To know marine terminology is a must for the boat owners, seafarer and people in the marine industry. Even for the beginner it is must to know and understand; common maritime terms related to his or her ship or boat. The majority of these terms are related to vessel position and direction of movement.
For most experienced ears, it may sound like most simple terms for a non-mariner it’s all that alien language. For example, many beginners will learn it for the first time that on boats and ship’s there is no left or right; but port and starboard. The left side of the ship or boat when it moving front is called port while the right side is called starboard.
So get familiar with these boating terms to have the best know experience sailing on a boat. Otherwise, believe me, marine terminologies will be a frustrating barrier in communication when it comes to boats and ships. Especially when most of the people aboard are quite experienced and you are a newbie.
Common Marine Terminology Used In Ships & Boat
Terms Starting With “A”
- Aft: If you go in a boat, ship or plane the back portion of the vessel is called aft. In nautical terms aft is the part of the ship towards back or stern of the ship. This can also be stated as to when the frame of the reference is within the vessel with your head facing forward to the bow; whatever facing your back is called aft.
- Abeam: In nautical terms abeam refers to at right angles to the centerline of the ship’s keel. In simple words, it means on the beam on either side of the ship.
- Aloft: Above the waterline on the deck of the boat. A deck is generally referred to as the uppermost floor on the ship or boat, but can also be used to refer boat/ship floor in general.
- Amidship: When a ship or boat is viewed longitudinally or laterally the middle of the vessel is called amidship. In common terms, it is called for part of the ship/boat in between the bow and the stern. Where bow is the front while the stern is the rear of that vessel.
- Ahead: The term ahead refers to the movement of the ship with its bow facing forward in the direction of the movement. In simple words, it is the forward movement of the ship or boat.
- Astern: The term astern refers to the movement of the boat or ship with its bow facing forward away from the direction of movement. In simpler terms, it is the movement of the vessel in reverse direction.
- Aboard: It is a marine terminology which means an object or person is on the ship, boat or vessel.
- Abandon ship: The phrase abandon ship is used in event of emergy by the captain as an order to all crew members and personnel on board to abandon the ship, boat or any other vessel.
- Adrift: A boat, ship or vessel is said to be adrift when it is floating freely on the water; without the help of his or her own propulsion system. The term can thus also be used for boats or floating bodies not secured or tied to a fixed place near ports.
- Ahoy: The term “Ahoy” is a call sign used to draw attention or greet another boat or vessel.
- Alee: It refers to the ship’s side away or sheltered from the wind direction.
- Alongside: It is a marine terminology which means another vessel, boat or ship is by the side of your ship/boat. In general, it is used to refer to the side of a ship.
- Anchor: Anchor is an instrument used to keep the ship or a boat in her position when not under propulsion. Or simply moor it to the ship’s bottom. It can be both permanent or temporary in nature and are generally a big heavy metal with a shank and fluke.
- Anchor buoy: It is a small floating object attached to the anchor with a light line that indicates the true position of the anchor inside water once released.
- Abaft: The term abaft is used to refer to the aft or stern of the ship or in reference to part of the ship or boat. For example, go abaft the port bow.
- A.B: Able Seaman, He is a senior seaman who deals with responsibilities such as maintenance work, sanitation duties and taking care of emergency and life-saving equipment on the merchant ships.
- Accommodation: The upper deck on a ship for living space, galley ( Kitchen ) and recreational purposes. This is generally located at the aft of a ship above the upper deck. They hold two to three decks for crew compartments and a bridge with its mast above it.
- Awash: A ship or boat is considered to be awash when it is too low in the water so that the seawater constantly wash over its surface.
Terms Starting With “B”
- Ballast: The counterweight added on the ship based on its stability curve to further stabilize the ship or boat. In old times it used to be in the form of physical weights but now there are dedicated ballast tanks on ships for the purpose. When the ship discharges its cargo it fills in its ballast tanks with water to maintain stability.
- Beam: The greatest width of any boat is referred to as the beam of that boat. In simple terms, it is the measurement of the width of a vessel.
- Bow: The forwardmost part of a ship or boat is known as the bow.
- Buoy: A buoy is a floating object which acts as an aid to navigation and mooring operation. They generally have multiple purposes and can be either anchored or allowed to float freely.
- Berth: The term berth is used on a boat for two places the one for the place where the boat is tied up. While the other one is used for the sleeping compartment or cabin in a boat.
- Bilge: The lowermost compartment at the ship or boat is called bilge. On ship’s generally, bilge wells are located on the bilges and are supposed to hold extra water in event of flooding.
- Bulkhead: A support structure that separates the two-compartment or ship in various compartments much like a wall. It’s a transverse structure that also supports the different decks of boats and ships.
- Bowline: It is an ancient but effective way to tie a knot in a long rope or thread to form a loop. Its notably easy to learn, simple and can be subjected to greater load. The best thing about this method is that it remains easier to untie irrespective of the applied load.
- Bridge: It is a compartment at the top of the accommodation block from where the entire ship is navigated and commanded. Unlike any other part of the ship a bridge is manned by watchkeeping officer at all times. The captain along with the chief officer is officially responsible for all the major decisions taken on bridge regarding the ship.
Terms Starting With “C”
- Cleat: It is a marine terminology used for a small bar, hooks or metal fittings on a boat used to fasten a rope or line. They basically come in handy when securing or tieing your boat to the dock.
- Capsize: It is a situation in which a ship or boat rollover or tilt too far to expose their keel. In simple words, your boat or ship is called to capsize when; it turns upside downturn. Most larger ships and boats break apart and sink under this condition. So many a time its also referred to as sinking of a ship.
- Chain locker: A chain locker is a space secured in the forward part of the ship to hold the anchor when the ship or boat is on the voyage. On large ships, it’s precisely located under the windlass and usually subdivided by a longitudinal bulkhead.
- Catamaran: It is a marine terminology used for a special type of ferry boat with two hulls. The two parallel hulls of equal sizes give it a clear cut advantage in its stability. These types of boats are mostly used for water sports and recreational purposes.
- Course: The direction or planned path on which the vessel is proceeding.
- Cuddy: A type of boat used mostly for recreational fishing with a dedicated sheltered cabin on the boat. These are nimble, great for family experience and are easy to maneuver.
- Cabin: It is a marine terminology used to refer a compartment or room on a boat or ship.
- Cable: A rope in marine terms is called a cable especially if it’s a long one.
- Current: It is the horizontal movement of water generated by a number of forces including wind, boat movement, waves, and Coriolis effect.
- Cockpit: It is the location on a boat from where it is steered or navigated. On the most boat it can be found in the middle of the boat; but may also be situated at the stern.
Terms Starting With “D”
- Draft: It is the depth or height of the ship’s hull or boat keel below the water level. It is commonly used to determine the overall stability of the water vessel.
- Dock: It is a marine terminology which means much like the sea pier; meaning a protected area for ships and boats to moor, secured or kept. This is used mostly to loading, unloading, landing, and repairs for the ships or boat; other than that can also be used as a parking space till next use.
- Dock-line: A rope or line used to secure a boat or ship to the dock on a temporary or permanent basis. The same dock line can also be used to secure the ship or boat to another boat or vessel.
- Deck: The floor on ship or boat is called the deck.
- Dead Ahead: It is a marine terminology used to refer go or move straight ahead.
- Dead Astern: It is a marine terminology used to refer to move complete 180 degrees to the current direction.
- Davit: Large boats and ships have this small crane on deck to support, lift and lower anchor, tenders and lifeboats. Although uncommon this can also be sometimes used to lift objects on and off the supporting vessel or tender.
- Deadrise: It is the angle that is formed between the hull and the horizontal plane; on either side of the keel. The deadrise is minimum at the transom while it increases as you move forward in the keel towards the bow. The deadrise at the bow is typically 20-35 while at the transom is 8-18 for a typical boat.
- Displacement: It is the weight of the water displaced by a floating object. Here for a ship or boat displacement of a ship is generally considered as the weight of the ship. This is generally measured with all the appliances, objects, and crew on board and its fuel tanks full; sometimes it is also known as displacement tonnage.
Terms Starting With “E”
- EPIRB: The term EPIRB stands for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon which sends radio signals once activated to alert and inform of the ships or boat position to satellite, airplanes and nearby ships. It is much like an emergency location beacon which will inform others ( search party ) of your actual position.
- Enclosed Space: A confined space on a ship of any kind where there is not appropriate natural ventilation. On ships, it is considered dangerous to go alone in such confined spaces; and thus special permits are required to go and do work inside these spaces.
- Enclosed waters: Any navigation waterways too close or surrounded by lands at sides are called enclosed waters. For example, areas near ports and all navigating water lines such as channels and canals are considered enclosed waters.
- Ensign: The flag of the concerning flag state that represents the nationality of the vessel; is known as the ensign of that boat or ship.
- Engine room: An engine room is the powerhouse of the ship located in the lowest most deck on the aft of the ship. It contains important machinery such as the main engine, auxiliary engine ( Alternator ), shafting, boiler, fresh water generator, air compressor, calorifier, purifier, incinerator, pumps, heat exchangers, workshop machinery, etc.
Terms Starting With “F”
- Forward: Meaning upfront or towards the bow.
- Freeboard: It is referred to as the part of the ship’s hull exposed to air. In simple terms, it is the distance from the waterline to the main deck ( for ships ) or gunwale ( for boats ).
- Flybridge: In some boats, the steering compartment is built atop a cabin with additional features like; large space and entertainment facilities. Such up top steering station is called flying bridge or flybridge.
- Foredeck: It is the forwardmost deck located near the bow in a ship; withholding critical instruments such as windlass and anchor with anchor chain.
- Fastened/Fast: It is a marine terminology used to describe to tie securely or tied or to tie.
- Fender: It is an essential instrument filled with air/foam that protects your boat or ships hull from damage by acting as a bumper. When two boats or ships approach each other it is used to absorb the residual forces; which could have otherwise damaged the vessel or docking platform.
- Flare: An emergency equipment used to signal other ships or nearby planes for rescue or help.
- Flank: It is the maximum speed of a ship or boat that can ever go under any condition. It is different than full speed which means the maximum speed a vessel will go under normal condition. Generally, flank speed is reserved for emergency situations and are not used otherwise.
- Fouled: An instrument, machine or device is said to be fouled when it breaks down, jammed or clogged due to dirt.
- Funnel: The chimney of the ship from where the exhaust or flue gas escape from the ship. It mainly contains exhaust from the boiler, auxiliary and main engine of the ship.
- Forecastle: The forecastle is a raised deck structure forward to the foremast used to store machinery and stores. In the older days and many naval ships, it’s used as the crew ( Below Officer Level ) quarters.
Terms Starting With “G”
- Give-way: It is a marine terminology used to state a situation where a ship or boat has to alter its course or change its speed; to allow a safe distance between the ships. It’s simply about giving a pass or keeping out of her expected path.
- Galley: A dedicated place on ship or boat where food is prepared or cooked; in simple terms the kitchen of the ship.
- Gangway: A gangway is a narrow passage ( temporary stairs ) used to embark and disembark of most ships. It can also be stated as an opening in the bulwark used for embarking in some ships or boats.
- GPS: The term GPS stands for “Global Positioning System”. It is a satellite-based radio navigation system helps us navigate and geolocate across the earth. This helps ships keep away from each other maintaining safe distance and thus avoid collisions.
- Grounding: It a phenomenon when a ship or boat keel touches the ground or sea bed. This results in an impact force that can damage the ship and many a time lead to flooding; in one or more of the lower compartments.
- Gunwales: The top edge of a ship’s or boat hull is called gunwale. You can also consider it to be the topmost part of the boat side.
- Grab-Rails: A boat rolls and pitch as it moves so there are special metal fittings around the boat in common places; that help you safely move around the boat holding them even in most severe weathers. Such metal fittings for safety need are called grab-rails.
Terms Starting With “H”
- Hull: The main body of the ship surrounding its outer boundaries on which all major structures are built. It extends below the waterline to protect the internal ship structure from the outside water and the environment. In simple terms, everything that is stored and situated within the main ship structure is covered and protected by the ship’s hull.
- Head: On boats and yacht the marine toilets are generally termed as the head. It is also sometimes used to refer to the top or forward direction.
- Hatch: A nautical door or cover that is either water, heat or weatherproof and is used to separate different compartments is called hatch. They are also termed as hatch cover.
- Helm: The place on a boat where all the steering and engine controls are located in just one place. Another meaning of the term helm is the steering wheel used to steer the ship.
- Harbor: A harbor is a safe place in the sea near land protected from the effects of weather; used mostly to anchor, berthing, loading and discharging operation. It can be both man-made or natural and is used by both boats and ships.
- Hawse pipe: It is a shaft or hole in the ship’s hull at its side at the front from which anchor chain passes to the anchor. You can see it on your boat as the hole to which the anchor is finally secured.
- Headway: The forward motion of a boat is called headway.
- Helmsman: The person responsible for steering the ship or a large boat is called helmsman. While a captain or chief officer can take the wheel any time; it is the helmsman who had this dedicated duty to hold the wheel and steer.
Terms Starting With “K”
- Keel: The bottom-most central part of the ship or boat hull on which entire structure of the ship is built upon.
- Knot: The term knot is used to represent or denote nautical miles. One nautical mile is equivalent to 1.15 miles or 1.85 miles
Terms Starting With “L”
- Lanyard: The term lanyard is used to refer to the rope on boat or ship which is used to lower or raise the sail/flag.
- Lazarette: It is a marine terminology used to refer the storage locker or space; found in the aft side of the boat. They are generally used to store all necessary gear and equipment required by a sailor. This includes but not limited to boating parts, life-saving equipment, spare lines, sails, fenders, boat hook, tools, etc.
- Leeway: The lateral sideways movement of a boat or ship due to heavy winds or water current. For example, your boat is moving in the east direction while there is a strong wind across the north. Now your boat will still be moving east but will leeway ( drift ) a little to the north in water. This phenomenon can be most clearly seen at the open sea.
- Lifejacket: A buoyant jacket which helps yours afloat in water. This came really handy in an emergency situation and is a must on all ships and registered mid and large boats.
- Lifeboat: It is a small boat used as a survival craft to take the ship’s crew and personnel to place of safety. There must be an adequate number of lifeboats available on board at all times; with all emergency accessories and emergency food rations. At times it is also used as a rescue boat; in case of emergency.
- Life Buoy: It is a floating ring-type device often used to rescue or support a person in the water. You can identify it with its distinct orange color with white stripes and a rope.
- Luffing: It is the process or decision to put your boat straight in direction of the winds. It is mostly used with sailing ships that use the power of the wind to sail across the sea or channels.
- Log Book: A logbook is the proof of your activity and actions taken in real-time; ready to be looked at in the future. On a ship, this can be events in navigation, operation, and control of the ship.
- Lookout: A person or crew on watchkeeping duty.
- Locker room: It is a place on ship or boat where boating or ship’s gear is stored or kept.
Terms Starting With “M”
- Mark: While navigating at sea or using a navigation chart we use many objects as a reference point. That object which is being used as a reference is called a mark.
- Man overboard: The term “Man Overboard” is used to explain the situation when a person or crew has fallen off the ship or boat into waters. The term is used as an emergency call sign to alert the crew and start the immediate rescue operations.
- Mast: It is the pole or vertical pipe on a boat on which the sail is supported or secured. On modern ships, its mostly used for fitting radars and navigation lines.
- Midship: The middle of the ship at an equal distance from bow and stern.
- Mooring: It is a marine terminology used to refer docking or to dock the boat or ship to the docking station or harbor.
- Manhole: A manhole is an opening to a shell, compartment or ship structure. It is provided for confined spaces that are not commonly accessed by the ship’s crew.
Terms Starting With “N”
- Navigation: It is a marine terminology used for ship operation which includes setting directions, route and running speed of a ship; as a plan on a piece of paper, website or computer. The term navigating is thus used when a ship is actually following its defined path.
- Nautical mile: It is the nautical representation of distance at open waters. One nautical mile is equivalent to 1.15 miles or 1.85 miles
- Navigation Lights: A navigation light is installed on boat and ship to represent its position and heading direction at night. Its main function is to avoid collisions and accidents at night. These lights have distinct colors based on their area of installation; for example, red is port, green is starboard and white is stern.
Terms Starting With “O”
- Oiler: A person assigned on the ship to assist with the daily watchkeeping duties of the watchkeeping officer in the engine room. He takes part in jobs such as record keeping, routine maintenance, lubrication of machinery, cleaning operation and other odd jobs assigned by the watchkeeping officer related to the engine room, ship or machinery.
- Overhaul: It is the process to clean, disassemble, inspect, refurbish and then reassemble machinery and equipment on a ship. In simple words, it’s repairing a tool or machinery.
- Obstruction: Anything at sea for which the ship has to change its direction is called obstruction. It can be a mark, another ship, boat, lifeboat, shore, port or underwater dangers.
- Overboard: Out of the boat or ship.
- Outboard motor: An external motor attached to a small boat at its stern so as the boat does not need to move the rudder; but move the entire motor to steer a boat.
Terms Starting With “P”
- Propeller: It is a rotating device much like a fan attached to the engine shaft used to propel the ship in a forward direction. What it actually does is to push or displace water backward which then applies resultant force on ship pushing it ahead. All ships, large and medium-sized boats have propeller; and the one that does not have stern drive outboard motor.
- Port: It is used to refer to both one side of a boat/ship and a harbor or a place at which ships are secured, loaded or unloaded.
- Port Bow: It is a marine terminology used to refer to the left front side of the ship or boat.
- PFD: It refers to the word “Personal Floatation Device”. It is much like a vest or jacket with buoyant capabilities to help you swim and remain afloat in water.
- Pier: A pier is a loading and unloading platform for ships reaching out at sea connected to the land. It basically allows bigger vessels to easily dock; which would otherwise not came close to land due to low draft.
- Port Hole: An opening in the ship’s hull fitted with a thick glass window to allow natural light and fresh air to come inside. They are generally circular in shape with one side of it strategically hinged.
- Port Track: It is a term referred to as sailing your boat forward when the wind is coming from the port direction. This will finally way your boat a little towards the port side in time.
- Pilot: A pilot is a trained navigator assigned by the port authorities to help the captain navigate through coastal waters near port. A pilot has detailed information on local situations and topography and tide patterns.
Terms Starting With “R”
- Rudder: A rudder is a wooden or metallic flat structure that helps steer the ship. In other words, it can be called a control device fitted on boats, ships, and submarines; that push the water on one side producing required thrust in the steering direction.
- Rigging: It is the system of sails, mast, ropes, and wires in action supporting each other.
- Radar reflector: A device that allows your ship or boat to be identified on other’s radar systems for longer distances. It basically improves your visibility on radar and thus helps with navigation.
- Reefing: In sailboats, we need to sometimes reduce the effective area of the sail in bad weather. Such a step to reduce sail effective surface area to protect against adverse effects of strong winds is known as reefing.
- Rolling: The sideways movement of the boat or ship about its central axis is called rolling. In this, the vessel tilts to port followed by a similar tilt in the starboard direction and so on. Actually there is a minimum roll angle from which a vessel can never recover completely without stabilizer.
- Run: To allow free movement of a line or chain.
- Radar: It is an electronic device that uses radio frequencies to detect nearby vessels. It can detect their locations, speed, and direction in real-time. All modern ships are now equipped with radar to help with their navigation and avoid collisions.
Terms Starting With “S”
- Scupper: The drains on board a ship or boat with its drain pipes that are used to drain rainwater off the deck directly to the sea.
- Seamanship: The art and skill to properly handle a boat or ship in all accounts; piloting, navigation, maintenance, rigging, emergency duties, sail handling, and record keeping.
- Sextant: It is a navigation instrument used by a seaman to locate its vessel position at sea; based on the position of the sun, stars, and moon in the sky. In old times it was used as the only means of navigation at sea but nowadays used only as a backup navigation tool or in an emergency.
- Skipper: The captain or main pilot of a boat or ship is called skipper.
- Sounding: On the ship’s all tanks levels are checked by lowering a sounding tape and the process is called sounding. In simple words, it is defined as the process of determining the depth of a tank on a ship or boat. The sounding tape is thin brass tape with a bob at the end.
- Squall: A sudden change in weather followed by strong wind and rain.
- Starboard: The right side of a boat or ship with its bow facing forward.
- Stow: To put an item or object to its designated place on a ship.
- Stern: The back or rear portion of a boat or ship.
- Stern Drive: It is a special type of propulsion system used in boats that utilize the best of both inboard and outboard propulsion system. In this, the engine is situated just past the transom while the propulsion/drive unit lies outside.
- Saloon: A recreational living space on a boat is termed as the saloon. Basically it is a place to socialize and meet new peoples on boat or ship.
- Smoke Room: A designated recreational room on the ship where only you can smoke. Otherwise smoking on the ship is strictly prohibited outside that smoke room.
- Sidelights: It is part of the navigation light that used distinct color lamps to show a particular side of a boat or ship.
Terms Starting With “T”
- Tiller: A bar on which ship’s rudder is supported and steered or turned. In the outboard motor type, it is the handle that is used to steer the boat.
- Trim: It is the net difference between the draft of a ship or boat at its front and stern section. It is generally used to represent the net balancing of a ship or vessel. For example, if the ship is trimmed by the stern steps are taken to balance the trim.
- Tide: At sea and large water bodies water moves in a periodic manner due to the effects of moon position and wind. This periodic movement of low and high water levels is called a tide.
- Toe rail: It is a boat fitting used to prevent its crew from falling off into the water.
- Transom: The cross-section of a boat at its stern.
Terms Starting With “U & V”
- Underway: It is a marine terminology used to represent a vessel under voyage. The ship or boat moving at sea as per the navigation plan.
- Vanishing angle: It is the maximum angle of heel after which a vessel becomes dangerously unstable.
Terms Starting With “W”
- Watchkeeping: It is the duty performed by the sailor for a defined period. For example, on ships, there is a 4 hours watch for each officer on duty.
- Waterline: A marine terminology used for the markings on ship’s and boat hull; representing how much the vessel has sunk in water.
- Weather side: The side of the boat or ship exposed to the wind.
- Wake: It is the turbulence created in the water behind the ship or boat due to its forward motion in water.
- Watertight: It is a marine terminology used to represent the capability of a door, wall or surface to not allow water to pass from its one side to another.
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