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The Pirate Lexicon

Being a list of piratical & other related nautical terms.

Below is a list of over 400 words and phrases commonly used when discussing pirates or nautical themes. There are few ways to look for your word. First you can use the alphabetic index to bounce down to where the word or phrase may be located. Or you can use your web browser to search for the word.

Choose Find In Page, found under the Edit choice on your browser's Menu Bar or press the "F" key while holding down the CTRL key on your keyboard. This will bring up a "pop-up" window which will allow you to perform a word search of this or any web page containing text documents.

Toward the rear (stern) of the boat. Behind.
At right angles to the keel of the boat, but not on the boat.
On or within the boat.
Above Deck
On the deck (not over it: see aloft)
Side by side; by the side of.
The situation of a ship as soon as she has tacked.
About Ship!
The order to prepare for tacking.
Loose, not on moorings or towline
Toward the stern of the boat.
Touching or fast to the bottom.
In a forward direction.
A nautical call used in hailing The call attention to. (Smollet 1751)
Away from the direction of the wind. Opposite of windward.
All in the Wind
The state of a ship's sails when they are parallel to the direction of the wind, so as to shake, or quiver.
On or to a higher part of a ship; as the mast, the mast head, the rigging generally, in reference to the deck; or the deck as opposed to below.
Along Shore
Along the coast; a coast which is in the sight of the shore, and nearly parallel to it.
In or toward the center of the boat.
A ship's flag or colurs. More precisely: An ensign, standard, or flag: pl. insignia, colors. The term dates back to 1554.
A place suitable for anchoring in relation to the wind, seas and bottom.
(Armadilla) Any well armed Spanish war vessel that was smaller that a man-o-war.
Terms and conditions agreed to by the crew of the pirate ship. The word articles may have its roots in one of two places. It may come from the religious definition where articles refer to: the separate items of any summary of faith or from the political definition where it means: each of the distinct heads or points of an agreement or treaty. Privateers also signed articles but the terms and conditions were drawn up between the Captain and the the persosn issuing the letter of marque or owner of the sailing ship.
Arr!( Arrrh!, Arrgh!) Aye or yes.
A word made famous by Robert Newton in the 1950 production of Treasure Island. The word can be used as a verbal pause or to show excitement. (Think of it as universal "you know" or "alright!" in pirate lingo). This one is pure Hollywood.
A name applied in Eastern countries to any spirituous liquor of native manufacture; especially, that distilled from the fermented sap of the coco-palm, or from rice and sugar, fermented with the coco-nut juice.
In back of the boat, opposite of ahead.
From side to side of a ship
At right angles to the centerline of the boat; rowboat seats are generally athwart ships.
The command to stop, or cease, in any operation.
The position of anchor as it is raised clear of the bottom.
Awning: A shelter or screen of canvas, spread over the decks of a ship to keep off the heat of the sun. Spread the awning, extend it so as to cover the deck.
Back-staff (Davis Quadrant)
A peculiar kind of quadrant formerly used in taking altitudes at sea, so called because the observer turned his back to the sun. Captain John Davis conceived this instrument during his voyage to search for the Northwest Passage. It was described in his Seaman’s Secrets published in 1595. Still in use in the 1700s but being replaced by the octant and sextant. It was difficult to plot the moon, planets or stars with a back-staff. It was used principally in day time with the sun.
Bagpipe the Mizzen
To bagpipe the mizen is to lay it aback, by bringing the sheet to the mizen-shrouds. (at least to the mid 1700s --1769)
or Bilander. A Spanish term for a sloop rigged fore and aft.
Removing water from a seaborne craft by means of a bucket or other device.
To deceive by trickery, hoax, cozen, impose upon (dates from 1703)
Barbary Coast
The name applied to the coast of North Africa extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the western border of Egypt. Its name is derived from the Berbers, who were the principal inhabitants of the region. The Barbary pirates date from the 1800s
A round wooden cask usually used for storage. Barrel makers were coopers. It was common for a ships to have barrel makers on board.

The following are some other standard barrel/cask sizes:

  • Puncheon = either 84 or 120 gallons (depending on the goods being shipped)
  • Butt= 108 gallons ( a cask capable of holding twice that of a hogshead)
  • Hogshead =63 gallons
  • Barrel = between 31-42 gallons
  • Tierce= 42 gallons
  • Kilderkin =18 gallons
  • Firkin =9 gallons
  • Rundlet = anywhere between 3 and 20 gallons (most often 14.5 gallons)

(Measurement are in US standards, for conversion: 1 US gallon =3.785 liters or 0.833 British gallon.)

Batten Down: Secure hatches and loose objects both within the hull and on deck.
Under bare poles
A ship without her sails set.
The greatest width of the boat.
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.
To fasten a rope, by winding it several times backwards and forwards on a cleat or pin. Also: to rescind or ignore as in “Belay that order”
Bells, esp Eight Bells
30 minutes of time. Everytime the hour glass was turned (known as a half glass) the ship's bell would be rung marking the passage of 30 minutes. Ships worked in four hour shifts. Thus once the ship bell had been rung 8 times, or "eight bells", the ship's crew would know that four hours had passed and it was time for a new work shift to begin. See also Watch and Dog Watch
Under the top deck of ship.
The deck below the gun decks where the mess, sick bay, living/sleeping quarters were found. The berth was often at or just above the water line and was devoid of proper lighting and poorly ventilated
The part of the rope or line, between the end and the standing part, on which a knot is formed.
The bottom of a ship's hull, or that part on either side of the keel which has more a horizontal than a perpendicular direction, and upon which the ship would rest if aground; also the lowest internal part of the hull.
Bilge Rat
A scoundrel. Similar to a scurvy dog.
Bilge Water
Is that which, by reason of the flatness of a ship's bottom, lies on her floor, and cannot go to the pump.
A kind of box to contain the compasses in upon the deck.
Binnacle list
A ship's sick-list. In the eighteenth century and probably before, a list was given to the officer or mate of the watch, containing the names of men unable to report for duty. The list was kept at the binnacle.
Very large pieces of timber in the fore-part of a ship, round which the cables are fastened when the ship is at anchor.
A Spanish ship from the Bay of Biscay. Biscayer refered to both the privateer crew on the ship as well as the ship itself. Just as the Spanish considered all English privateers, pirates, the English considered the biscayers, Spanish pirates.
Bitter End
The last part of a rope or chain. The inboard end of the anchor rode.
Black Jack
A large leather jug for beer, etc. coated externally with tar often used by dockside pubs and taverns.
A liar. One who tells tall tales. Depending on the situation a joker or a swindler. The term can be an insult or left-handed complement. (dates from 1883)
In foul language, a vague epithet expressing anger, resentment, detestation. (dates from 1785) As an intensive (a modifying word used to express importance or intensity, e.g "That bloody blagueur"), from about 1676. Considered crude language used only by the poor from 1676 to 1750. After 1750 more commonly accepted but still frowned upon in polite society.
To Board a Ship
To enter an enemy's ship in an engagement.
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.
Boatswain or Bos’n
The Warrant Officer in charge of sails, rigging, anchors and associated gear.
Bold Shore
A steep coast, permitting the close approach of a ship.
Is an additional piece of canvas put to the sail in moderate weather to hold more wind.
Boot Top
A painted line that indicates the designed waterline.
Plunder, gain, or profit acquired in common and destined to be divided among the winners. That which is taken from an enemy in war; the collective plunder or spoil. That which is captured by robbers or thieves. The term dates from as far back as 1474 .
The forward part of a boat.
Bow line
A docking line leading from the bow.
A knot used to form a temporary loop in the end of a line.
A large piece of timber which stands out from the bows of a ship.
A particular method of veering a ship, when the swell of the sea renders tacking impracticable.
A brace is two or more of some type of firearm or artillery. For instance Blackbeard was known to carry of brace of pistols (numbering six). Or there were eleven cannons aboard with braces of four starboard and port, another brace of two aft, and one cannon in the bow. Typically, a brace is thought of as numbering just two, but I guess pirates couldn't add very well and commonly called any grouping of similar firearms or artillery a "brace".
Burning off the filth from a ship's bottom.
The location from which a vessel is steered and its speed controlled. "Control Station" is really a more appropriate term for small craft.
A line or wire secured at both ends in order to distribute a strain between two points.
Brig rigged (square rigged)
Sailing vessel in which the main horizontal spars are perpendicular to the keel of the ship. These spars are called yardarms or simply yards. Square rig was the main design in the age of sail.
(see also fore and aft rigged)
Brightwork: Varnished woodwork and/or polished metal Items that require polishing on a ship.
A discharge of all the guns on one side of a ship.
  1. One who dries and smokes flesh on a boucan after the manner of the Indians. The name was first ‘given to the French hunters of St. Domingo, who prepared the flesh of the wild oxen and boars in this way. (from 1661, at least).
  2. A name given to piratical rovers who formerly infested the Spanish coasts in America (from 1690, at least).
A vertical partition separating compartments.
Bumbo (Bumboo)
An alcoholic drink comprised of rum, water, sugar, and nutmeg. An early recorded us is Tobias Smollett’s Adventures of Roderick Random from 1747. Anecdotal evidence suggest it was used earlier.
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.
A berth in a ship. (as early as 1382)
Cabin boy
A boy who waits on the officers and passengers on board a ship. (at least as early as 1726) or crew.
A piece of ordnance; a gun or fire-arm of a size which requires it to be mounted for firing. More information in the Weapons Section.
A Dutch word for a pirate or privateer, typically Dutch, Hanseatic or Scottish pirates.
To turn over.
Captain's daughter
The naval 'cat' or cat-o-nine tails used to punish wayward sailors. Archaic, origins unkown.
To heel over a ship to clean the seaweed and barnacles from her bottom.

Careening was a necessary part of nautical life. For reasons, which will be explained, it was one of the most hazardous tasks facing a pirate crew.

As is well known, as ships cruise the ocean, their bottoms quickly become covered with barnacles. These barnacles affected the ships speed and mobility. These two characteristics were highly respected among pirate captains, for they knew above everything else that if they were to be pursued in would be speed and mobility that would save them above any amount of firepower they might possess.

Barnacles posed another problem. If they were not removed, periodically, they would also cause irreparable damage to the hull by eating away the wood or weakening the seems between planks. This meant that if the ship were at sea, far from land, it could go down. The threat of barnacles was taken very seriously.


Often ships are dry docked after a long ocean voyage, in order that the hull can be scraped free of barnacles and repaired.

Pirate rarely had the opportunity to dry dock. When a ship could not be dry docked, sailors had to devise other ways to clean the bottom. It was practically impossible to clean the bottom of a ship while in the water. The best alternative was careening.

Careening involved finding a suitable shallow bay where the ship could safely be run aground, thus exposing as much of the hull above the water line as possible. Then the ship would be unloaded as much as possible. The crew would then need to careen or turn the ship over on one side using block and tackle, and manpower.

The crew would try to pull the ship over enough to expose the keel or bottom of the ship. Then they would commence scraping that side of the ship, free of any barnacles. Then any damaged planks would be replaced or repaired. Following this step, if possible the bottom of the ship would be covered with paint, pitch or some kind of proctectant.

Once the one side was done, the crew would careen the ship to the other side and repeat the process.

The task was labor intensive and time consuming. Pirates were sitting ducks while careening their ship. They were often not armed well enough to stand a major ground assault and with their ship run aground they could not take on another ship. An example of how dangerous careening could be see the entry on Captain Lowther in the Pirates Who's Who of the Caribbean.

Having the ship run aground for a long period of time was dangerous, so the pirates did several things to reduce their risks. First they would look for secluded cays that offered good protection and cover from the sea, basically hiding from prying eyes. Such a place was known as a careenage. Another strategy was to careen only one side of the ship at a time in order to cut the length of time on shore by half.

Of course pirates could also swap ships in order to avoid careening. However this was seldom done. Many pirates preferred sloops because of their agility and speed and would often become attached to their ship, usually not giving it up unless it was in need of repair.

Case shot
A collection of small projectiles put up in cases to fire from a cannon; canister shot. Its composition and fashion have changed from time to time. Also, a shrapnel-shell, or spherical iron case containing a number of bullets. (dates from 1654, at least)
Castoff (Cast-off)
To let go.
Chain Shot
Two cannonballs chained together and aimed high to destroy masts and rigging.
A map for use by navigators.
A vessel pursued by some other.
Chase-gun or Chasers
Usually distinguished as bow chasers and stern chasers are cannons mounted in the bow or stern of a sailing ship. They were used to attempt to slow down a ship either pursuing or being pursued, typically by damaging the rigging and thereby causing the target to lose performance. Chasers tended to be long range guns firing lightweight charges.
The vessel pursuing.
Small heavily armed boat used around Porto Bello to ward of pirate attacks. Often armed with two very large iron guns and four brass swivel guns, they acted as a type of Coast Guard for Porto Bello. They also acted as river boats in the Isthmus region.
The intersection of the bottom and sides of a flat or v-bottomed boat.
A fitting through which anchor or mooring lines are led. Usually U-shaped to reduce chafe.
A fitting to which lines are made fast. The classic cleat to which lines are belayed is approximately anvil-shaped.
Clinker (Clinker-built –also clincher built)
When applied to ships and boats, the external planks of which overlap each other below, and are fastened together with clinched copper nails.
Clove Hitch
A knot for temporarily fastening a line to a spar or piling.
A vertical piece around the edge of a cockpit, hatch, etc. to prevent water on deck from running below.
A small coastal vessel, often small local merchant ship or fishing boats.
A ship developed to withstand pirate attacks. It had very high sides and a raised bow and stern.
To lay a line down in circular turns.
Governments would issue these licenses to privateers. They authorized raids on foreign shipping.
The name in the languages of the Mediterranean for a privateer; chiefly applied to the cruisers of Barbary, to whose attacks the ships and coasts of the Christian countries were incessantly exposed. In English often treated as identical with pirate, though the Saracen and Turkish corsairs were authorized and recognized by their own government as part of its settled policy towards Christendom. (from 1549)
The direction in which a boat is steered.
A coxswain or cockswain was at first the swain (boy servant) in charge of the small cock or cockboat that was kept aboard for the ship's captain and which was used to row him to and from the ship. With the passing of time the coxswain became the helmsman of any boat, regardless of size.
A strand of small rope introduced several times through the bolt rope of a sail, and twisted, to which ropes are fastened.
First used for navigation in 1514, the cross-staff is an instrument used for taking the altitude of the sun or a star to find lattitude. The cross-staff pre-dates the octant and the sextant. The vertical piece, the transom, slides along the staff so that the star can be sighted over the upper edge of the transom while the horizon is aligned with the bottom edge. While more difficult to use than a back-staff, they were still around in the 1700s because they were inexpensive and could be used at night whereas the back-staff was difficult and sometimes impossible to use at night.. It was difficult to use on moving ships, especially in bad weather.
Is a number of small lines spread from the fore-parts of the tops, and being hauled taut upon the stays, to prevent the foot of the top-sails catching under the top rim; are also used to suspend the awnings.
Crow’s Nest
A barrel or cylindrical box fixed to the mast-head of an arctic, whaling or other ship, as a shelter for the look-out man. (The term came into the English language around 1604, for land use but was not commonly used as a nautical term until 1818.)
A small shelter cabin in a boat.
The horizontal movement of water.
Cut of your jib
A person's comportment. The actions, opinions, or lifestyle of an individual, group. (Unkown date, perhaps, the 16th Century)
A short sword with a flat wide slightly curved blade, adapted more for cutting than for thrusting; now esp. the sword with which sailors are armed. (as early as 1594). More information in the Weapons Section.
A small, single-masted vessel, clinker- or carvel-built, furnished with a straight running bowsprit, and rigged much like a sloop, carrying a fore-and-aft main-sail, gaff-top-sail, stay-foresail, and jib.
that area which is now commonly refered to as the the Isthmus of Panama. Today it is remote sparsely populated area in the country of Panama.
Davis Quadrant or Back-staff
A peculiar kind of quadrant formerly used in taking altitudes at sea, so called because the observer turned his back to the sun. Captain John Davis conceived this instrument during his voyage to search for the Northwest Passage. It was described in his Seaman’s Secrets published in 1595. Still in use in the 1700s but being replaced by the octant and sextant. It was difficult to plot the moon, planets or stars with a back-staff. It was used principally in day time with the sun.
Davy Jones’ (Locker)
Another term dating back to Roderick Random (1751) Davy Jones is the sailors devil and the deep sea is his locker, the grave of those who perish at sea.
Dead Ahead
Directly ahead.
Dead Astern
Directly aft.
Dead Reckoning
The estimation of a ship's position from the distance run by the log and the courses steered by the compass, with corrections for current, leeway, etc., but without astronomical observations. Hence dead lattitude, that computed by dead reckoning.
Dead Water
The eliy water, which appears like whirlpools, closing in with the ship's stern, as she sails on.
A permanent covering over a compartment, hull or any part thereof. Decks include but are not limited to Poop, Forecastle, Spar, Main, Lower Deck, Middle Deck, Berth, Orlop, Berth, Bilge, etc.
The Devil’s Jig
To hang.
A small open boat. A dinghy is often used as a tender for a larger craft.
A long thin knife. It was used for fighting in close quarters, as well as cutting rope.
The state of a ship that has lost her masts.
The weight of water displaced by a floating vessel, thus, a boat's weight.
A protected water area in which vessels are moored. The term is often used to denote a pier or a wharf.
The watches from four to six, and from six to eight, in the evening. The watch from four to eight p.m., is divided into two half, or dog-watches, one from four to six, and the other from six to eight. By this means they divide the twenty-four hours into seven watches instead of six, and thus shift the hours every night
A group of piles driven close together and bound with wire cables into a single structure.
The act of sailing round or passing beyond a cape or point or land.
The rope by which any sail is hauled down.
To lower suddenly, or slacken.
The depth of water a boat draws.
  1. To move as driven or borne along by a current; to float or move along with the stream or wind.
  2. The angle which the line of a ship's motion makes with the nearest meridian, when she drives with her side to the wind and waves when laying to. It also implies the distance which the ship drives on that line.
Drink tobacco
To smoke tobacco. See Weed.
Dry docking
Dry docking involved removing a ship completely from the water, at a docking facility. The purpose to clean and repair the hull and completely over haul the ship before or after an ocean voyage. Dry Docks consist of a basin like depression where a ship could be floated in and then with a series of locks, the water is drained from the basin leaving the Ship sitting on a frame for support.
East Indianman
A ship from one the East India Trading Company. England, France, Holland, and Portugal; all of the countries had East Indianmans. The ship were well armed and deadly, similar in defense to the Spanish Galleons. In every case they belonged to a government sanctioned corporation.
  1. A military or naval standard; a banner, flag.
  2. The rank given to newly commissioned officers in the United States Navy.
Even Keel
When the keel is parallel with the horizon.
Execution Dock
The dock (at Wapping) where criminal sailors were executed.
The channel of a narrow bay, river, or haven, in which ships usually advance in their passage up and down.
A nautical unit of measurement equal to approximately six feet. Sailors didn't go around carrying rulers in their back pocket so they used their bodies instead. For instance to measure fathoms, a sailor would grab a line (rope) and pulling it between outstretched arms the distance from tip of left index finger to tip of right index finger was approximately one fathom or six feet. (If the sailor was six feet) The following are other common approximate measurements of a six foot tall person.
  • The distance from tip of nose to tip of an outstretched arm: one yard (three feet)
  • The distance from elbow to tip of finger: one cubit (18 inches)
  • Length of human foot: one foot (12 inches)
  • Breadth of human hand: one hand (4 inches) -- used chiefly in measuring horses
  • Middle knuckle of index finger: 1 inch
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.
One of a class of piratical adventurers who pillaged the Spanish colonies (the Spanish Main) in the West Indies during the 17th Century.
Any a vessel employed in fishing, hence fisher-boat, fisher-barq, fisher-ship. Also the people who work on said craft.
A slip knot, the ends of which lie horizontally, and will not become untied.
  1. The outward curve of a vessel's sides near the bow.
  2. 2. A distress signal.
A sudden breeze or gust of wind.
A incoming current.
The surface of the cockpit on which the crew stand.
To sink at sea by filling with water.
The palm of an anchor.
Following Breeze (wind)
A wind that helps push a sailing vessel forward.
Following Sea
An overtaking sea that comes from astern.
Fore-and-aft (fore-n-aft)
In a line parallel to the keel.
Fore-and-aft rigged (sloop rigged)
Fore-and-aft rig is a sailing rig consisting mainly of sails that are set along the line of the keel rather than perpendicular to it. (See also square rigged)
Forecastle (fo’c’s’le)
(Never called the forecastle deck) A short raised deck at the fore end of a vessel. In early use raised like a castle to command the enemy's decks. the forecastle also refers to the forward part of the merchant vessel, under the deck, where the sailors live
A compartment in the bow of a small boat.
Toward the bow of the boat.
Any piece of equipment that is jammed or entangled, or dirtied.
The minimum vertical distance from the surface of the water to the gunwale.
To go on the account, to becaome a pirate. Freebooter: Mercanary, privateer or pirate.
Frigate built: A ship with a raised forecastle or quarter deck.
Futtock Shroud
The shrouds which connect the lower and top mast rigging together.
Gaff Rig
Gaff rig is a sailing rig in which a sail is a four-cornered fore-and-aft rigged sail controlled at its peak, and usually entire head, by a spar (pole) called the gaff. The gaff enables a fore and aft sail to be four sided, rather than triangular, up to doubling the sail area that can be carried by the same mast and boom.
The depth of ship’s water, or what water she draws.
  1. The kitchen area of a boat.
  2. A low flat-built sea-going vessel with one deck, propelled by sails and oars, formerly in common use in the Mediterranean.
Galley built
A ship with a flush deck with no raised forecastle or qurterdeck.
The area of a ship's side where people board and disembark.
Glass, half
A half glass is a measurement of time equaling 30 minutes or one bell. 8 half turns (4 full turns) of the glass would equal 4 hours or 8 bells. It was usually a cabin boy's job to turn the glass. He did not want to fail in this duty. The punishment could be quite severe both officially and unofficially because the hour glass kept the ship's time and determined the work schedule.
A general term for ropes, blocks, tackle and other equipment
Gentleman of Adventure
A volunteer, privateer, pirate. The term denotes a certain amount of sarcasm.
Gentleman of Fortune
A pirate or sometime privateer.
A wooden frame from which dead pirates were hung, often in a metal cage especially fitted for the dead man. (hanging in irons) This was done as a warning to others who would think of taking up a career in piracy.
Gold Road
The various winding paths across the Isthmus of Panama used to transport gold. By the Spaniards.
Gold Trains
The Spanish convoys, primarily pack mules and wagons that crossed the Isthmus of Panama.
British naval seamen received a portion of liquor every day. Many sources suggest that in 1740 Admiral Edward Vernon ordered the rum to be diluted with water. Vernon's nickname was Old Grogram, and the beverage was given the name grog in disdain for Vernon's command decision. With that said, the word was used in the Caribbean at least as early as 1718. However, it is uncertain of the "grog" before 1740 was rum mixed with water or some other island concoction. What is known is that after Vernon started the practice, Rum mixed with water (and usually lemon or lime juice) was called grog. Some sources suggest that Edward Vernon was actually nick-named "Old Grog" after he instituted the policy of mixing the sailors rum.Water and rum mixed together was often called Grog. A dram (a small amount) of rum was often added to a sailor's water ration. A proper grog often included lime juice to help to stave off scurvy and a measure of cane sugar to help kill the bitterness of the water.

The sailors rum ration was added to the water for a more important reason than just killing the taste of the water. The rum was added to water to prevent hoarding of the rum ration. By adding the rum to the water, the alcohol would be diluted and lessen the chance of the sailor becoming drunk.

In addition, the rum rations was given to sailors to help them keep their spine during battle. A little rum helped to steady the nerves of the gun crews.

Despite the rationing of rum, sailors would often find ways to have a stash of illegal alcohol aboard ship. It may have been smuggled liquors from a shore leave or made from an illegal still stashed somewhere on the ship. Alcohol always remained a problem aboard ship.

The simplest of recipes would be: Add approximately one ounce of fine rum (the rum used in the Royal Navy was an exceptional quality alcohol) to tin or glass of water (7 to 9 oz.)

A more complex recipe would be: 1 (oz) of Rum
the juice of half a lime
one or two teaspoons of cane sugar
and fill the rest of your tin or mug with water.

When it was made onboard ship it was usually made in a large barrel called the grog tub and then rationed out to the sailors. Grog gets its name from Old Grogram, the nick name of British Rear Admiral Edward Vernon who order his sailors rum ration diluted to prevent hoarding and drunkenness.

Thanks to Don Rookaird and Alexander Owens for additions and corrections on the alcohol/grog sections of this page.

Grab rails
Hand-hold fittings mounted on cabin tops and sides for personal safety when moving around the boat.
A name British seamen gave to an apprentice sailor, or ship's boy. The word comes from the Spanish word grumete, which has the same meaning.
Guarda (Guarda costa, Guarda del costa)
Coastal vessels deployed by Spain to protects ports along the Main. (literally Coast Guard in Spanish)
A merchant ship coming from the Guinea coast of Africa. Shipsof England's Royal Africa Company. At one time principally slave ships or slavers, Later hauling gold and/or ivory.
Gun Room
A division of the lower deck, abaft, enclosed with network, for the use of the gunner and junior lieutenant, and in which their cabins stand.
The upper edge of a boat's sides.
To accomplish a task with skill and dexterity. Dates from around 1551. Some sources say it is to do things quickly but this was not the actual meaning.
Hanging cabin
A hammock or cot, often for common sailors. (as early as 1598)
Hard Chine
An abrupt intersection between the hull side and the hull bottom of a boat so constructed.
An opening in a boat's deck fitted with a watertight cover.
To pull a rope.
That part of the bows of a ship in which the hawse-holes are cut for the cables to pass through
For the purpose of this page, the upper corner of a triangular sail.
The direction in which a vessel's bow points at any given time.
Head Way
The forward motion of a boat. Opposite of sternway.
Hearties (Me Hearties)
One with Heart, a brave a loyal mate or sailor. "Me hearties": My brave and loyal crew or brave and loyal ship mate..
Heave Ahead
To advance the ship by heaving in the cable or other rope fastened to an anchor at some distance before her.
Heave Astern
To move a ship backwards by an operation similar to that of heaving ahead.
Heave Down
to turn (a ship) over on one side by means of purchases attached to the masts, for cleaning, repairing, etc.; to careen. (Also intr. of the ship.) The part thus raised above the water is said to be hove out.
Heave To
to bring the ship to a standstill by setting the sails so as to counteract each other; to make her lie to.
Heels, Show Her
When a ship runs from a pursuer it is said to "show her heels"
Debauchery. living a violent, unrestrained, loose and wanton life. (from around 1606).
The wheel or tiller controlling the rudder.
The person who steers the boat.
High and Dry
The situation of a ship when so far run a-ground as to be seen dry upon the strand. Stranded
Hitch (also halfhitch)
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.
A large cask usually used for shipping wine and spirits or other liquids or dry goods. In the Americas, Hogsheads were used frequently in the transportation of tobacco and sugar cane. The tobacco hogshead used in colonial times was very large. The standardized hogshead measured 48 inches long and 30 inches in diameter at the head. Fully packed with tobacco, it weighed about 1000 pounds.

The following are some other standard barrel/cask sizes:

  • Puncheon = either 84 or 120 gallons (depending on the goods being shipped)
  • Butt= 108 gallons ( a cask capable of holding twice that of a hogshead)
  • Hogshead =63 gallons
  • Barrel = between 31-42 gallons
  • Tierce= 42 gallons
  • Kilderkin =18 gallons
  • Firkin =9 gallons
  • Rundlet = anywhere between 3 and 20 gallons (most often 14.5 gallons)

(Measurement are in US standards, for conversion: 1 US gallon =3.785 liters or 0.833 British gallon.)

So next time sing 15 men on a dead man's chest, yo ho ho and a hogshead of rum!


To draw up any body by the assistance of one or more tackles. Pulling by means of a single block is never termed HOISTING, except only the drawing of the sails upwards along the masts or stays.
A compartment below deck in a large vessel, used solely for carrying cargo.
A soft sandstone used by sailors for scouring the decks of ships. (The term came in to use around 1823)
  1. A musical wind instrument having the bell and mouthpiece made of horn. The instrument was often played aboard ship as the only form of music.
  2. The dance or jig, usually performed by a single person, associated with the playing of a hornpipe. If compared with today's forms of entertainment the hornpipe was the "basic cable package" for the 18th Century mariner (dates from the late 1400s).
To cheat or bamboozle (The term came in to use in 1829)
A small vessel, usually rigged as a sloop, and employed in carrying passengers and goods, particularly in short distances on the sea-coast.
The main body of a vessel.
Until 1492, a group of Islands of the coast of China. After Columbus mistook the Caribbean Islands as the Indies, the islands became known as the East indies and the Caribbean the West Indies.
A ship from one the East India Trading Company. England, France, Holland, and Portugal; all of the countries had had East Indianmans. The ship were well armed and deadly, similar in defense to the Spanish Galleons. In every case they belonged to a government sanctioned corporation.
A person or ship that intrudes into another nation or company's trading area. Sometimes a smuggler.
A relatively narrow strip of land (with water on both sides) connecting two larger land areas The best known isthmus is the isthmus of Panama or Darien.
Jack Kecth
(also John Ketch) The Hangman. The term dates from around 1673, probably earlier. It remained a common term throughout the Golden Age. To "Cheat Jack Ketch" would be to escape hanging. To "Dance with Jack Ketch" is to be hanged.
Jack Tar
A familiar appellation for a common sailor. (dates to 1781)
A structure, usually masonry, projecting out from the shore; a jetty may protect a harbor entrance.
The foremost sail of a ship, set upon a boom which runs out from the bowsprit.
Jolly Dollars
These words were uttered by Long John Silver. He is refering to the treasure buried on Skeleton Island. So Jolly dollars are nothing more than pirate treasure. There doesn't seem to be any actual account of the words being used by pirates. See Jolly Roger.
Jolly Roger
The pirate's flag. It had a black background and a symbol (usually white) symbolizing death. The jolly roger came into use about 1700.
Junk (1)
Old cable or rope material, cut up into short lengths and used for making fenders, reef-points, gaskets, oakum, etc. (dates from at least 1485)
Junk (2)
The salt meat used as food on long voyages, compared to pieces of rope; usually with epithet, as old, salt, tough junk. (dates from the mid 1700's possibly earlier)
Junk (3)
A form of splint, originally stuffed with rushes or bents. (dates from 1612)
Junk (4)
A name for the common type of native sailing vessel in the Chinese seas. It is flat-bottomed, has a square prow, prominent stem, full stern, the rudder suspended, and carries lug-sails. (dates from 1550s)
The centerline of a boat running fore and aft; the backbone of a vessel.
the action of drawing under the keel; the fact of being keelhauled; also Keelhaul n., an act of keelhauling
Keep a weather eye open
to be watchful and alert, keep one's wits about one. (perhaps as early as 1829)
A measure of speed equal to one nautical mile (6076 feet) per hour.
Land Ho!
Traditional calling when a sailor sights land. The phrase dates from around 1840. The phrase is better left to the movies. In real life, sailors during the Golden Ages actually called "Land! Land!"
The first land discovered after a sea voyage. Thus a good landfall implies the land expected or desired, a bad landfall the reverse.
A sailor's term for: A clumsy seaman; an unseamanlike fellow (dates as early as 1579).
Langrage (Langrige)
An especially nasty type of case round consisting of scrap iron and other waste materials known for creating horrible wounds to flesh. Also called sangrenel.
The largest boat of a man-of-war, more flat-bottomed than a long boat, for use in shallow water, usually sloop-rigged. Launches also act as life boats in time of emergency. However, the term “life boat” did not properly enter the English language until 1801!
Same as port, The left side of a ship or boat when looking forward. (dates from 1495, poss. earlier)
The distance north or south of the equator measured and expressed in degrees.
A Ship used for quarantine, A place parted off at the fore part of the 'tween decks, in some merchantmen, for stowing provisions and stores in.
A nautical unit of measurement equal to approximately three miles. So if Captain Nemo traveled 20,000 leagues under the Sea it would be about 60,000 miles under the sea. Meaning Captain Nemo traveled around the world almost three times.
The side sheltered from the wind.
Lee Shore
Nothing could be more confusing. Depending on the context a lee shore can be good or bad.

1. To say some one is "on a lee shore" usually means they are in a tough spot, or have run out of options.
2. On the other hand, the lee shore can also mean the shore protected from the wind which normally is not a tough spot!.

The term has been around since at least 1578 and both meaning have existed since then.

Leeward and Widnward
Leeward and windward are words used to describe wind direction. Leeward is with the wind and Windward is against the wind. Still confused? Say you're standing outside on a windy day. The wind is blowing in your face. You are facing Windward. If you started walking in that same direction you would be walking windward. If the wind is blowing on your back then you are facing leeward. If you start walking in the same direction you are moving Leeward. This becomes important with tides. A lee tide is when the wind and the tide are both going the same direction. A windward tide is when the tide and the wind are moving in opposite directions

Leeward: The direction away from the wind. Opposite of windward.

The sideways movement of the boat caused by either wind or current.
Letter of Marque
A commission or license issued by a government or quasi-government office authorizing attacks on and seizure of enemy property.
Rope and cordage used aboard a vessel.
The line
In military terms, the regular and numbered troops as distinguished from the guards and the auxiliary forces. Troops that were trained to fight and not just rounded up from the local population as a stop-gap. The regular british soldiers were "the line", where-as colonial forces, regardless of training levels were "auxiliary forces". Privateers were "auxiliary". The term may come from having a line in the pay book but more probably from the way soldiers lined up for battle.
A record of courses or operation. Also, a device to measure speed.
The largest boat belonging to a sailing vessel (other than a launch). A longboat is often used as a tender for a larger craft and used to transfer personnel between ships or ship to shore. Longboats also act as life boats in time of emergency. However, the term “life boat” did not properly enter the English language until 1801! Sometimes longboats are referred to as “ship’s boat” or “ship’s boats”.
The distance in degrees east or west of the meridian at Greenwich, England.
Long Nines
Long barreled cannons firing a nine pound solid shot often used as chaser guns on frigates and ships of war.
A watchful attention to some important object or event that is expected to arise. Thus persons on board of a ship are occasionally stationed to look out for signals, other ships, for land, etc.
Lower Deck
The second deck containing guns, if the ship had only two decks containing a full complement of guns.
A clumsy oaf. Thus a land lubber is a person who cannot adapt to sea life.

The term is not a figment of Hollywood. It dates from early times, and appeared in print as early as 1748! "He swore woundily at the lieutenant, and called him a swab and lubber" The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett.

Lubber’s line
A vertical line inside a compass-case, indicating the direction of the ship's head.
Lubber’s Wort
The often imaginary herb that produces laziness or stupidity in lubbers.
The order to the steersman to put the helm towards the lee side of the ship, in order to sail nearer to the wind.
Lug sail
A four-cornered sail, bent upon a yard which is slung at about one-third or one-fourth of its length from one end, and so hangs obliquely. (from 1677)
A place where gunpowder is kept.
Main (deck)
This is the deck just below the spar deck on a Man O' War or the deck that rest between the poop and fore-castle on a merchant ship. The main deck will be the upper most deck on a man-o-war being with a full compliment of guns The guns on this deck are sometimes referred to as main-deckers. These means the guns rest on the main deck (if their is just one deck of guns, it is called the gun deck) and the spar deck acts as the ceiling. (not to be confused with Spanish Main)
Make land
To discover land from afar.
Man-of-War (Man-o-war)
A vessel equipped for warfare; a commissioned warship belonging to the recognized navy of a country.
Mare Mar del --)
Spanish for ocean or sea. Mar del Sur -- the South Sea (see entry) Mar del Norte -- North Sea (see entry)
Originally an Army soldier trained to serve on board ship and, in certain circumstances, on shore, esp. in the dockyards. During the Golden age of Piracy the Marines were not a separate branch or service under the Navy but were actually Army units. Later specific army units were raised solely for service on or with navy ships. The first unit of English Naval Infantry, originally called the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot and soon becoming known as the Admiral's Regiment, was formed on October 28, 1664, It wasn't until April 5, 1755 His Majesty's Marine Forces, were formed by Order of Council under Admiralty (Navy) control. Initially all field officers were Royal Navy officers.
A person who navigates or assists in navigating a ship; a sailor. More generally: any person employed on a ship. (pronounced Mare-in-er or mah-reen-er, depending on accent and time period)
Light rope of two strands, used esp. for binding larger ropes. Also more generally: strong cord or waxed twine.
A tool for opening the strands of a rope while splicing. Along with the belaying pin, the weapon of choice among the otherwise unarmed mutinous crew. Basically a metal spike with a wood handle used to split lines on a nautical craft. The earliest version were nothing more than a huge wooden tooth pick. See more about these "tools" under weapons
To put a person ashore on a desolate island or coast, to be left there esp. as a form of punishment.
A common term used in the Caribbean to describe a person who lives or roams in the wild as a wandering hunter, fugitive, or pirate. (dates to at least 1661)
A professional mariner responsible for all aspects of sailing and maneuvering a ship.
The head or highest part of a mast; esp. the head of the lower mast, as a place for observation, or the highest part of the whole mast, as a place for flying a flag, (formerly) for punishment.
The action or practice of sending a sailor to the masthead as a summary punishment for a minor crime or misdemeanor. (dates from 1805)
In the common sense A friend or crew member in good terms.
An assistant to a particular functionary on a ship, esp. (now hist.) to a warrant officer in the navy. Now chiefly as the second element in genitive compounds, as boatswain's, cook's, gunner's, steward's mate, etc.
Merchant or Merchantman
A trading vessel. Any ship that is the business of moving goods or commodities for profit. Also Merchant: owner of a ship, Merchantman, a sailor whoworks on merchant ship
Merchant Marine
A sailor working on a merchant ship (also merchant mariner) ship
Approximately in the location equally distant from the bow and stern.
An officer candidate in the Navy
Middle Deck
The middle deck of guns when the ship of the line carried three decks of guns. If a middle deck existed the lower deck. obviously becomes the third deck of guns.
A small cannon.
Monkey Jacket
A short, usually red jacket worn by midshipmen.
An arrangement for securing a boat to a mooring buoy or a pier.
A small passage between two lands.
Nautical Mile
One minute of latitude; approximately 6076 feet: about 1/8 longer than the statute mile of 5280 feet.
The art and science of conducting a boat safely from one point to another.
No Prey No Pay
Crew received no wages, but shared in whatever loot was taken, a common contract for privateers
No quarter Given
a warning that if you resist, you will be killed, if you do not resist then your life will be spared.
North Sea (Mar del Norte)
While today this often refers to the ocean East of Scotland and north of Denmark. In the Golden Age it could also refer to the North Atlantic Ocean, especially that portion between the Azores and the Caribbean Sea.
rope or loose hemp treated with tar, creosote, or asphalt, used chiefly for caulking seams in wooden ships and packing pipe joints. (dates from the 1100's)
An instrument in the form of a graduated eighth of a circle, formerly used for making angular measurements esp in astronomy and navigation. Used perhaps as early as 1672. Replaced by the Sextant. Hadley' octant of 1731 was a major advancement over all previous designs and is still the basic design of the modern sextant.
From the shore; as when a ship lies a-ground, and leans towards the sea, she is said to heel offward.
(normally not called the orlop deck, just orlop) is the lowest deck on a ship usually covering the hold. Quite often the magazines (ammunition rooms) would be found under the orlop, typically aft on war ships. Remember to get to the hold, you have to pass under the orlop. The hold resides between the orlop and the bilge.
Over the side or out of the ship, as in man overboard.
A ship is overset when her keel turns upwards.
Patarero (Pedrero)
A piece of ordnance with a relatively short barrel, used to fire stones and (in early use) broken iron, case-shot, etc., in naval and siege warfare. Also used to fire salutes. (dates to 1598) Compare to swivel gun.
  1. A pirate or privateer, also athief or outlaw; a rogue, a scoundrel.
  2. A small ship of a kind used by pirates, a small fishing boat.
A loading platform extending at an angle from the shore.
A pointed stake or post; spec. one of a number of heavy wooden or metal posts or beams, pointed or sharpened at the lower end and driven vertically into a riverbed, the sea, or marshy ground to support the foundations of a superstructure such as a house, a bridge, a pier, etc.
An experienced mariner responsible for plotting courses for ships of the fleet, particularly through coastal waters.
The action of steering or navigating a ship, esp. through difficult waters; the work of a pilot on a boat or ship
  1. A small light vessel, usually having two schooner-rigged (originally square-rigged) masts, often in attendance on a larger vessel and used as a tender or scout, to carry messages, etc.
  2. A small boat, originally rowed with eight oars, later with sixteen, forming part of the equipment of a warship or other large vessel.
Pirate Round
The route from America to Madagascar, up toward the Red Sea and then back to America.
Pivot Gun
A gun which turns freely on a pivot to point in any direction. Same as a swivel gun
Point blank
A short distance away when firing a gun. The distance within which a gun may be fired horizontally at a mark; the distance the shot is carried before it drops appreciably below the horizontal plane of the bore. Point blank will vary from cannon to cannon.
Pole Star
Polaris, the North Star. The most important star in the Northenr Hemisphere when it comes to navigation. It is located alomost directly above the North Pole all year around. While it is not a bright star it is easily found by using the Big Dipper or Ursa Major. The Big Dipper is found in the northern sky, but its postion changes with the seasons. Sometimes the Dipper will be upside down or on its side, and the closer you live to the equator, the lower in your sky it will appear. From most places in the Northern Hemisphere, the Big Dipper should be visible high in the sky from late winter through early summer. During these seasons, the Dipper will be on its side or upside down. If you live far enough north, you will see the Dipper through summer and fall, when the cup is upright. Once you locate the Big Dipper you can use the cup as a pointer to the pole star. The last two stars in the Big Dipper's cup point toward the pole star or Polaris. (Remeber to go up from the dipper) Away to verify that you have found the North Star is with the little Dipper. Polarism the north star, is the last star in the handle of the little Dipper or Ursa Minor. Ursa Minor looks similar to the Big Dipper. but also resembles a kite with a tail made of three stars. The third star in the tail is Polaris, or the PoleStar. Pole Star
The aftermost part of a ship; the stern; also, the aftermost and highest deck, often forming the roof of the cabin built in the stern.
  1. The left side of a boat looking forward. (the term dates to the 1600s, the left side of the ship was the port side as in it was the side tied to the dock when it sailed into port.
  2. Place by the shore where ships may run in for shelter from storms, or to load and unload; a harbour, a haven
  3. Port wine was the drink of the ship’s officers. It is a sweet, fortified wine from the Douro Valley in the northern part of Portugal. Port has been made in Portugal since the mid 15th Century. Port became very popular in England after the Methuen Treaty of 1703, when merchants were permitted to import it at a low duty, while war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine.
The holes in the ship's sides from which the guns are fired.
N- pounders (6 pounder, 12 pounder, 24 pounders): slang for cannons, the number being the caliber of a cannon based on the weight of its solid shot.
Powder Monkey
A humorous term for a powder-boy on board ship.
In Naval terms, it was a way of conscription. People were pressed into service with the Royal Navy as well as other navies in time of need. Typically this meant finding a person who was somewhat inebriated, hitting them over the head and then having them wake up aboard ship and out to sea. This also led to the phrase Press Gang which was a group of sailors led by an officer or boatswain who would force people into naval service.

To add to the confusion: press or more correctly pressing was a form of torture in which heavy weights were placed on a person's body in an effort to get them to confess to a crime. Sometimes the confession part was unnecessary. A person would be pressed as simple torture as means to pass the time until he was executed.

An enemy vessel captured at sea by a warship or privateer. Technically, these ships belonged to the crown, but after review by the Admiralty Court and condemnation, they were sold at auction and the prize money shared.

This was often a particular ship, that the crew would be seeking, for instance a Spanish Galleon laden with gold from the Main.

It may also be a target of opportunity, if the crew was just trolling the coastal waters looking for anything that might come along. Or it could even be a sea port or inland town that the pirates had decided to raid.

Don't confuse it with such terms as plunder or booty. The pirate would plunder a prize and then divide the booty into lots among themselves. All in all such words are probably more common among the swashbucklers of the Silver Screen but they are part of the myth of piracy and were used in official documents..

Purchase (to make purchase)
To haul in, draw in (a rope or cable); spec. to haul up (the anchor) by means of the capstan; hence, to haul up, hoist, or raise (anything) by the aid of a mechanical power, as by the wheel-and-axle, pulley, or lever
A quarter can be a room, aboard a ship but more often in pirate terms quarter meant mercy. The pirate would run up the Jolly Roger which meant they were going to attack and show no mercy or quarter if fired upon. The captain of the other ship, could strike or lower their own flag meaning they were not going to fight. If the ship were to strike its colors then quarter was given and the ship was looted but personnel were not harmed (that is, if the pirate kept his word!).
Quarter deck
Originally, a smaller deck situated above the HALF-DECK (q.v.), covering about a quarter of the vessel. Obs. b. In later use: That part of the upper or spar-deck which extends between the stern and after-mast, and is used as a promenade by the superior officers or cabin-passengers
Under pirates, the quartermaster had an almost equal amount of authority as the captain. If a ship was captured, the quartermaster almost always took over the captured ship. He maintained order, settled arguments, and distributed supplies. The quartermaster was in charge of all booty gained and distributed it among the crew.
The several stations of a ship's crew in time of action.
To sweep or traverse with shot; to enfilade; spec. to send shot along (a ship) from stem to stern (in full to rake fore and aft).
Ready About!
A command of the bos’n to the crew, and implies that all the hands are to be attentive, and at their stations for tacking.
One of the horizontal portions of a sail which may be successively rolled or folded up in order to diminish the extent of canvas exposed to the wind; they are usually three or four in number, and situated at the top of square sails and at the bottom of fore-and-aft sails.
Reef Knot
A knot used to join two lines of similar size. To tie a reef knot, tie a left-handed overhand knot and then a right-handed overhand knot or vice versa. Also called a Square knot
To pass a rope through a hole, ring, or block.
To put the ropes in their proper places.
Anchor chain or line.
The motion by which a ship rocks from side to side like a cradle.
In general, cordage as it is purchased at the store. When it comes aboard a vessel and is put to use it becomes line.
Rope Yarn
Is what the cordage and cables are made with.
The Round
The route from America to Madagascar, up toward the Red Sea and then back to America. (same as pirate round)
A vertical plate or board for steering a boat.
The nitch in a boat's side, in which the oars are used.
To allow a line to feed freely.
Run a rig
To play a trick.
Sail Ho!
According to Adm. Smythe, this was a phrase used to signal a ship of unknown origin or intentions. It dates from 1840. Other sources say that the phrase "Sail! Sail!" was used to by ships during the Golden Age.
An especially nasty type of case round consisting of scrap iron and other waste materials known for creating horrible wounds to flesh. Also called langrage.
When asked as one word question or interjection it means "Do you understand. The term has been made famous by the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It dates from around 1785, originally pronounced/spelled "scavey". It is believed to have come from the French word scavoir (savoir) which means to be knowledgeable.
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.
An astronomical instrument resembling a quadrant, furnished with a graduated arc equal to a sixth part of a circle, used for measuring angular distances between objects, esp. for observing altitudes of celestial objects in ascertaining latitude at sea. The first sextant was produced by John Bird in 1759. (see also Cross Staff and Octant
To go right before the wind; and going in this direction without any sail set is called spooning.
Drain holes on deck, in the toe rail, or in bulwarks or (with drain pipes) in the deck itself.
A disease characterized by general debility of the body, extreme tenderness of the gums, foul breath, subcutaneous eruptions and pains in the limbs, induced by exposure and by a too liberal diet of salted foods; Scorbutus. Now recognized as due to insufficient ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in the diet.
Scurvy Dog
A foul person. May sometimes be used as a left handed compliment.
To intentionally sink.
Sea Cock
A through hull valve, a shut off on a plumbing or drain pipe between the vessel's interior and the sea.
In a fit condition to undergo a voyage, and to encounter stormy weather..
To make fast. To lash down.
Direction toward which the current is flowing.
Set Sail
To unfurl and expand the sails to the wind, in order to give motion to the ship.
Shallop (shaloop)
A large, heavy boat, fitted with one or more masts and carrying fore-and-aft or lug sails and sometimes furnished with guns; a sloop. (dates from 1578)
Shift the helm
To alter the helm’s position from port to stern or stern to port..
A large sea-going vessel (opposed to a boat); specifically, in modern times, a vessel having a bowsprit and three masts, each of which consists of a lower, top, and topgallant mast.
Ship of the line
One of many ships forming a fleet. Ship of the line usually refers to a three masted, square rigged ship with two or three gun decks depending on the era. (dates from around 1704)
Arranged properly, as things on board ship should be; trim, orderly:. Sometimes passing into adverb, in a seamanlike manner, in trim fashion.
A place where the water is of little depth; a shallow; a sand-bank or bar.
Shorten Sail
to bring in some of the sail, usually due to weather or to slow the ship.
Show her heels
When a ship runs from a pursuer it is said to "show her heels"
A small sea-going boat that could have sails or be rowed. Often belonging to a larger ship and used for purposes of communication, transport, towing, etc. Hence, a small light boat of any kind. (as early as 1575)
Slack water
The interval between the flux and reflux of the tide, when no motion is perceptible in the water.
The word normally means to cut things especially with a blade. However, a slash is also drink, typically beer, ale, or stout. (dates from 1614- 1783). The word also can refer to swamps or swamp lands.(from 1652-1799)
A small, one-masted, fore-and-aft rigged vessel, differing from a cutter in having a jib-stay and standing bowsprit. During the Golden Age of piracy, Merchants sloops often carried gaff-top-sail, stay-foresail.
Sloop of War
In the 18th and the earlier part of the 19th centuries, a sloop-of-war was a small sailing warship with a single gun deck that carried between ten and eighteen cannons. A brig sloop had two masts and a ship sloop had three (since a brig is a two masted square-rigged vessel and a ship a three- or more-masted square-rigger, though invariably of 3 only in that period). A ship sloop was generally the equivalent of a corvette (the French term for the same type, a name subsequently also applied to British vessels). A sloop-of-war was smaller than a sailing frigate and outside the rating system.
Sloop rigged (fore-and-aft rigged)
Fore-and-aft rig is a sailing rig consisting mainly of sails that are set along the line of the keel rather than perpendicular to it. (See also square rigged)
(Noun)The fat or grease obtained from meat boiled on board ship that is discarded as unfit for food. (Hence, pork slush would be worthless pig grease) (dates from at least the mid 1700's)
Slush (Slush Down)
(verb) To grease (a mast) with slush. (dates from at least the mid 1700's)
A single-masted sailing-vessel, fore-and-aft rigged like a sloop or cutter. They are usually of light burden, chiefly used as a coaster or for fishing. They can aslo be used as tenders to a ship of war.
A measurement of the depth of water.
South Sea (Mar del Sur)
In general, the Southern Pacific Ocean. More specifically that area of the pacific ocean first discovered afte explorers crossed the Isthmus of Panama. At that time, it was not known this body of water stretched all the way to the Asia. Because it was reached after a southernly trek across the Isthmus its was named the South Sea. The Atlanitc ocean is often refered to as the North Sea.
Southern Cross
A constellation in the Southern Hemisphere that is used to aid navigation. The Pole Star or Polaris is not visible south of the Equator and there is not equivalent star in the Southern hemisphere marking the location of the South Pole. Thus, some other method is required to determine A true south direction. (Compass do not point to true north at all points of the Earth. They point to Magnetic North which can often be several degrees away from true north.)

The Southern Cross is used in place of the Polaris in the Southern Hemisphere. Five stars comprise the Southern Cross. Four of the stars mark the outward points of the cross and the fifth is slightly off from the center. Because the stars form a Latin Cross, early European mariners said it depicted the Crucifixion of Christ; with the fifth star representing where Christ’s side was pierced with the lance.

The further South you go the higher in the sky the Southern Cross becomes. The main beam of the cross points South when you follow a path from the head to the foot. Two pointer stars, off to the side of the Southern Cross (Alpha and Beat Centauri) are helpful aids in not only locating the Southern Cross but in determining the approximate location of the South Pole.

Split the difference between the two pointer stars and then draw an imaginary perpendicular line from these two stars. Follow this line to a spot where it crosses the other imaginary line that is follows the main beam of the Southern Cross. The South Pole is located under the spot where the lines bisect.
The spar deck extended from stem to to stern and rest above the main deck. It is usually devoid of guns but not always. Frigates typically would fill about half the spar with guns. This deck is not found on a merchant ship.
A handheld monocular telescope used to see objects at a distance. (like binoculars but just one tube). Spy-glasses were used by the captain and sometimes other trusted officers. While men were sent aloft to keep and eye out from other sails or land, they did not go aloft with the spy-glass. If the captain thought a distant object warranted a look through the spy-glass he would send a trusted officer or would go aloft himself and use the spy-glass. They were deemed to important for use by common sailors. Spy-Glass
A sudden and violent gust of wind or brief violent storm..
Square rigged (Brig rigged)
Sailing vessel in which the main horizontal spars are perpendicular to the keel of the ship. These spars are called yardarms or simply yards. Square rig was the main design in the age of sail.
(see also fore and aft rigged)
Stand to
To sail toward.
Stand to her forefoot
To sail in direction to cut off a chase.
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.
The right side of a boat when looking forward.
The forward most part of the bow.
The after part of the boat.
Stern line
A docking line leading from the stern.
To place; to put in a certain place, position, or situation
Stow away
a person who sneaks aboard a ship. Rats or other vermin
When a vessel is run aground on some rocks, and filled with water.
To lower or take down a sail, mast, yard, etc.
Strike Colours
To surrender (lower you flag).
A native of the Caribbean often from Darien or the Moskito Coast who hunted fish and game for the crew.
A mop made of rope-yarn, etc. used for cleaning and drying the deck on board ship. Thus, when a person is referred to as a swab, swabber or swabbie, it is a term of contempt or an insult. He is the one who is only fit for swabbing the deck. He may also be the newest person on the ship. Today it would be considered a mild insult. A swab can also be a slang term for the epaulettes worn by naval officers. The swab officer is the officer in charge of cleaning the deck and can sometimes be referred to as the swab.
Swabber (Swabbie)
One who behaves like a sailor of low rank; a low or unmannerly fellow; a term of contempt
To fill with water, but not settle to the bottom.
Original meaning A swaggering bravo or ruffian; a noisy braggadocio (show-off). . The term dats from as early as 1560.
Swivel gun
aA gun or cannon, usually a small one, mounted on a swivel (sense 1b) so as to turn horizontally in any required direction
To shift the tacks and brace the yards, and turn the ship's head to the wind, so that she shall sail at the same angle to the wind on the other side; to go about in this way; also tack about. Hence, to make a run or course obliquely against the wind; to proceed by a series of such courses; to beat to windward: often said of the ship itself..
Tack about
To waste time
A disk-shaped or cylindrical piece of wood made to fit the bore of a muzzle-loading gun, and rammed home between the charge and the missile, to act as a wad.
Tartane (tartan)
A small one-masted vessel with a large lateen sail and a foresail, used mainly in the Mediterranean. (dates from 1621)
The flowing or swelling of the sea, or its alternate rising and falling, twice in each lunar day, due to the attraction of the moon and, in a less degree, of the sun; the alternate inflow and outflow produced by this on a coast, the flood and ebb
A horizontal bar or beam attached to the rudder-head, acting as a lever by means of which the rudder is moved in the act of steering.
The framework of a ship
The upper part of a ship's side.
Trader by stealth
A smuggler, espically one that does so in the cover of night.
  1. The state of being trimmed or prepared for sailing; esp. the condition of being ‘fully rigged and ready to sail’.
  2. The most advantageous set of a ship in the water on her fore and aft line: also with qualification, as good, better, best, bad trim.
  3. Adjustment of the sails with reference to the direction of the wind and the ship's course.
  4. The condition of being properly balanced.
  5. The difference between the draught forward and the draught aft.
The notorious place of public execution for Mililesex from as early as 1377 until 1783, situated at the junction of the present Oxford Street, Bayswater Road, and Edgware Road.
Tyburn Saints
Criminals who will one day by hanged (pirates, murderers, and highwaymen)
Tyburn Stretch
To be hanged
Tyburn Ticket
To receive a sentence of death
Tyburn Tree
The gallows
having begun to move through the water.
To open or spread out a sail to the wind.
The foremost division or detachment of a military or naval force when advancing or set in order for doing so.
A change of direction.
A merchant ship trading from the American colony of Virginia.
The track left on the water's surface by a ship.
A period of four hours usually marked by 8 bells or 8 half hour segments. The watch was divided into seven segments daily with the watch from 4:00 pm to 8:00pm being divided into two 2 hour segments (4 bells each) so that the all members of the crew would eventually get stuck with night shifts.
The line of floatation of a ship; the line supposed to be described on the hull by the surface of the water when a ship is afloat. Often the proper line of floatation when the ship is fully laden. Light Water-line: the line of floatation of a ship without cargo.
Flooded with water by leakage or overflow so as to become impaired in buoyancy, heavy, and unmanageable.
Movement of a vessel through the water such as headway, sternway or leeway.
Weed, the (The Weed, The Indian Weed)
Tobacco, typically when referring to smoking tobacco, often used derisively. Smoking was common in the 17th and 18th century will all social classes partaking in the habit. Almost all tobacco was smoked in pipes, typically made of clay. Originally the pipes had small bowls and shirt stem but the Dutch enlarged the bowl and lengthened the stem.This new style clay pipe was quickly adopted by all European countries and became the most common pipe used during the Golden Age. This allowed for a large quantity of tobacco to smoked while at the same time cooling the smoke through the longer stem. The clay pipes were fragile and broke often. Most lower class smokers used a shorter stem pipe. Cigars were a late bloomer, being introduced first by Spain to other Europeans. Spain seems to have started making cigars as early as 1717 but the habit was not readily adopted in the American Colonies until as late as 1762. Widespread cigar smoking would not be common until the American civil war. Cigarettes would not reach Europe and the North America until 1855. Cigarettes reached Europe first via Turkey and then eventually made it to America.
(Keep a) weather eye open
To be watchful and alert, keep one's wits about one (perhaps as early as 1829).
Weigh Anchors (Anchors Aweigh)
The term is often confused. It means to raise the anchor from the water and store in its proper location so the ship or boat can move. You "drop anchor" once the ship stops moving or to slow the ship.
The word wench literally means young woman or girl.

From today's perspective (and for the most part, even in the 18th century) it was used despairingly. The word wench if often used to describe women who worked in taverns and/or brothels. For the most part modifiers were actually added to the word to specify the woman's profession. A female serving patrons of an establishment were serving wenches. At other times it was used to describe any kind of female of the rustic working class (laborers, the poor). When referring to prostitutes or mistresses the word wench would be modified with a noun such as common wench, light wench, wench of the stews, or wanton wench. The word whore was also commonly used to describe prostitutes.

Wench dates back to around 1290 when is word that simply meant a young girl or woman. At times it was used as a term of endearment used chiefly in addressing a daughter, wife, or sweetheart.(Far from today's idea of the word)

In most movies and works of literary fiction, the wench is pictured as often pretty, scantily dressed and enjoying her chosen profession. While some did fit this description most serving wenches worked long hours, many were widows or among the lowest class of working poor. Their harsh life usually led to poor health and a short life. Often a serving wench would have no choice but to also venture into prostitution in order to afford food and housing. The life of a prostitute is often glamorized in the movies in reality in often led longer work hours, unspeakable diseases, physical abuse, and an even shorter life.

Serving Wench

18th Century Serving Wench. If she were selling more than ale, she could remove the scarf around her neck to show here "wares" and use her apron from a pillow.

In some case, wanton wenches (prostitutes) were forced into the profession. Female African slaves and in some cases white women were forced into the trade. While "white slavery" or forced prostitution was less common that forced African slavery did occur. Despite the portrayal of prostitution in such movies and Pirates of the Caribbean and older movies such as The Black Swan, the life of a tavern wench or prostitute in the 18th century was a miserable intolerable affair.

Wind’s Eye
The direction from whcih the wind blows from. If you are facing the wind you are looking into the wind's eye.
Windward and Leeward: Leeward and windward are words used to describe wind direction. Leeward is with the wind and Windward is against the wind. Still confused? Say you're standing outside on a windy day. The wind is blowing in your face. You are facing Windward. If you started walking in that same direction you would be walking windward. If the wind is blowing on your back then you are facing leeward. If you start walking in the same direction you are moving Leeward. This becomes important with tides. A lee tide is when the wind and the tide are both going the same direction. A windward tide is when the tide and the wind are moving in opposite directions.
Windward: Facing the direction of the wind. Moving AGAINST the Wind.
An in-exact way of marking the proof of a bottle of alcohol. Each "X" represents 50 proof. Proof being 1/2 of 1 percent. Thus pure alcohol is 200 proof.
A bottle marked "XX" would be 100 proof or 50% alcohol.
X Marks the spot
The stuff of legends. Supposedly, pirate maps would have the spot of the treasure makred with an "X".
A small three-masted (originally two-masted) vessel, commonly lateen-rigged but with some square sails, used in the Mediterranean, formerly as a ship of war, now as a merchant-ship. (from around 1756).
An act of yawing; a movement of deviation from the direct course, as from bad steering; angular motion or displacement about a yawing axis.
  1. A ship's boat resembling a pinnace, but somewhat smaller, usually with four or six oars.
  2. A small sailing-boat of the cutter class, with a jigger.
  3. A small fishing boat.
Dutch for Sea.
Dutch Pirates.
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The only author and editor of all pages on the site. Most of what I write about is based on years of book reading on the topic. My first web page was published back in 1994.

Updated: 04 September 2022