E   Echo

I am altering my course to starboard

Ear ring

Lengths of rope used to fasten the corners of a sail to a yard (or a gaff or boom).

The earring is spliced to the cringle in the sail.   To stretch the sail along the yard (or boom) the earring is passed twice through a hole near the end of the spar and through the cringle and pulled tight;   it is then passed around the spar and through the cringle several times before being made off with two half-hitches on the standing part.



To slacken a line little by little.   To make a taut line a little slack.   To ease the jib sheets is to release the tension on them and so let the sail out.

Ebb tide

When the height of tide is decreasing and the foreshore is progressively being exposed.

Vessels sailing,  anchored or moored in shallow water may touch the bottom and become grounded.   They might not float again until the next flood tide.   If a vessel grounds within a few minutes of the top of a spring tide it may be two weeks (or several months) before it floats on another spring tide.


Echo sounder

See Sounder


If an observer faces toward the true North,  everywhere on his right hand side is East and everywhere on her left hand side is West.

If an observer faces toward the true South,  everywhere on her left hand side is East and everywhere on his right hand side is West.

'The West' is everywhere to the West of the Greenwich (Prime) meridian;  'the East' is everywhere to the East of the Prime meridian.

Colloquially,  'the West' might mean North America and Europe:  'the East' might mean the Orient.   At one time there might have been an implication of cultural and technological advancement or delay which can no longer be considered appropriate (or even true).



A nominalised adjective describing a current of water.

A current of water flowing in an,  perhaps,  unexpected direction and,  often,  a circular manner.   With a tidal stream flowing around the end of a groyne or wharf the turbulence creates (or is) an eddy current.

Similarly,  tidal streams around a headland create eddy currents,  often circular,  within the downstream bay.



n   The ninth integer in the sequence of decimal numbers.

n   A long,  thin boat with eight oars and a cockswain.   Traditionally used in races and tests of strength and speed by universities such as Cambridge,  Oxford and York,  and by schools and clubs with access to rivers or lakes.



The movement of electrons through wires to be converted into heat,  or light or movement.

Sources of electricity include batteries,  alternators driven by engines,  power stations (into buildings and some boats through electrical sockets and plugs) and lightning.

Boats usually have one or more banks of electrical batteries to provide 12 volts or 24 volts for use around the boat.   The electricity is used for lighting,  for refrigeration and for starting the diesel engines.   Small boats sometimes use electric outboard motors powered by batteries.

The batteries are recharged with electricity from alternators on the diesel engines,  solar panels or wind turbines.   When in a marina the boat may often be plugged in to the shore-side mains electricity to recharge the batteries and to power the on-board appliances.

Electricity can be dangerous,  even at low voltages:  "It's the amps wot kills yer,  not the volts."   Electrical wiring should be undertaken by a qualified expert.




When two dissimilar metals,  such as steel and copper,  are linked together by an electric circuit and immersed in an electrolyte (such as sea water) an electric current flows from one to the other.   The flow of electricity tends to degrade and damage the metal lower in the electrochemical series than the other.

Sea water is a sufficiently good conductor of electricity to cause electrolysis of items such as keel boltsoutboard motor legs,  steel hulls.   To prevent damage to important metal parts most boats are fitted with sacrificial zinc anodes;   zinc is lower in the electrochemical series than most metals and is preferentially degraded.   Zinc anodes should be examined often and replaced as necessary.


Height,  usually above mean sea level.



An artificially constructed bank to contain a channel or river.


An official order prohibiting a vessel from leaving port.




To go on board a ship or boat for a voyage or cruise.

When the ship or boat leaves its moorings and gets under way for a voyage or cruise.



When a sailing vessel is blown into a bay and trapped there by an onshore wind.

This rarely happens to modern sailing vessels which can sail close to the wind.



A situation which may cause injury,  damage or loss of life unless it receives attention in this moment.

Emergencies include fire on board,  flooding of the hull and someone falling off the boat*.   Medical emergencies include heart attacks,  diabetes-related illness,  broken bones.   At times the crew cannot deal with the emergency themselves and must ask for help from outside the boat.   They can set off flares or send a Mayday by radio or activate an Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).  

*(I'm indebted to Dave Bowden for the three Fs of Safety)



Fire on board is one of the most serious emergencies imaginable.

A fire needs three things

  1. Something to burn,  like fuel or plastic or bedding.

  2. Oxygen

  3. Heat,  to start the ignition.

The causes of fire include dropped cigarette,  overloaded electrical wiring,  escaping gas,  spilt fuel.

Cigarettes.   Most skippers forbid smoking anywhere on board.   Some skippers allow smoking in one location,  usually aft of the wheel or tiller.   Serious addicts may be tempted to light up in the seclusion of their bunk,  when they are off watch.   They fall asleep and the lighted cigarette ignites their bedding and starts a fire.

Electrical.   Even low voltage wiring can become overloaded and catch fire.   Such a fire might start behind panelling or headlining and be difficult to locate and extinguish.

Gas.   On most boats cooking is powered by bottled gas,  which is heavier than air and,  when it escapes,  sinks to the bottom of any compartment.   A stray spark or flame will ignite the gas and cause an explosion.

Fuel.   Diesel fuel has a high flash point and is difficult to ignite.   It does not explode,  but can burn fiercely when hot.   Petrol has a relatively low flash point and will ignite easily and burn fiercely.

Extinguishers.   There are 4 basic types of fire extinguisher.

  • Water-based extinguishers spray water or a water-based foam under pressure;  the water cools the fire and steam deprives it of oxygen.   Fuel fires will float above water,  so these extinguishers simply spread the flames.   Water is a moderately good conductor of electricity,  so electrical fires could be made worse.

  • Carbon dioxide-based extinguishers release carbon dioxide gas which deprives the fire of oxygen.   It also deprives people of oxygen and can kill them.

  • Dry powder extinguishers spray a dry powder over the fire which deprives it of oxygen.




A flooded boat will usually sink.    Most boats have many holes through which water can enter,  the most obvious one being the companionway hatch.   Heavy seas can break the windows,  unless they are fitted with storm boards.

Virtually all yachts have seacocks through which water is drawn into the boat or pumped out.   Each heads has an intake and an outlet.   The engine has an intake for raw cooling water and,  sometimes,  an outlet for warm water.   If there is no outlet then water is pumped out through the exhaust pipe which itself could allow ingress of water.   Each of the sinks has a drain through the hull.   Each one of these seacocks is connected to a flexible hose,  and each one has the potential to fail and allow water into the boat.

Each seacock should have a soft wooden bung attached to it;  this bung can be driven into the hole created by a broken hose or seacock.   The action of the handle should be checked often and the valves should be cleaned and lapped when necessary.

The boat should have at least one good bilge pump.   An electrical pump might fail if sea water short cuts the supply;  an engine-driven pump might fail if sea water gets into,  and damages,  the engine.   Manual bilge pumps work well;  even better when the user is frightened.



Falling off

If you fall off the boat into warm,  calm Mediterranean water you'll probably still be alive when the crew brings the boat back for you.

If you fall off the boat into cold,  stormy English Channel water the crew may never find your body.

Diving and swimming from the boat is relaxing,  invigorating and healthy exercise.   Falling off is a surprise;  it catches you unaware.   'Cold water shock' causes your skin temperature to fall sharply;  your skin capillaries close and your blood pressure increases so that your heart suddenly must work much harder.   You gasp,  perhaps inhaling water,  and you breath up to ten times faster than normal.   This lack of control leads to panic,  and,  often,  a heart attack.   The effect of 'cold water shock' is short-lived;  and so are you.

A lifejacket can keep you afloat,  with your head out of water,  long enough to survive the shock and,  perhaps,  be rescued.

There are two solutions

  1. Don't fall off the boat;  use a harness and clip on every time you leave the cockpit.

  2. If you must fall off,  wear a lifejacket that has recently been checked and serviced.


Medical emergency

It is part of the skipper's responsibilities to know the medical condition of all crew members,  and to know what to do if any of them becomes unwell.

The skipper should be trained and competent in First Aid and emergency procedures.



Calling for help

The moment it becomes clear that the crew cannot control the emergency;  call for help.   In UK coastal waters the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is waiting for your call.


MOBOS.   Man OverBoard Operating System.   The system operates automatically when the lifejacket to which it is attached is inflated.   It uses Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radio to pass a GPS position to the craft from which the MOB has fallen,  and to guide the helmsman to the MOB.

MOB Systems.   There are four kinds.

  • Proximity alarms

  • DSC systems

  • AIS systems

  • 121.5MHz systems

PLB.   Personal Locator Beacon.   A device which can be clipped to a lifejacket.   When activated by a person in the water (MOB) it sends alert and location signals which can be picked up by the MCA.

EPIRB.   Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon.   A device with the same function and purpose as a PLB,  but attached to the boat.

Mayday.   DSC and VHF voice procedure for declaring an emergency and asking for help.

DSC radio.   Digital Selective Calling radio,  with a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (a unique number which can selectively be called from another DSC radio.

Liferaft.   An inflatable raft.  often equipped with water,  oars,  a drogue, to provide emergency flotation and survival accommodation for people whose boat has sunk.




Emergency Wreck marker

To indicate the presence of a new and dangerous wreck.

The buoy itself has vertical blue and yellow bands and the topmark is a vertical yellow cross.   The light flashes alternately blue and yellow.

Emergency wreck markers may be arranged in a ring around the wreck and their lights are arranged to flash synchronously.

According to Trinity House,

"Trinity House has a statutory duty under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 to mark and, if appropriate, remove wrecks which are a danger to navigation"


A line which has been used for a single purpose (such as a ha'lyard) for some time might begin to show wear or chafe at places where it passes through a block,  or is made up on a cleat.

Rearranging the line so that the bitter end becomes the free end,  and vice versa, usually moves the points of chafe and gives the line a new lease of life.




A mechanical device for converting fuel into useful work.

Modern (early C21) auxiliary yachts are fitted with a diesel powered internal combustion engine for auxiliary propulsion.   The engine is mounted permanently in the boat and is attached through a gearbox to a propeller at the stern.   Inboard petrol auxiliary engines were common in the early to mid C20,  but petrol has a lower flashpoint than diesel and so these relatively dangerous engines are now rare.

Smaller sailing yachts and dinghies may use a petrol or electric (rarely diesel) outboard engine which can be attached to,  and detached from,  the transom.

Motor yachts and power boats are fitted with one or more diesel engines.   Increasing numbers of lower speed power boats are fitted with electric engines.

At the end of the Age of Sail ships were fitted with external combustion steam engines,  using coal or wood as fuels.   Such engines are now rare,  but many ships burn oil to provide high pressure steam to drive electricity generators,  which in turn,  power electric propulsion engines.

The concept of ‘steaming’ (meaning to move a boat by means of an engine) lives on:  the masthead light is often called a ‘steaming light’.

The power of internal and external combustion engines is measured in horsepower;  the power of electric engines is measured in Kilowatts.

Engine room

The space inside the vessel which contains the engine.


The flag which indicates a vessel's nationality,  or state of registration.

n   The Union Flag of the United Kingdom is not an ensign and may be flown as a jack only by vessels of the Royal Navy.

Ships of the (British) Royal Navy fly the White Ensign,  a white flag with a red vertical cross with the (British) Union Flag in the upper hoist canton.

Ships of the British Merchant Navy (any British vessel!) fly the Red Ensign,  a red flag with the (British) Union Flag in the upper hoist canton.

The Blue Ensign may be flown only by members of certain yacht clubs and reserves.

Between 1652 and 1864 there were three squadrons of the Royal Navy,  with red,  white and blue ensigns.   Each squadron had its admirals,  vice-admirals and rear admirals;  Lord Nelson was Vice Admiral of the White;  the Admiral of the Red was also Admiral of the Fleet.


n   An ensign was once a junior officer responsible for carrying the ensign.   It is now a rank in the US Navy comparable with a midshipman.




Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.


A synthetic resin which,  when activated with a hardener,  becomes hard.   Its low viscosity allows it to penetrate the surface of materials such as wood and so it is widely used as a glue.   It has the advantage of filling large gaps.

Some people become allergic to epoxy resin;  this is especially dangerous if it affects the lungs.   Many users wear protective gloves,  clothes and respirators.

Hardened epoxy resin can be sanded,  especially when pre-mixed with wood dust or glass microballoons.   The dust is non-reactive,  but is cleared from lungs and bronchi with some difficulty.

Simulated clinker (glued plywood clinker) (lapstrake in the USA) boats are glued with epoxy resin,  as are 'stitch-and-glue' plywood boats.




Meridians of longitude are imaginary lines around the earth passing through both poles.

Parallels of latitude are imaginary lines around the earth at right angles to the meridians.   The shortest parallels of latitude,  with no length at all,  are at the poles.   The longest parallel of latitude,  around the ‘middle’ of the earth,  is the equator.

The equator separates the Northern hemisphere from the Southern hemisphere.   The other parallels are measured in angular distance North and South of the equator.   The poles are 90° North and 90° South of the equator.   Since each minute of arc on a meridian is one sea mile,  the poles are 5400 sea miles from the equator.

The equator is the point on any meridian which the sun appears to cross halfway between midwinter and midsummer;  half way between its Northernmost limit at the Tropic of Cancer and its Southernmost limit at the Tropic of Capricorn;  at the Spring equinox and the Autumn equinox..



The moment,  each Spring and each Autumn,  when the sun appears to cross the Equator.

On the day of each equinox the day-length is equal to the night-length.

Estimated Position (EP)

The predicted position of the boat using the heading,  the boat speed (through the water) and the tidal stream.

1    Plot the fix on the chart

2    Convert the Compass heading to Magnetic

3    Apply leeway to the Magnetic heading 

4    Convert the corrected Magnetic heading to True heading

5    Plot the heading (a Water Track,  one arrow) from the fix:  mark off one hour of boat speed to the DR

6    Calculate the set and drift of the tide as follows:

6.1    Find the time of high water at the reference port

6.2    Calculate the hour of high water

6.3    Find the tidal hour of the voyage

6.4    Look up the set and drift of the tide (the tide vector) from the table of diamonds or the tidal stream atlas

7    Plot the tide vector (three arrows) from the DR

8    Mark the EP (with a dot inside a triangle) at the end of the tide vector,  and label it with the predicted time and log reading.

9    Plot the Ground Track from the fix to the EP:   mark it with two arrows

The RYA's Estimated Position is the Dead Reckoning positions of Falconer and Smyth.

Estimated time of arrival

ETA;  the time at which a moving object is expected to reach its destination.

For a water-borne vessel,

ETA = (Distance to go/SOG) + time now

nM   / (nM/hrs) = hrs


That part of a river, near its mouth, which is subject to tides. At all states of the tide there is sea water in the river bed: the river bed is at or below chart datum

The water in an estuary is a variable mixture of fresh and sea water.

The upstream beginning of an estuary is where the fresh water of the river meets the highest salt tide;  the downstream ending of an estuary is rarely fresh.

Estuaries may take the form of rias (drowned river valleys),  fjords (formed by glaciation),  lagoons (where sedimentation forms bars at the estuary mouth) and tectonic cracks.

Estuaries often form natural harbours,  and ports and marinas may be sited within them.


Estimated time of arrival


A block with a number of sheaves,  or dumb sheaves,  for distributing equally the tension on a number of lines.

The euphroe shown in the photograph distributes the tension of the two-sheave block on the left to the 'sheetlets',  or lines,  to the battens of a junk-rigged sail.

These 'sheetlets' are derivatives of vangs.


Between 1800  and midnight (2400 or 0000) (local time).

See watch.


A fire extinguisher is a device for putting out,  stopping,  extinguishing,  a fire.

There are,  broadly,  three kinds of fire extinguisher.

  1. A water-based extinguisher is filled with water which might be expelled from the device as a spray or jet of water,  or as a water-based foam;  the evaporation of the water cools the fire below its flash point.   Since fuel oils float on water,  a water-based extinguisher should not be used on fuel-based fires.   Since water is a moderately good conductor of electricity,  they should not be used on electrical fires.

  2. Carbon dioxide based extinguishers are filled with compressed carbon dioxide which is expelled from the device as a gas which deprives the fire of oxygen.   (It also deprives of oxygen the human occupants of the space,  possibly fatally)   As the gas expands out of the device it cools rapidly;  water vapour in the air often freezes onto the container;  the user's hands might freeze onto the device.

  3. Dry-powder extinguishers release a powder which deprives the fire of oxygen.

Fire blankets are used to cover fires at the galley;  the fire then deprives itself of oxygen.

Candle snuffers are metal cones which are lowered onto a candle flame which uses up the small amount of oxygen available under the snuffer.

On a boat,  fire extinguishers should be mounted close to the exits of each compartment so that they can be collected as the occupants leave.

Fire blankets should be mounted close to the galley,  but not so that the user must reach over the flames.

The extinguishers in the engine room or compartment should be automatically activated by excess heat in the engine room.   Alternatively,  an extinguisher should be discharged through the small hole in the engine cover.

Fire extinguishers should be checked regularly (perhaps annually) and refilled or replaced as necessary.


The point at which a stand-on vessel must finally give way to a give-way vessel which has failed to give way.

Eye Bolt

One end of the bolt is threaded,  the other end is turned into an eye,  or loop.   The bolt is passed through a timber,  a washer and nut are attached to hold it in place and a line may be bent to the eye.

Typically,  an eye bolt is passed through the stem of a dinghy and a painter is bent to the eye.

Eye splice

A weaving,  or  knot,  which forms a semi-permanent eye,  or loop,  in the end of a line.

Two eye splices in the handle of a ditty bag


John Starkie

March 2018

If you disagree,

or can't find a word,

please let me know.