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Nautical Terms and Phrases

The letters of the alphabet are listed with their corresponding phonetic alphabet term. The phonetic alphabet is used when spelling terms over a radio so that the listener does not confuse one letter for another.

The terms will show up below the list of letters when you click a letter.

A - Alpha N - November
B - Bravo O - Oscar
C - Charlie P - Papa
D - Delta Q - Quebec
E - Echo R - Romeo
F - Foxtrot S - Sierra
G - Golf T - Tango
H - Hotel U - Uniform
I - India V - Victor
J - Juliet W - Whiskey
K - Kilo X - X-Ray
L - Lima Y - Yankee
M - Mike Z - Zulu




Baby Stay Secondary forestay supporting the leading edge of the mast and used to flatten the mainsail in building winds. Usually hydraulic.
Back Spring A spring line from the stern of a boat to mid ships to stop forward movement.
Backing And Filling Alternatively letting the sails fill then spilling wind, to keep a boat in one place.
Backstaff A navigation instrument used to measure the apparent height of a landmark whose actual height is known, such as the top of a lighthouse. From this information, the ship's distance from that landmark can be calculated.
Backstay Standing or running (adjustable) wire rigging that supports the mast from the aft stern.
Backwind Wind that is deflected from it's normal course by the sails.
Backwind A Sail Causing the wind to fill the back or low pressure side of the sail, used to slow a boat.
Baggy Winkles Tassels of unravelled line that are lashed around chafe spots to minimize chafing on the sails.
Baggywrinkle Clumps of frayed rope that protect the sails from charing against the lines.
Bagpipe To bagpipe the mizzen, is to lay it aback by bringing the sheet to the weather mizzen rigging.
Bail To remove water from the boat.
Bailers Bilge troughs in a small boat to funnel water overboard when underway.
Bale Metal ring on a boom, pole or mast used to attach blocks or shackles.
Ballast Weight in a boat to give it stability and prevent over-heeling. Crew on the high side may be called movable ballast.
Balloon Jib A reaching headsail that has a big draft and is usually light-weight.
Barber Haul A block and tackle set-up used to change the athwart ships lead of the jib sheet.
Bare Boat Charter Chartering a boat that you skipper yourself, no paid captain.
Bare Poles A boat under way with all sails furled.
Barge To force (be high) your way illegally between another boat and the starting line.
Barkentine Three masted vessel with square rigging on fore mast only.
Barometer An instrument that measures atmospheric pressure in inches or millibars of mercury.
Barque (Also bark.) A sailing ship with three to five masts, all of them square-rigged except the after mast, which is fore-and-aft rigged.
Basket Truss Iron lattice work of bracing that prevents a hull from hogging and sagging.
Batten Down Secure the hatches and loose objects in the hull and on the deck.
Battens Light, thin strips of wood or plastic inserted in batten pockets in the sail to stiffen the sail and extend the leech.
Beam The greatest width of the boat.
Beam Reach Point of sail when the apparent wind comes from directly abeam.
Beam Trawling A method of fishing which uses a beam to hold open a net at its mouth.
Bear To approach from windward is to bear down, to bear off is to sail away to leeward.
Bearing The direction of an object expressed either as a true bearing as shown on the chart, or as a bearing relative to the heading of the boat.
Beat To sail on a tack toward the wind.
Beating Working to windward by a series of tacks. A point of sail also known as sailing close hauled.
Beaufort Scale A number system used to describe wind forces and sea conditions from 0 for a flat calm to 12 for a hurricane.
Becket An eye in the end of a block in which to secure a line.
Before The Wind Having the wind coming from behind or aft the boat, going the same direction as the wind is blowing.
Belay To make fast a line to a cleat or belaying pin.
Below Beneath the deck.
Berth A narrow sailor's bed or the slip where a boat is moored.
Bight The part of the rope or line, between the end and the standing part, on which a knot is formed.
Bilge The area of the hull below the waterline. The lower internal part of a boat's hull, adjacent to the keels. The place where water collects.
Bilge Pumb A pump to drain the place where water collects.
Bimini A weather protection covering, usually mounted on a frame over a portion of the cockpit.
Binnacle The pedestal usually where the wheel is mounted that holds the compass and navigation equipment.
Bitt A vertical post extending above the deck for securing mooring lines.
Bitter End The last part of a rope or chain. The inboard end of the anchor rode.
Black Gang Nautical slang for the engine room crew. Included the chief engineer, who ran the engine and supervised; oilers and wipers, who lubricated and maintained the engine; and firemen and coal-passers, who fed the steam boilers.
Blanket To block the wind from the sails of a boat that is to leeward.
Block A metal or wood case enclosing one or more pulleys; has a hook with which it can be attached to an object.
Blooper Light-weight fore sail similar to a spinnaker but set without a pole.
Bluewater Sailing Open ocean sailing, as opposed to sailing in protected waters e.g.. Lakes, bays.
Bluff A bluff-bowed or bluff-headed vessel is one, which is full and square forward.
Board A leg or tack when sailing close-hauled.
Boarders Sailors used to make attack on other ships by boarding or used to repel boarders. Once the ship was captured they used to repair the ship and act as prize crew.
Boat A waterborne vehicle smaller than a ship; 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 Crew member responsible for upkeep on the hull, rigging and sails. Pronounced bo sun.
Bobstay A wire stay from the bow to the end of a bowsprit to counteract the upward pull of a forestay
Bollard A strong post securing lines.
Bolsters Pieces of soft wood, covered with canvass, placed on the trestle-trees, for the eyes of the rigging to rest upon.
Bolt Rope A rope sewn to the edges of a sail for additional strength and along the luff of some mainsails to insert in a track on the mast in order to raise it.
Bonnet An additional piece of canvass attached to the foot of a jib, or a schooner's foresail, by lacing. Taken off in bad weather.
Boom A spar at the foot of a sail attached to the mast.
Boom Crutch A notched support built off the deck for the boom when the sail is furled.
Boom Preventer A block and tackle attached to the boom and the deck to prevent the main from flopping over when sailing downwind.
Boom-vang A block and tackle secured to the boom to flatten the sail and to prevent it from lifting when off the wind by a downward pull on the boom.
Boot Top A line that indicates the designed waterline.
Boot Topping Scraping off the grass, or other matter, this may be on a vessel's bottom, and daubing it over with tallow, or some mixture.
Bosun's Chair Canvas or wood seat attached a halyard to raise and lower someone to work on the mast.
Bosun's Locker A locker where tools for maintaining the hull, rigging and sails are kept.
Bound Wind-bound. When a vessel is kept in port by a head wind.
Bow The front of the boat.
Bow Grace A frame of old ropes or junk placed round the bows and sides of a vessel, to prevent the ice from injuring her.
Bow Line A docking line leading from the bow of the boat.
Bower A working anchor, the cable of which is bent and reeved through the hawse-hole.
Bowsprit A spar attached to and extending forward from the bow to provide additional sail area.
Brace Both a noun and a verb. The noun denotes one of two lines per yard, one attached to each yardarm; these are used to pivot (brace) the yards around the mast. This action (the verb) allows movement of the sails to catch the wind.
Brails The lines used to pull the outer edge (leech) of a fore-and-aft sail forward to a mast. These lines are used to begin to furl the sail.
Breakers A wave that approaches shallow water, causing the wave height to exceed the depth of the water it is in, in effect tripping it. The wave changes from a smooth surge in the water to a cresting wave with water tumbling down the front of it.
Breaking Seas With sufficiently strong wind, large waves can form crests even in deep water, causing the wave tops to tumble forward over the waves.
Breakwater A structure built to improve a harbor by sheltering it from waves.
Breaming Cleaning a ship's bottom by burning.
Breeches Buoy A device used by lifesaving crews to extract persons from wrecked vessels, usually fired from a cannon onto the deck of the wrecked vessel.
Bridge The area from which a vessel is steered and its speed is controlled.
Bridle A line or wire secured at both ends in order to distribute a strain between two points.
Brig A two-masted vessel, square-rigged on both masts.
Brigantine A two masted vessel with the fore mast being square rigged.
Brightwork Varnished woodwork and/or polished metal.
Bring About To reverse directions, to turn around.
Bristol Fashion Keep in a seaman-like manner.
Broach To go over violently toward the wind and lose steering , a "knock down"
Broach To To fall off so much, when going free, as to bring the wind round on the other quarter and take the sails aback.
Broad Reach A point of sail when the wind comes from either quarter.
Broadside The whole side of a vessel.
Broken Backed The state of a vessel when she is so loosened as to droop at each end.
Bulkhead A vertical partition separating compartments.
Bulwark A railing around the deck of a boat to keep things from going overboard and the seas from coming aboard.
Bum Boats Boats which lie alongside a vessel in port with provisions and fruit to sell.
Bumpkin Pieces of timber projecting from the vessel, to board the fore tack to; and from each quarter, for the main brace-blocks.
Bunt The middle part of a square sail or the line(s) attached to the middle of the foot of the sail used to haul the bunt up to the center of the yard.
Buntine (Pronounced buntin.) Thin woolen stuff of which a ship's colors are made.
Buoy An anchored float used for marking a position on the water or a hazard or a shoal and for mooring.
Burdened Vessel That vessel which, according to the applicable Navigation Rules, must give way to the privileged vessel. The term has been superseded by the term give-way.
Burgee A small flag, usually triangular, flown from the starboard spreader on a sailboat or the bow on power vessels to denote yacht club affiliation.
By The Lee Sailing with the wind coming from the same side that the sails are trimmed on
By The Wind Sailing close-hauled.