W   Whiskey

I require medical assistance


The midships section of a vessel,  often protected on deck by raised decks or houses forward and aft.

When sailing ships had castles fore and aft the waist was the lowest part of the ship,  between the castles.


Turbulent water behind a moving vessel,  caused partly by the displaced water returning behind the vessel and partly by the stirring movement of a propeller.

The leeway of a boat is sometimes measured by the angle which the wake makes with the vessel's heading.

An anchored or moored vessel or a buoy can also have a wake,  caused by the movement of the tidal stream.

See Wash.



A run of planking along the side of a ship or boat which is significantly thicker and stronger than the surrounding strakes,  and which provides extra strength and reinforcement along the length of the ship.

The gunwale gives extra strength at the junction between the topsides and the deck (originally it strengthened the topsides where they were pierced for the gunports).

The chainwale (cha’n’l’,  or channel) provides a point of attachment for the lower ends of the shrouds.

A rubbing strake may be a wale or,  more often,  it is an extra (sacrificial) plank attached outside the strakes.

" . . . as the wales are framed of plank,  broader and thicker than the rest,  they resemble ranges of hoops encircling the sides and bows."   Falconer,  1815.

See Whale.

Ward room

The quarters of the commissioned officers of a ship, usually occupying the after-part of the berth-deck. The rooms on the starboard side are occupied by the line officers, those on the port side by the staff officers.

A mess room or meeting room for the ship's officers.



Warm front

A mass of warmer air is less dense than a mass of colder air.   As the warmer air mass moves toward the colder air it rises above the colder air.   The boundary between the air masses is a warm front.

The synoptic chart to the right has a deep depression to the SE of Greenland:  the red line with red semicircles is the boundary (warm front) of warmer air moving North in the direction of the red arrow and anticlockwise around the depression.   A cold front (blue line with blue triangles) follows,  and overtakes,  the warm front as colder air moves from Greenland around the depression.

Further South,  to the West of Southern England and Northern France,  is another warm front arising from warmer air moving North over the North Atlantic.

Synoptic chart with two warm fronts

Warmer air can hold more water vapour than colder air.   Warm air which has moved for hundreds of miles over the North Atlantic may be saturated with water vapour.

At ground level a warm front is a line,  along the red line on the synoptic chart.   Because the warmer air is sliding upward over the adjoining mass of colder air it extends for miles ahead of,  and higher than,  the line on the ground.   Where the moister warmer air mixes with the underlying drier colder air water is condensed.   At altitudes of 5 to 11 km,  several miles ahead of the warm front on the ground,  the water condenses as ice crystals,  and can be seen as cirrus clouds.   At lower altitudes,  closer to the front on the ground,  the water vapour condenses as liquid water and falls as rain.   If the vapour condenses in cold air it may crystallise as snow.

See Cold front,  Hail,  Occlusion,  Synoptic chart,  Wind.


n  A line used for mooring or towing a boat.


v    To move a boat from place to place using warps controlled from the boat itself.

See Dolphin


v    Distortion of a piece of wood as it dries over time.



The bow waves and stern waves of a moving vessel affecting channel banks and other vessels.

The wash of a fast-moving vessel may erode river banks and damage & undermine bank structures:  it may capsize small craft.   It annoys anglers.

The wash of the high-speed ferries entering and leaving Harwich was reputed to have caused people on the beach at Felixstowe "to flee for their lives",  and to capsize a small angling vessel,  drowning one angler.

Displacement craft create more wash than planing boats;  very high speed hydrofoil craft,  being almost entirely out of the water,  create almost no wash.

The Wash is a bay between Norfolk and Lincolnshire,  crossing which King John is said to have lost his crown jewels.



The boards which slide vertically into the companionway opening to keep out the sea.

Name comes from a device for washing clothes before the invention of washing machines:  said to be an improvement over rocks.

This device was also a ‘musical’ instrument in skiffle bands.



The First watch is from 2000 to midnight, ship’s time
The Middle watch is from Midnight to 0400
The Morning watch is from 0400 to 0800
The Forenoon watch is from 0800 to noon
The Afternoon watch is from noon to 1600
The First Dogwatch is from 1600 to 1800
The Last Dogwatch is from 1800 to 2000

alt.: A group of sailors who are usually on duty together.

n   A portable (usually wearable) instrument for finding the time of day.

Most analogue watches show minutes (up to 60) and hours (up to 12).

Digital watches can usually be set to either 12 hours or 24 hours.

Simple watches do nothing other than tell the time.

More complicated watches have stopwatches,  timers,  and more.

Modern electronic 'watches' are computers which can communicate with other computers and with the wearer.

Early watches were operated by clockwork:  an arrangement of gears and balance wheels driven by a coil spring.

Modern watches are almost all electric,  driven by a battery and timed either by an electronic circuit or by a remote radio clock.

A chronometer is an especially accurate form of clockwork watch.

Modern computer watches may be linked to a computer/telephone,  and have a range of applications and functions:  their timekeeping is controlled by an electronic circuit and updated by a remote clock.

The most accurate timepiece available to the modern sailor is probably the clock in a GNSS instrument!


n   The horizontal line along the side of a vessel which marks where the water should stop and the air start,  when the vessel is at rest.

n   A series of lines,  drawn on the body plan,  parallel with the Load Water Line or with the baseline of the drawing.   They help the boatbuilder to verify the Table of Offsets and to construct the frames and moulds.   See Kopanycia.

Water track

A line drawn on the chart indicating the vessel’s heading,  corrected from °Compass to °True and adjusted for leeway.   The water track begins at a fix and ends at the distance from the fix where the vessel would be in the absence of tide and leeway:  it is a vector where the direction is the vessel’s heading,  and the magnitude is the distance travelled,  through the water,  in one hour.

A water track is designated by a single arrow-head part way along the line.


In Estimating a Position both components (direction and magnitude (speed)) are known.

In calculating a Course to Steer only the magnitude (speed) is known,  and the direction (the vessel’s heading) is estimated graphically.



Pieces of timber placed over the tops of the beams and on the inside of the frame-timbers,  secured to both.   The deck planking butts to the waterways.


n   The up and down,  undulating movement of the sea (swell) which,  when the water is shallower than height of the swell,  overarches and tumbles,  or breaks,  onto the beach.

The undulations of water displaced by a moving vessel.

n   A movement of the hand and,  possibly,  the arm to acknowledge recognition.


The IRPCS,  Part A,  Rule 3,  "General Definitions",  says

“   (i)   The word “underway” means that a vessel is not at anchor,  or made fast to the shore,  or aground.


fast” means ‘fastened’  or secured:  unrelated to speed!


Beware of interpretations or summaries of the IRPCS:  changing the words always changes the meaning.

There is general acceptance that the word 'way',  used alone,  means that a vessel is moving through the water:  a moving vessel has way and can be steered.


A geographical location entered into the memory of a GNSS device and marked on the chart with a vertical cross and a square.

Waypoints have two purposes.

  1. For fixing position,  the GNSS unit can be asked to provide the range (distance) and bearing of the waypoint from the unit.   The range and bearing can be plotted on a chart to provide a reliable fix.   The waypoint may,  but need not be positioned on an actual feature;  tidal stream diamonds are useful because their latitude and longitude is printed on the chart.   The vessel is unlikely to visit such a waypoint.

  2. Some waypoints are positions to which the boat is expected to go before moving on to another waypoint.   Such waypoints are the equivalent of electronic buoys and may be placed near actual buoys.


To bring a square-rigged ship onto the other tack by turning away from the wind.   See Veer,  Gybe.



n   Meteorological events,  such as wind and precipitation.   In a formal weather forecast (as issued by the Meteorological Office,  'weather' means precipitation.

Precipitation is a form of water falling from nimbus clouds.   It falls in several forms,  including rain,  sleet,  snow,  hail (but rarely frogs).

Rain consists of drops of water,  of varying sizes,  in which might be dissolved gases such as oxygen,  nitrogen,  carbon dioxide (which makes the rain acidic) and various toxic oxides of sulphur and nitrogen.

Sleet is melting snow;  water not quite frozen or crystallized.

Snow is hexagonal crystals of frozen water.

Hailstones consist of many layers of deeply frozen water.   Small hailstones hurt;  larger stones can cause injury and damage.

Precipitation always reduces visibility;  heavy precipitation of any kind can reduce visibility to less than a few metres.

Fog and mist are not,  strictly, precipitation;  they are water droplets, too small to fall,  suspended in the air.   They can reduce visibility significantly.

To the sailor,  'weather' means much more than precipitation.

'Calm weather' is when the wind is light (say,  less than 10 knots) and warm,  the sea state is calm and these conditions are likely to prevail for hours or days.

'Rough weather' means different things to different sailors.   The dinghy sailor experiences rough weather at lower wind speeds than the big ship sailor.

'Bad weather' implies strong,  variable winds,  low temperatures and precipitation.


adj   The direction from which the wind is blowing,  as in ‘the weather side of the ship’.


vb   To pass through or to clear successfully, as in to 'weather a headland', 'weather a storm'.


Weather deck

A deck which is exposed to the weather.

Weather gauge

n   In the Age of Sail a fighting ship which was upwind (to windward) of an enemy had the advantage of manoeuverability;  the leeward vessel must sail close-hauled,  under fire,  to approach the vessel with the weather gauge.

n   For modern racing yachts and dinghies the weather gauge allows a boat to put its opponent into turbulent air.


Weather helm

A vessel is said to carry weather-helm when she has a tendency to luff up into the wind and the tiller has to be kept up in order to counteract this.   Weather helm is safer than lee helm.

See Balance,  under Leeway resistance.



To weigh anchor is to lift the anchor from the sea bed (and perhaps to bring it aboard the boat).

The weight of the anchor is a guide as to whether it has broken free of the seabed and again when it has emerged from the water.   The last was especially true of wooden anchors,  which were significantly heavier out of the water than under water:  it is much less true of modern metal anchors where the weight difference is very small.

A vessel is 'under weigh' when the anchor has broken from the bottom but has not yet been catted.

cf 'under way'


If the windlass is electric,  ensure that the engine is running and that the breaker switch is accessible.   Before the anchor is aweigh some skippers like to use the boat engine to approach the anchor to relieve the strain on the windlass;  take care not to over-run the rode so that it fouls the keel or propeller.   Make sure that the rode falls into the locker correctly:  chain has a tendency to pile steeply and to jam the windlass.



The lowermost part of the bilges,  into which all the water drains.   Often a well,  and its surrounding drains,  is specially constructed.   The strum box of the bilge pump is placed in the well.

In the Age of Sail wooden ships leaked more or less continuously.   The carpenter would 'sound the well' (measure the depth of water in the well) regularly and report to an officer.   If necessary,  the well would be emptied by pumping the water out.


Wood Epoxy Saturation System.

A commercial epoxy resin for 'saturation' of wood,  for adhesion of wood and for filling gaps between pieces of wood.


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

If an observer faces toward the true South,  everywhere on his 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 structure raised above the water on closely spaced posts or piles for loading and unloading cargo.


Marine mammals of the infraorder Cetacea,  ranging in size from 2.6m to 30m.

See Wale.



n   An open boat,  pointed at stem and stern,  for harpooning whales at close quarters.

n   The name given to the boat which carries a modern warship's crew ashore and back.

n   Any recreational vessel resembling a whaleboat.

n   A vessel engaged in whale-watching,  either for the entertainment of tourists or as part of marine research.


A working sailing boat.   The Lune whammel was used in the River Lune and Morecambe Bay.


A circular device to which is connected the tiller- or wheel-ropes by which the rudder is moved in steering the boat.

On modern power-driven vessels the wheel may be connected to the rudder electrically or by hydraulic tubes.

The wheel may often be replaced by a small lever or joystick.


A structure on deck in which the wheel is located and which protects the helmsman (and often the navigator and lookouts) from the weather.


The Thames wherry (and similar boats on the river Cam) were small,  light,  passenger-carrying rowing boats:  river taxis.    An Act of Parliament in 1555 specified that a wherry should be "22½ feet long and 4½ wide 'amidships'" and could carry up to five passengers.

The Norfolk and Suffolk sailing wherries were flat-bottomed trading vessels.   The mast was stepped well forward,  allowing space for cargo,  and carried a large,  high-peaked gaff sail.   Some carried a small jib,  although not on a bowsprit.   The mast was stepped on the keel,  with a tabernacle on deck;  it pivoted in the tabernacle to lie more-or-less horizontally above the deck.   Being heavy,  it was counterbalanced with a lead weight attached to the foot below the foredeck;  this pivoted up through a hatch in the foredeck.

The double-ended trading wherry developed from the Norfolk (and Humber) keel.   They worked as lighters carrying goods to and from ships off or in Lowestoft and Gt Yarmouth.   A special 'wherry wheelbarrow',  without legs,  was developed for loading and unloading the cargo wherries.

Pleasure wherries,  carrying holiday-makers,  developed from the trading wherries when the railways took over their trade.   A few still sail as private yachts or as vessels for hire.

The specially-built wherry yacht was narrower (sleeker) and more comfortable than the pleasure wherries converted from trading wherries.

Steam wherries were developed on the Southern Broads for passengers and cargo.

In North America a form of wherry was the preferred boat for inshore salmon fishing.   They were generally long and narrow, with a straight stem, a wineglass stern and carvel planking. John Gardner writes that a wherry is distinguished by its flat bottom which allows the boat to take the ground in an upright position and serves as a shoe for dragging the boat up and down the beach.



n   A purchase formed by a rope rove through a single block,  and used for lifting heavy items from the deck or the hold.   The block does not move,  and so merely changes the direction of pull on the rope without achieving mechanical advantage.


n   A long length of plaited rawhide,  used for corporal punishment or for driving cattle or horses.


vb   To hoist by means of a rope passing through an overhead pulley.

vb   To bind twine around the end of a line to prevent it unravelling.    The ends of modern synthetic ropes are often sealed by heating,  and melting the fibres together.   This is often done with the ‘hot knife’ used to ‘cut’ the line,  or by the small hot flame of a cigarette lighter,  hence the term ‘butane splice’.   Alternatively,  the end of the line may be dipped in a solution which seals and coats the fibres.

The end of the rope has been whipped with white twine.

The eye has been seized with white twine.

A whipping and a seizing


vb   To use a whip.   In the Age of Sail a ‘cat o’nine tails’ was a whip with nine tails,  and was used for punishment and enforcing discipline.   Its use caused terrible wounds,  sometimes resulting in death.



A vertical bar or post,  rotating in a barrel-shaped rowle,  and attached at its lower extension directly to the tiller,  which is used for steering the ship.

The vertical steering post,  attached to the tiller or rudder by lines,  often seen in harbour launches,  is not,  strictly,  a whipstaff.


Redrawn from Chatterton



Wing-in-ground craft (sic).   See IRPCS Rule 3  "General Definitions" which says

"(m)    The term “Wing-in-Ground (WIG) craft” means a multimodal craft which, in its main operational mode, flies in close proximity to the surface by utilizing surface-effect action. " 

'Ground effect' is the extra lift given to an aircraft when close (within a few metres) to the surface.   It enables craft which intend to stay close to the water to have much smaller wings than conventional aircraft.   When close to the water the wings of such craft are said to be 'in the ground-effect'.

The abbreviation appears to be an extraordinary misinterpretation of "Wing in Ground-effect craft".


Williamson turn

Used to turn a power driven vessel onto a reciprocal course,  perhaps to recover a MOB.

  1. Put the rudder over full,  toward the MOB.

  2. After deviating from the original course by about 60 degrees, change the rudder full to the opposite side.

  3. When heading about 20 degrees short of the reciprocal, put the rudder amidships so that the vessel will turn onto the reciprocal course.

See Anderson turn,  Scharnow turn,  crash stop.



n   a small capstan mounted near the cockpit of a sailing boat;  used to pull or tension sheetswarpsha’lyards.   Operated by a single handle which,  usually,  can be unshipped when not in use.


v    to winch:  to use a winch to pull or tension a line.

See Windlass


A movement of a mass of air.

As warmer air rises colder air moves across the surface (of the sea or land) to take its place.

On a warm summer day the sun heats the ground which,  in turn,  heats the air above it.   This warm air rises,  drawing in colder air from the sea.   This forms a sea-breeze blowing toward the shore,  allowing yachts to sail tens of miles along the coast in winds up to F4 or F5.


The direction of a wind is the point of the compass from which the wind is blowing:  a Southerly wind blows from the South;  A Nor’Westerly blows from the North West.

A wind which veers changes direction clockwise:  a Southerly wind might veer to become  a Sou’Westerly wind.   A wind which backs changes direction anticlockwise;  a Northerly might back to become a Westerly wind.


On a synoptic chart the wind direction can be found from the isobars.   In the Northern Hemisphere winds blow anticlockwise around depressions and clockwise around regions of high pressure,   Around depressions (cyclones) winds tend to blow about 15° inward toward the depression:  around high pressure (anti-cyclones) the winds tend to blow about 15° outward from the high pressure.   Cyclonic winds form a rising helix,  anticlockwise in the Northern hemisphere,  clockwise in the Southern hemisphere.   For this reason the direction of wind varies with altitude above the ground.


The speed of a wind at sea is measured in knots;  on land it might be measured in miles per hour.   A device which measures the speed of wind is an anemometer.   Most modern boats carry an anemometer and a wind direction indicator at the top of the mast;  they are usually linked electronically to a display on the binnacle or near the chart table.

The true wind,  over the surface of the sea,  is named from the compass point from which the wind blows.   The apparent wind over the deck and sails of a boat is the resultant of the true wind and the movement of the boat;  it is displayed electronically as an angle to the heading of the boat.

On a synoptic chart with geostrophic scales the speed of the wind can be measured from the spacing of the isobars.

The strength (force) of a wind is measured by the Beaufort scale.


The distance which a wind blows over the sea is known as the fetch of the wind.   The longer the fetch,  the rougher the sea.

Downwind is the direction toward which the wind is blowing:  a vessel sailing downwind is sailing in the same direction as the wind is blowing.

Upwind is the direction from which the wind is blowing:  a vessel sailing upwind is sailing against the wind.

Wind against tide

The wind is blowing in the opposite direction to the tidal set.   This causes steep waves and rougher water.



The wind resistance resulting from the shape of the boat.

See Tophamper


Large square-rigged sailing vessels of the late C19 and early C20 with three,  four or five masts.   Their construction became possible when wooden planks were replaced by iron, and then steel,  plates.



A rotating mechanical device,  with a horizontal axis,  for pulling heavy loads.   Often used for weighing anchor.   See also Capstan.

A modern windlass,  aboard a yacht,  may be operated mechanically or electrically.   It might be a capstan or a true windlass


An electric windlass,  on a yacht,  has its own electrical battery usually located close to the windlass so that power losses in the wiring are minimised.   Its large power requirements mean that the boat's engine should be running while it is in use,  so that the alternator keeps its battery charged.


As the anchor is weighed the chain rode falls through the hawse hole into the anchor locker:   it may pile up and jam the windlass.   To protect the electrical windings an overload (breaker) switch may cut the power from the battery to the windlass.   It is wise to find this overload switch before attempting to use the windlass.

In the British world of canals and narrowboats a windlass handle has become known as a windlass.   All narrow boats carry at least one windlass (handle);  it is used to operate the windlass which winds up and down the paddles (slackers) which control the flow of water into and out of a lock.

The paddle windlass has no permanent handle so that vandals are unable to flood or drain the locks and pounds.

Wind over tide

The wind is blowing in the same direction as the tidal set.   The sea becomes smoother.


Nearer to the (source of) the wind.   Upwind.

The wind blows from a windward vessel to a leeward vessel



A nominalised adjective describing a rope the strands of which are of iron or steel.


A long twig or tree branch stuck into the mud and showing above water to mark the edge of a remote channel not worthy of buoyage.   Red or green painted tin cans may be placed on top of the withies.

In places,  such as West Mersea,  withies mark oyster beds and not channels.


v   To lay (tarred) yarn into the spiral grooves of a rope to fill them.

The worming would then be served with marline and parcelled with canvas.

n   Shipworm is a mollusc,  Teredo nivalis,  which burrows into,  and eats,  the planks of wooden vessels in the tropics.

n   When the tide ebbs and exposes mud,  fishermen dig for lugworms as bait.


A vessel which has been damaged or has sunk.

A recent wreck is marked with Emergency Wreck Markers.   These buoys are removed when the wreck is marked on charts.



An iron fixture near the end of a mast or boom, bearing a ring through which another mast or boom is rigged out.   Pronounced 'with'.   See Gunter,  studding sail

John Starkie

October 2020

If you disagree,

or can't find a word

please let me know.