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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




Dagger Board A centerboard that is instead raised and lowered vertically in a trunk.
Davit A hoist that projects over the side of a ship or a hatchway and is used especially for boats, anchors, or cargo.
Dead Ahead Directly ahead.
Dead Astern Directly behind.
Dead Lights Ports placed in the cabin windows in bad weather.
Dead Reckoning To plot a future position based on travel from a known position using speed, time and course.
Deadeye A circular block of wood with three holes used to receive a shroud or stay and to adjust tension in the standing rigging.
Deadwood Heavy longitudinal timbers fastened over the keelson. The timbers of the bow and stern are fastened to the deadwood.
Deck A permanent covering over a compartment, hull or any of their pieces.
Deep Sea Lead Pronounced dipsey. The lead used in sounding at great depths.
Depth Of Hold The measurement from beneath the deck to the bottom of the hold; the vertical space in the cargo hold.
Depth Sounder An instrument that uses sound waves to measure the distance to the bottom. Sonar.
Derrick A hoisting machine consisting usually of a vertical mast, a slanted boom and associated tackle; may be operated mechanically or by hand.
Deviation The errors of a compass' reading due to the effect of magnetic forces on board the boat.
Deviation Card A listing of a particular boat's steering deviation on each point of the compass.
Dinghy A small open boat. A dinghy is often used as a tender for a larger craft.
Dink Nickname for dinghy.
Displacement The weight of water displaced by a floating vessel, thus, a the weight of the vessel.
Displacement Hull A type of hull that plows through the water, displacing a weight of water equal to its own weight, even when more power is added.
Displacement Speed The theoretical speed that a boat can travel without planing. This speed is 1.34 times the length of a boat at its waterline. Also known as hull speed.
Distress Signals Any signal that is used to indicate that a vessel is in distress. Flares, smoke, audible alarms and electronic beacons are types of distress signals.
Ditty Bag Canvas bag for a sailor's personal tools.
Dock A protected water area in which vessels are moored. The term is often used to denote a pier or a wharf.
Dog Vane A small vane, made of feathers or buntine, to show the direction of the wind.
Dolphin A group of piles driven close together and bound with wire cables into a single structure.
Dolphin Striker A short spar perpendicular the bowsprit, used with martingales for holding down the jib-boom. The position is such that a dolphin leaping at the bow of a vessel could possibly be struck by this spar.
Donkey Boiler A steam boiler on a ship deck used to supply steam to deck machinery when the main boilers are shut down.
Donkey Engine A small auxiliary steam engine with its own small boiler, used for furnishing power for a variety of smaller mechanical duties.
Dorade A horn type of vent designed to let air into a cabin and keep water out.
Double Bottom The double bottom extends from the flat keel to the tank top. It is strongly constructed and is water tight so that in case of accident causing an inrush of water into the double bottom, the ship would still be able to keep afloat. The principal parts of the double bottom are the flat keel, vertical keel, floors, intercoastal girders, bilge, brackets, tank top, longitudinals, bounding bars and angle clips.
Double Sheetbend  
Douse To take down a sail quickly.
Downhaul, Boom Tackle attached to the gooseneck which pulls down the boom when the sail is raised to tighten the luff.
Downwind To leeward.
Drabler A piece of canvass laced to the bonnet of a sail, to give it more drop.
Draft The depth of water that a boat draws. The distance from the waterline to the bottom of the boat.
Dragging A method of fishing in which a net is pulled behind the boat.
Drift Speed or velocity of current.
Drift Bolt An long iron rod used to tie together timbers, often driven into a hole slightly smaller than its own diameter.
Drop The depth of a sail, from head to foot, amidships.
Drum Heat Top of the capstan.
Dry Dock A dock where a boat can be worked on out of the water. The boat is usually sailed into a dry dock, and then the water is pumped out.
Duck A kind of cloth, lighter and finer than canvass; used for small sails.
Dunnage Loose wood or other matters, placed on the bottom of the hold, above the ballast, to stow cargo upon.
Dyce Keeping the attitude toward the wind as it is, and no higher. In other words, if the wind changes direction, change the vessel's course to match. For example, if the vessel is on the starboard tack with wind coming from the starboard, and the wind backs (anti-clockwise shift), fall off the wind (turn to port) as necessary to maintain the wind coming from the same direction with regard to the vessel.