. Four-flags are used for geographical signals, names of ships, bearings, etc. Five-flag signals are those relating to time and position. Six-flag signals are used when necessary to indicate north or south or east or west in latitude and longitude signals. Seven-flags are for longitude signals containing more than one hundred degrees.

Some Useful Two Letter Signals:

AC – I am abandoning my vessel. LO – I am not in my correct position: used by a light vessel. RU – Keep clear of me; I am maneuvering with difficulty.
AN – I need a doctor. NC – I am in distress and require immediate assistance. SO – You should stop your vessel instantly.
BR – I require a helicopter. PD – Your navigation lights are not visible. UM – the Harbour is closed to traffic.
CD – I require immediate assistance. PP – Keep well clear of me. UP – Permission to enter Harbour is urgently requested. I have an emergency.
DV – I am drifting. QD – I am going ahead. YU – I am going to communicate with your station by means of the International code of signals.
EF – SOS/MAYDAY has been canceled. QT – I am going astern. ZD1 – Please report me to the Coast Guard, New York
FA – Will you give me my position? QQ – I require health clearance. ZD2 – Please report me to Lloyds, London.
GW – Man overboard. Please take action to pick him up. QU – Anchoring is prohibited. ZL – Your signal has been received but not understood.
JL – You are running the risk of going aground. QX – I request permission to anchor.

Flag Courtesy:

U.S. National Ensign
& Merchant Flag

U.S. Yacht Ensign

It is usually appropriate to fly the U.S. National Ensign (flag) or U.S. Yacht Ensign at the stern of your vessel.

However, when operating internationally, say going to the Bahamas, once in foreign waters you are required to fly the “Q” Flag or “Quarantine Flag” until you have cleared customs. This flag should be hoisted on the starboard spreader. If you are on a power boat with no mast, the “Q” flag can be displayed on the bow.

It is also customary to fly the country’s courtesy flag when operating in the waters of that country. After clearing customs, the “Q” flag should be replaced with the country’s courtesy flag.

DonÂ’t fly a foreign courtesy ensign after you have returned to U.S. waters. It may show that you have “been there,” but it is not proper flag etiquette.

Customs regulations and clearance procedures and costs may differ from one foreign country to another. Be sure and check your cruising guide for the proper procedures or try inquiring locally by radio prior to entering a foreign port. Although I have found that most custom officials speak some English or have access to someone who does, donÂ’t forget that you are in their country and you should be prepared to communicate with them in their language.

So, now that you know all about signaling flags, get them out and wave them high.

What is the Meaning of SOS?

What is the Meaning of SOS?

Harmony asks “Do the letters in the term SOS represent three words? If so could you let me know what they are?” Thanks to Neal McEwen for allowing us to use information from his article “SOS”, “CQD” and the History of Maritime Distress Calls .

There is much mystery and misinformation wpe4.jpg (3194 bytes) surrounding the origin and use of maritime distress calls. Most of the general populace believes that “SOS” signifies “Save Our Ship.” Casual students of radio history are aware that the use of “SOS” was preceded by “CQD.” Why were these signals adopted? When were they used?

The practical use of wireless telegraphy was made possible by Guglielmo Marconi in the closing years of the 19th century. Until then, ships at sea out of visual range were very much isolated from shore and other ships. The wireless telegraphers used Morse Code to send messages. Morse Code is a way of “tapping” out letters using a series of dots (short signals) and dashes (long signals). Spoken, short signals are referred to as “dih” and long signals are referred to as “dah”. The letter “A” is represented by a dot followed by a dash:

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wpe5.jpg (21793 bytes) By 1904 there were many trans-Atlantic British ships equipped with wireless communications. The wireless operators came from the ranks of railroad and postal telegraphers. In England a general call on the landline wire was a “CQ.” “CQ” preceded time signals and special notices. “CQ” was generally adopted by telegraph and cable stations all over the world. By using “CQ,” each station receives a message from a single transmission and an economy of time and labor was realized. Naturally, “CQ,” went with the operators to sea and was likewise used for a general call. This sign for “all stations” was adopted soon after wireless came into being by both ships and shore stations.

In 1904, the Marconi company suggested the use of “CQD” for a distress signal. Although generally accepted to mean, “Come Quick Danger,” that is not the case. It is a general call, “CQ,” followed by “D,” meaning distress. A strict interpretation would be “All stations, Distress.”

At the second Berlin Radiotelegraphic Conference 1906, the subject of a danger signal was again addressed. Considerable discussion ensued and finally SOS was adopted. The thinking was that three dots, three dashes and three dots could not be misinterpreted.  It was to be sent together as one string.

sosgraphic.gif (488 bytes)

The Marconi Yearbook of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony , 1918 states, “This signal [SOS] was adopted simply on account of its easy radiation and its unmistakable character. There is no special signification in the letter themselves, and it is entirely incorrect to put full stops between them [the letters].” All the popular interpretations of “SOS,” “Save Our Ship,” “Save Our Souls,” or “Send Out Succour” are simply not valid. Stations hearing this distress call were to immediately cease handling traffic until the emergency was over and were likewise bound to answer the distress signal.

Although the use of “SOS” was officially ratified in 1908, the use of “CQD” lingered for several more years, especially in British service where it originated. It is well documented in personal accounts of Harold Bride, second Radio Officer, and in the logs of the SS Carpathia, that the Titanic first used “CQD” to call for help. When Captain Smith gave the order to radio for help, first radio officer Jack Phillips sent “CQD” six times followed by the Titanic call letters, “MGY.” Later, at Brides suggestion, Phillips interspersed his calls with “SOS.” In SOS to the Rescue , 1935, author Baarslag notes, “Although adopted intentionally in 1908, it [SOS] had not completely displaced the older ‘CQD’ in the British operators’ affections.” (It is interesting to observe that Marconi was waiting in New York to return home to England on the Titanic.) The first recorded American use of “SOS” was in August of 1909. Wireless operator T. D. Haubner of the SS Arapahoe radioed for help when his ship lost its screw near Diamond Shoals, sometimes called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” The call was heard by the United Wireless station “HA” at Hatteras. A few months later, the SS Arapahoe received an “SOS” distress call from the SS Iroquois. Radio Officer Haubner therefore has the distinction of being involved in the first two incidents of the use of “SOS” in America, the first as the sender and the second as the receiver. The U.S. did not officially adopt “SOS” until 1912, being slow to adopt international wireless standards.

Everyday Phrases and their Nautical Origins

Everyday Phrases and their Nautical Origins


An admiral is a senior ranking officer in the US Navy, and the word signifies a commander of a fleet, or part of a fleet, in all maritime nations. From the Arabic word amir meaning prince or leader.

Not moored, at the will of the wind and tide. From the middle English drifte (to float). Sailors used the word to describe anything missing or come undone. From this word came drifter , a person without purpose or aim in life.

This traditional greeting for hailing other vessels was originally a Viking battle cry.

Aye, Aye
Aye is old English for “yes.”   The seaman’s reply “Aye aye, sir,” means, “I understand and I will obey.”

From the 17th century, it described the Spanish custom of hoisting false flags to deceive (bamboozle) enemies.




The word barge has two nautical meanings. First as a term applied to a flag officer’s boat or highly decorated vessel used for ceremonial occasions. The second usage refers to the more common, flat-bottomed work boat which is hard to maneuver and difficult to control. Hence the term . . . barge in .
Before the mast
The position of the crew whose living quarters on board were in the forecastle (the section of a ship forward of the foremast). The term is also used more generally to describe seamen as compared with officers, in phrases such as, “he sailed before the mast.” Most ships today have cabins for their crew.
Between the Devil and the Deep
The devil was the longest seam of the ship, thought to be the first plank on the outer hull of a wooden vessel from stem to stern. When at sea and the devil had to be caulked, the sailor hung from a rope to do so. He was suspended between the devil and the sea —  a very precarious position, especially when the ship was underway.

Bitter End
The end of the anchor line secured to a sturdy post on the deck called a  bitt. The line was paid out in order to set the anchor. However, if the water was deeper than anticipated the rope would pay out to the bitter end . . . ooops.

The first uniform that was ever officially sanctioned for sailors in the Royal Navy was a short blue jacket open in the front.  It is now used as a generic name for a Navy enlisted person.

Black Book
From the 1300’s – a collection of maritime laws and conduct that became known as the Black Book of the Admiralty. The punishments for offenses was harsh, to say the least. Drowning, starvation, and marooning were punishments for serious offenses such as repeatedly sleeping on watch. As used today, if you’re listed in someone’s black book, you have offended them in some way. Luckily for you, physical punishments no longer apply.

Blind Eye
In 1801, during the Battle of Copenhagen, Admiral Nelson deliberately held his telescope to his blind eye, in order not to see the flag signal from the commander to stop the bombardment. He won. Turning a blind eye means to ignore intentionally.

Blood Money
Originally known as bounty money, it was the financial reward for sinking an enemy ship. The amount of the reward, however, was not based on the size or importance of the ship but on the number of crew members killed.

From the Anglo-Saxon bat that meant a small ship or vessel.  A generic term for a small, open craft. Many people use the term when, in fact, they mean ship.



(pronounced bo’sun)
From the Saxon word swein which meant a boy or servant. It is his/her responsibility to assure that all equipment on deck, i.e. anchor, rigging, sails, etc., functions properly and have suitable spare parts. In spite of the name, the ship’s boats are not usually his responsibility.
Boatswain’s Pipe
An unusually shaped whistle, it was used in ancient Greece and Rome to keep the stroke of galley slaves. The pipe was used in the Crusades to call English cross bowmen on deck for attack.  A variety of tones can be produced, and each order had its own unique call. In time, the pipe came to be used as a badge of office by commanders. The pipe is still used, in the British and some other navies, for saluting visiting officers and other dignitaries.
Booby Hatch
A booby hatch is a small, covered compartment under the deck, toward the bow. Sailors were punished (perhaps by the Black Book) by confinement in the booby hatch. The term has come to mean (politically incorrectly) a mental institution, or to characterize some places I have worked.

Boot Camp
During the Spanish-American War, sailors wore leggings called boots, which came to mean a Navy (or Marine) recruit. These recruits trained in ‘boot’ camps.

Brightwork originally referred to polished metal objects and now is used to refer to varnished items made of wood, such as trim.

Brought Up Short
A sailing ship underway could only be brought to an emergency standstill by dropping the anchors. Not a pleasant experience. Used today to mean a person brought to an unexpected standstill by a sudden change of fortune or circumstance.

From the French boucan , or grill, for cooking dried meat. Originally referring to those who hunted and smoked meat, it expanded to include those who ate it (or stole it) as well. Predominantly in the Caribbean in the 1650’s, buccaneers differed from pirates in that they did not attack their own nation’s ships. Early groups were made up of adventurers of all kinds, excellent seamen all, many of whom made remarkable voyages around the world. Sir Henry Morgan organized them to capture Panama in 1671. The start of the European war in 1689 was the end of the buccaneers, though many went on to become “legit” privateers. Their romanticized legend lives on in the writings of Defoe, Masefield and Stevenson, and in Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘Bees are Black . . .’ in which she refers to bees as “Buccaneers of buzz”.

A boat selling supplies or provisions to ships. Derived from the Dutch boomboat , a broad-beamed fishing boat. Or, possibly from bumbay , an old Suffolk word meaning quagmire. This word appeared in England in 1695 referring to scavenging boat regulations. These boats were employed to remove ‘filth’ from ships and also to carry fruits and vegetables for sale on board. (I didn’t make that up!)

By Guess and By God
An early form of navigation, relying upon experience, intuition and faith. Has come to mean inspired guesswork.

By the Boards
Beyond the wooden boards that make up the deck and ship’s planking. To throw over the side, or to pass by the side, of a vessel. To come aboard, on the other hand, means to come ‘on the boards (deck)’ of the vessel. (Still used today, though the wood is in short supply on most new boats.) By the boards has come to express a lost opportunity or to let something pass.

From the Latin carina (keel) or French carener . Prior to hydraulic lifts, hulls still needed to be cleaned, patched, caulked, etc. Careening is a deliberate heeling to one side in order to accomplish these tasks. Usually was done on a careenage, a steep, sandy shoreline.

Carry On
In the days of sail, the officer of the deck kept a weather eye constantly on the slightest change in the wind so sail could be reefed or added as necessary to ensure the fastest headway. Whenever a good breeze came along, the order to ‘carry on’ would be given. It meant to hoist every bit of canvas the yards could carry. Today, the term means to continue with your work.

A shipwrecked sailor. Not, as often used, a sailor marooned or put ashore as punishment. To cast away was to commit a deliberate act to cause a ship to sink, to be lost or to make it necessary to abandon her.



Cast Off

Letting go the lines to a mooring, wharf, dock, buoy or another ship in order to move away. Shore-side, the term refers to second-hand clothing.
From the Latin canal , referring to the movement of water, it is the area within a body of water of adequate depth to be used for navigation. As used by bureaucratic land-lubbers, ‘the proper channels’ do not necessarily assure a pleasant passage.
Chewing the Fat
Literally, eating the seaman’s daily ration of tough, salt-cured pork or beef. Long before refrigeration, cured meats were tough but durable and it took a lot of chewing to make them edible. Has come to mean a friendly conversation (or talking too much, depending who’s talking).

Clean Bill of Health
A certificate signed by a port authority attesting that no contagious disease existed in the port of departure and none of crew were infected with a disease at the time of sailing. Shore-side, it means in good shape.

Clean Slate
Prior to GPS and onboard computers, courses and distances were recorded on a slate. At the end of each watch these were transcribed into the ship’s log and the slate wiped clean for the next watch. Has come to mean starting anew.

Close Quarters
A small wooden fortress or barricade erected on the deck of a merchant ship when attacks by privateers were expected. Small openings, called loopholes, allowed the sailors to fire small weapons to protect the ship (and themselves, one would assume). Land-side, close quarters has come to mean in close contact or a small area. Loophole, from the French l ouvre (window), has come to mean a gap in the law.

Colors, True Colors, False Colors, Flying Colors
The flag flown by a vessel indicating its nationality was referred to as her colors. Long before radios, you can imagine how important this might have been, especially when engaged in battle. False colors were sometimes flown to avoid capture or to approach unsuspiciously (see bamboozle above). This was frowned upon in International Law, wherein it is accepted as a ‘ruse of war’ only if the ship is in immediate danger.

Coxswain (pronounced cocks’n)
A coxswain was the helmsman of a ship’s boat. Originally, small boats carried on ships were known as cockboats or ‘cocks’, from whence the term derived. With the passing of time the coxswain became the helmsman of any boat, regardless of size.

Possibly from the Dutch krengd , a crank was an unstable sailing vessel. Due to a faulty design, the imbalance of her cargo, or a lack of ballast, a crank would heel too far to the wind. Has come to mean irritable.

Crossing the Line
An ceremony performed onboard when passengers and/or crew cross the equator for the first time. A special initiation ceremony in which King Neptune and various other mythological characters participate. Owes its origin to ancient pagan rites.

Bluejackets (see above) treasure the certificate which testifies that “in Latitude 00-00 and Longitude xx-xx,” and usually addressed to all Mermaids, Sea Serpents, Whales, Sharks, Porpoises, Dolphins, Skates, Eels, Suckers, Lobsters, Crabs, Pollywogs and other living things of the sea,” __(name)__ has been found worthy to be numbered as one of our trust shellback, has been gathered to our fold and duly initiated into the solemn mysteries of the ancient order of the deep.”

Cup of Joe
Navy lore: Josephus Daniels (18 May 1862-15 January 1948) was appointed Secretary of the Navy by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Among his reforms of the Navy were inaugurating the practice of making 100 Sailors from the Fleet eligible for entrance into the Naval Academy, the introduction of women into the service, and the abolishment of the officers’ wine mess. From that time on, the strongest drink aboard Navy ships could only be coffee and over the years, a cup of coffee became known as “a cup of Joe”.

Cut and Run
Most often thought to mean the cutting of an anchor line in an effort to make a quick getaway. Hard to imagine that many ship’s masters enjoyed routinely losing an anchor or two, so it is probably more likely referring to the practice of securing the sails of a square-rigged ship with rope yarns that could easily be cut away when a quick departure was necessary.

Cut of His Jib
The term originated in the 18th century, when sailing navies could determine the nationality of a sailing vessel by the shape of their jib, long before her colors could be seen. (A jib is a triangular sail in the front of the boat.) Shore-side meaning is to judge a person by outward appearance.

Dead Horse
A ceremony held by British crews when they had been at sea four weeks and had worked off their initial advance, usually one month’s wages (and usually long gone). The term ‘ flogging a dead horse ‘ alludes to the difficulty of getting any extra work from a crew during this period, since, to them, it felt as though they were working for nothing.

Deep Six
A fathom, the unit of measurement in most maritime countries for the depth of the sea, is six feet. Sailors used the term to refer to throwing something overboard and it has come to mean getting rid of something.

Deliver a Broadside
A broadside was the simultaneous firing of the guns and/or canons on one side of a war ship. Quite a blow, as can be imagined. Today it means much the same type of all-out attack, though done (usually) with words.

Devil to Pay
Originally, this expression described one of the unpleasant tasks aboard a wooden ship. The devil was the ship’s longest seam in the hull. Caulking was done with pay or pitch (a kind of tar). The task of ‘ paying the devil ‘ (caulking the longest seam) by squatting in the bilges was one of the worst and most difficult jobs onboard. The term has come to mean a difficult, seemingly impossible task. ‘The devil to pay and no hot pitch’. Landlubbers, having no seafaring knowledge, assumed it referred to satan and gave the term a moral interpretation.

Ditty Box or Ditty Bag
Possibly from the Saxon word dite , meaning tidy or from the English word dittis , a type of canvas material. A small box or bag in which a sailor kept his valuables such as letters, small souvenirs, and sewing supplies.

Doldrums, In the Doldrums
Between the tradewinds of the northern and southern hemisphere lies an area of calm winds, close to the equator, called the doldrums. Since sailing vessels relied upon the wind, a trip through the doldrums was often long, hot and boring.

Down the hatch
A toast that seems to have its origins in sea freight, where cargoes are lowered into the hatch. First used by seamen, it is thought to date from the 1930s and has been attributed to author P.G. Wodehouse.

Dutch Courage
Dates to the 1600s Anglo-Dutch wars and was likely British propaganda claiming that the Dutch troops were so cowardly they wouldn’t fight unless fortified with copious amounts of schnapps. The term has come to mean false courage induced by drink, or the drink itself.

Even Keel, Keeled Over
A vessel that floats upright without list is said to be on an even keel and this term has come to mean calm and steady. A keel is like the backbone of the vessel, the lowest and principal centerline structural member running fore and aft. Keeled over (upside down) was a sailor’s term for death.

Fall Foul Of, Foul Up
Foul is an often used nautical term generally meaning entangled or impeded. An anchor tangled in line or cable is said to be a foul anchor. A foul berth is caused by another vessel anchoring too close wherein the risk of collision exists. A foul bottom offers poor holding for anchors. A screw up!

A nautical measure equal to six feet, used to measure the depth of water at sea. The word was also used to describe taking the measure or “to fathom” something. Today when one is trying to figure something out, they are trying to fathom it or get to the bottom of it.

An ornamental figure placed on the front of a ship, under the bowsprit. Originally a religious and/or protective emblem. The custom continued but for purely decorative purposes. Hence the term figurehead – a leader with no real power or function except to ‘look good’ or appeal to a certain group.

Buccaneers (see above) were known in England as filibusters. From the Dutch for vrybuite r (freebooter) translated into French as flibustier . It is now used as a political term meaning to delay or obstruct the passage of legislation (as opposed to sailing vessels) by non-stop speech making.

Fits the Bill
A Bill of Lading was signed by the ship’s master acknowledging receipt of specified goods and the promise to deliver them to their destination in the same condition. Upon delivery, the goods were checked against the bill to see if all was in order. If so, they fit the bill .

Flake, Flake Out
In order to keep the anchor chain of a ship in good condition, the chain would be laid out up and down the deck (flaked) in order to locate and replace any worn or weak links. The term is still in use, as the captain will often instruct the crew to flake out the anchor line in preparation for anchoring. The anchor line is looped on deck in such a way that it does not become fouled (tangled) when the anchor is dropped. So if someone calls you a flake, you are either a weak link or about to disappear.

Flotsam and Jetsam
These are legal terms in maritime law. Flotsam is any part of the wreckage of a ship or her cargo that is lost by accident and found floating on the surface of the water. Jetsam are goods or equipment deliberately thrown overboard (jettisoned) to make the ship more stable in high winds or heavy seas. (Lagan are goods cast overboard with a rope attached so that they may be retrieved and sometimes refers to goods remaining inside a sunken ship or lying on the bottom.) The term flotsam and jetsam shore-side means odds and ends of no great value.

A light wind at sea that does not blow steadily from any one quarter. Variable.

An easily set extra sail used temporarily when running before the wind (wind coming from behind). Has come to mean ‘here today, gone tomorrow’, or a less-than-stellar reputation.

The foot is the bottom of a sail, whether triangular or square, that is attached to the boom to keep it stretched. A sail that is not attached to the boom is said to be footloose and is very difficult to control as it moves with the wind. The term ‘footloose and fancy free’ refers to the motion of a footloose sail.

A sailing vessel gripes when, by poor design or imbalance of sail, it tends to end up with its bow into the wind when sailing close-hauled. The sails flap around, forward progress is halted and she is very hard to steer. On land, the term means to complain, complain, complain.

Grog, Groggy
Rum diluted with water. Brandy was part of a sailor’s daily rations in the Royal Navy until the conquest of Jamaica in 1687 when rum replaced it. In 1740, Admiral Vernon decided his fleet got a little too much rum and issued an order to have the daily ration of one pint of rum diluted with water. Since Vernon’s nickname was ‘Old Grogram’ because of the material out of which his (apparently rather ostentatious) ‘boat cloak’ was made. The watered down rum immediately became known as grog. Groggy is what happens to you when you indulge in it (even watered down).

Ground Swell
A sudden swell, which is the rise of water, along the shore. It often happens when the weather is fine and the sea behind it appears calm. Said to occur when undulating water from a far away storm reaches the shoreline where friction causes the swell. In common use, the term groundswell means a growing change in public opinion.

Half Seas Over
A ship run aground on reef or rock with seas breaking over her. Not much can be done in this situation. The expression has come to mean a person so inebriated as to be incapable of steering a steady course.

Hand Over Fist
Hand over hand was a British term for the act of moving quickly up a rope or hoisting a sail, which was a matter of pride and competition among sailors. It is thought that American sailors changed this term to ‘hand over fist’, and the term now means to advance or accumulate rapidly.

Hard Up
Hard is another often used nautical term. To put the helm hard over is to put it as far as it will go in that direction. Hard and fast describes a vessel firmly aground and unable to make progress and has come ashore to mean rigid. ‘Hard up in a clinch and no knife to cut the seizing’, the term from which hard up derives, was a sailor’s way of saying he had been overtaken by misfortune and saw no way of getting clear of it. Shore-side, the term means in need.

Long before fraternal organizations, hazing was the practice of keeping the crew working all hours of the day or night, whether necessary or not, in order to deprive them of sleep and to make them generally miserable. In the 19th century, many captains used this practice to assert their authority. Hazing has come to mean the initiation of a newcomer to a group by humiliating and harassing him or her, thereby asserting the authority of the group.

Hot Chase
A principle of naval warfare, though without basis in law, that allowed a fleeing enemy to be followed into neutral waters and captured there if the chase had begun in international waters. The term hot pursuit derives from this ‘principle’.

Hotchpotch, Hodgepodge
Hotchpotch was a maritime term describing the method of equally dividing cargo and property damaged when two ships have collided and both are deemed to be responsible. Current usage of hodgepodge means ‘a jumble’.

Hulk, Hulking
A large and unwieldy ship of simple construction and dubious seaworthiness. On shore, it means big and clumsy.

Idler, Idle
Idler was the name for those members of a ship’s crew that did not stand night watch because of their work. Carpenters, sailmakers, cooks, etc. worked during the day and were excused from watch duty at night. They were called idlers, but not because they had nothing to do, simply because they were off duty at night.

Old rope no longer able to take a load, it was cut into shorter lengths and used to make mops and mats. Land-side, junk is all that stuff in your garage you know you’ll need right after you throw it away.

Jury Rig
A temporary repair to keep a disabled ship sailing until it could make port, such as a jury sail erected when the mast was lost or a jury rudder as an emergency means of steering when the ship’s rudder was damaged.

Keel Hauling
A severe naval punishment during the 15th and 16th centuries. The victim, presumably a delinquent sailor, was dragged from one side of the boat to the other, under the bottom of the boat (keel). Tossed over one side and pulled up on the other, he was usually allowed to catch his breath before suddenly being tossed overboard again.  Keel hauling lost favor at the beginning of the 18th century, to be replaced by the cat-o-nine-tails. The term still means a rough reprimand.

Knowing the Ropes
This is pretty obvious if you’ve ever seen a tall ship. It was such an important skill on sailing vessels that an honorable discharge from service was marked, at one time, with the term ‘knows the ropes’. Land-side it still means a person with experience and skill.


Boating Basics Glossary of Terms

Boating Basics Glossary of Terms

ABAFT – Toward the rear (stern) of the boat. Behind.

ABEAM – At right angles to the keel of the boat, but not on the boat.

ABOARD – On or within the boat.

ABOVE DECK – On the deck (not over it – see ALOFT)

ABREAST – Side by side; by the side of.

ADRIFT – Loose, not on moorings or towline.

AFT – Toward the stern of the boat.

AGROUND – Touching or fast to the bottom.

AHEAD – In a forward direction.

AIDS TO NAVIGATION – Artificial objects to supplement natural landmarks indicating safe and unsafe waters.

ALEE – Away from the direction of the wind. Opposite of windward.

ALOFT – Above the deck of the boat.

AMIDSHIPS – In or toward the center of the boat.

ANCHORAGE – A place suitable for anchoring in relation to the wind, seas and bottom.

ASTERN – In back of the boat, opposite of ahead.

ATHWARTSHIPS – At right angles to the centerline of the boat; rowboat seats are generally athwart ships.

AWEIGH – The position of anchor as it is raised clear of the bottom.

BATTEN DOWN – Secure hatches and loose objects both within the hull and on deck.

BEAM – The greatest width of the boat.

BEARING – The direction of an object expressed either as a true bearing as shown on the chart, or as a bearing relative to the heading of the boat.

BELOW – Beneath the deck.

BIGHT – The part of the rope or line, between the end and the standing part, on which a knot is formed.

BILGE – The interior of the hull below the floor boards.

BITTER END – The last part of a rope or chain.The inboard end of the anchor rode.

BOAT – A fairly indefinite term. A waterborne vehicle smaller than a ship. One definition is a small craft carried aboard a ship.

BOAT HOOK – A short shaft with a fitting at one end shaped to facilitate use in putting a line over a piling, recovering an object dropped overboard, or in pushing or fending off.

BOOT TOP – A painted line that indicates the designed waterline.

BOW – The forward part of a boat.

BOW LINE – A docking line leading from the bow.

BOWLINE – A knot used to form a temporary loop in the end of a line.

BRIDGE – The location from which a vessel is steered and its speed controlled. “Control Station” is really a more appropriate term for small craft.

BRIDLE – A line or wire secured at both ends in order to distribute a strain between two points.

BRIGHTWORK – Varnished woodwork and/or polished metal.

BULKHEAD – A vertical partition separating compartments.

BUOY – An anchored float used for marking a position on the water or a hazard or a shoal and for mooring.

BURDENED VESSEL – That vessel which, according to the applicable Navigation Rules, must give way to the privileged vessel. The term has been superseded by the term “give-way”.

CABIN – A compartment for passengers or crew.

CAPSIZE – To turn over.

CAST OFF – To let go.

CATAMARAN – A twin-hulled boat, with hulls side by side.

CHAFING GEAR – Tubing or cloth wrapping used to protect a line from chafing on a rough surface.

CHART – A map for use by navigators.

CHINE – The intersection of the bottom and sides of a flat or v-bottomed boat.

CHOCK – A fitting through which anchor or mooring lines are led. Usually U-shaped to reduce chafe.

CLEAT – A fitting to which lines are made fast. The classic cleat to which lines are belayed is approximately anvil-shaped.

CLOVE HITCH – A knot for temporarily fastening a line to a spar or piling.

COAMING – A vertical piece around the edge of a cockpit, hatch, etc. to prevent water on deck from running below.

COCKPIT – An opening in the deck from which the boat is handled.

COIL – To lay a line down in circular turns.

COURSE – The direction in which a boat is steered.

CUDDY – A small shelter cabin in a boat.

CURRENT – The horizontal movement of water.

DEAD AHEAD – Directly ahead.

DEAD ASTERN – Directly aft.

DECK – A permanent covering over a compartment, hull or any part thereof.

DINGHY – A small open boat. A dinghy is often used as a tender for a larger craft.

DISPLACEMENT – The weight of water displaced by a floating vessel, thus, a boat’s weight.

DISPLACEMENT HULL – A type of hull that plows through the water, displacing a weight of water equal to its own weight, even when more power is added.

DOCK – A protected water area in which vessels are moored.The term is often used to denote a pier or a wharf.

DOLPHIN – A group of piles driven close together and bound with wire cables into a single structure.

DRAFT – The depth of water a boat draws.

EBB – A receding current.

FATHOM – Six feet.

FENDER – A cushion, placed between boats, or between a boat and a pier, to prevent damage.

FIGURE EIGHT KNOT – A knot in the form of a figure eight, placed in the end of a line to prevent the line from passing through a grommet or a block.

FLARE – The outward curve of a vessel’s sides near the bow. A distress signal.

FLOOD – A incoming current.

FLOORBOARDS – The surface of the cockpit on which the crew stand.

FLUKE – The palm of an anchor.

FOLLOWING SEA – An overtaking sea that comes from astern.

FORE-AND-AFT – In a line parallel to the keel.

FOREPEAK – A compartment in the bow of a small boat.

FORWARD – Toward the bow of the boat.

FOULED – Any piece of equipment that is jammed or entangled, or dirtied.

FREEBOARD – The minimum vertical distance from the surface of the water to the gunwale.

GALLEY – The kitchen area of a boat.

GANGWAY – The area of a ship’s side where people board and disembark.

GEAR – A general term for ropes, blocks, tackle and other equipment.

GIVE-WAY VESSEL – A term used to describe the vessel which must yield in meeting, crossing, or overtaking situations.

GRAB RAILS – Hand-hold fittings mounted on cabin tops and sides for personal safety when moving around the boat.

GROUND TACKLE – A collective term for the anchor and its associated gear.

GUNWALE – The upper edge of a boat’s sides.

HARD CHINE – An abrupt intersection between the hull side and the hull bottom of a boat so constructed.

HATCH – An opening in a boat’s deck fitted with a watertight cover.

HEAD – A marine toilet. Also the upper corner of a triangular sail.

HEADING – The direction in which a vessel’s bow points at any given time.

HEADWAY – The forward motion of a boat. Opposite of sternway.

HELM – The wheel or tiller controlling the rudder.

HELMSPERSON – The person who steers the boat.

HITCH – A knot used to secure a rope to another object or to another rope, or to form a loop or a noose in a rope.

HOLD – A compartment below deck in a large vessel, used solely for carrying cargo.

HULL – The main body of a vessel.

INBOARD – More toward the center of a vessel; inside; a motor fitted inside a boat.

INTRACOASTAL WATERWAY – ICW: bays, rivers, and canals along the coasts (such as the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts), connected so that vessels may travel without going into the sea.

JACOBS LADDER – A rope ladder, lowered from the deck, as when pilots or passengers come aboard.

JETTY – A structure, usually masonry, projecting out from the shore; a jetty may protect a harbor entrance.

KEEL – The centerline of a boat running fore and aft; the backbone of a vessel.

KNOT – A measure of speed equal to one nautical mile (6076 feet) per hour.

KNOT – A fastening made by interweaving rope to form a stopper, to enclose or bind an object, to form a loop or a noose, to tie a small rope to an object, or to tie the ends of two small ropes together.

LATITUDE – The distance north or south of the equator measured and expressed in degrees.

LAZARETTE – A storage space in a boat’s stern area.

LEE – The side sheltered from the wind.

LEEWARD – The direction away from the wind. Opposite of windward.

LEEWAY – The sideways movement of the boat caused by either wind or current.

LINE – Rope and cordage used aboard a vessel.

LOG – A record of courses or operation. Also, a device to measure speed.

LONGITUDE – The distance in degrees east or west of the meridian at Greenwich, England.

LUBBER’S LINE – A mark or permanent line on a compass indicating the direction forward parallel to the keel when properly installed.

MARLINSPIKE – A tool for opening the strands of a rope while splicing.

MIDSHIP – Approximately in the location equally distant from the bow and stern.

MOORING – An arrangement for securing a boat to a mooring buoy or a pier.

NAUTICAL MILE – One minute of latitude; approximately 6076 feet – about 1/8 longer than the statute mile of 5280 feet.

NAVIGATION – The art and science of conducting a boat safely from one point to another.

NAVIGATION RULES – The regulations governing the movement of vessels in relation to each other, generally called steering and sailing rules.

OUTBOARD – Toward or beyond the boat’s sides. A detachable engine mounted on a boat’s stern.

OVERBOARD – Over the side or out of the boat.

PIER – A loading platform extending at an angle from the shore.

PILE – A wood, metal or concrete pole driven into the bottom. Craft may be made fast to a pile; it may be used to support a pier (see PILING) or a float.

PILING – Support, protection for wharves, piers etc.; constructed of piles (see PILE)

PILOTING – Navigation by use of visible references, the depth of the water, etc.

PLANING – A boat is said to be planing when it is essentially moving over the top of the water rather than through the water.

PLANING HULL – A type of hull shaped to glide easily across the water at high speed.

PORT – The left side of a boat looking forward. A harbor.

PRIVELEGED VESSEL – A vessel which, according to the applicable Navigation Rule, has right-of-way (this term has been superseded by the term “stand-on”).

QUARTER – The sides of a boat aft of amidships.

QUARTERING SEA – Sea coming on a boat’s quarter.

RODE – The anchor line and/or chain.

ROPE – In general, cordage as it is purchased at the store. When it comes aboard a vessel and is put to use it becomes line.

RUDDER – A vertical plate or board for steering a boat.

RUN – To allow a line to feed freely.

RUNNING LIGHTS – Lights required to be shown on boats underway between sundown and sunup.

SATELLITE NAVIGATION – A form of position finding using radio transmissions from satellites with sophisticated on-board automatic equipment.

SCOPE – Technically, the ratio of length of anchor rode in use to the vertical distance from the bow of the vessel to the bottom of the water. Usually six to seven to one for calm weather and more scope in storm conditions.

SCREW – A boat’s propeller.

SCUPPERS – Drain holes on deck, in the toe rail, or in bulwarks or (with drain pipes) in the deck itself.

SEA COCK – A through hull valve, a shut off on a plumbing or drain pipe between the vessel’s interior and the sea.

SEAMANSHIP – All the arts and skills of boat handling, ranging from maintenence and repairs to piloting, sail handling, marlinespike work, and rigging.

SEA ROOM – A safe distance from the shore or other hazards.

SEAWORTHY – A boat or a boat’s gear able to meet the usual sea conditions.

SECURE – To make fast.

SET – Direction toward which the current is flowing.

SHIP – A larger vessel usually thought of as being used for ocean travel. A vessel able to carry a “boat” on board.

SLACK – Not fastened; loose. Also, to loosen.

SOLE – Cabin or saloon floor. Timber extensions on the bottom of the rudder. Also the molded fiberglass deck of a cockpit.

SOUNDING – A measurement of the depth of water.

SPRING LINE – A pivot line used in docking, undocking, or to prevent the boat from moving forward or astern while made fast to a dock.

SQUALL – A sudden, violent wind often accompanied by rain.

SQUARE KNOT – A knot used to join two lines of similar size. Also called a reef knot.

STANDING PART – That part of a line which is made fast.The main part of a line as distinguished from the bight and the end.

STAND-ON VESSEL – That vessel which has right-of-way during a meeting, crossing, or overtaking situation.

STARBOARD – The right side of a boat when looking forward.

STEM – The forward most part of the bow.

STERN – The after part of the boat.

STERN LINE – A docking line leading from the stern.

STOW – To put an item in its proper place.

SWAMP – To fill with water, but not settle to the bottom.

THWARTSHIPS – At right angles to the centerline of the boat.

TIDE – The periodic rise and fall of water level in the oceans.

TILLER – A bar or handle for turning a boat’s rudder or an outboard motor.

TOPSIDES – The sides of a vessel between the waterline and the deck; sometimes referring to onto or above the deck.

TRANSOM – The stern cross-section of a square sterned boat.

TRIM – Fore and aft balance of a boat.

UNDERWAY – Vessel in motion, i.e., when not moored, at anchor, or aground.

V BOTTOM – A hull with the bottom section in the shape of a “V”.

WAKE – Moving waves, track or path that a boat leaves behind it, when moving across the waters.

WATERLINE – A line painted on a hull which shows the point to which a boat sinks when it is properly trimmed (see BOOT TOP).

WAY – Movement of a vessel through the water such as headway, sternway or leeway.

WINDWARD – Toward the direction from which the wind is coming.

YACHT – A pleasure vessel, a pleasure boat; in American usage the idea of size and luxury is conveyed, either sail or power.

YAW – To swing or steer off course, as when running with a quartering sea.

Hull ID Numbers

Hull ID Numbers

Play the Numbers Game (What’s a HIN?)

Did you ever wonder what that strange series of letters and numbers on the transom of your boat are. Well, if you have taken the Nautical Know How course you know they are Hull Identification Numbers (HIN) and that they are required. But, what do they mean?

All boats manufactured or imported on or after November 1, 1972 must bear a HIN. The HIN is a 12 character serial number that uniquely identifies your boat. The HIN has an important safety purpose. It enables manufacturers to clearly identify for boat owners the boats that are involved in a defect notification and recall campaign. A HIN is not the same as a State registration number, which may be required to be displayed on the bow of your boat. The HIN is a Federal requirement; your boatÂ’s registration number is a State requirement similar to the license plate on your car. The HIN, however, is required to be shown on the State certificate of registration.






*Key to Month of Model Year

Figure 1 – HIN Formats Before August 1, 1984

The boat manufacturer must display two identical hull identification numbers, no less than one-fourth of an inch high, on each boat hull. The primary HIN must be permanently affixed (so that it can be seen from outside the boat) to the starboard side of the transom within two inches of the top of the transom, gunwale, or hull/deck joint, whichever is lowest. On boats without transoms or on boats on which it would be impractical to the transom, the HIN must be affixed to the starboard outboard side of the hull, aft within one foot of the stern and within two inches of the top of hull side, gunwale, or hull/deck joint, whichever is lowest. The starboard outboard side of the hull aft is the preferred HIN location for many manufacturers. On catamarans and pontoon boats the HIN must be affixed on the aft crossbeam within one foot of the starboard hull attachment.






Figure 2 – HIN Format After August 1, 1984

Boats manufactured or imported on or after August 1, 1984, also have a duplicate secondary HIN affixed somewhere on an unexposed location inside the boat or beneath a fitting or item of hardware. The purpose is to help authorities identify your boat if a thief or vandals remove or damage the primary HIN on the transom. It is illegal for anyone (manufacturer, dealer, distributor, or owner) to alter or remove a HIN without the express written authorization of the Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard.

The regulations prescribe the format of the HIN. The first three characters are a MIC (Manufacturer Identification Code) assigned by the Coast Guard to the manufacturer or the person importing the boat; characters four through eight are a serial number assigned by the manufacturer; the last four characters indicate the month and year the boat was built, and the model year. Prior to August 1, 1984, the manufacturer had the option of expressing this in the form of a model year designation.

The Coast Guard maintains a searchable database of MICs if you want to check yours out.

Individuals building boats for their own use and not for the purposes of sale are what are referred to as “backyard boat builders.” They must obtain a 12 character HIN from their State boating agency. The Manufacturer Identification Code at the beginning of the HIN for a “home built” boat is an abbreviation for the State followed by a “Z” which indicates that it is a State identification.

Ceremony for Renaming Your Boat

Ceremony for Renaming Your Boat

Everyone knows that renaming your boat will bring nothing but bad luck and make your boating experience something that you will want to forget. But what happens when, after months of searching, you find your dreamboat with a name that you just cannot live with. For example, my first love was a 28-foot Alden with the most beautiful lines IÂ’d ever seen. She was named


How could anything this graceful be named

betrayer of trust

? Well, I never bought her, but I often thought that if I had, I would have renamed her


, after my wife.

Renaming a boat is, of course, not something to be done lightly. Since the beginning of time, sailors have sworn that there are unlucky ships and the unluckiest ships of all are those who have defied the gods and changed their names. So, is there a way to change a name and not incur the wrath of those deities that rule the elements? Yes, Virginia, there is.

poseidon.jpg (19958 bytes)
According to legend, each and every vessel is recorded by name in the Ledger of the Deep and is known personally to Poseidon, or Neptune, the god of the sea. It is logical therefore, if we wish to change the name of our boat, the first thing we must do is to purge its name from the Ledger of the Deep and from PoseidonÂ’s memory.This is an involved process beginning with the removal or obliteration of every trace of the boatÂ’s current identity. This is essential and must be done thoroughly.I once went through the ceremony after the owner had assured me that every reference to his boatÂ’s old name had been purged from her. A couple of weeks later, he discovered he had missed a faded name on her floating key chain. I advised him to start over, perhaps with a little extra libation for the ruler of the sea. Unfortunately, he declined.Since then, his boat has been struck by lightning, had its engine ruined by the ingress of the sea, been damaged by collision and finally sunk! It pays to be thorough.In purging your boat, it is acceptable to use White-Out or some similar obliterating fluid to expunge the boatÂ’s name from log books, engine and maintenance records etc., but it is much easier to simply remove the offending document from the boat and start afresh. DonÂ’t forget the life rings and especially the transom and forward name boards.

Do not under any circumstances carry aboard any item bearing your boatÂ’s new name until the purging and renaming ceremonies have been completed!

Once you are certain every reference to her old name has been removed from her, all that is left to do is to prepare a metal tag with the old name written on it in water-soluble ink. You will also need a bottle of reasonably good Champagne. Plain old sparkling wine wonÂ’t cut it. Since this is an auspicious occasion, it is a good time to invite your friends to witness and to party. Begin by invoking the name of the ruler of the deep as follows:

Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, implore you in your graciousness to expunge for all time from your records and recollection the name (here insert the old name of your vessel) which has ceased to be an entity in your kingdom. As proof thereof, we submit this ingot bearing her name to be corrupted through your powers and forever be purged from the sea. (At this point, the prepared metal tag is dropped from the bow of the boat into the sea.)

In grateful acknowledgment of your munificence and dispensation, we offer these libations to your majesty and your court. (Pour at least half of the bottle of Champagne into the sea from East to West. The remainder may be passed among your guests.

It is usual for the renaming ceremony to be conducted immediately following the purging ceremony, although it may be done at any time after the purging ceremony. For this portion of the proceedings, you will need more Champagne, Much more because you have a few more gods to appease.Begin the renaming by again calling Poseidon as follows:

Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, implore you in your graciousness to take unto your records and recollection this worthy vessel hereafter and for all time known as (Here insert the new name you have chosen), guarding her with your mighty arm and trident and ensuring her of safe and rapid passage throughout her journeys within your realm.

In appreciation of your munificence, dispensation and in honor of your greatness, we offer these libations to your majesty and your court. (At this point, one bottle of Champagne, less one glass for the master and one glass for the mate are poured into the sea from West to East.)

The next step in the renaming ceremony is to appease the gods of the winds. This will assure you of fair winds and smooth seas. Because the four winds are brothers, it is permissible to invoke them all at the same time, however, during the ceremony; you must address each by name. Begin in this manner:

Oh mighty rulers of the winds, through whose power our frail vessels traverse the wild and faceless deep, we implore you to grant this worthy vessel (Insert your boat’s new name) the benefits and pleasures of your bounty, ensuring us of your gentle ministration according to our needs.(Facing north, pour a generous libation of Champagne into a Champagne flute and fling to the North as you intone:) Great Boreas, exalted ruler of the North Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your frigid breath.(Facing west, pour the same amount of Champagne and fling to the West while intoning:)  Great Zephyrus, exalted ruler of the West Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your wild breath.(Facing east, repeat and fling to the East.) Great Eurus, exalted ruler of the East Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your mighty breath.

(Facing south, repeat, flinging to the South.) Great Notus, exalted ruler of the South Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your scalding breath.

Of course, any champagne remaining will be the beginnings of a suitable celebration in honor of the occasion.

Once the ceremony has been completed, you may bring aboard any and all items bearing the new name of your vessel. If you must schedule the painting of the new name on the transom before the ceremony, be sure the name is not revealed before the ceremony is finished. It may be covered with bunting or some other suitable material.