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Ship Terms


Select the first letter of the word from the list above to jump to appropriate section.

- A -

Near, toward, or rear of the vessel.
Any passageway on the vessel.
When the ship is lying beside a wharf, quay or another ship.
A heavy hooked object used to hold a ship in position when in relatively shallow waters and not alongside .
---- Anchor is Apeak
The anchor is under the hawse .
Running across a vessel from port to starboard (or vice versa).
---- Anchor is Aweigh
Anchor is off the sea bottom when being heaved in .
---- Anchor is Foul
Anchor cable is caught around the fluke or an object is caught around the anchor .
The point at which the Sun , travelling in the Ecliptic , crosses the Equinoctial when going from South to North declination .
An order to stop or cease.
Water washing over ...
A sail set like a canopy to give shade from the sun .

- B -

( To ) Bale
To remove by hand , bucket , ladel etc water from the ship .
Bale Capacity
Cubic capacity of a space when the breadth is taken from the inside of the cargo battens, the depth from the wooden ceiling to the underside of the deck beams and the length from the inside of the bulkhead stiffeners or sparring where fitted .
Weight onboard a vessel to increase her draught or to achieve a trim. Normally this is water but in some cases rocks and cement have been used.
Bar Taut
When something has been wound or pulled so tight that it is practically rigid.
Bear too
To sail before the wind.
Bear Off
To hold off or push away from an object.
Ship's compass direction.
"Before The Mast"
A ships rating. Term comes from days gone by when ratings accomodation was forward of the mast.
Term used to cancel or stop previous order. Also means making a rope fast by turning it up on a bollard or belaying pin.
Lower decks.
Bergy Bits
Pieces of ice that have calved or falled from a glacier.
Dock or pier.
Lowest part of the ship's hull.
Upon which the magnetic compass stands ..
Bitter End
The very last link in an anchor cable.
Originally meant two square pieces of timber to which the cables are fastened when the ship rides at anchor .
In more recent time it applies to any bollards onboard a vessel that may be used to make rope or wire fast .
Black Gang
Slang terminology for the engineering department.
Carried on the ship such as the lifeboat.
Forward or front part of ship.
Navigation and command center of the vessel.
Broken Stowage
Space between packages which remains unfilled . The percentage that has to be allowed varies with the type of cargo and shape of hold . It is greatest when large cases have to be stowed in an end hold .
A simple gangway.
Upright partition (walls) used to divide various sections of the ship into rooms.
Re-fueling the vessel.

- C -

Officer and/or crew quarters (see also Stateroom).

A nautical measurement of distance equal to 1/10th of a nautical mile ( 1,852 meters ). Term may also refer to the anchor chain.

Term referring to the breaking away of a section of ice from an iceberg or glacier.

Cardinal Points
North, South, East, West.

Ship supplies.

"Catch A Crab"
When rowing , it is an oar that just catches the water and pulls no weight.

The agreement by which a vessel is hired.

Companion Way
Interior stairway.

Raised partition at base of doorways to keep water from entering.

National flag or ensignia flown from mast or sternpost.

Outside company or vendor that provides management and/or employees for a department on board the vessel.

Contract Length
Specified duration of employment on board the vessel.

Direction the ship is heading.

Crew Area
Crew access only.

Crew Bar
Located in the crew area of the vessel only.

Crew I.D.
Usually a laminated card used as a means of identification the ship's company on board and while in port.

Crew Mess
Dining facilities for non-officer crew members.

Cruise Staff Department
Handles the day-to-day passenger activities and social events.

Government officials responsible for regulating goods, services and supplies into a country.

Customs Manifest
Document listing all personal goods of crew members.

- D -

Daily Program
Passenger program on cruise ships outlining the day to day activities of all events and ship information.

Deadweight Difference in load displacement and light displacement ( i.e. the weight of cargo , stores , ballast , fresh water , fuel oil , crew , passengers and effects . )

Deadweight Cargo Cargo upon which freight is usually charged on its weight .


Deck Department
Responsible for the overall operation and navigation of the vessel.

The angular distance North or South of the equinoctial or Celestial Equator , measured along the meridian . It thus corresponds to latitude on the earths surface .

Leave the vessel.

Displacement The weight of water displaced by the vessel .

The structure such as a pier in which the vessel ties up when in port.

An engineroom rating.

Double Bottom
The space between the outter and inner hulls. Often used as ballast tanks.

Draft or Draught
Measurement in feet or meters from the ships keel to the waterline . It is a measurement of the vertical depth that is submerged beneath the water .

Dry Dock
A special dock that allows the vessel , once the water has been pumped out , to be left sitting on blocks . This facility allows inspections , painting and repairs to be made on the hull and any underwater machinery .

This is the difference in load displacement and light displacement of a vessel ( i.e. the weight of the cargo , stores, ballast, fresh water, fuel oil, crew, passengers and effects ).

- E -

To go aboard the vessel.

Engineering Department
Responsible for the overall maintenance of the vessels machinery.

Entertainment Department
Responsible for the production of the evening shows and social events requiring entertainers, singers, dancers and/or musicians.

- F -

Safe navigatable water in a channel, river, or port.

Fairway Buoy
Buoy marking the seaward end of a fairway.

Rear or aft overhang of vessel.

Measurement of distance equal to 6 feet.

Cushion between side of vessel and dock.

Flag of Convenience
Registry of the vessel is foreign to that of the country in which the company that owns the ship is located.

Food & Beverage Department
Handles the day-to-day operations of food supplies, food regulations and management of the galley.

Fore and Aft
Front and back of the vessel, refers to the entire vessel.

Toward the bow of the vessel.

To take on water and sink.

Free Port
A port free of customs duty and most customs regulations.

- G -

Vessel's kitchen.

Galley Department
Handles the food preparation and presentation of meals.

Platform or ramp for embarkation and disembarkation to a dock or tender used for convenience and security.

Grain Capacity
Cubic capcity of a space where the lengths , breadths and depths are taken to the plating . Allowance is made for the volume occupied by frames and beams .

Granny Knot
An unseaman like knot. A knot done the wrong way.

Small iceberg that has broken away from a larger iceberg.

Gross Tonnage

Overall size of vessel ( size of all enclosed spaces ( cu.m )and constant ).

The removable section of the vessel's side below the deck level.

- H -

To heave or pull.

Toilet facilities.

Forward movement of a vessel through the water.

Vessel's steering wheel.

Interior lower compartments of the vessel where cargo is stored.

"Homeward Bound" Stitches
Stitches with an excessively large spacing, often done in a hurry.

Hotel Department
Responsible for the day-to-day operations of the passenger facilities and related departments.

Housekeeping Department
Handles day-to-day operations of the cleanliness of the vessel particularly the passenger staterooms.

"Hove Too"
Vessel stopped and with head to wind, trimming sail or working engines to maintain position. Often done in foul weather or to effect repairs onboard.

- I -

Government officials responsible for granting citizens permission to or restricting entry to a country.

- J -

Jolley Boat
General purpose ships boat.

- K -

The bottom portion of the vessel submerged in water.

One nautical mile per hour (6,080.2 ft)

- L -

Length of rope used to secure or attach.

Angular distance measured in degrees north or south of the equator.

Generally a temporary berth where no cargo work is carried out.

Lay Up
Vessel moored at a protected anchorage or berth for a period of time with most onboard systems shut down and only a skeleton crew or watchman. Normally vessels enter lay up in times of economic hardship.

A measure of distance approximately 3.45 nautical miles.

Side of the vessel or island that is protected from the wind.

Letter of Employment
A written document from the company as proof of employment.

Small boat carried on the vessel and used in case of emergency.

Light displacement
Weight of hull , engine , spares and water in boilers and condensers to working level.

Another name for a length of rope.

Load displacement
Weight of everything.

Daily record of a ship's speed and progress.
May also refer to the device used to measure the ships speed in knots .

Angular distance measured in degrees east or west of the prime meridian of Greenwich, England.

- M -

A list of invoice of passengers, crew and cargo.

Another term for a professional seafarer.

The Captain of the ship. In overall charge of vessel and the companies representative onboard . He / She insures that the vessel is legal and makes sure that local , international and company regulations are followed and complied with . It is the Captain who usually deals with all shore and port officials . The Captain also makes sure that proper logs and official paper work is maintained and completed . He / She is also responsible for the well being of the crew and the safety of the ship.

The "Chief Officer" in chage of the deck department. The mate is also normally responsible for the maintenance of the deck , deck machinery and accommodation . He / She is also responsible for the safe loading and discharging of the vessel . Generally the Chief Officer is the ships Safety Officer . The Mate normally stands a navigational watch ( 4 - 8 ) and a cargo watch .

Medical Department
Handles the medical welfare and needs of passengers and crew.

Dining room facilities and kitchen for crew separate from the passenger dining room and kitchen (see also Officer's Mess).

To secure a ship with mooring ropes to shore. OR to secure a ship with anchors and cables. Or to secure a ship to mooring buoys.

To assemble passengers and/or crew.

- N -

Neap Tide
Tides when the moon is in the second quarter . Tides are not as high or low or as swift as the Spring tides .
Nett Tonnage
Useful capacity of vessel ( i.e. volume of cargo spaces , moulded depth and draught , number of passengers if more than 12 and certain constants ) .
New vessel from bow to stern.


- O -

Officer's Mess
Dining room facilities for officers separate from the crew and passenger dining room.

Not on land.

- P -

P & I Medical
Protection & Indemnity medical coverage as required by international maritime law while under contract on board an ocean-going vessel.

A rope or line from the stem of a boat to either secure it or to tow it.

Refers to a vessel of maximum dimensions to fit through the Panama Canal.

Pancake Ice
Small newly formed circular ice shaped like pancakes. Does not impede navigation of shipping.

Parcel a Seam
is ( after the seam is caulked ) to lay over it a narrow piece of canvas and then pour on hot pitch and tar .

Petty Officer
Mainly used in the Royal Navy but once again becoming more common onboard merchant ships. An intermediate rank between rating and officer.

Hit by a wave over the stern.

To the left, facing forward of the bow.

Port Hole
Usually a circular window in the ships side.

Country, island or territory the vessel visits.

Port Talk
Lecture given discussing the details of a port-of-call the vessel visits.

Port Tax
Tax levied on each passenger by port-of-call authorities.

Power Driven Vessel
Any vessel propelled by machinery.

Purser's Office
The central administrative office on board for passengers as well as crew members.

- Q -

The part of the vessel abaft the beam, segregated into port and starboard.

Artificial erection protruding into the water to facilitate loading and discharge of cargo, landing and embarkation of passengers, repairing or refitting of ships.

- R -

Adding length to a vessel by dissecting and inserting a new section within the vessel's hull.

The country in which the vessel is registered.

Vessel moves to a new area for a new season (i.e. Alaska in the Summer to the Caribbean in the Winter).

Right Ascension
Right Ascension of a celestial body is the arc of the equinoctial between Aries and the meridian of the object , always reckoning eastward from Aries . It is reckoned in sidereal time , eastward from 0 to 24hrs or 360 degrees .

Sway of the ship from side to side.

- S -

Sailing Vessel
Any vessel under sail provided that propelling machinery, if fitted, is not being used.

Sea Dog
Old, experienced seaman.

Sea Smoke
Very cold air blowing over the sea causing vapour which rises like smoke.

Ship's Company
All those employed to work on board the vessel.

Shore Excursion
A land tour offered by the shore excursion office (i.e. white-water rafting in Valdez, Alaska).

Sidereal Hour Angle
The westerly distance in an arc from Aries , measured as an angle at the pole or as the intercepted arc of the equinoctial between the hour angle of Aries and the hour angle of the body.

Start of a contract.

End of a contract.

Crew store managed by crew members offering everything from snacks to toiletries.

(to) Sound
To obtain the depth by sounding line or some other means obtain the depth of water.

Spring Tides
are the tides found during a New Moon or Full Moon . They run the strongest and are the highest and lowest tides experienced in the tidal cycle .

Wing-like retractable devices extending form the sides of the vessel to produce smoother sailing.

To the right, facing forward of the bow.

Passenger quarters.

Extreme bow of the vessel.

Rear of the vessel.

Stowage Factor
Volume occupied by unit weight of cargo ( usually cu.m/tonne ) . It does not take into account lost space by broken stowage .

Illegal passenger.

Waves caused by wind and weather from a long distance off. Waves are normally large, rounded and have a long period.

- T -

Small vessel used to transport passengers and/or crew or supplies to and from shore when ship is at anchor. Most large passenger ships carry their own tenders, which are maintained as lifeboats in case of an emergency.

Upper decks.

- U -

A vessel that is not at anchor, or made fast to the shore, or aground.

United Stated Public Health. Sets the standard for public health and quality food control on board vessels entering United States territory.

- V -


- W -

Agitated water left by the propellers of a passing ship.

Officer's recreation area.

Broken water at the bow of a vessel making way.

Weigh Anchor
To raise anchor in preparation for departure.

Wet Dock
Repairs made without removing the vessel from the water.

White Horses
White foam seen on wind waves.

Facing into or the direction towards the wind.

- X -


- Y -

To swing either side of an intended course.

- Z -


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this page last updated 24th June 2000