Dictionary & Terms

  • Athwart ships - Across the ship from side to side.

Aft – the rear of the ship.

Bearding Line - this is the term used to indicate the tapered section of the false keel at either the bow or stern of the model. This is where the planks need to lay flat against the false keel.

Boom - wooden poles at the bottom of the mainsails

Bow or Bows - The front of a vessel.

Bowsprit - pole at front of ship that holds the bottom of the jibs

  • Broadside -  The majority of guns in a warship were mounted on one or more decks and faced sideways out of the ship through GUN PORTS. The simultaneous discharge of all the guns on one side of a ship is referred to as a broadside.

Bulwarks - the term refers to the woodwork running round the ship above the level of the deck. Figuratively it means anything serving as a defence.

Catharpin - is a nautical term, which is often pronounced cat-harping. It describes one of the short ropes or iron clamps used to brace in the shrouds toward the masts so as to give a freer sweep to the yards.

Cathead - Beams projecting on either side of the forcastle near the bow to secure the anchor after it was hoisted out of the water.

Capstan - Nautical An apparatus used for hoisting weights, consisting of a vertical spool-shaped cylinder that is rotated manually or by machine and around which a cable is wound.

Caulking - Traditional caulking (also spelled calking) on wooden vessels uses fibers of cotton, and oakum (hemp fiber soaked in pine tar). These fibers are driven into the wedge shaped seam between planks with a caulking mallet and a broad chisel-like tool called a caulking iron. The caulking is then covered over with a putty in the case of hull seams, or in deck seams with melted pine pitch in a process referred to as paying.

Here is a clip how how it's done: http://www.boat-building.org/learn-skills/index.php/en/wood/caulking-calking/

Capping Rail - the flat or rolled rail that runs along the edge of the ship.

Cheeks - Wooden blocks at the side of a spar. or the sides of a block or gun-carriage.

Chesstrees - Either of two pieces of oak fitted to the topsides of a square-rigged vessel on each side of the bow through which the bowlines were fed; often decoratively carved.

Crosstrees - Two horizontal struts at the upper ends of the topmasts of sailboats, used to anchor the shrouds from the topgallant mast.

cross-jack - The lower yard on the mizenmast of a square-rigged ship

Deadeye - A wooden block with holes (but no pulleys) which is spliced to a shroud. It is used to adjust the tension in the standing rigging of large sailing vessels, by lacing through the holes with a lanyard to the deck. Performs the same job as a turnbuckle.

Fore (bow) and Aft (stern)- Running from the front of the ship to the back.

Forecastle (aka foc’sl) - cabin in bow of ship where the crew lives.

Futtock shrouds are rope, wire or chain links in the rigging of a traditional square rigged ship. They run from the outer edges of a top downwards and inwards to a point on the mast or lower shrouds, and carry the load of the shrouds that rise from the edge of the top. This prevents any tendency of the top itself to tilt relative to the mast.

Gaffs - wooden poles that hold up the mainsails.

Hawser - Heavy rope or cable.

Jib boom - A spar used to extend the bowsprit.

Jib Sails - triangular sails at the front of the ship.

Kedge - small back-up anchor.

Keel - very bottom line of a ship running from fore to aft. The lowest fore and aft timber on which the whole framework of the ship is built. Above it is the KEELSON, a line of timbers which secure the keel to the upper framework. This framework consists of the RIBS which rise upward and outward to form the skeleton of the ship to which the planking is fastened.

Knight-heads - these are those knobby posts sticking up along the rail of a ship at the bowsprit. They are slightly larger than the Timberheads. They are used for belaying rigging lines.

Knot is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile (which is defined as 1.852 km) per hour, approximately 1.151 mph

League is a unit of length. It was long common in Europe and Latin America, but it is no longer an official unit in any nation. The league originally referred to the distance a person or a horse could walk in an hour.

Mainsails - large rectangular sails below the topsails.

Masts - tall poles sticking up from ship, hold the yards, gaffs, sails, shrouds and ropes.

Mizzen - The lower yard on the mizenmast of a square-rigged ship

Pawl - A hinged or pivoted device adapted to fit into a notch of a ratchet wheel to impart forward motion or prevent backward motion.

Port - left side of ship when you are facing the bow.

Planking Bands - temporary planking battens.

Quarterdeck - higher aft deck reserved for officers and from which the ship is steered.

Rabbet - The rabbet is a triangular slot cut just above or at the top edge of, depending on design, the keel, and running up the curve of the stem at the bows and up the stern post aft. Below the keel might or might not be a false keel or shoe, but ignore that for now. This slot is to take the edge of the hull plank, to give it a seating place and you a place to hide inconsistencies in your carpentry.

For a clip of this look here: http://www.boat-building.org/learn-skills/index.php/en/wood/cutting-the-rabbet-large-vessels/

Ratlines - Any of the cross ropes between the shrouds, which form a net like ropework, allowing sailors to climb up towards the top of the mast.

Rigging - all the ropes, cables, & shrouds on a ship.

Shrouds - weblike rope assembly climbed by sailor to reach the tops of sails.

Sloop (from Dutch sloep) is a sail boat with a fore-and-aft rig and a single mast farther forward than the mast of a cutter. A sloop's fore-triangle is smaller than a cutter's, and unlike a cutter, a sloop usually bends only one headsail, though this distinction is not definitive; some sloops such as the Friendship Sloop have more than one. Ultimately the position of the mast is the most important factor in determining whether a ship is classified as a sloop.

Spritsail yard - a yard across a bowsprit to support a spritsail

Starboard - right side of ship when you are facing the bow.

Stealers - the triangular shaped planks which fit the gap in-between the top and bottom of the planks.

Stern - The rear end of a ship. Astern means behind the ship.

Swivel Gun usually refers to a small cannon, mounted on a swivelling stand or fork which allows a very wide arc of movement. Another type of firearm referred to as a swivel gun was an early flintlock combination gun with two barrels that rotated along their axes to allow the shooter to switch between rifled and smoothbore barrels.

  • Timberheads - these are those knobby posts sticking up along the rail of a ship, usually forward, along the forecastle. They are used for belaying rigging lines and securing the anchors. At the bowsprit is another pair, slightly larger, known as the knightheads, which support the bowsprit as it passes outboard. These are all extensions of the frame timbers, top timbers as they are called at this height in the hull structure.

  • Tonnage - Either the capacity or the weight of a ship. A figure for tonnage is completely meaningless unless one knows which system of measurement is used. The term derives from `tun`, a cask of wine, and a ships BURTHEN or BURDEN was the number of tuns she could carry. This was also known as BUILDER`S MEASUREMENT or bm. The figure quoted for most ships up until the 1870`s will be bm, and can be calculated from        

                  (L - 3/5B) x B x 1/2B     where L = length in feet

           bm =  -----------------------          B = beam in feet


    Warships are now measured in DISPLACEMENT TONNAGE, the weight of the water displaced by the ship when she is fully ready for sea.

  • Topsails - square-shaped sails highest on a ship.

  • Topsides - the ship`s sides above the water line.

  • wale position

    Wale - Strengthening pieces of wood forming protective bands around the hull. The lower wale is indicated on the picture. The upper edge of the side of a ship or boat is called the GUNWALE, pronounced `gunnel`.

    Yardarms - wooden poles that hold up the topsails.