H   Hotel

I have a pilot on board


n   Concentric spheres of frozen water or snow which fall from thunderclouds.

Cumulus clouds form around updraughts of air rising over warm ground.   The water droplets of the clouds coalesce and,  at altitude,  freeze.   Away from the rising air the frozen droplets (hailstones) fall,  but may rise again in the updraught;  as they do,  more water freezes around the hailstones in concentric layers.   This may be repeated several or many times before the hailstones fall to the ground.

Hailstones vary enormously in size,  from a few millimetres in diameter to several tens of millimetres.

v   To call out to attract attention.


The rope or wire (sometimes chain) which hauls the yards or sails up the mast.  ‘Haul yard’ or ha’lyard.
 Spelled ‘halliard’ and 'ha'lyard' by Falconer in 1815.

See Introduction.


A length of cloth or netting,  about 2m long by about a metre wide,  gathered at both ends and stretched between hooks,  to form a bed.

Hammock aboard Grand Turk

n   The mobile and manipulative assembly of skin,  muscles,  blood vessels and bones at the end of a human arm.

v  to hand the sails means to furl them and lash them to the spars.

n   a crewman (or woman).

adj/adv   As in hand-held,  hand-grenade,  hand-lead;  held in the hand,  or deployed by hand.



n   That part of a tool or instrument which is held in the hand;  often,  the handle is used to operate the tool or instrument.

In the world of British canals a windlass is the lockside device which raises and lowers the paddles to let water into and out of a lock.   The windlasses rarely have permanent handles,  so vandals cannot operate the locks and waste water;  handles are carried on the boats which use the canals.   Oddly,  a windlass handle is known as a 'windlass';  another example of nominalization of an adjective.

v   To handle something is feel it,  weigh it,  test it,  use it in ones hands.   A competent sailor handles a boat well.   A crewmember might be asked to handle the anchor:  to lower it,  weigh it,  clean it.


Slowly and evenly.   Moderately and gently.

Handy billy

An arrangement of lines and two pulley blocks,  one of which may be double,  which can be used anywhere.   One of the blocks may have a hook,  the other may have a line on a becket.   A handy billy is used to increase the mechanical advantage (the pulling power)  of a line.   See purchase.


n   A device for attaching the luff of a staysail to its stay.

n   A length of line,  coiled and tied.


An enclosed area of water where ships can anchor or moor  safely.

The confluence of the Stour and Orwell forms a natural harbour at Harwich.

The harbour at Dover is largely man-made.

San Francisco Bay is probably too big to be a safe harbour of itself,  but there is a number of harbours around the bay.


Harbour master

The person in charge of,  and having authority over,  the harbour.


n   A section of shoreline sufficiently firm to haul out and careen boats,  and to launch and recover with trailers.

adj   Firmly.   Fully.   As far as it will go.

Hard a'lee:  push the helm to leeward as far as possible.

Hard a'port.   Before the C20 this meant to put the helm (the tiller) as far to port as possible;  the ship would then turn to starboard.   With wheel steering and steam power in the C20 it changed to mean 'turn the ship to port'.   It is entirely possible that the young Officer of the Watch aboard SS Titanic intended the second,  while the helmsman,  an old-timer,  carried out the first.

Hard tack

Ship’s biscuit.   Made from flour,  water and salt and baked twice or even four times to drive out the moisture so that it would keep for years,  if kept dry.
In Napoleonic times biscuit was kept aboard ship in casks or sacks.   It was often infested with flour weevils (which raises doubts about the efficiency of the bakery!):  sailors would tap the biscuit on the table to drive out the weevils.   Severely infested biscuit might be fed to the chickens on board.



Straps which pass around the chest and waist of a sailor by means of which he or she can be hoisted from the water.   A harness has a ring,  or D ring,  to which the carabiner of a tether or a line can be attached;  the other end of the tether is attached to a strong point on the boat to prevent the crewman falling overboard.



A device used for catching large fish or whales.   At the tip is a sharp,  barbed,  arrowhead:  this is attached to a flexible pole perhaps 1 or 2 metres long;  this,  in turn,  is attached to a stout pole perhaps 2 metres long:  this,  in turn,  is attached to a long line on the other end of which is a large float.

Originally harpoons were deployed by hand:  thrown,  like a spear,  from a small boat very close to the whale.   Later,  they were projected by a kind of large cross-bow mounted between the bows of the ship.   Now,  in those limited areas and occasions where whaling is permitted,  harpoons are deployed by a gas-gun or large fire-arm.

SCUBA divers sometimes catch fish or lobsters with hand-held harpoon guns:  there have been numerous deaths resulting from the accidental discharge of harpoon guns.



Highest Astronomical Tide.

The highest tide at a Standard Port which can be calculated from the orbits and proximity of the sun and moon.

The datum for measurement of the height of bridges and power lines.



An opening in a deck, forming a passage from one deck to another, and into the holds.


v   To pull,  as on a rope

A haulyard (or ha'lyard) is a line used to haul the yards (now the sails) up into place.

A halingway (ha'lingway or haulingway) is a towpath,  whence the horses would haul boats or barges along a river or canal.

See Bowse,  Hoist.



A safe place;  a harbour;  a port of refuge.

An old word still remembered in the names of havens such as Keyhaven and Copenhagen (København).



Relating to the hawsers,  or cables,  by which a vessel is moored or anchored.

In the Age of Sail,  to moor was to anchor with two anchors and two cables,  one from each bow.   When the two cables were clear of one another,  the vessel had a 'clear hawse';   when the cables crossed,  or wound together,  as the vessel turned with the tides,  she had a 'foul hawse'.



A small cable or a large warp.

Hawse pipe

The tube through which the anchor rode passes from the stem head to the anchor locker.

A hawse hole is a hole in the side of a bow through which the anchor rode and the mooring cables pass.

When the anchor is catted for sea,  and the cable unshackled,  the hawse pipe is closed with a hawse plug.



n   Something that gets in the way.   Something that causes vessels to alter course or speed to avoid a collision.

n   An archaic card game.



When visibility is reduced by dust and pollutants in the air.

Mist and fog are both caused by water droplets.


n   The uppermost corner of a triangular sail.   The uppermost edge of a four-sided sail.

n   An ornamental figure as an extension of the stem.

On early Norse ships a carved head,  of a dragon or other fearsome beast,  was mounted on the prow of the boat.   Its purpose was to frighten away the bad spirits of the sea.   On returning to port the head would be dismounted so as not to frighten the friendly spirits of the rivers.

n   The forward part of a vessel,  including the stem and both bows,  and the structures within and around them.

adj   A head wind is a wind which blows directly onto the head of the vessel,  and passes from stem to stern.

See Heads


The direction in which the boat is pointing,  measured in °Compass on the steering compass,  and in °True on the chart.



A high cape,  or promontory.   High land which projects out into the sea beyond the ordinary trend of the coast.

Head of navigation

The furthest navigable point upriver.


The lavatory aboard ship.   In Napoleonic times,  and before,  the crewmen would relieve themselves at the head of the ship,  alongside the bowsprit.   Any fouling of the ship would be washed away by waves and spray.


In the photograph of the Bavaria 37 heads,  below,  the black handle to the right of the lavatory pan is a pump handle.   The black lever above it redirects the flow of water.   After the lavatory has been used the black lever is moved to the right and the pump operated to empty the bowl.   The lever is then moved to the left and the pump operated 25 times;  this flushes sea water through the bowl,  and clears the residue from the pipework.   The lever is then moved to the right again,  and the pump operated to empty residual sea water from the bowl.   The flush may be discharged into a holding tank or directly into the sea.

Head of the ship

The Amsterdam shows a carved head;  a figure-head,  used here,  in conjunction with the cutwater and the beak,  partially to support the bowsprit.   The heads,  on the right,  are alongside the cathead.

Photo' by Margaret Starkie

The heads on a Bavaria 37

Photograph by John Starkie

Heads,  cathead,  anchor

The heads on the replica Endeavour,  on the starboard side abaft the forecastle bulkhead.   The anchor,  catted to the stbd cathead,  can be seen on the right.

Heads on Bright Star

Heads on Bright Star

Head sails

Those sails forward of the mast or foremast.

The foremast staysails and jibs.


When a vessel is moving forward through the water.   There is an implication of being unsure whether the vessel is moving or not.

The opposite of sternway,  which is when a vessel is moving backward through the water.

coll   Making progress in an endeavour,  perhaps against expectations or odds.



A kind of deadeye,  or dumb sheave,  with only one heart-shaped hole


v    To throw,  as in to throw a line to a quayside or another ship.

'Throwing' implies a bent arm which straightens while the hand accelerates in the direction of the throw.

'Heaving' is more akin to bowling a cricket ball;  the heaving arm is kept fairly straight,  but slightly below the horizontal.

A heaving line is a long braided line with a weight (usually a monkey’s fist) on the end.   The other  end of the heaving line is attached to a mooring line,  or towing warp;  the line is coiled carefully and then thrown (heaved,  or hove) to the quayside or another boat.   The line is then drawn in to the quay and  with it,  the mooring line.

Some sailors incorporate a weight (even a lead weight) in the monkey's fist so that carries further when thrown;  this is dangerous,  even mutilating,  if it strikes someone on the quayside.

n   The up-and-down movement of a vessel in a swell.

Heave to

Several ways of stopping the boat at sea without using an anchor.

  • The classic method of heaving to is to back the foresails and adjust the rudder to windward so that the boat lies between 45° and 90° to the wind.   The boat will lie quietly and,  in strong winds and waves,  give the crew some respite.   Most boats will drift downwind at 1 to 2 knots;   ideally,  the boat will not fore reach.

  • In storm conditions a sea anchor may be deployed from one of the bows and it may be necessary to deploy a riding sail close to the stern.   The riding sail and the sea anchor can be adjusted to keep the head of the boat between 10° and 20° off the wind.   The boat will lie quietly,  often allowing the crew to cook and rest,  and will drift downwind at 1 to 2 knots.

Heaving to requires sea room downwind.   Boats hove to will,  of course,  drift downtide.

Lin and Larry Pardey give convincing reasons for using a sea anchor in their book Storm Tactics.

Robin Knox-Johnston hated sea anchors,  but his account suggests that he wasn't practiced in their use.


v    When the pressure of wind in the sails causes the boat to sail at an angle from upright.

See Tender,  Stiff,  Crank

n    The bottom of the mast,  where the tenon fits into the mortice of the step.

Height of Tide

The height of the sea surface above Chart Datum

Depth of water = Height of tide + Charted depth



A flying machine with no wings and two propellers (or more).   One (or more) of the propellers is orientated above the aircraft,  with its axis vertical,  and lifts it upward.   A smaller propeller,  placed at the tail of the aircraft with its axis horizontal and abeam controls the yaw of the aircraft.

Because they can hover motionless,  helicopters are widely used to rescue people from the sea or from stricken vessels.


n    The whipstafftiller or wheel used to steer the vessel.

      The whole of the steering system,  including the rudder,  tiller and wheel.

n    The helmsman (qv).

Weather helm is when the vessel has a tendency to turn into the wind and the helm (the tiller) must be pulled to weather to oppose this.

Lee helm is when the vessel has a tendency to turn downwind and the helm (the tiller) must be pushed to leeward to oppose this.

'Helm's a'lee' is the call the helmsman makes as he or she moves the tiller to leeward to begin a change of tack.   This call is often contracted to 'lee ho'.

'Helm's a'weather' is the call the helmsman makes as he or she moves the tiller to weather to begin a gybe.

On modern yachts with wheel steering the relevance of these calls may be unclear;  however,  all vessels,  whether they have wheels or whipstaffs or steering lines,  have a tiller attached to the rudder.


The person (male or female) who controls the heading of the boat.   Not,  usually,  the skipper;  never the captain.

On vessels with small crews (few people!),  such as Thames barges or narrow boats,  the skipper and the helmsman may be the same person.



Half of a sphere;  half of the World.

Traditionally,  the World has been separated into the Northern Hemisphere,  North of the Equator,  and the Southern Hemisphere,  South of the Equator.   The superstitions of the common sailor about the Equator seemed to make this separation important.   Because civilisation was supposed to have arisen in the Northern Hemisphere on a flat Earth (!),  and the great voyages of discovery originated North of the Equator and spread the empires of England,  Spain,  Portugal and the Netherlands Southwards,  the Northern Hemisphere has been thought of as 'up' and the Southern Hemisphere as 'down'.   This prejudice is slowly being corrected.   The Australians are beginning to redraw charts with Tasmania at the top of the chart and the South Pole 'up':  it's not surprising that they draw the meridian at 160°E down the middle of the page.

Falconer,  in 1815,  pointed out that the horizon separated the World into an upper hemisphere and a lower hemisphere.

As a matter of astronavigational convenience,  that half of the World to the West of the Prime Meridian and to the East of the International Dateline is the Western Hemisphere;  that half of the World to the East of the Prime Meridian and to the West of the  International Dateline is the Eastern Hemisphere.   It was important to know whether to add or subtract hours when calculating longitude using Greenwich Mean Time.


Cannabis sativa,  a plant once very widely grown for its fibrous stems which were made into ropes,  paper,  textiles,  clothing,  biodegradable plastics,  biofuel,  animal feed,  paint and insulation.

Specific strains of C. sativa yield the drug cannabis.

Highfield lever

An overcentre lever used for tensioning stays,  especially running backstays.


High and Dry

Aground,  with the  tide ebbing away.

High pressure

Atmospheric pressure of more than 1013 millibars.

High Water

When the Height of Tide is at its greatest after the flood tide and before the ebb begins.   The times and heights of tides are given in nautical almanacs.

High Seas

A long way from land.


n   A knot used to secure a line to a fixed object,  such as a spar.   For example,   Anchor hitch,  Buntline hitch,  Cleat hitch,  Clove hitch,  Common stopper,  Ha’lyard hitch,  Lighterman’s hitch,  Midshipman’s hitch,  Rat-tail stopper,  Round turn and two half hitches,  Rolling hitch,  Timber hitch,  Trucker’s hitch.

v   To hitch a line to a spar is to attach it with a knot or hitch.


n   A timber attached above the keel to which are fixed the garboard planks.

n   A scrubbing brush

n   A vessel is hogged when her keel has bent so that her ends are lower than her middle.


n   The height of a flag parallel to its ha'lyard or staff.

v   To hoist is to lift upward,  usually with a tackle.


n   The interior part of a ship which contains the cargo.

With the disappearance of loose cargo and the widespread use of containers the word is falling into disuse,  except in smaller coasting vessels which carry loose coal,  sand and the like.

v   To hold a line is to prevent it surging or running free.

A cup is said to hold water.

v   To 'hold water' is to back the oars and make the boat stationary in the water.


n   A curved metal tool for holding a piece of work securely to a bench.

n   The means by which seaweeds (kelp) attaches to rock.


A gap in a covering of paint.

Hollow sea

In open water the waves and swell are sinusoidal:  the distance between crests is roughly the same as the height from trough to crest.   Where the water is shallow,  or there is a current across the wave direction,   the waves may be steeper;  ie,  the height from trough to crest is greater than the horizontal distance from crest to crest.

A hollow sea is uncomfortable.


A sandstone block (about the size of a large Bible) used for cleaning wooden decks.   Sailors would kneel in rows,  as though praying,  to sand the decks.


Hood ends

Where the ends of the planks fit into the rabbets of the stem and sternpost.



Where the sea and the sky seem to touch.

The distance of the visible horizon from an observer is related to the height of the observer's eye.

d = √h x 1.225

where d is the distance to the horizon in miles,

h is the height of the observer's eye in feet.


d = √h x 3.57

where d is the distance to the horizon in kilometres,

h is the height of the observer's eye in metres 

The distance is approximate;   refraction of light in the atmosphere may change the distance.

The celestial horizon is a great circle with the observer at its centre.


n   A rail across the stern,  above the tiller,  on which the mainsheet traveller runs.

n   A shallow patch in an estuary or river.

See Shoal.

n   A length of rope;  a line used for a specific purpose.

n   A mammalian quadruped of the genus Equus,  used as a recreational or working animal throughout the world for riding or drawing loads.

E Keble Chatterton tells us that the Elizabethan word 'hawse' referred to the bows of a ship and came to mean the anchor rode and the hole through which it passed.

It later came to mean the rope from the middle of a yard to the yardarms on which the sailors stood to hand and reef the sails.   A laisse-faire attitude to,  and ignorance of, spelling changed 'hawse' to 'horse',  and referred to the rope we now call the footrope.

On the memorial stone to Thomas Barrow,  one-time master of Two Brothers,  horse referred to the bobstay.



The capacity of an engine to do work;  a measure of power,  or the rate at which work is done.   One horse-power is 550 foot-pounds per second,  or 746 watts.

Internal combustion engines are measured in horse-power;  electric motors are measured in watts or Kilowatts.

Before engines replaced horses,  James Watt showed that one strong dray horse could raise 33 pounds of coal 1,000 feet in one minute.


A long flexible tube for carrying water (or other fluids) from a pump or tap.

Most yachts carry a hose,  coiled on a reel,  and with the necessary end-couplings,  so that the water tanks can be refilled when a tap is available.

Most vessels have many fixed hoses on board;  for example,  for pumping out the bilges,  for pumping out the heads,  for carrying cooling water to and from the engine.


A collar around the mast for the trestle trees to rest on.

The point on the mast of a modern small boat where the stays and shrouds are attached.


A period of time very nearly one twentyfourth of a day.

The time it takes for the Earth to rotate Eastward (or the Sun to appear to move Westward) 15°.

There are 60 minutes (periods of time) in every hour.   These minutes are not to be confused with angular minutes,  of which there are 60 in every degree of arc.

There are 60 seconds (of time) in every minute (of time).

There are 60 seconds (of arc) in every minute (of arc).



A sandglass which runs through in one hour.


H'us'if',  hussiff

A small container of needles,  threads,  buttons for repairing clothes.


The word 'hoveller' or 'hobler' is used to the present day in some places in Cornwall to denote a boatman who plies for hire and is not a regular fisherman.

'Hoveller' was in use in the time of Edward III to denote the mounted coastguards of the period, 'homines ad arma et hobilers' used for watching the Shores, and giving warning of hostile raids in time of war.


An air cushion vessel.

Hove to

adv   With the foresail aback,  and the mainsail drawing,  the rudder can be adjusted so that the boat lies more or less still in the water.

See Heave to.


A vessel hugs the coast by following the indentations of bays and the outlines of headlands.   There is an implication of being afraid of the open water,  perhaps because of sea conditions or piracy.


An old ship,  still afloat,  but with its rigging and equipment removed and its hull used for storage or accommodation.


The watertight body of the boat:  the part that actually floats in the water.

Hull down

A vessel is so far away that her hull is below the horizon,  and so cannot be seen,  but her sails and rigging are above the horizon,  and can be seen.

The lights mentioned in IRPCS Rule 25,  (c) can be seen when only the top of the mast is visible above the horizon,  when the sidelights and stern light would be below the horizon.

Hull up

The hull of a vessel can be seen above the horizon.



A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm over the sea,  driven by evaporation of sea water,  with winds rotating clockwise in the Southern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the Northern hemisphere.   It is characterised by very strong winds,  a low pressure centre (or eye) and thunderstorms and heavy rain.

In the Northwestern Pacific a tropical cyclone is called a typhoon;  in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean it is a cyclone;  and in the North Atlantic it is a hurricane.


A hydrofoil is a wing-shaped device below the water level.   one surface is flat or concave;  the other is convex.   As the hydrofoil moves through the water the pressure on the convex side is lower than that on the concave side so that the hydrofoil,  and the vessel to which it is attached,  is 'lifted' toward the convex,  low pressure side.

Horizontal hydrofoils on power-driven vessels and sailing vessels such as modern,  highly competitive sail racing boats lift the boat out of the water,  reducing frictional drag and allowing much greater speeds.

Vertical hydrofoils,  such as centre-boards,  dagger-boards,  leeboards reduce the leeway of sailing vessels.   Centre- and dagger-boards are symmetrical about their centre line;  they have no flat or concave side because they must be equally effective on both tacks.   They are shaped to reduce turbulent drag rather than to provide 'lift'.   Lee-boards,  of which only one is used on each tack,  are asymmetric lifting foils.


John Starkie

March 2018

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or can't find a word

please let me know.