I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.

B    Bravo

I am taking on or discharging explosives


Back,  Back and fill,  Backbearing,  Back the sails,  Backstaff,  Backstay,  Backtransit,  Baggywrinkle,  Bail,  Bailer,  Balance(d) lug,  Baldie,  Ball,  Ballast,  Bamboo habit,  Bank,  Banker,  Bar,  Barber hauler,  Barca longa,  Bareboat,  Barge,  Barge yacht,  Barnacle,  Barometer,  Barque,  Barquentine,  Barrel,  Barren yard,   Barycentre,  Basin,   Bathymetry,  Batten,  Battery,  Bawley,  Bay,  Beach,  Beachcomber,  Beacon,  Beak,  Beam,  Beam ends,  Beam reach,  Beam sea,  Bear,  Bearing,  Beat,  Beaufort,  Becalmed,  Becket,  Bee block,  Before the mast,  BeiDou,  Belay,  Belaying pin,  Belfry,  Bell,  Bell buoy,  Bell rope,  Below,  Bend,  Bermudan,  Berth,  Bevel,  Bight,  BilanderBilge,  Bilge keels,  Bilge pump,  Binnacle,  Binocular,  Biocide,  Biscuit,  Bitt,  Bitter end,  Blade,  Block,  Blue Peter,  Bluff,  Board,  Boat,  Boathook,  Boatswain,  Boatswain's call,  Boatswain's chair,  Boatwright,  Bob,  Bobstay,  Body plan,  Bollard,  Bollard timber,  Bolt,  Bolt rope,  Bonaventure mizzen,  Bonnet,  Boom,  Boom gallows,  Boom vang,  Boomkin,  Boot,  Boot-topping,  Bore,  Bosun,  Bottlescrew,  Bottom,  Bound,  Bow,  Bower,  Bowline,  Bowline bridle,  Bowman,  Bows,  Bowse,  Bowsprit,  Bowthruster,  Boxhaul,  Boxing,  Box the compass,  Brace,  Braid,  Brail,  Brake,  Breaker,  Breakwater,  Breach,  Breaming,  Breasthook,  Breastropes,  Breech,  Breeches buoy,  Breeching,  Breeze,  Bridge,  Bridle,  Brig,  Brigantine,  Brightwork,  Bring to,  Broach,  Bronze,  Brow,  Buckler,  Buffer's line,  Bucket,   Bulge,  Bulkhead,  Bullseye,  Bulwark,  Bumkin,  Bumpkin,  Bunk,  Bunker,  Bunt,  Buntline,  Buoy,  Buoyancy,  Buoyancy aid,  Burden,  Burgee,  Burgoo,  Burthen,  Burton,  Butt,  Buttock,  By and large,  By the board,  By the lee


v   The wind backs when it changes direction in an anticlockwise manner,  eg from Westerly to Sou’westerly.

See veer.

v   To back an anchor is to attach a smaller anchor beyond the main anchor.   The backing anchor prevents the main anchor from dragging in much the same way that the main anchor prevents the boat moving.

v   To back oars is to use them to propel the boat stern first,  or to slow and stop the boat.

v   To back the sails is to put the wind on the other side so that the boat is stopped or driven astern.   This is more appropriate for square-rigged sails which,  when backed,  press against the mast.   By backing some sails and not others the boat can be hove-to.   On a modern Bermudan rigged sloop backing the jib,  hauling in the mainsail and putting the helm a'lee usually causes the boat to heave to.

Back and fill

To hold position by alternately filling the sails with wind and backing them.

To vacillate.



The reciprocal of a bearing,  to be found by adding 180° to,  or subtracting 180° from,  a bearing.

During pilotage,  a vessel might approach a feature (such as a buoy) by maintaining a constant bearing on that feature.

A vessel might leave behind it a feature by maintaining a backbearing on that feature.

When a vessel is leaving one feature and approaching another a forward bearing on the one and a backbearing on the other will add to accuracy and confidence.


An obsolete navigation instrument,  invented by Capt John Davis in about 1590,  for measuring the altitude of the sun.

A similar device was probably used by the Vikings for measuring the altitude of Polaris.   By keeping the altitude of the pole star constant the Vikings could sail due West (to Scotland,  to Iceland and to Greenland) and due East,  back to their home town.



Back the sails

To haul the sheets (and braces) (and vangs) so that the wind blows on the other side of the sail.

If a boat has difficulty changing from one tack to another,  backing the jib (either by not releasing the sheet or by deliberately hauling the sheet to windward) will help the bows to move through the wind.

Backing the mainsail of a sloop will sometimes induce sternway (where the boat moves backward).

Backing the jib but not the mainsail,  and pushing the tiller to leeward will often cause a sloop to heave to.



The stay which runs from the masthead to the transom or,  more rarely,  to a boomkin.   There may be two backstays,  one to each quarter,   or two backstays may combine into one a few metres above the transom.   A device is often incorporated into the backstay to change the tension.

On boats where the forestay attaches partway up,  and not at the top of the mast,  running backstays may be attached at each quarter and at the point on the mast where the forestay is attached.   The windward running backstay is kept tight to prevent the mast buckling under the load of the staysail.   The leeward running backstay is kept slack,  or even drawn forward to the shrouds,  to prevent it chafing the sails.


Where a transit is astern of the boat and is held on a backbearing.



Fibres of rope woven into the lay of a stay or shroud to make it softer against a sail and so reduce chafe.

Anchor rodes are often sheathed with a soft material,  such as leather,  where they pass through fairleads;   the softer material chafes while the rode is protected.


vb   To remove water from a boat,  usually by means of a small hand-held container or a bucket.


n   The small hand-held container used to bail a boat.


Balance(d) lug

The sail is four-sided,  supported from throat to peak by an asymmetric,  oblique (not square) yard which is raised by a ha'lyard and held to the mast by a parrel.   The sail is held from tack to clew by a boom bowsed down to the heel of the mast by a tack purchase.   There is a single sheet to,  usually,  the after end of the boom so that the balanced lugsail is used as a fore-and-aft sail.   One-third to one-quarter of the sail is forward of the mast;  the rest is abaft the mast.

Held taut between the ha'lyard and the tack purchase,  the balance(d) lug sail needs neither a kicking strap nor vangs.

Balanced lugsail dinghy

This beautiful dinghy,  with balanced lugsail,  is available for hire from Hunter's Yard on the Norfolk Broads

In his 1906 treatise Folkard described a balance lug in terms which we would now use to describe a dipping lug.  He described an innovation which had a boom along the foot of the sail:  what we would now describe as a balance(d) lug.

(The boom is actually an asymmetric square cro'jack yard,  often held to the mast by a parrel.   Used as a fore-and-aft sail,  there is a brace (now called a sheet) at the clew end but no brace at the tack end.   In going about (staying) the tack is not changed as with either a square rig or a dipping lug.)


A Scottish fishing vessel (link).   See scaffie,  fifie,  zulu.



A three dimensional spherical body.

An anchor ball is a black sphere hung in the rigging of a vessel at anchor in daylight.

A mooring ball (buoy) is a small,  usually yellow,  buoy attached to a chain and two anchors to which vessels can moor.

A cannon ball is (was) an iron sphere to be fired from a cannon.   An urban myth suggests that four cannon balls were stacked on a brass triangle (a monkey) on the deck of a man o' war:   this may have been an attempt to sanitize a vulgar saying about the coldness of the weather.




Heavy weights carried deep in the hull,  or below the hull in the keel,  to help keep the boat upright.

Lead has a density of 11.34 grams per cubic centimetre,  the highest density of common,  relatively cheap metals.   As ballast, it is preferred over iron,  with a density of 7.9,  because the same weight occupies less space and because it doesn't rust.

Sailing yachts usually (C21) have deep keels ballasted with lead.   The depth of the keel is important in carrying the ballast as low as possible relative to the Centre of Buoyancy (and in resisting leeway).

Large dinghies,  designed for day-sailing or cruising,  may have water ballast (with a density of 1(!)),  which can be changed or discarded at will and for trailing by road.   Water ballast raises the Centre of Buoyancy and lowers the Centre of Gravity.

For stability ballast should be carried as low in the hull or keel as possible.   However,  ballast carried too low acts as a pendulum and can cause the boat to roll and pitch sharply or badly in a seaway.

Moveable ballast usually refers to the crew of a dinghy,  and is necessarily high in the boat,  usually bringing the Centre of Gravity much higher than the Centre of Buoyancy.   The stability of such a vessel depends on the crew moving about the boat.   However,  some racing yachts have moveable ballast in the form of water which can be pumped from one part of the boat to another.

Bamboo habit

An early form of personal flotation,  consisting of four pieces of bamboo each about 4 ft (1.3m) long tied around the body.

In this sense,  'habit' implies a garment.

See Falconer.


n   An area of sea bottom shallower than surrounding parts.   Banks are usually mud or sand, and are not reefs,  ridges or keys.   A bank is deeper than a shallow or a shoal;  these last two are usually associated with a shoreline,  whereas a bank is surrounded by deeper water.

The Dogger Bank (named after the Dutch Doggers which fished for cod) in the North Sea and the Grand Banks SE of Newfoundland are rich fishing grounds;  currents of water rising over the banks bring deep-water nutrients closer to the surface.

n   The sides of a river,  out of the water.

n   A bank of oars:  a seat,  or bench,  or thwart (spelled 'thought' by Falconer in 1815) of rowers.   Galleys might have had up to 4 men on each oar;  galleases as many as seven.

n   A group of electrical batteries.   A boat might have a bank of one 12 volt battery dedicated to starting the diesel engine;   a bank of one 12 volt battery dedicated to operating the anchor windlass;  a bank of two or more batteries for operating the interior and navigation lights,  the refrigerator and other domestic appliances;  a bank of many batteries for operating electric propulsion motors.

n   An institution which looks after your money,  invests it and provides a return on your investment.   Your money is usually available on demand.   Your bank might lend you money if it thinks you can repay.

v   To bank on something is to rely on it;  to depend on it.   It is derived from the reliability of (financial) banks such as Coutts or the Bank of England.


n   A vessel engaged in fishing for cod on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

n   Someone who owns,  operates or works in a (financial) bank.


n   A region of shallow water with a bottom of sand or mud, usually running parallel to the shore. Bars may be caused by wave and current action.   As the mouth of a river increases in width the current slows,  and the sand or silt carried by the water is deposited on the seabed,  forming a bar across the river mouth.

With an onshore wind,  especially against an ebb tide,  the swell over a bar can break;  for this reason many bars are dangerous and difficult to cross.


‘Crossing the bar’ is a nautical euphemism for dying,  derived from Alfred,  Lord Tennyson's poem "Crossing the Bar".   A sailor buried at sea goes to Davy Jones’ Locker:  one who dies at home goes to Fiddler’s Green.


n   A measure of atmospheric pressure.   Normal atmospheric pressure is 1.01325 bar (1013.25 millibar) (equivalent to 101.325 kPa; 29.921 inches of Mercury; 760.00 mm of Mercury).   See Barometer,  Depression,  High pressure.

n   The bars were long beams of wood inserted into the holes of the capstan to give the men more purchase.


n   A room in the yacht club or marina where drinks and food are served,  and sailors boast of their adventures.


Barber Hauler

A line with a snatch block around (typically) the foresail sheets to allow the lead of the sheet to be changed.   Modern boats have tracks along the side decks which carry moveable sheaved fairleads.

A simple Barber Hauler might be arranged with a lizard and a cleat on deck.



A two- or three-masted lugger once used for fishing on the coasts of Spain and Portugal and in the Mediterranean Sea.


A way of chartering a boat where the charterer's party forms the entire crew.   The alternative,  a skippered charter,  is where the charter company provides a skipper and,  perhaps,  a cook.




n   A ship’s boat with more than ten oars for carrying flag officers.   See Pinnace.

Or a vessel of state and pleasure,  lavishly equipped for ceremonial and processional use.


n   A Thames barge is a flat-bottomed sailing vessel with a sprit-rig and leeboards


A Dutch sailing barge,  with bowsprit and leeboards,  on the river Cam.


Thames sprit-sail sailing barge Dawn,  moored at West Mersea


Gloriana,  the Royal RowBarge for HM Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee in 2012

n   A flat-bottomed boat,  usually towed or pushed,  often in trains,  for carrying bulk cargo.

See lighter.



Barge yacht

A flat-bottomed sailing yacht,  often with a centreboard or leeboards.   E B Tredwen designed several barge yachts.

Doreen (barge yacht)

 [Courtesy of Barbera Quillam.]


"A small barge yacht has her great and Christian virtues;  in her own waters she is often of immense merit.   But she has also her own little ways,  which may be amusing enough in their particular line,  but they do not always strike one as funny -- at the time."

H. Alker Tripp sailed a barge yacht,  Growler,  for some years.


A marine crustacean which lives attached to underwater structures such as rockspiers and shipsbottoms.   On the bottom of a boat they cause turbulence and slow the boat.

They “stand on their heads and feed by waving their legs in the water and kicking sewage into their mouths.”

Barnacles are among the many forms of marine growth to foul the bottoms of boats.   They can be discouraged by the application of anti-fouling paint which is either toxic enough to kill marine organisms or is too slippery to allow them to attach or wears away after they have attached.


A device for measuring atmospheric pressure.

Mercury barometers are evacuated glass tubes about a metre tall connected to an open glass bulb containing mercury.   The tube is calibrated in inches or millimetres,  and air pressure is expressed as inches (or mm) of mercury.   Normal atmospheric pressure is 29.92 inches (760 mm) of mercury.   Air pressure decreases with increasing altitude.

Mercury barometers are awkward instruments on small boats:  the tube is tall and fragile,  and the level of the mercury 'pumps' up and down with the swell.

See also Aneroid barometer.

Changes in air pressure predict changes in weather.   More specifically,  they predict the direction of movement of cyclones and anticyclones.




A three to five masted vessel which is square-rigged on all masts except the mizzen.


Sailing boats are now (early C21) defined by their rig.   In earlier centuries they were defined more by their purpose or size.   As the purpose,  size and rig evolved over decades and centuries names tended to linger,  so that in two different centuries boats with the same type-name might be very different.



A three to five-masted vessel, of which only the foremast is square-rigged.


n  A cask to contain 36 Imperial gallons of beer or 26 Imperial gallons of wine.

A barrel of crude petroleum oil contains 34.97 Imperial gallons (equivalent to a tierce of wine).

n  That part of a gun or cannon along which the bullet or shot is propelled from the breech to the muzzle.   The barrel of a rifle has spiral grooves which cause the bullet to rotate and so fly more truly.

v   A slang word meaning to travel quickly and,  perhaps,  recklessly,  usually in a land vehicle.


Barren yard

A yard which has no sail bent to it.

A brig would normally have no course sail on its mainmast (the aftermost mast)(it interferes with the flow of air over the spanker) and so the lead of the topsail (or lower topsail) sheets would be at a steep and awkward angle.   A cross-jack yard might be slung where the course yard would otherwise be to receive the topsail sheets.

E Keble Chatterton describes a Dutch vessel where the foretopsail is deeply gored to allow the forestay,  and the 'head' of the course is triangular to fill the gap.   The very short course head was bent to a very short yard,  while the base of the triangular part had a barren yard to keep it open,  and to receive the topsail sheets.   The clews of the course had sheets in the usual way,  with no cross-jack yard.


It is often said that the moon orbits around the earth.

More accurately,  both the earth and the moon orbit around the common centre of mass of the two planetary bodies.   This common centre of mass is known as the barycentre of the earth and moon.   It is about 1,600km below the surface of the earth.   It is marked as a cross in this gif.

The barycentre of the solar system (the centre of mass of the sun and all its planets) moves within and around the sun;  as the sun orbits around this barycentre it appears to wobble.




n   A larger,  often deeper,  pool of water linked to a river or harbour where boats may tie up and load & unload.


n   A large piece of water,  such as the North Sea,  or the Baltic Sea,  which behaves as a more or less discrete tidal area.

The tides of the North Sea are initiated by the gravitational effects of the Sun and Moon,  and are modulated by the topography of the North Sea basin and by the flow of water to and from the Atlantic Ocean.

Similarly,  tides are initiated in the Baltic Sea by the Sun and Moon,  but the topography of the Baltic basin modulates them to the extent that they barely exist.

The topography of the Bay of Fundy enhances the tides so that they have the largest range in the world.


n   A metal,  porcelain,  glass or plastic container which may be used for mixing food,  or washing dishes.


n   The measurement of depth of water in oceans, seas, or lakes.

More generally it is the study of the sea floor and its varying depths.   It leads to the preparation of charts with contour lines of depth.




n   A stiffish piece of wood or plastic in a pocket of a sail to maintain the shape of the sail.

n   A thin strip of (usually) wood used for almost any purpose,  such as sacrificial strips along a gunwale or keel.,  or held with lead ducks on a loft floor to draw fair curves.


A baton (known as a truncheon) is one of the few weapons issued to a British Bobby on the beat;  it is a badge of office (as well as a tool) for an orchestral conductor.


A group,  or array,  of similar objects


n   A group of guns,  such as might be mounted on a headland for shore defences,  or on a deck.


n   A group of electrical cells.   Each cell might have a potential of about 1.2 volts;  12 such cells might be grouped in a battery and wired to provide a nominal 12 volts

An auxiliary yacht* might have two (or more) banks of 12 volt batteries.   One bank will be dedicated to starting the engine,  and will not be used for anything else.   Another bank might be dedicated to providing 12 volts (or sometimes 24 volts) for lights and refrigeration.   A third battery,  or bank of batteries,  might be dedicated to the electric anchor windlass.

On some modern boats,  with electric propulsion motors,  a bank of batteries (or cells) might be wired to provide 48,  or 72 volts for the motors.

* A sailing yacht with an auxilliary engine.


Alker Tripp says that a bawley is a cutter rigged vessel;  her distinguishing feature is that her gaff mainsail has no boom.

Bawleys were used for shrimping;  they boiled the shrimp whilst at sea.   The word 'bawley' may be a corruption of 'boiler'.

Usually shallow draught with a centreboard.


An inlet of the sea coast between two headlands.   The opening of a bay is much wider than the bay itself,  so that neither creeks nor estuaries are bays.   See Pennyhole Bay,  the Bay of Biscay.




n    The land above (and perhaps including) the inter-tidal zone which may be subject to wave action.   Its surface may be pebbles,  shingle or sand,  with an admixture of shells,  seaweed,  flotsam & jetsam and picnic debris.

    An unemployed sailor is said to be “on the beach”.


vb    To beach a boat is to sail it or pull it onto the beach intentionally.



Someone who searches the beaches and inter-tidal zone for objects of value or interest.


An aid to navigation fixed to the land.   Beacons range from painted rocks to lighthouses;  they may be lit or not.   They are often used as leading marks.   Some beacons broadcast signals (usually morse code letters) which can be seen on radar screens;  others broadcast such signals only when they detect radar signals.



Strong,  pointed projections above,  below and forward of the stem originally used by Roman galleys for ramming,  thereby damaging and sinking,  other vessels.

They became obsolete after the re-discovery of gunpowder and the use of guns and cannon,  but were retained in a decorative (and convenient!) form for many centuries.

The beak-head was a platform within and abaft the beak "for the convenience of the men".   The word 'head' or 'heads' continues to refer to the lavatories of a ship.



n   The greatest width of the boat at deck level.


n   The side of the boat:  the starboard beam is the extreme right hand side of the boat,  looking forward.   The port beam is the extreme left hand side.


A beam is a structural component,  spanning the boat from one side to the other.   It serves several purposes,  including supporting the deck,  keeping the gunwales apart,  supporting the carlins and (sometimes) supporting the mast.

Beam ends

The ends of the beams (!)

A boat which has been blown over (knocked down) very nearly to 90° (so that her mast is nearly horizontal) is said to be “on her beam ends”.


 A person who is destitute is said to be on his or her beam ends.   They may be at the end of their tether.

Beam reach

Sailing with the wind on the beam,  with a heading at right angles to the wind direction.   The fastest point of sail for most boats.

Beam sea

The waves are moving in a direction at right angles to the heading of the  boat.   The vessel will roll,  but not pitch.


n   A square piece of wood,  weighted with pigs of iron,  for cleaning wooden decks when holystones were not available.

Now,  the American name for a holy stone.

v   To point the ship,  or to indicate the direction of something.   Eg,  "Land's End bears 050°M".

Bear away

To turn the boat away from the wind:  to bring the wind further aft.

To bear up (now (C21),  to luff up) means to bring the wind further forward.




The direction of a feature (such as a lighthouse or a headland) from the boat,  irrespective of the boat's heading.

If this direction is measured with a fixed bearing compass,  linked perhaps to the steering compass (for which the deviation is known),  the bearing would be expressed in ‘degrees Compass’.

If this direction is measured with a hand-held bearing compass,  as it would be on a yacht,  the bearing is expressed in ‘degrees Magnetic’:  the deviation of a hand-held compass can be measured but it changes as the compass moves about the boat,  so,  for a hand-held compass,  deviation is ignored.

If the bearing is measured with a flux-gate,  or gyroscopic,  compass,  calibrated to True North,  or by GNSS or RADAR,  the bearing can be expressed in ‘degrees True’,  and entered directly onto the chart.

In any event,  the bearing must be converted and entered on the chart in ‘degrees True’.


Position lines

Bearings are used to obtain a position line on the chart:  the boat lies somewhere on that position line.   Three or more position lines,  which cross at,  or near,  a point provide a fix.



Back bearings

When the boat is approaching a feature (such as a buoy) across a tidal stream the feature must be kept on a constant bearing,  irrespective of the boat's heading.

When the boat is leaving a feature (such as a buoy) across a tidal stream the feature must be kept on a constant backbearing,  irrespective of the boat's heading.

See 'pilotage'



A transit is formed when two charted features are in line as seen from the boat.   The bearing of the transit can be measured accurately from the chart,  and a position line can be drawn without reference to the bearing compass.   A fix can be made with one other position line derived from the bearing compass.

Leading lights can be kept in transit to enter or leave a harbour.

See 'pilotage'.



Relative bearings

Bearings which are given relative to the boat's heading,  to inform the skipper of a sighting (another vessel,  a hazard,  a buoy).

Relative bearings are usually given as points from the boat.  Eg,  "Fishing vessel two points off the starboard bow.",  "SWM dead ahead.",  "Overtaking vessel one point abaft the starboard quarter."


Clearing bearings

Where the boat is approaching,  or leaving,  a feature (such as a harbour entrance) by passing between two hazards,  clearing bearings will keep the boat clear of the hazards.


Compass bearings

Bearings can be taken in degrees magnetic with a hand-held bearing* compass or a fixed bearing compass.   Bearing compasses differ from steering compasses in having sights or sighting lubber lines;  in being capable of seeing land-based features,  in not being at the binnacle.   Fixed bearing compasses may also have ranging sights.

The bearings must be converted to degrees True before being marked on the chart.

*   Please!  Not a hand bearing compass!


GNSS bearings

A GNSS instrument can be configured to give bearings to a waypoint in degrees True.

Since most GNSS instruments can provide both range and bearing,  which together can fix a position,  there seems little point in deriving a single position line,  or even 3,  to provide a fix.

Furthermore,  the instrument can indicate a position in any one of a number of datums.


RADAR bearings

Most RADAR screens can be configured to provide a 'head-up' or a 'North-up' display.   There is usually a line on the screen to indicate the vessels heading and there are calibration marks to show bearings (in degrees True) and distances.   A fix can be derived,  but the instrument is designed to show distance from and bearing to or from obstacles and other vessels.




To sail upwind,  by sailing close hauled and changing tacks.




In 1805 Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort developed (following the work of many predecessors) a scale which referred to the force of the wind on the sails of a frigate.   The scale was given numbers in the 1830s,  and in 1916 the scale was changed to refer to the sea state caused by the wind.


The Beaufort scale is related to wind speed by the equation

v = 0.836 B3/2  m/s


The scale is fading out of use by sailors in favour of wind speed in knots which can be measured by anemometers,  but is still used in public weather forecasts,  and is still part of RYA exams.


Without wind,  and so unable to sail.


Perhaps derived from the word 'bracket',  and with a similar meaning.

Hooks or lengths of rope to hang or confine coils of rope,  oars,  spars,  etc.

The rope handles on sea chests have become known as beckets.

Bee (block)

A piece of wood attached to the side of a boom,  mast or bowsprit carrying several sheaves on different axles.

It gets its name from its similarity to the upper case letter Bee.



Before the mast

The ordinary sailor lives and works “before (for’rd,  in front of) the mast”,  in the forecastle.

The officers live and work “on the quarterdeck”,  at the after end of the ship.

Trainee officers lived nearer the middle of the ship:  they were midshipmen.


The Chinese form of GNSS.



v   Temporarily to make fast (fasten) a line around a cleat or bitt.

See avast.

Belaying pin

A pin around which a line could be belayed.

The pin is mounted on a strong frame,  often a fife-rail at the base of the mast or the rail along the bulwarks.   It fits into a hole in the frame,  from which it can be withdrawn.   The upper part of the pin,  protruding above the rail,  is often shaped;  the lower part,  protruding below the rail is usually cylindrical.

The line to be belayed is passed below the rail,  around the lower part of the pin,  then around the upper part of the pin in the same direction,  and then in figures of eight above and below the rail.

The line is then coiled and hung on the pin.

If the figure eights are started before the turn is complete both parts of the line combine to unwind the line from the pin.

A belaying pin fits loosely into its hole so that it can be withdrawn,  and the line released instantly.


The shelter,  or roof,  over the bell



The ship’s bell is used to strike the time,  to inform the bridge of the state of the anchor and to warn of a vessel anchored in fog.


Within each watch the bell is struck every half hour.   At the first half hour it is struck once,  at the second half hour it is struck twice (a double strike),  and so on.   The end of the four-hour watch is eight bells (four double strikes).   The end of each dog-watch is,  of course,  four bells (two double strikes).

‘Three bells in the middle watch’ is,  therefore,  0130 ship’s time:  half past one in the morning.

‘Five bells in the afternoon watch’ is 1430 ship’s time;   two thirty in the afternoon.

Ship's bell


In restricted visibility,  according to the IRPCS,  Rule 35, “Sound Signals in Restricted Visibility"

" (g)   A vessel at anchor shall at intervals of no more than one minute ring the bell rapidly for about 5 seconds.

 (h)   A vessel aground shall give the bell signal . . . prescribed in paragraph (g) . . . and shall,  in addition,  give three separate and distinct strokes on the bell before and after the rapid ringing of the bell.


Cleaning the ship was traditionally the responsibility of the bo’s’n and his mates.   They often allowed the cook an extra half hour in bed by lighting the galley fire for him;  in return,  the cook would polish the ship’s bell.

Bell buoy

A buoy with a bell and a free-hanging clapper.   The clapper strikes the bell intermittently as the buoy moves with the swell.   Now (early C21) rare or obsolete.

Bell rope

A rope,  often decoratively woven or braided,  attached to the clapper of the bell and used for striking the clapper against the bell.


A lower deck or space inside the vessel.   Below the main deck.   'Downstairs'.



n    A knot used to attach one line to another;  for example,  a sheet bends joins two lines of different thicknesses.

Brion Toss writes that a bend “ . . is a way to tie two ropes together . .” and he lists the Sheet Bend,  the Double Sheet Bend,  the Zeppelin Bend,  the Ashley Bend,  the Benson Bend,  his own Strait Bend,  the Carrick Bend and the Ashley Hawser Bend.

See knot,  hitch.

Notwithstanding this,  sails are usually bent to their yards,  not hitched.

v   to tie two ropes together.


n    A diver experiences the bends when he ascends too rapidly and nitrogen bubbles out of his blood into his joints.   It’s very painful and may be fatal.

n   Another (archaic) word for wale.


This sloop has a Bermudan mainsail well reefed.


Refers to the triangular shape of a mainsail,  usually set on a stayed  (Marconimast.

The luff of the sail is attached to the mast by slugs sliding in a luff groove,  and is hauled up by a ha'lyard attached to the peak of the sail;  a downhaul is unusual.   At the tack there is often a line,  or mechanism (Cunningham) to tighten the luff.

The foot of a Bermudan mainsail is usually attached to the boom,  often by a bolt rope sliding in a groove.   The clew is often attached to an outhaul line to tighten the foot.   The mainsheet may be at the clew end of the boom or it may be partway along the boom.   A topping lift,  to hold up the end of the boom when the sail is handed,  might run from the mast to the clew end of the boom.

The leech of a Bermudan mainsail may be straight or,  more usually,  with significant roach.   There may be battens in pockets in the sail to hold out the roach and to prevent it fluttering.

There are often several rows of reefing points:  the tack and the clew might often be reefed with a single-line slab-reefing system.

See Marconi.


On page 394 of his 1906 treatise Folkard describes the Bermudian rig as having a triangular mainsail without a gaff and hauled up the mast by a single ha'lyard.

The boom had no gooseneck:  its forward end was fitted into a pocket or cringle in the tack of the mainsail,  well forward of the mast.   The sail was kept taut by an outhaul at the after end of the boom.

The boom appears to have been a form of asymmetric crossjack yard.

The mainsail was not laced to the boom;  its foot had a deep bight below the boom with lanyards which the crew held to keep the sail flat.

The unstayed mast was stepped in the bows near the stem and raked aft so that its truck was above the middle of the boat.

Its few links with a modern Bermudan sail are its triangular shape,  a pole mast and a boom.


On page 25 of his 1906 treatise Folkard describes the Anglo-Bermudan rig which differed from the native Bermudan rig in that the boom was attached to the mast by a gooseneck.

Bermudan rig,  Folkard 1906
Anglo-Bermudan rig,  Folkard 1906

Room to manoeuver; as in “ Give that mark a wide berth,” or the space needed for a ship to swing to her anchor

A place where a ship docks or lies alongside a wharf.

A bunk where a sailor sleeps.

A job on board a ship.


A slope cut into the edge of a plank of wood.



n   A loop in a line.

n   An indentation in a coastline:  a small bay.


An European merchant vessel with two masts.   The mainmast was lateen-rigged;  the foremast was square-rigged with course and topsail.   Used in the Mediterranean Sea and the Netherlands.



n   The part of the boat’s hull below the topsides.   According to Falconer " . . more properly written bulge",  because the ships with which Falconer was familiar all had significant tumblehome.


n   The deepest part inboard of a boat’s hull, where any water,  oil and debris collects.

Bevel & chamfer.jpeg

Harry Bryan,  2010,  Wooden Boat Magazine No194, p26

Bilge keels

Keels projecting at an angle from the bilge of a boat,  but not below the central keel.   Ideally,  the bottoms of all three keels are at the same level.   They allow the boat to take the ground (dry out) upright,  without listing.   Where the bilge-keeler has sails,  the bilge keels contribute to reducing leeway.   Some power driven vessels have bilge keels to reduce rolling in a seaway.

See Twin keels.

Bilge keels

This sailing boat has a central keel and two bilge keels

These two sailing boats have twin keels

Twin keels
Bilge pump

A pump for removing water (and oil and perhaps small debris) from the bilges of a boat.


A case or box on the deck of a ship, generally mounted in front of the helmsman, in which navigational instruments (especially the steering compass) are placed for easy and quick reference as well as to protect them from the weather.

Bavaria binnacle.jpg

From 'bi' meaning 'two' and 'ocular' meaning sight or seeing,  a binocular (or pair of binoculars) is an optical instrument with two eyepieces and two object lenses for magnifying distant objects and making them seem closer.   It is,  effectively,  two telescopes side by side to be used with both eyes.

Some binoculars have an integral bearing compass often with a ranging graticule which can be seen through the lenses.

'Binocular' is (was) an adjective describing an optical instrument (such as a binocular microscope or binocular telescope) with two sets of eyepiece lenses so that both eyes are used.   Binocular microscopes are still described as such even though monocular microscopes are now rarely used.   'Binocular telescope' was very quickly contracted to 'binocular'

See Monocular.



Something which is intended to kill living things.

Biocidal compounds are painted,  in the form of anti-fouling paints,  onto the bottoms of ships and boats to kill weeds and barnacles which might attach to the surface and grow,  and to kill marine worms which might tunnel into the wooden planks and eat them.

Many of these biocides have now (early 21st Century) been banned because they kill or deform living things not necessarily associated with bottom fouling.

Metallic copper was,  in the Age of Sail,  the preferred biocide and is now regaining popularity.



Ship's biscuits were (are) made from flour,  salt and water,  baked several times and dried.   They were a basic source of carbohydrate and calories.   See also Hard Tack.


Bitter end

The end of the rope which is tied to the bitts.   To Falconer,  in 1815,  it was that part of the anchor cable abaft the bitts.

Modern day use of "the bitter end" suggests a different meaning for 'bitter';  that the ending is unpleasant;  it leaves a 'nasty taste in the mouth'.

If the bitter end of the rode is found not to be tied to the bitts it might go overboard with the anchor;  the result is usually unpleasant.


Bitts come in pairs.   They are posts,  aboard or ashore,  around which lines are made fast,  often in a figure 8 pattern.


n   The flat,  or spoon-shaped,  part of an oar which moves through the water,  pushing the water aft and driving the boat forward.

n   The part of a knife (or chisel,  or plane) which is sharpened and used for cutting.   The blade of a plane is also known as an iron.

n   Propellers have two,  three,  four or more blades set at complicatedly curved angles to the propeller shaft.   The curved,  angled blades push the water aft (or forward);  by reaction to the inertia of the water the propeller blade,  and so the boat,  is pushed forward (or back).


n   A casing (two or more cheeks) containing one or more sheaves,  or pulley wheels.   The sheave is sized to fit the line which will run through it.   Its purpose is to reduce the friction when a line changes direction.

Pairs of blocks on one line (a purchase or a tackle) are used to increase the mechanical advantage of hauling on the line.   The advantage is multiplied by the number of parts of the line in the moving block.

Davit tackle on TB Hydrogen

n   A strong and heavy bench,  consisting of one or two baulks of timber bolted together and drilled with holes for posts and used to stretch heavy rope for splicing and pointing.

See Pawson


Blue Peter

A blue square flag with a small white square at its centre.

In harbour it means “All persons should report on board:  this vessel is about to proceed to sea.”

At sea,  on a fishing vessel,  it means “My nets have come fast upon an obstruction.”

In spelling messages it is P (papa).


n   A high headland,  falling more or less vertically into the sea.

n,v   A defiance,  to persuade someone to believe that which is not true.



n    When beating to windward the distance,  or the track,  sailed between each change of tack is a board.

One leeboard would be kept down whilst sailing a board;  after the change of tack,  the other leeboard would be used.   See Touch and Go.

n   A plank of wood.   More especially,  the topmost strake or wale of the topsides.   Falconer suggested (in 1815) that a board was thinner than a plank,  ie,  less than an inch (24.5mm) thick.


vb    To go onto a boat, with or without the master’s permission.

See also centreboard,  leeboard,  daggerboard.



n    A relatively small water-borne vessel. Colloquially,  “Ships carry boats:  boats do not”,  hence a submarine is a boat.

See Vessel.


vb    To travel by boat.



A pole with a hook on the end used to reach objects over the side of the vessel.   Used for pulling;  never for pushing (or,  if you must push,  use the other end).


Boatswain (Bo's'n)

A petty officer in charge of maintenance of the ship’s equipment, especially the sails, rigging and hull.

The leading seaman in charge of supervising the crewmembers when performing work on deck.

The petty officer in charge of the ship’s stores used to maintain the hull and rigging. 

The operator of the ship’s motor launch.

Often colloquially spelled (and pronounced) ‘bosun’

Now,  in the early 21st Century,  a swain is a young lover,  or a country boy.

In Elizabethan times a swain was a servant,  a hireling,  a young boy or a lad.   Aboard ship the boatswain was the person who looked after the ship's boat.   The person who looked after the cock-boat was the cockswain:  the person who looked after the skiff was the skiff-swain.  (Keble Chatterton;  Ships ways of other days)


Boatswain's call

A pipe or whistle used by a boatswain to issue commands.   Now mostly ceremonial.

Boatswain's chair

A board or canvas chair,  secured in a bridle and bent to a ha'lyard or similar,  used to hoist a hand aloft or over the side.


One who makes (usually wooden) boats.



A club flag,  usually triangular,  flown at the top of the mast.   Usually attached to its own staff which,  in turn,  is attached to a flag ha'lyard.   The staff is kept more or less upright by tension on the ha'lyard and the downhaul.

See Burgee



A line of standing rigging which keeps the bowsprit down,  resisting the upward pull of the forestays.

See Sprit.

Body plan

An end elevation showing the shapes of the sections of a vessel.   See lines.



A strong post,  usually on the quayside,  to which mooring lines may be attached.

Pairs of similar posts on the boat are ‘bitts’.

Bollard timber

Knight-heads:  the two vertical timbers abaft the stem and either side of the bowsprit,  to secure the heel of the bowsprit.   In small boats they may be used as bitts or samson posts.



A round cylindrical metal rod,  with a head which is wider than the rest and which has a spiral thread (groove) cut into most of the rod.   The head may be domed or flattened,  or it may be hexagonal or square to allow a spanner to fit.

A bolt is usually used with a nut which screws onto the spiral thread.

A bolt is used to hold two items (perhaps timbers) tightly together.   A hole is bored through both parts,  the bolt is passed through the hole and the nut is screwed to the bolt.   When the nut is screwed down tightly the two parts are held together.

Bolts are designed to work in tension,  not in shear.   The friction between the two parts held by the bolt reduces their tendency to slide against one another.   The greater the tension on the bolt (the harder the nut is screwed down) the greater the friction between the two parts:  but,  the greater the tension on the bolt the more likely it is to break.

Metal bolts are often used to attach a lead keel to a sailing boat.   They often become saturated with sea water and they may rust or become degraded by electrolysis

Bolts which have threads along their entire length are machine screws.



Bolt rope

A rope sewn into the edge of a sail.

Bonaventure mizzen

When a square-rigged ship had four mast,  the foremast mast was the foremast,  the next the mainmast,  then the mizzen mast and abaft all,  the bonaventure mizzen mast


A piece of canvas secured to the foot of a sail to increase its area.



n  The spar which extends the foot of a fore-and-aft sail.

One end of the boom of a Bermudan or gaff mainsail is flexibly attached to the mast,  often by a ‘gooseneck’;  the other end is controlled by the mainsheet.   The tack of the mainsail is attached to the boom near the mast (occasionally to the mast a short distance above the gooseneck);  the clew is attached to the end of the boom furthest from the mast.   Sometimes the bolt-rope,  or the sliders,  in the foot of the mainsail runs in a channel on the top of the boom,  or it may be laced to the boom with small line;  otherwise,  the sail is ‘loose-footed’.

The kicking strap (in North America,  a boom vang) runs from the heel of the mast to a point on the boom as far as practicable from the mast.

On modern boats,  with slab-reefing,  the reefing lines run inside the aluminium boom.

On traditional Dutch sailing vessels,  and some specialised modern vessels,  the boom may be attached to a goose-neck on deck.   A jib-boom,  used to extend the clew of a jib or staysail,  is almost always attached to the fore-deck.

A sprit-boom extends the clew of a sail.   It is attached to the mast by a snotter some distance above the tack of the sail.   A sprit-boom may be horizontal or angled,  but is never attached to the foot of the sail.

The boom of a balanced lugsail extends forward and aft of the mast to which it might be held by a parrel.   The boom is tacked down to the heel of the mast,  or to the deck,  by a tackline.

A spar along the foot of a square-rigged sail which has no other sail below it (such as a course sail) is a cross-jack,  or barren,  yard.


n   A floating barrier to control and limit navigation at the entrance to a harbour.

Absorbent booms are used to control and absorb oil spills.

Inflatable floating booms are used (experimentally) to gather floating rubbish.

n   Spare spars carried on deck.

n   The noise made by a distant explosion,  a supersonic aircraft or thunder.

Boom gallows

A high cross rail that supports the boom when a Bermudan or gaff sail is lowered.

Boom vang

The North American word for a kicking strap.

See Vang.

Boomkin;  b’mkin

A spar projecting from the stern or quarter of a sailing vessel to carry the mizzen sheet further aft or the braces further abeam.

Sometimes spelled as ‘bumkin’.

See also Bumpkin.



n   Where the mast passes through the deck to step on the keel there is necessarily a small gap between the mast and the deck through which water (rain,  spray or waves) can pass.   A boot,  made of canvas or leather,  is tied or laced closely around the mast and around a small coaming on the deck to keep the water out.

n   An item of footwear,  usually waterproof,  which encloses the foot,  ankle and calf,  sometimes the knee and part of the thigh.


ng   The act of scraping weed,  barnacles and other marine growth from the area above and below the water line,  and then treating the area with a compound (paint or anti-fouling paint) to prevent marine growth.

The word has now (late C20 and early C21) come to mean the broad painted or treated line itself rather than the act of removing the fouling.




n   A tide which advances so quickly that it forms a significant wave.   The advancing water may be a metre or more higher than the water in front.  

The Severn Estuary narrows from ten miles or more wide between Clevedon and Cardiff to a few tens of metres narrow near Gloucester.   As the advancing tide fills the smaller space it forms a series of waves which can be surfed.

 A tidal bore is typical of areas such as the west shore of Nova Scotia where the tide has a substantial range and a very long way to flood over a gradually sloping bottom:  the Bay of Fundy has the largest tidal range in the world.

n   The size of a hole through a tube,  especially the barrel of a fire-arm..

n   Someone in the club or bar to whom one listens reluctantly.


See Boatswain


A pair of threaded bolts in the ends of an elongated 'nut' for adjusting the tension of rigging wires.

One loop is attached to a stay,  the other to a chainplate.   The bolts attached to the loops have opposite threads so that when the central part is rotated the loops are drawn closer together or pushed further apart.




n   The seabed.

n   The underwater surface of the hull of a boat.


Wind bound:  prevented from sailing by a strong or contrary wind.

Ice bound:  prevented from sailing by being surrounded by ice.

"Whither bound?":  where are you going?

"Whence bound?":  where have you come from?

North bound:  going to the North.

From the verb,  to bind,  to tie up or restrain or constrain.


n   One of the sides of the vessel "that extends aft and downward from stem."   See Layton.

" . . the rounding part of a ship's side forward,  beginning where the planks arch inwards,  and terminating where they close,  at the stem or prow."   See Falconer.

adj   As an adjective to describe anything relative to the bows of a boat.   Eg,  bow oar,  bowman*,  bow painter,  bow locker.   See Bows.

n   A loop of coloured ribbon used for decoratively tying a parcel,  or for tying up a sailors queue.

n   The long-bow is (was) a flexible stick of yew,  with a tight string between the ends,  for firing arrows.   Used vertically,  along the body.   Modern bows are far more complex than sticks of yew.

In early medieval fighting vessels the bowmen* in the castles would have used cross-bows;  smaller,  handier and with the bow across the body,  but very slow to re-arm.

n   An obeysance made,  to a lady,  or to a dignitary,  or to a martial arts opponent,  by bending at the waist and perhaps pointing a foot and flourishing an arm.   It is an insulting declaration of mistrust to maintain eye contact.

*   A bowman is someone who sits in the bows of a small boat and hooks on to the chains of a ship or the rings of a quay.   He (she) also acts as a lookout.

A bowman was someone who operated a cross-bow from one of the fighting castles of a ship to kill the enemy's officers.


The main anchorcatted on one of the bows of a ship.   On a modern yacht the bower,  or bow anchor may be carried on a special stem-head fitting.

The kedge (anchor) may be kept in a locker and is often deployed from the stern.

A ship of the line would have carried a 'best bower' (perhaps two),  a small bower,  a stream anchor,  a kedge and a sheet anchor.

At one time an adjective describing the main anchor in the bows;  now nominalized.




n   Lines from the fore leech (now called the luff) of a course sail to one of the bows to keep the luff to the wind.

n    A knot to form a loop in a line.  Originally used to secure the bowline to the bowline bridle.

Once learned,  a bowline forms a quick and easy loop in the end of a line.   It is less secure than,  say,  a loop made with a double figure of eight bend.

It is less secure around a cleat than a cleat hitch or a round turn and two half hitches.   Both of these can be made or released with the line under tension,  which the bowline cannot.    See Grog Knots


Bowline bridle

A length of line attached to two of the cringles of the leech of a square-rigged sail,  one at each end of the bridle.   See Lever,  pp57 to 59.

The bowline was attached to the bowline bridle by a bowline knot.


The person who rows the foremost oar in a boat,  and hooks on to secure the boat.




The curved parts of the deck or topsides on either side of the stem.   The one on the left of the boat is the port bow,  the one on the right is the starboard bow.

According to Layton,  "That part of a ship's side that extends aft and downward from stem."

Thames bargemen pronounce ‘bow’ as in ‘long-bow’ or ‘bow and arrow’


To haul on a line or tackle,  to tighten,  eg,  the luff of a sail.




A sprit or spar projecting forward between the bows to carry stays for the foremast.   Staysails are usually set on these stays,  and a flying jib may be set from the tip of the bowsprit.

A fixed bowsprit does not move.

A running bowsprit can be reefed by lifting the heel from the bitts and moving the sprit inboard.   It saves space,  and therefore dues,  at the port.

Keble Chatterton (1909) suggests that the bowsprit was almost certainly derived from the raked artemon mast of the Phoenician and Greek ships (corbita) of the 1st and 2nd centuries BC

The bowsprit of this yawl rigged dinghy carries a single roller-furled fore-sail

Bow thruster

A propeller arranged athwartships (transversely) in a tunnel between the bows.   It moves the head of the boat sideways.



Box haul

Tacking a square-rigged ship was a complex manoeuvre:  at some stage some,  or all,  of the sails would be aback.   Often the ship would fail to come through the eye of the wind (see ‘in irons’) and would fall back to the original tack.   In bad weather,  or on a lee shore,  this could be dangerous.

To box-haul,  the helm (tiller) would be put down (to l’ward) and the ship brought to the wind.   The sails would then be set aback,  whereupon the ship would stop and begin to move astern.   The helm would then be put up (to windward) to steer the ship (astern) through the eye of the wind.   As soon as the wind came to the other side of the ship the sails would be braced and the helm adjusted so that she moved ahead.

The manoeuvre required skill and timing.

See Club-haul.


Keeping the headsail aback to ensure that the bows pass through the wind when changing tack.

If the helmsman carelessly luffs too close to the wind so that the boat begins to change tack the headsail can be backed to bring the bows back.

Box the Compass

To recite the 32 points of the compass,  starting from North and proceeding clockwise.

North,North by East,  North NorthEast,  NorthEast by North,  NorthEast,NorthEast by East,  East NorthEast,  East by North,  East,  East by South,  East SouthEast,  SouthEast by East,   SouthEast,  SouthEast by South,  South SouthEast,  South by East,  South,  South by West,  South SouthWest,  SouthWest by South,  SouthWest,  SouthWest by West,  West SouthWest,  West by South,  West,  West by North,  West NorthWest,  NorthWest by West,  NorthWest,  NorthWest by North,  North NorthWest,  North by West,  North.

This nomenclature has been completely replaced by degrees clockwise from North.  North is 000°T,  East is 090°T,  South is 180°T and West is 270°T

A wind that is constantly backing and veering is often said to be 'boxing the compass'.



n   Lines from the yardarms used to control the angle which the yard makes with the centre line of the ship while remaining square to the mast.   On the starboard tack the starboard yardarm would be as far forward as possible,  the port (larboard) yardarm as far aft as possible.

On a 21st Century sloop the nearest equivalent line would be the main sheet (line).


v   To change the angles of the yards by hauling and easing the braces.



n   A type of cordage in which the strands are woven together rather than twisted.


n   Decorative gold piping on the sleeve of a naval officer designating rank.   Sometimes insultingly called ‘scrambled egg’.

A slang term for high ranking naval officers.




n    A line which furls a sail by drawing it close to the mastsprit or gaff.


vb    The act of brailing a sail.


An archaic name for the handle of the pump.

On modern ships,  the mechanism which prevents the capstan or windlass running away.



n   A container for water.

n   An electrical safety switch which disconnects the power when an overload is detected.   Anchor windlasses have a  safety breaker for when the chain piles up in the locker and jams the windlass;  it disconnects the battery so that the windlass motor does not overheat.



A wall built in the sea to provide protection from heavy waves for a harbour or beach.

The breakwater at Plymouth is built across most of the harbour entrance.   Before about 1812 Plymouth was not considered a safe harbour.   In 1812 The Rt Hon Charles Yorke,  once a First Lord of the Admiralty,  received a grant of £80,000 from the House of Commons to build the breakwater.


An unwanted or unintended gap or hole,  as in a sea wall.


The act of burning,  and thereby melting,  the tar and sulphur from a wooden ship's bottom so that marine growth could be scraped off more easily.

The act of antifouling achieves the same thing for modern vessels by different means.


Symmetrical knees, or an assemblage of timbers, set between the bows of a boat and secured to the timbers of the bows and to the stem.

Breast ropes

Mooring ropes which pass from the bows or the stern square across to the bollard on the quayside.

Once known as breast-fast because they held a vessel fast alongside.


That part of a firearm which contains the cartridge.



ng   The lashings which held a cannon in place.

ng   In previous centuries boys wore long skirts or dresses for the first few years of their lives.   They were 'breeched' when they began to wear breeches (a form of trousers).   The time of breeching a boy was a cause for mild celebration.

Breeches buoy

An inflated ring,  with canvas seat (trousers or 'breeches'),  slung beneath a line stretched between two ships,  or from a wreck to the shore.

Used for moving people from one ship to another,  or for rescuing people from a wreck.


A sea breeze blows from the sea toward the land and often overrides the prevailing or geostrophic wind.   It is generated by the sun warming darker parts of the land which in turn warms the air above it.   This warmer air,  being less dense,  rises;  cooler (more dense) air from the sea moves landward to take its place,  creating a sea breeze.   Sea breezes are common on warm summer days;  they may reach F5.

At night the land cools more quickly than the sea.   Warmer air rises above the sea and cooler air flows from the land seaward,  causing a land breeze.


Originally (see Luce),  a light structure extending across the ship above the spar-deck, to afford the officer of the deck or the lookout a place for observation.

Now,  C20 and C21,  the command and control centre of a ship,  often extending the full width of the vessel.

A structure built to span a waterway from one bank to the other,  so that pedestrians and traffic might cross the waterway.



A line which is attached to something at both ends,   and to the middle of which is attached another line.   A towing bridle might be attached to cleats on each bow:  the warp would then be bent to the bight of the bridle.


A two-masted vessel with square-rigged sails on both masts.


Hermaphrodite brig.   A two masted sailing vessel with square-rigged sails on the forward mast only.


Polished metal or varnished wood.

Bring to   See Heave to.


With the boat heeled under too much sail the rudder fails to ‘grip’ the water (it stalls) and the boat turns into the wind out of control.   In breaking waves and strong winds a broach can end in a capsize.

When sailing downwind,  down the face of a big wave,  the water in the wave may overtake the rudder and cause it to stall:   the boat may then broach across the wind and waves.   This provides an excellent reason for not running downwind in a storm.


Colloquially called a gangplank.   A walkway,  with rope rails,  stretching from the quayside to the entry port,  used for embarking and disembarking.



An alloy of copper and tin.

Alpha bronze contains 4 to 5% tin.

Bismuth bronze is an alloy with 52% copper, 30% nickel, 12% zinc, 5% lead, and 1% bismuth.

Plastic bronze contains a significant quantity of lead.

Silicon bronze has 2.80–3.80% silicon, 0.50–1.30% manganese, 0.80% iron, 1.50%, 0.05% lead.

Aluminium bronze is an alloy of copper with aluminium.

Phosphor bronze is an alloy of copper with 0.5–11% tin and 0.01–0.35% phosphorous.

Bell metal is a hard alloy,  typically,  78% copper, 22% tin by mass.

Gunmetal is about 88% copper, 8–10% tin, and 2–4% zinc .

The best cannon were made of bronze.


Pieces of wood to block the hawse holes,  to reduce the amount of water entering the ship when it pitches in a seaway.


A container,  usually to hold about 2 gallons of water,  with a handle for carrying.   See Pail.

The phrase "bucket and chuck it" refers to a method of disposal of human waste from small boats with no heads.   The human waste is deposited in a bucket one-quarter filled with water;  the contents of the bucket are then thrown (chucked) into the sea.

Buffer's line

See Lubber line.




syn   Bilge (see Falconer)

The part of a vessel which bulges out below the topsides and above the bottom.

During the Age of Sail ships were built with significant tumblehome,  so that their bilges bulged out well beyond their sheerlines.   Modern sailing vessels rarely have tumblehome;  their bilges do not bulge outward.


A vertical wall or partition within a boat or ship.



A ring,  through which a line might pass as though through a pulley.   The outer rim is grooved to take a line to hold the bullseye in place.

Originally,  a bullseye was spliced to the end of the bowline;  the bowline bridle passed through the hole so that the tension of the bowline was equalised at the cringles on both ends of the bridle.

Now (early C21) bullseyes (and thimbles) can be made of low-friction material,  such as nylon or teflon,  and might often replace pulley blocks.



Posts and boards along the side of a (bigger) boat to prevent the crew falling off the boat.


See Boomkin



A simple,  naive country person,  easily deceived.   Unrelated to a boomkin.


A sailor's bed.   Not a hammock.


n   A fuel store.

v   the act of taking on (filling the tanks with) fuel.


The rounded belly of the sail.


One of the lines attached to the foot of a square-rigged sail for hauling the foot up to the yard ready for furling.



n   A navigation signpost in the sea,  often floating but attached (anchored or moored) to the seabed or atop a post firmly embedded in the seabed.   Whereas terrestrial signposts point the way to a destination,  a buoy marks a location;  it's left to the mariner to choose the direction to his destination.

The seven types of buoys are:  Channel markersPreferred Channel markersIsolated Danger markersSafe Water markersCardinal markers,  Special marks and Emergency Wreck beacons.   Buoys often have lights to indicate their type and position.

Trinity House describes its mission as,

" . . a General Lighthouse Authority . . . to deliver a reliable, efficient and cost-effective aids to navigation service for the benefit and safety of all mariners"

Among other  things it is responsible for placing,  moving and listing navigation buoys.   It lists six types of buoys because it includes Preferred Channel Markers with Lateral (Channel) Markers.

Many of the smaller buoys in rivers,  estuaries and marinas are placed by the local harbour master and,  often,  sponsored by local businesses;  they all conform to the rules of IALA.



n   A lifebuoy is a floating ring- or  horseshoe-shaped device normally kept on a holder near the taffrail,  ready to be thrown into the sea near to a MOB.   The shape of the horseshoe lifebuoy allows the MOB to swim into it and to be supported in the water by their arms.


n   Anchor buoy.   A small float attached by a light line to an anchor to mark its position.

n   Bell buoy.   An anchored floating buoy with a bell and free-hanging clapper which strikes the bell with the movement of swell and waves.   Now obsolete.

n   Danbuoy.   A float with a weight to keep it upright and a long (1 or 2 metres) pole with a flag and a light.   Usually attached to a lifebuoy,  and used to show the location of a MOB.

n   Mooring buoy.   A Special buoy for mooring one or more boats.


The tendency of a boat to float.

The upward force,  opposing the downward force of gravity,  exerted by the water surrounding part of the boat.   The upward force is proportional to the difference in pressure between the surface of the water and water at the bottom of the keel.

The centre of buoyancy is a point within the boat through which the upward force acts.

All bodies have buoyancy when immersed or partially immersed in a fluid.

When the weight of the body (the downward force due to gravity) is greater than its buoyancy (the upward force due to the pressure of the fluid) the body sinks.

When the weight of the body is less than its buoyancy the body floats.

Archimedes showed that the weight of a floating body was equal to the weight of the fluid which it displaced.   The weight of a floating boat is the same as the weight of water it displaces.

The density (weight per unit volume) of a floating body is important.   When its density is greater than that of water it displaces a weight of water less than its own weight,  and sinks.   When its density is less than that of water it displaces its own weight of water,  and floats.


Buoyancy aid

A jacket,  or similar,  which contains buoyant material and which helps a person in the water to remain afloat.   Also known as a Personal Flotation Device (PFD).   Used by sailors whose boats tend to capsize and be recovered,  as during dinghy races,  and by canoeists and kayakers;  an inflated lifejacket would make recovering and re-entering the boat difficult.

A buoyancy aid or PFD is not a lifejacket.


Builder's Old Measurement:  a measure of a boat's capacity to carry cargo.   See Thames Tonnage.



A triangular club flag flown (usually on a ha'lyard without a staff) at the top of the mast.

See Bob.



A kind of ‘stew’ of oatmeal or ship’s biscuit.

On land,  during the Middle Ages and the Age of Sail,  the kitchen fire would have burned continuously,  keeping the pot simmering.   Meat and vegetables would have been added as available,  so that a meal (especially for an unexpected guest) would be 'pot luck';  the luck of the pot.

At sea the galley fire would have burned only when duties and weather allowed;  burgoo would be prepared when the fire was available.

In North America burgoo has come to mean a stew of meats and vegetables prepared for a gathering of people,  such as a 'fundraiser'.   Similarly,  pot luck has acquired a different meaning.

Modern recipes for burgoo are much tastier.



See Burden


A small tackle,  consisting of two blocks or pulleys.

The war-time RAF expression "Gone for a Burton",  meaning crashed and lost, was derived from the brewery of that name in the Midlands.   A lost pilot had gone for a pint of best bitter and would,  one hoped,  be back soon.


The square end of a plank,  or the way two planks fit together end to end without overlapping.

The joint is weak,  but may be strengthened by a butt-block,  which is a piece of planking fixed (nailed,  screwed or glued) across the joint.


The after part of a boat's bottom,  where it curves upward,  in 3 dimensions,  to the topsides and the transom.

On the lines plan of a boat the buttocks are parallel vertical planes fore and aft.   They appear on the profile as curved lines from near the stem to near the transom;  they appear on the half-breadth as straight lines parallel to the centre-line;  they appear on the body plan as straight lines parallel to the vertical centre-line.   See Kopanycia.


By and Large

'By' implies 'close hauled',  sailing close to the wind,  or into the wind.

'Large' means sailing with the wind,  or downwind.

A vessel might sail well both by and large:  she handles well on all points of sail.   "She sails well,  by and large."

See Full and By.

By the board

Something which falls off the boat has gone 'by the board'.   The board was the topmost strake or wale.

By the Lee

Sails are designed to be most efficient when the wind flows along the sail from the luff to the leech.   On some points of sail the wind may flow from the leech to the luff:  the boat is then sailing ‘by the lee’.   This is less efficient and may be dangerous.

Some sailors use the term to mean that the sail is about to gybe.


John Starkie

October 2020 

If you disagree,

or can't find a word

please let me know.