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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




Hail To speak or call to another vessel, or to men in a different part of a ship.
Halyard A line attached to the head of sail and run up the mast to lower and raise the sail.
Handsomely A rate of action. In this case, carefully and gradually.
Handspike A long wooden bar, used for heaving at the windlass.
Hanging Knees Vertical wooden brackets shaped somewhat like human knees; used to support deck beams.
Hank An iron ring for hooking a staysail to a stay.
Harbor An anchorage protected from storms either naturally or by man made barriers.
Harbormaster The individual who is in charge of a harbor.
Hard Chine An abrupt intersection between the hull side and the hull bottom of a boat so constructed.
Hatch An opening in the deck of a boat fitted with a watertight cover.
Hawsepipes Pipes made of heavy cast iron or steel through which the anchor chain runs; placed in the ship's bow on each side of the stem, or in some cases also at the stem when a stern anchor is used.
Hawser A heavy line or cable used for towing, or mooring or anchoring a large vessel.
Haze A term for punishing a man by keeping him unnecessarily at work upon disagreeable or difficult duty.
Head A marine toilet. Also the upper corner of a triangular sail.
Head Gear The bowsprit and associated rigging of a sailing vessel.
Head Ledges Thwartship pieces that frame the hatchways.
Head Seas Waves coming from the front of the vessel.
Headfoil A channel fitted on the forestay into which the bolt rope of the sail is inserted, used instead of shackles.
Heading The direction that the boats bow points at any given time.
Headsails Any sail forward of the foremast.
Headstay The most forward forestay. The line from the bow or bowsprit to the top of the mast. This keeps the mast from falling toward the rear of the boat. The headstay is the farthest forward of all the stays on the boat.
Headway The forward motion of a boat.
Heave To throw or pull strongly on a line.
Heave In Stays To go about in tacking.
Heave Short To heave in on the cable until the vessel is nearly over her anchor.
Heave To To back-wind the jib and luff the main to hold a position especially in heavy seas.
Heaving Line A light line used to be thrown ashore, from which a larger rope can then be pulled.
Heavy Seas When the water has large waves or breakers in stormy conditions.
Heavy Weather Stormy conditions, including rough, high seas and strong winds. Probably uncomfortable or dangerous.
Heeling When a boat tilts away from the wind, caused by wind blowing on the sails and pulling the top of the mast over. Some heel is normal when under sail.
Helm The wheel or tiller controlling the rudder.
Helmsperson The person who steers the boat.
High Tide The point of a tide when the water is the highest. The opposite of low tide.
Hitch 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.
HMAS Common abbreviation for his/her majesty's Australian ship.
HMCS Common abbreviation for his/her majesty's Canadian ship.
HMS Common abbreviation for His/her majesty's ship.
Hog To bend downward at the bow and stern for lack of longitudinal strength or rigidity. See also sag.
Hoist A power unit for lifting, usually designed to lift from a position directly above the load.
Hold A compartment below deck in a large vessel, used solely for carrying cargo.
Holding Ground The type of bottom that the anchor is set in.
Holding Tank A storage tank where sewage is stored until it can be removed to a treatment facility.
Horn Timber A heavy longitudinal timber that angles upward from the stern to support the underside of the fantail.
Horseshoe Buoy A flotation device shaped like a U and thrown to people in the water in emergencies.
Hull The main body of a vessel.
Hull Speed The theoretical speed a boat can travel without planing, based on the shape of its hull. This speed is about 1.34 times the square root of the length of a boat at its waterline. Since most monohull sailboats cannot exceed their hull speed, longer boats are faster.
Hurricane An intense tropical weather system with a well-defined circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 miles per hour (64 knots or higher in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean (east of the International Date Line) or the South Pacific Ocean (east of 160 east longitude). In other parts of the world, they are known as typhoons, tropical cyclones and severe tropical cyclones.
Hydrodynamic A shape designed to move efficiently through the water.
Hydrofoil A boat that has foils under its hull onto which it rises to plane across the water surface at high speed.
Hypothermia The loss of body heat. This is the greatest danger for anyone in the water. As the body loses its heat, body functions slow. This can quickly lead to death.