Classic Sea Terms

Slang, sayings, jargon and anatomy offbeat Mariner's glossary !

Compiled by: Martin Leduc

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Classic Sea Terms  Seafaring Anatomy  Human Hand  Royal Navy slang  Oilfield Jargon  Newfoundland Speak

Classic Sea Terms

Ash Breeze - oar power

Baboon watch - The person standing watch while the rest of the crew is on leave, usually the apprentice.

Beat - sail as close into the wind as possible bv continually tacking

Beating the booby - swimming the arms in cold water to increase

Beam reach - the wind is directly on the vessel's beam

Before the wind - sailing downwind as possible

Bird's nest - tangled rope

Black gang - engine room crew

Black squall - a sudden strong wind that comes, with a dark line on the surface

Blood money - payment to an agent for the recruitment of a seaman

Blowing up and down - a dead calm

Bluenose - Novascotiaman

Brass hat - naval officer with rank of commander or above

Bricklayer's clerk - a sailor who acts like he above it all

Broad reach - the wind is blowing on the vessel's quarter circulation

Bubbleheads - ships divers (standard helmets) 

By the fee - the vessel is running, but with the wind blowing from the same quarter as the boom is lying

Cape Horn fever - the feigned illness of a malingerer

Cat's paw - a small puff that ruffles the surface of the water

Catch a crab - an oar caught aback when rowing

Capful - a heavy wind of the sea froth

Clearing for Guam - getting under way to nowhere

Clear lower deck - all hands muster on the upper deck

Close-hauled; aka on the wind, by the wind - sailing as close to the wind

Deadeye watch - 4 am to 8 am watch

Dead horse - sailor's debt for advance wages

Dock walloper - a person who walks around the dock "checking things out"

Dogs running before their master - the heavy swell in advance of the hurricane

Dutch courage - fearlessness brought on by strong drink

Dying man's dinner - food quickly prepare during an emergency

Full-and-bye - sailing almost close-hauled, with all sails filled and pulling strongly

Fourth class liberty - watching the shore when confined to the ship

Fuel fever - fuel oil in short supply

Gash - rubbish

Galley news - gossip and rumor

Gasoline breeze - same as above, for those who prefer motoring over rowing

Gongoozler - a person who stands around the waterfront with his hand in his pockets, watching other people do things

Graveyard watch - 12 - 4 am

Granny knot - failed, un-seamanlike attempt at a square knot

Half seas over - just short of being drunk

High pressure hat - an officer's cap

Haul the wind - steer as nearly into the wind as possible

Heave to - allow the sails to cancel each other out, thus keeping the ship stationary

Homeward bound stitches - excessively long sewing stitches, taken in a hurry

Hot bunk - a bunk used successively by more than one sailor

In stays - headed directly into the wind, with steerageway

In irons - headed directly into the wind, without steeragewav

Irish hurricane - a flat calm

Irish pennant - loose irregular end

Jackass brig - a variation of the brigatine rig

Jimmy the one - first lieutenant or executive officer

Lee side - the opposite to the weather side

Lee tide - a tidal current that carries a vessel away from the wind

Lie to - in a gale set only enough saiI to keep the ship's head to the wind

Livina gale - a severe storm

Luffing - the sails are not completely filled with wind

Limer juicer (also Limey) - British vessel or sailor

Make a sternboard, or make stern way - go astern

Make lee way - go sideways, away from the wind

Metal or Iron, Mike - mechanical self steering

Nantucket sleigh ride - a whaleboat towed out of control by a harpooned whale

North River Jibe - uncontrolled standing jibe

Off the wind - sailing with the wind on the beam or quarter

Blowing up and down - a dead calm

Paper jack - a licensed captain seen to be incompetent

Paddy's hurricane - same as above

Pig boat - a submarine

Reach - the wind is blowing, more or less on the vessel's beam

Rocks and Shoals - the portion of naval regulations concerning punishment for crimes

Rope -Yarn Sunday - an afternoon off devoted to washing and sewing clothes

Sailor's blessing - a curse

Scud - sail downwind before a strong wind or gale

Seaman's disgrace - a fouled anchor

Soldier - a sailor who dodges work

Soldier's breeze - a fair, light wind

Soup jockey - Ships officers steward

Tack - go from one tack to another with the' bow passing through the wind

Targets - submariner term for surface ships

Tom Cox's traverse - dodging work by making frequent trip to the

To weather - to pass on the weather side of anything scuttlebutt "searching" for the proper tool, etc.

Upper scupper - upper deck

Waffoo - flight deck hand

Weather side - the side against which the wind blows

Weather tide - a tidal current that carries a vessel toward the wind

Wear - go from one tack to another with the stern passing through the wind

White squall - a sudden wind so strong that it turns the surface of the sea to white


Arm - part of an anchor

Belly - the part of a sail that bulges out from the pressure of the wind

Bottom - underside of the hull

Breast - docking line leading at an angle of 90 degrees from the side of a vessel

Brow - gangplank

Bum - two-masted lateen-rigged craft of the Arabian region; aka boom

Butt - end-to-end planking joint

Buttock - line representing a vertical section of a hull parallel to the centerline

Cheek - side piece of a block

Chest - box containing cargo, usually tea

Chin - lower portion of a vessel's stem

Elbow - curve in a river or channel

Eve - loop at the end of a line

Foot - lower edge of a sail

Hand - member of the crew

Head - forward part of a vessel; also the toilet

Heel - lowest part of the mast

Knee - angle used to connect timbers or beams

Knuckle - sharp angle or bend in a hull

Lip - coaming

Mouth - opening to a bay, harbor, river, etc.

Neck - part of an oar where the loom or shaft meets the blade

Nose - stem of a vessel

Palm - part of an anchor, also a sail maker's tool

Rib - frame

Shin - to climb a mast, rope or spar

Shoulder - projection on a block or mast

Throat - the forward or inner end of a gaff; the corner of a gaff sail between the head and the luff

Tongue - block of wood between the jaws of a  gaff

Waist - central part of a vessel



Hand - a unit of measure: 4 inches

Hand - a member of the crew

Lend a hand - help me (a request)

Bear a hand - help me (an order)

All hands! - all members of the crew assemble



Anchor the arse - sit down

Babies heads - Steak and kidney puddings

Better than a slap in the beily with a wet fish - things could be worse

Churchill's chicken - corned beef

Deep sea beef - baddock

Ecclesiastical brick - holystone, aka praver book, used for scrubbing the deck

Floating Fifth Avenue - passenger liner

Grog blossoms - red cheeks from too much rum

Hang out the wash - set sail

In the house - serving as mess cook

Jump off the dock - get married

King's parade - the quarterdeck

Lamp-post navigation - proceed from buoy to buoy in poor visibility

Mechanized dandruff - head lice

Nose-ender - wind from dead ahead

Odds and sods - the rank and file of the Royal Navy

Pusser's mousetrap - orange coloured cheese.

Piss-pot jerker - cabin steward on a passenger line

Quack - ship's surgeon

Rock chasing - navigation exercises

She has lines like a butter-box - that vessel is ugly

Sh*t on a raft - Sauteed kidney on toast.

Tonsil varnish - low-grade tea

Train smash - Sausages, eggs, tomatoes and beans (breakfast).

Underground fruit - potatoes, carrots. radishes, etc.

Vicarage - chaplain's cabin aboard ship

Work double tides - perform extra duty

X-chaser - someone who is mathematically inclined

Yachtman's gale - strong breeze that the navy man would regard with indifference

Zeppelins in a fog - sausages and mashed potatoes


Submitted by Donald W. 06.2006

It has become evident some to the terms used in the Gulf of Mexico oilfield are confusing to entry level New Hires and even to some veteran Sailors from other divisions of the maritime industry. It has become necessary then to write a glossary of terms to help those unaccustomed to phrases they might run across in their working day and further understand what is expected of them in order to integrate smoothly into the workplace.

Oilfield experience = Significantly lowered standards compatible with the Gulf of Mexico rape and pillage mindset.

Flexible = Flagrant disregard for company policy and environmental law.

Team Player = Collusion with flexible.

On-Watch = The paid portion of a day when an employee does personal duties like eat, personal laundry, watch TV, burn music CDs etc.

Harassment = The erroneous expectation of, and encouraging a crewmember to attend the event, see on-watch above.

OSV license endorsement = A special endorsement restricting anyone who has earned a license in the oil-field from sharing with the rest of the world and every other division of the maritime industry the secret art of "dodging the bullet" when faced with having committed gross negligence. Also the knowledge that being close enough for rescue is the reason competence and diligence is not required in the oilfield.

OSV Engineer = Qualification of having been allowed to slip through the cracks of a multiple guess quiz. An endorsement proving there is no Upper lethal limit for the consumption of cigarettes and coffee.

OSV Captain = A boat driver who hasn't yet been convicted of a DUI and lost his license. An endorsement proving responsibility isn't connected with culpability.

Entry level New Hire = Participation in an early release program.

Competent Person = A designated person skilled at evading blame.

Designated Person Ashore = The executive most unlikely to be unavailable in the case someone actually reports a spill or emergency.

Allision = Mechanical failure.

Collision = Same as above except with witnesses.

Annual Inspection = An instant in time where boats are dragged back from the edge of being condemned during their accelerated ageing program.

Preventative Maintenance program = A list of events keeping the Engineer abreast of his scheduled pencil whipping.

Company Policy = A guideline for maintaining plausible deniability.

USCG = The organization charged with the responsibility of assuring safety doesn't impede keeping boats on contract. Oh yes! And guarding the coast.

SIP = Field administrational opportunity to refine their pencil whipping skills.

ABS = Where the buck stops/goes, in concert with USCG inspection mindset.

Tools and Supplies = Inventory where crew obtains supplies to take home.

Training = A method of funding distribution in the place of competency qualification.

Safe Operations Manual = A document rarely used and then only in support of an employees wish to exploit their right not to work.

Safety Bonus = A program developed to discourage crew from reporting injuries.

Found in Canadian Sailings Magazine

Yes, Newfoundland & Labrador do have their own dictionary, which was conceived at Memorial University in 1982 by members of the Department of English. The language, place and family names, and the folklore of Newfoundland and Labrador, was subjected to a scrutiny worthy of their importance for Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans, especially as most of it has nautical terminology origins.

When compiling this dictionary, the guiding principle was to look for words, which appear to have entered the language in this province or have been recorded first, or solely in books about Newfoundland and Labrador. Characteristically, some of these words are still being used daily here, even if some have died out or declined elsewhere.

The following are words and sayings with a marine story that you may find enjoyable and even bring about a scattered smile.

arn and narn: Any and/or none. The shortest Newfoundland conversation occurred one day as two fishermen met coming from the fishing grounds. The first one asked: Am? to which the other one replied: Nam. Translated as Ever the one? and Never not one (fish).

banker: A vessel engaged in cod-fishing on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. 1792 Cartwright. The Americans had taken his Majesty's frigate Fox and several bankers upon the banks of Newfoundland.

batteau: Type of fishing boat with a lug-sail, formally used on the north-east coast of Newfoundland and on the Labrador. 1792 Cartwright. After buying a French batteau and two hundred weight of whalebone I returned home.  

scunner: Member of crew who directs a sealing vessel through the ice-floes; look-out in position on the main mast. Barrel-man 1919. Grenfell. The masters of the watch are also called scunners. They go up night and day in the forebarrel to scun the ship to find a way through the ice.  

bridge master: Officer aboard a sealing vessel who transmits directions for navigating the ice floes from the scunner at the masthead to the helmsman. 1924. England. Aft was a storeroom where slept the after cook and storekeeper; also the hellhole that bunked the carpenter, bosun, a bridge master, a scunner, the pantry steward and for a while, myself  

callibogus also calabogus, calebogus, calibogus, callabogus; calli: An eastern Canadian maritime beverage made of spruce beer, rum or other liquor and molasses; formally in chipped form calli, with specifying word egg, king, etc. 1964. Evening Telegram. Calabogus, a popular drink in Newfoundland for more than 200 years, was made available at the old Newfoundland Hotel. The drink was a mixture of spruce beer, molasses and dark rum.  

dungeon: On a sealing vessel, the often makeshift quarters below deck for accommodation of sealhunters. 1924. England. Shouts, raw laughter echo; and laughter too from the tweenclecks, even from the dungeon, or under-focsle, vastly filthier than the tweenclecks. How can men laugh in such places?  

killick: An anchor made up of an elongated stone encased in pliable sticks bound at the top and fixed in two curved cross-pieces, used in mooring nets and small boats. 1939. Devine. A homemade anchor, consisting of a frame of witherods enclosing one or two oblong stones, settled on a base of four wooden claws.  

screech: Popular name for a variety of cheap, dark Demerara rum bottled in Newfoundland; trade-name of a type of rum marketed with the label Screech. 1965. Daily News. Of course, a bottle o rum you could get a bottle of screech for about a dollar fifty.  

 cod socks : fisherman's rubber boots, cut off above the ankle, and worn to go dancing.

Officer to steward "I'll have the savory pissoles please"
Steward    "That's a misprint sir, it should be R"
Officer "Okay, I'll have the savory arseholes please"

If you have more ? Email them to me... Please keep them short and sweet