Backstay- A rope of the 'standing rigging' which holds a mast upright. Backstays run abaft and are named by the mast which they support, ex; Fore-Backstay, Main-Backstay, Mizzen-Backstay.

Barky- A sailor's term for a well liked vessel.

Barque- A three masted vessel with the main & fore masts 'square rigged' and the mizzen mast being 'fore & aft rigged'

Beakhead- A small platform at the fore part of the upper deck. The location of the 'Heads' or 'Jakes'. The 'Privies'

Beam- The breadth of a ship, Also a timber which runs horizontal across the ship supporting the deck.

Bilander- A two masted merchant vessel with a trapezoidal mainsail.

Bilge - The inside of the vessel upon which she would rest were she aground. The greatest circumference of a cask

Binnacle - Formerly 'bittacle', from the Spanish 'bittacole'. The housing for the ship's compass. The binnacle, besides containing the ship's compasses and a light between them, was used as a place to stow the log-reel, line and clip, with its half-minute glass, the log-board, the traverse-board and charts that were in immediate use.

Bitts - Strong timbers framed together upright in the fore part of the vessel's main deck, around which the cable had a turn when the ship rode at anchor.

Boom- Long Spar used to extend the foot of a particular sail.

Bow, The- The forward portion of any vessel.

Bower - An Anchor carried forward. The best bower is the heavier of the two forward anchors.

Bowsprit.- A large spar running out from the bow of a vessel, to which are attached the 'forestays' and 'jib-sails'.

Braces-The rope attached to the end of a yard, used to 'trim' the sails. Also timbers used to strengthen the frame of a ship.

Brig - A vessel with two masts, square rigged on both. Also a ship’s prison.

Brigantine - A vessel with two masts, square rigged on the foremast and fore-and-aft rigged on the mainmast. Formerly called a hermaphrodite brig.

Brightside - The polished and varnished band around an American ship.

Brightwork - The brasswork that must be polished.

Brow - The gangway.

Bulwarks- The side of the ship above the deck. The walls of a vessel.

Bumboat - The small boat used by shore peddlers who visit ships selling native fruits, souvenirs, etc.

Bunt - The middle of a square sail.


Cable Tier - The place in the hold where cables are stowed.

Caboose - A house on a vessel's deck, usually the galley.

Cat - The tackle used to hoist the anchor to the cathead.

Cat Block- The block of the same tackle.

Cathead - Large timbers projecting from the vessel's sides to which the anchor is raised and secured.

Charlie Noble (n), - The pipe of the galley stove. To shoot Charley Noble is to discharge a pistol into the pipe to clear it of soot.

Chronometer - The Ship's clock.

Clinker Built-A style of boat building where planks overlap each other and fastend with clenched copper nails.

Con (Conn) - To exercise control of the steering of a vessel; an officer cons the ship by directing the movements of the helmsman.

Courses - Sails hanging from a ship's lower yards. The foresail is called the fore course and the mainsail is the main course.

Crossjack Yard (Crojack) - The lower yard on the mizzenmast.

Cuddy - Usually a small cabin aboard a small vessel. On Large ships the Carpenter's cabin was usually called his cuddy

Cutter- A ship's boat fitted with oars and a sail.


Dansker- - A Dane or Danish vessel


Fairlead- A board with holes in it used to rigging through.

Fiferail-A rail that forms the upper fence of the bulwarks on the Poop and Quarterdecks. Also the rack around the base of masts which holds belaying pins.

Figurehead- The bust or statue on the bows of a vessel.

Forecastle- Usually pronounced Fo'c'sle. A short raised deck at the fore of a vessel.


Gaff- A spar used to extend the heads of fore-and-aft rigged sails not set on stays.

Gallery- A balcony built outside the body of a ship, around the stern quarters. Enclosed in glass and highly decorated.

Galley- Kitchen

Gallows-A wooden frame at the fore and main hatchways where extra spars were stowed as well as the ship's boats.

Gantline- A rope passing through a single block on the head of the lower masts, used to hoist up the rigging. The first line used to rig a ship.

Gaskets- Small ropes used to secure a furled sail to a yard.

Gig- A light, narrow, clinker built boat rigged with sail and oars. The Captain's boat.

Gunwhale-Upper edge of a vessel's side, the uppermost planking which covers the timberheads and reaches from the quarterdeck to fo'c'sle.


Halyard- Rope or tackle used for raising or lowering a sail.

Hance- A curved, often ornately carved rise of the fiferails or bulwarks from the waist to the quarterdecks.

Hawser-A large rope of 5" or more in diameter.

Horse- The footrope sailors stood on while furling or unfurling sails.


Jeer- Heavy tackle used to hoist and lower yards.

Jib- A triangular headsail.

Jib-Boom- A spar run out from the bowsprit to support the jib.

Jolly Boat-A ships boat, smaller than a cutter, with a bluff (rounded) bow and wide stern.

Kedge- A small anchor.

Keel- The principle peice of lumber on the hull of a ship. It's backbone essentially. Runs the length of the hull down the center.

Ketch- A strongly built ship used for coastal trading.


Lateen Sail- A triangular sail suspended by a long yard at an angle of about 45 degrees to the mast.

Launch- The largest long boat often fitted with a fore and aft sail.

Leech- Any of the free, un-bent edges of a sail.

Lower-deck- The deck above the orlop deck where sailors live and the heaviest guns are positioned.

Lugger- A swift weatherly craft used for coastal trading and Privateers. Two masted with lug-sails.


MainDeck- On a Man O' War, it is the deck below the 'Spar-deck. The principle deck on any ship with more than one deck.

Main Mast- Center mast on a three masted ship. The largest mast on a two masted vessel.

Mainsail- Pronounced mains'l. The lowest and largest sail or 'course' on the mainmast.

Main Tack- The lowest 'weather' (closest to direction of the wind) corner of the mains'l. The lowest fore corner on afore and aft mains'l.

Man-O'War- A warship of 20 to 120 guns.

Masthead-The top of the lower mast where the next section of mast is attached. Usually an observation point.

Mizzen-Mast- The aft-most mast on a three masted ship.


Orlop Deck- Lowest deck of a ship. Housing the quarters for midshipmen, carpentars, bosuns, gunners and supply rooms.


Packet Boat- A boat which delivers goods, supplies, and mail tobetween two ports.


Quarterdeck-  The aft-most and Highest deck of a vessel. (save for the 'poop-deck', which is only on the largest of ships of the line) The deck where the captain (commander or watch officer) command the ship's activities.


Reef-Band- A band of canvas stitched across horizontally on a sail.

Reef-Points- Small ropes attached at the 'Reef-Band'.

Rigging- An All encompassing term referring to all the lines of rope on a ship used to hold masts and sails in place.

Rigging, Standing- Stationary. Primarily refers to line holding masts upright.

Rigging, Running- All the lines used for moving sails and yards about while sailing.  

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