The A-Z of Nautical Jargon and Other Seafaring Words

Are you confused by nautical jargon? Do they leave you 'all at sea'?

For instance, what is baggywrinkle for, when would you need a martingale, and what on earth does widdershins mean?

Perhaps you're a rugged old seadog who knows them all, but if not this glossary of seafaring jargon should ease your confusion...

From Mercator Projection to Pooped...

Mercator Projection ~ A method of representing the curved surface of the globe on a flat surface in such a way that accurate distances can be scaled off it.

Meridian ~ A north/south line running through any point on the globe.

Midships/amidships ~ The central area of a vessel.

Mizzen ~ The stern-most sail set on a yawl or ketch. Read more about sails...

MOB ~ A piece of nautical jargon seen on emergency buttons on electronic navigational equipment, an acronym for ‘Man Overboard!’ - a shout that no skipper ever wants to hear.

Motorsailer ~ A motorboat in which the primary propulsion is through the engine and where the sails provide a extra drive in favourable conditions.

Mouse ~ To bind a thin line around a shackle pin to prevent it from shaking loose.


Nautical ~ Anything to do with seafaring or the sea.

Nautical Almanac ~ An almanac containing data for navigation on the sea.

Nautical Mile ~ The distance along 1 minute of arc measured at the Equator, equivalent to 6,076 feet or 1852m.

Navel Pipe ~ A metal pipe in the foredeck through which the anchor chain is routed to the chain locker.

How the earth, moon and sun conspire together to create spring and neap tides.

Neap Tides ~ Or simply 'neaps'. The lesser tide experienced every two weeks when the sun and moon are pulling against one another at half-moon as shown in the lower pic.

Spring tides occur when all three orbs - sun, moon and earth and their combined gravitational fields are all pulling in the same direction

Noon Sight ~ A sextant sight on the sun at local noon from which a boat's position line can be drawn on the chart.


Off the wind ~ To sail downwind. Read more about tradewinds sailing...

Offing ~ At a distance from the shore, but still within sight of land.

Offshore ~ Away from land.

On the wind ~ To sail up wind, close-hauled

On the bow ~ Within 45° either side of the bow

On the beam ~ At 90° to the centreline of the boat

On the quarter ~ Within 45° either side of the stern

Outboard ~ (1) Outside the boat’s hull, or (2) the motor that drives the boat's tender.

Outhaul ~ A line or tackle often running inside the boom used to tension the foot of a mainsail.

Overboard ~ Over the side, as in ‘man overboard!’


Pad eye ~ A strongpoint on deck or in the cockpit, often used for securing jackstays and safety harnesses to.

Painter ~ The line that attaches your tender to your boat, or some other point ashore.

A parachute sea anchor in use. This device stops the boat dead in the water and pulls her bow up into the wind.

Parachute Anchor ~ A sea anchor intended to minimise a boat's drift and hold it head to wind.

Not to be confused with a drogue which is towed from the stern, intended to slow the boat down but with sufficient way on to maintain steerage.

Read more about parachute sea anchors...

Sailboat stern-to the dock with a passarelle in position

Passarelle ~ A gangplank for small boats.

These can be as simple as a wooden plank - often lashed to the sidedeck stanchions until needed - or fancy foldaway version with a handrail like the one shown here.

Pay off ~ Nautical jargon meaning to turn the bow away from the wind.

Pay Out ~ To gradually let a rope out.

Pinch, to ~ To sail so close to the wind that the sails lose their drive, even though they may still be drawing.

Pitch ~ The angle of attack of a boat's propellor blades.

Pitching ~ Fore-and-aft rocking motion.

Pitchpole ~ A form of capsize end-over-end or perhaps a little diagonally.

Pivot Point ~ The point around which a boat swivels when it is steered.

Planing ~ A boat travelling at speed, so that the hull is skimming over the surface of the water rather than plodding through it. Read more about hull speed...

Plot ~ To mark a boat’s position a nautical chart.

Pointing ~ Sailing as close to the wind as possible. A boat that 'points high' will sail closer than one that 'points low'.

Pontoon ~ A floating dock to which boats can be moored.

Pooped, to be ~ If the sea breaks over the stern and into the cockpit, the boat is pooped - and the helmsman is usually very wet!

Next: Nautical Jargon from Port to Running Rigging...

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