F   Foxtrot

I am disabled,

communicate with me

Fag end (of a rope)

The unwhipped end of a rope which has become untwisted and loosened.


adj   No precipitation (meteorologically).

adv   A curve (as in the lines of a vessel) is fair if it is smooth with no deviations.   It forms an arc (not usually of a circle).

adj   A fair wind allows a boat to sail in a chosen direction.



A gap or hole in the planking,  gunwale or toerail to guide sheets or warps.

A specially constructed piece of hardware mounted on the edge of the boat,  or elsewhere,  to guide sheets or warps.

Two fairleads

Two fairleads in the bulwark of a Thames sailing barge.   The upper fairlead has a roller or sheave for guiding a line.   The lower one is a reinforced hole in the bulwark.


See Flake,  below.


The free end of the line,  the part which is hauled.   The fall of a ha'lyard might be belayed to a cleat near the heel of the mast.

Falling home

See Tumblehome

Fall off

To turn downwind;  to bear away;  to turn away from the wind.   There is an implication of it being unintended.

Fashion piece

The timber framework around the transom,  connected to the side planking and to the keel and deadwood.



adv   If a line has been made fast it has been fastened (tied,  belayed) to a cleat.

A vessel is fast aground if it cannot be moved.

adj,  adv   A fast vehicle is one which can be moved quickly,  or more quickly that is normally expected.


Something which permanently holds one part to another.

For examples;  nails,  clench nails,  rivets and roves,  screws,  treenails,  glue.

Nails,  rivets and screws hold the two parts closely and tightly together so that friction prevents them moving against one another;   the fastenings should be in tension,  not shear.

Treenails may act in shear,  but are big enough to prevent movement.

Glues act in tension or in shear:  choose the correct glue!


n   A measure of depth or charted depth equal to 6 feet (1.8m).   The measure became obsolete in Britain with metrication during the 20th Century,  but still lingers on many USA charts.


v   'to fathom';  used colloquially meaning 'to plumb the depth of knowledge'.   Most often used in the negative:  "I can't fathom the meaning of this sentence."


Feather edged

Of a plank or board which tapers across its width so that one edge is narrower than the other.


A squashy,  sausage shaped,  or spherical,  object hung from the rail or stanchions between the boat and the quayside to prevent damage to the topsides.   Also called a ‘fendoff’.Truly salty sailors make their own fenders by knotting and plaiting lengths of old rope;  if they sell these items they get money for old rope.



A vessel which carries vehicles and foot passengers to and from the same ports on a regular schedule.

The North Sea ferries between Harwich and hoek van Holland carries dozens of vehicles and hundreds of people,  with sleeping accommodation.   The two vessels pass one another en route,  so that a vessel leaves each port at the same time every day.

Ro-ro is an abbreviation for 'roll on,  roll off',  meaning that vehicles can drive onto and off the vessel without reversing.

The ferry across the River Deben carries up to 12 people,  but no vehicles,  between Felixstowe Ferry and Bawdsey on demand


n   The distance,  usually in nautical miles,  which the wind blows over the sea.
All else being equal the fetch of the wind determines the sea state,  or the height of waves.   A Westerly wind blowing onto a Northern beach of Cornwall has a fetch of some 5,000 or 6,000 miles and lifts waves large enough for exciting surfing.   The same Westerly over a Suffolk beach has no fetch at all:  calm water means no surfing and smooth sailing.

v   To fetch,  or weather a mark or headland is to arrive without tacking.   There is an implication of uncertainty about the outcome.   "Will we fetch the buoy,  or shall we need to change the tack?"


Conventional ropes consist of three (sometimes four) strands twisted together.   Each strand consists of a large number of fibres twisted together.

Modern ropes may be plaited or woven.


n   A tapered bar of metal or wood passed through a hole in another piece to hold something in place.


n   A tapered wooden or steel spike used to separate the strands of rope for splicing.

A Swedish fid has a deep groove along one side so that a strand of rope can be passed before the fid is withdrawn.


n   A raised rim around the edge of a table or shelf to prevent cutlery and crockery sliding off when the boat is heeled.   The burners of the cooker have adjustable fiddles to secure the pans.

n   A stringed musical instrument played with a bow:  a violin.

Violinists tend to play classical music;  fiddlers tend to play folk music.

Tradition has it that a fiddler would sit on the capstan to give the timing to the men on the bars;  they would sing the shantys to the music.

v   To cheat or defraud:  unscrupulous pursers might fiddle the ship's account books and defraud the men of their entitlement.


Fiddler's Green

A legendary afterlife,  with perpetual fiddle music,  laughter & dancing and an endless supply of grog.

Fife rail

A rail placed around each mast,  fitted with belaying-pins to belay ropes.


A Scottish two-masted fishing vessel,  with lug sails.   It was double ended,  with a vertical stem and sternpost.

See Skaffie,  Zulu.


A carved figure at the head of a ship,  beneath the bowsprit.

The Vikings used carvings of fearsome beasts to frighten away the evil spirits of the sea.

Merchant and fighting ships of the Age of Sail used complex carving and gilding,  often slightly erotic,  to imply wealth and power.

See the image of The Amsterdam,  under Heads.


The oxidation of a combustible material.

Oxidation is accompanied by the release of heat and light.   The heat vapourises the material and a cone of oxidising gas and air forms a flame.   Unoxidised material forms smoke,  which is often partially oxidised to toxic gases.


A controlled fire,  in a hearth or grate or stove provides heat for warmth and cooking.   The gas ring of the galley stove provides a controlled fire for cooking food.

A controlled fire in an engine provides motive power and heat.


An uncontrolled fire destroys structures such as boats and buildings.   It releases heat and toxic gases and smoke which kill people.

An uncontrolled fire is the single most dangerous event on a boat.

See Emergency.


A device with a barrel for launching a projectile at high speed by igniting a material which releases a large volume of high pressure gas.

Firearms range from handguns (pistols and revolvers) through rifles and shotguns to (possibly) portable anti-tank weapons.

Fire extinguisher

A device for stopping fires.   See extinguisher.


First watch

Between 2000 and midnight (ship’s time).

See Watch


v   To join two,  or repair broken spars by laying the parts side by side,  laying fillets of wood in the gaps and binding the whole with cordage.

v   To secure the anchor to the cathead.   To cat the anchor.

n   Gill-bearing aquatic vertebrates which have fins instead of limbs.

v   To catch fish.


See Sounder.


A fix marked on the chart is a dot,  or a cross,  surrounded by a circle and should have the time of the fix and the log reading of the boat marked against it.   The time and location (latitude & longitude) of the fix should be entered into the navigators notebook.


If bearings are taken with a magnetic compass on fixed features,  converted from °magnetic to °true,  and plotted on the chart they form position lines:   the boat lies somewhere on these position lines.   Several (usually 3) such position lines,  passing through roughly the same point,  fix the position of the boat.
A position has been fixed when the time and log reading have been written on the chart,  and the time and position (latitude and longitude) entered into the logbook.

A GNSS instrument can display the latitude and longitude of its position at any time.   This can be marked on the chart (with time and log reading) as a fix.
A GNSS instrument can measure the bearing to a waypoint,  and measure the distance to the waypoint (range).   This fixes the position of the instrument.

When your boat passes an object the position of which is known (such as a buoy or a rock) you can mark the position of your boat on the chart for that moment.

Fixed light

A continuous and steady light.
Typically,  the green and red lights on pierheadswharfs and harbour entrances are fixed.
In IALA-A a wharf on the right hand side of the estuary (when returning to harbour) will show two fixed green lights vertically one above the other.   Abbreviated 2.F.G (vert).


A multicoloured piece of cloth,  or bunting,  hoisted on a staff with a ha'lyard.

The Union Jack is flown on the jackstaff of Royal Navy vessels.

The ensign is flown on a staff as far aft as possible.

Courtesy flags (ensigns of a nation being visited) are flown at the starboard crosstrees  (on a yacht,  from the starboard spreader).

House flags are flown at the port crosstrees.

Club burgees are flown at the top of the highest mast.

Signal flags are flown on a ha'lyard from the crosstrees;  they convey messages to other stations.   Signal flags are shown at the top right of each page of this dictionary,  together with their meanings.   Now that we have radios and mobile telephones,  signal flags are rarely used.


Flag Officer

A flag officer is a commissioned officer in a nation's armed forces senior enough to be entitled to fly a flag to mark the position from which the officer exercises command.

The term is used differently in different countries:

In many countries, a flag officer is a senior officer of the navy, specifically those who hold any of the admiral ranks; the term may or may not include the rank of commodore.


v   syn:  Fake:  To lay out a long line or chain neatly in parallel lengths so that it runs freely without snagging.

n   " . . a sort of platform made of hurdles.  and supported  by stanchions,  and used for drying cod-fish in Newfoundland."   Falconer,  1815.

n   " . . a small stage hung over a ship's side,  to calk or repair any breach,Falconer,  1815.


n   The outward curvature of the topsides of a vessel,  especially a power-driven vessel.


n   A pyrotechnic device for signalling,  especially in an emergency.   Pyrotechnic flares,  which are dangerous,  are being superseded by LED flares (EVDS).



Referring to the light on a buoy or lighthouse where the duration of the light is less than the duration of darkness:  the frequency is less than 30 times per minute.   Abbreviated Fl.
Quick flash:  the flashes are more frequent than 60 times per minute.   Abbreviated QFl. or Q.
Very quick flash:  the frequency is at least 100 times per minute.   Abbreviated VQFl. or VQ.
Long flash:  the duration of the flash is at least 2 seconds.   Abbreviated L.Fl
See also FixedDirectionalIsophaseOcculting.


n   A sudden small breeze,  or gust of wind which passes over the sea,  and is gone.

n   A weak point,  perhaps a crack or void,  in a structure.


n   A large assembly of ships;  part of a navy assembled for a particular purpose.

adj   A relatively archaic word for quick,  speedy.  "A tortoise is slow-moving,  but a cheetah is fleet of foot."

v  To fleet a tackle:  to draw the blocks closer together,  and so increase the tension,  perhaps until the tackle is "block and block' or 'chock a'block'.   To draw the deadeyes closer,  perhaps because the shrouds have become slack.

The term is archaic;  no-one in C21 would 'fleet a turnbuckle'.


Flemish coil

A decorative way of coiling a line so that it lies in a flat spiral on the deck.

It leaves permanent unbleached and dirty marks on a wooden deck,  it forms grockles when the line is put to use and it eventually slides off the deck into the propeller.   Lines should be hung from pins or cleats,  in coils clear of the deck.



v   To be buoyed up by a fluid,  so that part is immersed and part is not.   Ships and boats float on water (unless they sink).

n   Something which is partly immersed in a fluid.

Buoys float on the surface of the sea to tell mariners where they are.

Pot and net buoys float on the surface to tell the fishermen (and passing vessels) where their pots and nets are.

Some vessels (such as proas,  trimarans)  have floats (ama) on outriggers to keep the vessel upright.



v   To punish with a whip or a cat o' nine tails.   The criminal would be tied to a grating and whipped (lashed) up to 1000 times.   He might survive a dozen or more lashes,  unless the wounds became infected,  but not 1000.

v   A sail flogs when the sheet is loose and it whips backward and forward with the wind.   A flogging sail will be destroyed within a short time.   The fast-moving clew cringle or block can cause severe injury to people nearby.

Flood tide

When the height of tide is increasing,  and the foreshore is progressively being covered by water.


adj   An adjective describing the missing word,  'timber';  this is the transverse timber close to,  or part of,  the frame of a boat crossing,  and on either side of,  the keel.   Its named purpose is to support the floorboards which constitute the 'sole';  its secondary purpose is to strengthen the junction of keel and frame timbers in the region of the garboard.

For a drawing of floor timbers,  see Futtock,  below.


n   The bottom of a boat,  on each side of the keel,  where it is nearly horizontal.   Falconer,  1815.

n   The loft floor is a large,  flat,  smooth area above the workshop where sails are spread,  measured,  cut and sewed and where the lines of new vessels are laid out for fairing and correction of the offsets.



Something which adds to the buoyancy of a vessel;  something which helps to keep it afloat,  or upright;  something which keeps a vessel afloat if it otherwise fills with water.

Many dinghies carry inflatable flotation bags secured to the structure of the dinghy.   The air-filled bags displace enough water to keep the dinghy afloat when swamped.

Long,  narrow vessels,  like sailing canoes,  often have sponsons (or amas) on outriggers to one or both sides to keep the vessel upright when 'heeled' to the wind.


Flotsam is floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo.


The wedge shaped,  or triangular,  part of an anchor that digs into the seabed.   The shank of the anchor lies flat on the seabed,  and is held flat by the stock so that the flukes (or flooks,  or palms) dig down into the seabed.

Fluxgate Compass

A compass which is electronically calibrated and adjusted.


of a flag or ensign is the distance from the staff to the fluttering end.

Flying jib

A fore-and-aft fore-sail,  tacked at the stemhead and flying on its own hal'yard and luffwire,  and not attached to a stay.


Airborne water droplets close to the ground;  visibility is less than 1km.

Fog is formed when the temperature falls below the dewpoint.

  • Advection fog forms when warm moist air blows over a cold sea.   The water vapour condenses into water droplets:  fog.   Warm sun does not dissipate advection fog;  it may make it thicker.   Advection fog vapourises when the sea temperature rises or when the wind falls.

  • Radiation fog forms over land when the air temperature falls below the dew point and the water in the warm ground continues to evaporate.   This normally happens in Spring and Autumn when the ground is warmer than the air at night.   Radiation fog gets thicker near dawn,  when the air temperature is lowest.   It evaporates when the sun warms the air and it dissipates with the wind.   Radiation fog affects the sailor when the fog,  behaving as a fluid heavier than air,  flows down the river valleys and out to sea.


n   The lowermost edge of the sail.


n   A more or less obsolete (except in the USA) unit of length equal to 12 inches,  or 1/3 of a yard,  or 1/6 of a fathom.



A structure on a boat which deflects the air or the water in order to control and adjust the trim or heading of the boat.

A sail is an aerofoil which moves the boat and (to a degree) controls its heading.

There are two forms of windvane:  one is an aerofoil which is linked to the rudder to control the heading of the boat with respect to the wind:  the other is a device near the top of a mast to indicate the direction (and perhaps) the strength of the wind.

A rudder is a vertical hydrofoil which controls the heading of the boat.

A fin (keeldaggerboardcentreboardleeboard) is a vertical hydrofoil which controls the leeway of a boat.

A hydrofoil (!) is a horizontal foil which lifts a boat mostly or entirely out of the water.


A stout rope or wire hung under the yards of square-rigged ships.   Topmen would stand on the footropes to release the gaskets (sail-ties) and to reef and hand the sails.

Footropes are often provided below the booms of large fore-and-aft rigged vessels.

Click on the photograph of The Amsterdam (on the right) to see details of the footropes and their hangers.


A 'push' or a 'pull'.   An interaction which causes a mass to accelerate.   A force is a vector with both direction and magnitude.

The wind acts as a force which accelerates an object (such as a boat).   The acceleration ceases (and speed remains constant) when opposing forces (such as friction of the water) equal the force of the wind.

A propeller acts as a force which pushes water astern and the boat forward.

See Beaufort


On a fore-and-aft rigged vessel the mainsails are attached by their luff to a mast;  on a gaff-rigged vessel their heads are attached to the gaff.   The staysails are attached by their luffs to the stays.   The mainsail is reefed and furled to the boom or (occasionally) the mast.   The staysails are furled either by rolling them around the stay or by hauling them down to the deck.

Square-rigged vessels also have staysails (perhaps as many as 9 or 10),  and a spanker,  which are fore-and-aft.

The wind flows along the sails from the mast or the stay (the luff of the sail) to the leech of the sail.

On a square-rigged vessel the square-sails are suspended by their heads from horizontal yards forward of the mast.   The forward lower corner of the course sail (the tack) is tacked down to a bow;  the after lower corner is sheeted to the rail aft. The yards are square (at right angles) to the mast and symmetrical about the mast.   When necessary the sails are reefed or furled up to the yard.

The wind flows along the sail from the fore-leech to the after-leech.


Both types of vessel can change tack either by turning their bows through the wind (staying) or by turning their stern through the wind (wearing or gybing).


A square-rigged vessel on the port tack carries its port yardarms braced well forward and its starboard yardarms braced well aft.   The portside clew is tacked down to the port bow and the starboard side clew is drawn aft by a sheet(line).

The wind flows along the sail from the fore-leech (on the port side) to the after-leech (on the starboard side)

When changing tack by staying,  the yards are braced the other way;  the erstwhile tack of the course sails becomes the clew and is sheeted aft;  the erstwhile clew becomes the tack and is tacked down to the starboard bow.   At some time while staying all of the square-sails are aback,  possibly for several minutes.   (see boxhaul)

When changing tack by wearing,  the tacks,  clews and yards are worked in the same way,  but the square-sails are never aback.

The luff and leech,  tack and clew of fore-and-aft sails are not interchangeable as they are with square-rigged sails.

A fore-and-aft rigged vessel on the port tack carries its boom,  and the clew of its staysail(s),  out to starboard,  ‘braced’ by their sheets on the starboard side.   The same is true of the staysails and spanker of a square-rigged vessel.

When changing tack by staying the staysail sheets (attached to the clews) are moved to the port side,  and the mainsail boom moves over to the port side.   At no time are the sails aback,  and the tacks are never moved.*

When a fore-and-aft rigged vessel changes tack by gybing the mainsail boom and the staysail clew are moved to the other side;  for a short time both sails are alee,  but not aback.   The tacks are not moved.


Lug rigs are intermediate between square-rig and fore-and-aft rig.   They have yards which are rarely square to the mast and never symmetrical about the mast.   The sails are never reefed or furled upward to the yard**;  usually the yard is brought down into the boat.

When changing tack by staying the tack of balanced lugs and standing lugs is not moved;  the tack of a dipping lug is changed from one bow to the other by being brought abaft the mast,  but even then,  the same tack (of the sail) is used.  The sheets (at the clews) are taken to the other side.  The sails are never aback.

When changing tack by gybing the tacks and clews are treated in the same way;  the sails are,  for a short time alee,  but not aback

Lug rigs are stayed and gybed as though they were fore-and-aft rigged.

*The phrase 'changing tack'  has lost its original meaning.   The noun 'tack' has two meanings:  one is applied to the heading of a fore-and-aft rigged boat relative to the wind:  the second defines the forward lower corner of a sail.   The verb 'to tack' now means to change the wind (not the tack of the sail) from one side of the boat to the other.

**Except in the cases of the lateen and the settee.


v   To say something will happen before it does happen.   To predict a future occurrence on the basis of past and present data.

n   The weather forecast is a service provided (by the Meteorological Office through,  among others,  the BBC and the MCA) for the benefit of mariners.   It predicts winds and precipitation on the basis of the movements of high and low pressure systems.

Forecastle (Fo’c’s’l’)

Galleons of the 13th,  14th and 15th Centuries had high fighting castles forward and aft.   With time,  the height of these castles was reduced;  eventually they disappeared,  but fo’c’s’l’ is still used to describe the forward part of a ship.



The weather deck abaft the stem and between the bows.


That part of the stem below the waterline and curving into the keel.


Where a vessel has more than one mast,  the foremast is the one nearest the head of the vessel,  except in ketches and yawls,  where the foremost mast is the mainmast and the aftermost mast is a mizzen mast.



Between 0800 (local time) and noon (1200).

Forenoon watch

Between 0800 (local time) and noon (1200).   See Watch.


The narrow triangular space below the foredeckabaft the stem and between the topsides of the bows.  Often used for accommodation or for storage,  especially of spare sails and the anchor.

It usually has a scuttle or hatch overhead.



A sail forward of,  or associated with,  the foremast.


The beach;  the land at the edge of the sea.


Stays from the stemhead,  foredeck or bowsprit to the mast.   They help to support the mast,  and they carry staysails such as jibs,  genoas.


Toward the head (front) of the ship;  nearer to the bows and stem;  something forward of the mast is in front of the mast,  or between the mast and the stem.


Not clear;  at risk of entanglement.

Foul ground (marked on a chart) is not safe for anchoring because the anchor may become entangled.

An anchor is foul when it has become entangled.

A propeller may be fouled by a stray line.

A ship's bottom is foul when it is covered with weed and barnacles.

A foul wind is blowing in the wrong direction.

Foul weather is rain and strong wind.

Foul water is cloudy,  murky,  unfit to drink.

A vessel makes foul water when her keel is so close to the sea bottom that the turbulence around the keel and propeller stirs up the sand and mud.


Slang for foul weather clothing.   See oilies,  oilskins.


v   To fill with water and sink.

n   The person who starts something,  such as a school or institution or tradition.


The timbers at the sides of the ship to the inside of which is attached the ceiling and to the outside of which is attached the planking.   They may be entire,  or may be constructed with a number of futtocks (qv).

The structural components which maintain the shape of the ship.

Frames are sometimes known as ribs,  from their superficial similarity to the ribs of a vertebrate animal.


v   To use small stuff to bind a seizing or whipping.

A seizing is frapped with two or more turns at right angles to the seizing to tighten and contain the original turns.

A ha'lyard is frapped when a couple of turns of line are taken around the ha'lyard and a shroud.   The frapping keeps the ha'lyard away from the mast and prevents it tapping.   The sound of a ha'lyard tapping against the mast is amplified by the hull and keeps everyone awake.   The sound is transmitted through water and keeps awake the occupants of neighbouring boats.

The eye in the photograph is not spliced,  but has been made by seizing the two ends with many turns of small stuff.   The seizing has been frapped with two turns of the same small stuff

Seizing and frapping

The height of the hull (to the gunwale or sheerstrake) above the water.



A cargo vessel.



Fresh water is drinkable;  salt water is not.

River water is fresh (but often not drinkable);  sea water is salt.

A breeze of wind freshens when it becomes stronger.


"Freshen the Nip"

Readjust the line (tow, sea anchor,  mooring) occasionally to move a point of chafe.



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.

The first frigates were Mediterranean vessels with sails and oars.

By 1815 they were “light,  nimble ships,  built for . . sailing swiftly.”   They carried 20 to 50 guns and were used for patrolling and carrying messages.   Typically,  they had a quarterdeck and a forecastle both 4 or 5 steps up from the waist and were ship-rigged.

Now (early C21) oil (or even nuclear) powered frigates are used to protect other warships and merchant ships.


The moving boundary between two masses of air at different temperatures or pressures.   Where a mass of warmer air is moving toward,  displacing or rising above colder air there is a warm front.    Where a mass of colder air moves toward,  displaces or sinks below warmer air a cold front develops.   Where a cold front overtakes,  and merges with,  a warm front an occluded front is formed.   Frontal systems tend to form around depressions.

Frontal system

A depression with two or more fronts.

Full and by

When the sails are full and the air is flowing across them.   Not quite close-hauled,   A fine reach.

Coll.   Getting on with a job without fuss.


Something which can be burned to release heat which can be turned into useful work.



n   On a ship,  a funnel is a cylindrical structure above the deck which carries the smoke and exhaust from the engines high above the ship.   When steamships were fuelled with wood or coal the funnel acted as a chimney,  carrying hot gases upward and drawing fresh air into the fire.

n   A hollow cone,  with a hollow stem,  to direct the flow of a liquid into a narrow aperture.

v   Wind may be funnelled,  or channelled,  between high hills or buildings and create strong gusts at sea.   A tidal stream or river current may be accelerated,  or funnelled,  around a headland or between banks.


v   To roll or fold a sail neatly and securely on a yard or boom so that the wind cannot fill any part of it.

The word is occasionally used as a noun,  but a more appropriate noun is 'stow'.

A 'sea-stow' means that the sail has been furled securely,  at sea,  but not necessarily neatly;  the ship may be pitching and rolling,  making work on the yards or the boom difficult and dangerous.

A 'harbour-stow' is neat and tidy:  'ship-shape and Bristol fashion'.

Futtock (foot-hook)

The curved pieces of timber which make up the frame timbers.

In this drawing by Trevor Kenchington 1 and 5 are floor (timbers),  6,  7 and 8 are frame futtocks,  9 is a top timber.   The planks would be fastened to the outside of the floor timbers,  the futtocks and the top timbers;  the ceiling would be fastened to the inside.

See Floor.   Note that the floor timbers in this illustration are capable of supporting floorboards:  they also strengthen the junction of the 1st futtock,  keel and garboard.


Futtock shrouds

The shrouds running from the mast upward and outward to the edges of the top.



John Starkie

December 2018

If you disagree,

or can't find a word

please let me know.