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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




Cabin A compartment for crew and passengers.
Caboose A house on deck, where the cooking is done. Commonly called the Galley.
Calm Little or no wind and flat seas.
Cam Cleat A spring-loaded cam that clamps a fed line in its teeth.
Camber The arch of the deck sloping downward from the center towards the sides or of a sail under load.
Camel A machine used for lifting vessels over a shoal or bar.
Camfering Taking off an angle or edge of a timber.
Can Buoy A cylindrical green, odd numbered buoy used in US waters to be kept to the left when returning from one body of water to another.
Can Hooks Slings with flat hooks at each end, used for hoisting barrels or light casks, the hooks being placed round the chimes, and the purchase hooked to the center of the slings. Small ones are usually made of iron.
Canister Musket balls, put into thin tin or wooden containers designed to break apart on firing, and langrage as old chain links, scrap metal, horseshoe nails, stones, pottery pieces, etc. put into similar containers designed to break apart on firing.
Cant Frames Angled frames in the extreme forward or aft ends of a ship which form the sharp ends of the vessel's hull.
Canvas Sails or sail area or the sail cover, dodger, etc. usually made from cotton, linen or hemp, as opposed to modern sailcloth.
Capsize To turn over.
Capstan A machine for moving or raising heavy weights that consists of a vertical drum which can be rotated and around which cable is turned, much like a windlass or winch.
Car The slider on a track to which blocks or other hardware is attached to allow adjustment.
Cardinal Points The compass points of north, east, south and west. Intercardinal points are southeast, southwest, northwest and northeast.
Careen To heave a vessel down upon her side by purchases upon the masts. To lie over, when sailing on the wind.
Carline Wood stringer support for hatches and cabins.
Carlings Short and small pieces of timber running between the beams.
Carry Away To break a spar or part a rope.
Cascabel The knob on a cannon.
Cast Off To let go.
Cat Boat A small boat with the mast stepped far forward, carrying a single sail.
Cat Harpin An iron leg used to confine the upper part of the rigging to the mast.
Cat Rig Rigged to carry only a mainsail, no jib.
Catamaran A boat with two side by side hulls.
Catenary The curve of a rope hung between two points such as the anchor rode or towing line.
Cathead A heavy piece of timber projecting from the bow of a ship for holding anchors.
Caulking Forcing material into the seams of the planks in a boat's deck or sides to make them watertight.
Celestial Navigation A method to determine a position using the sun, moon and stars by measuring with a sextant the apparent altitude of one of these objects above the horizon, recording the sightings with an accurate clock and calculating using the Nautical Almanac.
Center Of Effort The center of wind pressure on the sail plan.
Centerboard A board that is raised and lowered in a watertight box called the trunk or well to increase the draft and lateral area of the hull.
Centrifugal A pump that uses centrifugal force for pumping liquids. (Also, moving or tending to move away from a center.)
Chafing Gear Tubing or cloth wrapping used to protect a line from chafing on a rough surface.
Chain Boat A boat fitted up for recovering lost cables, anchors, etc.
Chain Locker Similar to an anchor locker, storage area for the anchor chain.
Chain Plates Metal straps or rods bolted to the hull structure to which the shrouds are attached.
Chain Shot Two cannon balls connected together with either chain or an iron bar. These were used to destroy the rigging of other ships.
Chandler A retail dealer in supplies and equipment.
Chandlery A marine hardware store.
Channel A navigable waterway, usually marked that is charted as to depth.
Chart A map used for navigation.
Charter To rent a boat.
Cheer Block A block whose sheave is mounted against the side of a surface such as a spar
Chine The intersection of the bottom and sides of a flat or v-bottomed boat.
Chinse To thrust oakum into seams with a small iron.
Chock A fitting through which anchor or mooring lines are led.
Chop Short waves at rapid intervals.
Chord The principal horizontal member in a rigid framework. In Great Lakes shipbuilding, a heavy horizontal metal strap fastened around a hull at the level of the upper deck , supporting a framework of arches and cross bracing.
Chum A fishing term for animal or vegetable matter (as chopped fish or corn) thrown overboard to attract fish.
Circumnavigate To sail around the world.
Clear For Running A sheet or halyard coiled so that it will run out quickly without becoming tangled.
Cleat A fitting, usually anvil shaped, to which lines are made fast.
Clew The lower, after corner of a mainsail, jib, mizzen, and both lower corners of a spinnaker.
Clew Garnet A rope that hauls up the clew of a foresail or mainsail in a square-rigged vessel.
Clew Line A rope that hauls up the clew of a square sail. The clew garnet is the clew line of a course.
Clew Outhaul The tackle used to adjust the clew in and out on the boom
Clinch Ring A metal washer peened onto an iron bolt to help secure timbers.
Clipper A sharp-bowed sailing vessel of the mid-19th century, having tall masts and sharp lines; built for great speed.
Close Aboard In close proximity to.
Clove Hitch A knot for temporarily fastening a line to a spar or piling.
Clovis Pin A pin that secures one fitting to another.
Coaming A vertical piece around the edge of a cockpit, hatch, etc. to prevent water on deck from running below.
Cockpit An opening in the deck from which the boat is controlled.
Codline An eighteen thread line.
Coil To lay a line down in circular coils.
Combination Pump A dual-purpose steam engine that conducted multiple tasks such as pumping water and hoisting.
Companion Way The area leading down from the deck to the cabin, usually with steps (ladder).
Compass A glass dome containing a magnetized card indicating the direction to magnetic north.
Compass Course The direction of a ship's heading based on the ship's compass.
Compass Error The amount the compass is deflected from the true direction by variation and deviation together.
Compass Rose A circle graduated in points, or degrees, or both, from which courses are laid.
Concluding Line A small line leading through the center of the steps of a rope or Jacob's ladder.
Conning Directing the helmsman in steering a vessel.c
Coordinated Universal Time A time standard that is not affected by time zones or seasons. Time measured in coordinated universal time, labeled with the term zulu. It is used so that people around the world can communicate about time without regard to individual time zones.
Cotter Pin A small double-pronged bendable pin used to secure a clovis pin.
Counter That part of a vessel between the bottom of the stern and the wing-transom and buttock.
Course The direction in which a boat is steered.
Course Protractor An instrument with a movable arm to plot a course on a chart.
Courtesy Flag A smaller sized flag of the host country flown from the starboard spreader.
Covering Board The outermost plank of the upper deck, running beneath the base of the bulwark and covering the frametops and the ends of the deck beams.
Cowls Scooped devices to direct airflow into a boat.
Coxswain Pronounced cox'n. The person who steers a boat and has charge of her.
Cqr Anchor Coastal Quick Release anchor, also known as plow anchor designed to bury itself in the bottom.
Creeper An iron instrument with four claws, used for dragging the bottom of a harbor or river, to find a lost item.
Cringle A short piece of rope with each end spliced into the bolt-rope of a sail, confining an iron ring or thimble.
Cross Bearing Two or more bearings are noted on the chart in order to determine the ship's position at the intersect.
Cross Bracing Iron or steel straps fastened diagonally across a ship's frames to make a rigid framework.
Crosstrees Horizontal pieces of wood that cross the mast up high, acting as spreaders for the shrouds.
Crow's Nest A small, sheltered platform close to the top of a ship's mast, used by the lookout.
Cuddy A small shelter cabin in a boat.
Cunningham A block and tackle system invented by Briggs Cunningham and used to adjust the tension on the luff of the mainsail.
Current The horizontal movement of water.
Cut The shape of a sail.
Cutter A sailboat with one mast, rigged with a mainsail and two headsails.
Cutwater The forward curve of the stem of a ship.
Cyclone The generic term for a tropical weather system, including tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes.