aft, after Situated at the back or stern part of a vessel.
bark A sailing vessel which was used for trading or fishing, sometimes ship-rigged with three masts or rigged as a brig or snow with two masts.
boatswain, or bosun The warrant officer in charge of sails, rigging, anchors and associated gear.
bow The front part of a vessel as it widens from the leading edge or stem.
bowsprit A heavy spar pointing forward from the stem or front of the vessel.
brace A rope used to control the horizontal movement of a square-sailed yard.
brig A two-masted vessel, fully square-rigged on both masts, with a fore-and-aft sail on the lower part of the mainmast.
brigantine A two-masted vessel having a fully square-rigged foremast and a fore-and-aft rigged mainmast with squaresails on the main topmast.
broadside The simultaneous firing of all the guns on one side of a ship.
bulkhead A vertical partition inside a ship.
bumboat A small boat used to bring out and sell fruit, vegetables and other produce to the sailors on ships anchored some distance from the shore.
cable A measure of distance based on the usual length of a ship’s anchor cable which was 120 fathoms.
careen To heave a ship over to expose the bottom for cleaning and repairs.
carriage gun A cannon, mounted on a wheeled gun carriage, which usually required several men to load, aim and fire it. Guns were classified by the weight of ball they fired and in the eighteenth century ranged from three- or four-pounders to forty-two-pounders.
caulk To seal the gaps between the planks with oakum and pitch.
collier A sturdy, flat-bottomed sailing vessel for carrying coal.
colours The flags worn by a vessel to show her nationality.
corsair (French corsaire; Italian corsaro) Pirates or privateers who were based in the Mediterranean.
cutter A small one-masted vessel rigged with a fore-and-aft mainsail, foresail and jib. In the eighteenth century a cutter usually had a square topsail as well.
East Indiaman A large ship engaged in trade with the East Indies.
ensign The national flag usually flown by ships at or near the stern of the vessel.
fathom A measure of six feet, used to describe the depth of water.
flag captain The captain of a ship carrying an admiral and flying his flag.
flagship A ship commanded by an admiral and flying the admiral’s distinguishing flag.
fore Situated in front; the front part of a vessel at the bow.
fore-and-aft At bow and stern; backwards and forwards or along the length of the ship.
fore-and-aft rig Having mainly fore-and-aft sails, i.e. sails set lengthwise (and not at right-angles to the ship’s hull, as is the case with square-rigged sails).
forecastle, fo’c’s’le The short deck built over the fore part of the main deck; the forward part of a ship where the sailors lived.
foremast The mast at the front of the vessel.
frigate In the early eighteenth century the term could be applied to an armed merchantman with all the carriage guns on a single gun deck. Later the term was used to describe a fast cruising warship, less heavily armed than a ship of the line.
galleon A large three- or four-masted warship or armed merchantman which came into existence around 1570. Most of the Spanish and English ships which took part in the Armada campaign of 1588 were galleons and so were the treasure ships used by the Spanish in the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century.
gig A light, clinker-built boat carried by a warship and often favoured by captains for their own use.
grape, grapeshot Anti-personnel shot made up of small balls secured in a cylindrical canvas bag which flew apart on firing, scattering the shot over a wide area.
great cabin A large cabin at the stern of the ship reserved for the use of the captain or senior officer on board.
gunwale The upper planking along the sides of the vessel.
halyard A rope for raising and lowering a sail or yard.
heave to (past tense: hove to) To check the course of a vessel and bring her to a standstill by heading her into the wind and backing some of the sails.
helm The tiller or wheel which controls the rudder and enables a vessel to be steered.
hulk An old ship taken out of service and moored in harbour. Hulks were used as prison ships, convict ships, hospitals, floating barracks and receiving ships for pressed men.
larboard An old word for port (the left side of a vessel facing forward) which was preferred for helm orders. It was abandoned in 1844.
launch Originally a dockyard boat, the launch was used, like the longboat, for carrying heavy loads such as anchors, casks and barrels.
league A measure of distance: 3 miles (5 km).
lee The side or direction away from the wind, or downwind.
lee shore The shore on to which the wind is blowing; a hazardous shore for a sailing vessel, particularly in strong or gale force winds.
letter of marque A licence issued by the Lord High Admiral or the High Court of Admiralty which authorised an armed merchant vessel which was privately owned to attack the shipping of a named enemy in wartime.
log, logbook A journal or diary which recorded the ship’s position, speed and course, with notes on the wind direction, weather, sail changes, flag signals and other vessels met en route. The official logbook in a British warship was kept by the ship’s master (navigator) but the captain and lieutenants also kept logbooks and so did the midshipmen.
longboat The largest and heaviest boat carried by a ship and used for laying out anchors, and carrying water casks and other heavy loads.
mainmast 1. The mast at the centre of the ship or vessel, always the largest in square-rigged ships. 2. The name of the first and lowest section of the mainmast in a square-rigged ship; the others are the maintopmast, maintopgallant mast and main royalmast.
mainsheet The rope at the lower corner of the mainsail for regulating its position.
man-of-war An armed ship belonging to the navy of a country.
mess A division of a ship’s company for the distribution of victuals; any group of officers or crew who eat, drink and associate together on a regular basis.
mizzenmast The mast at the stern or back of a vessel.
muster book A book containing the names of the ship’s company.
pendant (pronounced ‘pennant’) The term can be used for any long tapering flag. The commissioning pendant of a naval ship was a very long flag like a streamer flown from the main masthead and it distinguished a warship in commission from a merchant ship.
pennant See pendant.
pinnace A ship’s boat, ranging in size from twenty-three to thirty feet in length, which was mostly used to carry officers and men from ship to shore.
piragua A dugout canoe used by the native peoples of South and Central America. They were rowed or paddled and sometimes sailed with a single sail.
poop deck The aftermost and highest deck of a ship.
port The left side of a vessel facing forward.
privateer A privately owned warship (or the commander and crew of that vessel) licensed by a letter of marque to capture enemy shipping for profit in time of war.
prize A ship or smaller vessel captured from the enemy in time of war.
quarter The side of a ship towards the stern.
quarterdeck A deck above the main deck which stretched from the stern to about halfway along the length of the ship. It was from this deck that the captain and officers controlled the ship.
rate (as in first rate, second rate, etc.) Warships were grouped into six different categories according to the number of guns they carried. In the eighteenth century a first-rate ship had 100 guns, a second-rate ship had 90 guns, a third-rate had between 80 and 70 guns, a fourth-rate had between 64 and 50 guns, a fifth-rate had between 40 and 28 guns, and a sixth-rate had between 24 and 12 guns.
reef To reduce the area of a sail by rolling it up or bundling part of it and securing that part with short lines.
road, roadstead An open anchorage.
running rigging Ropes which run through blocks or are moved in any way to operate the sails and gear of a vessel – as distinct from standing rigging.
scuppers Holes in a ship’s side for carrying off water from the deck.
sheet A rope made fast to the lower corner or corners of a sail to control its position.
ship 1. A vessel with three or more masts and fully square-rigged throughout. 2. The term is also used to describe any large sea-going vessel.
ship of the line A warship large enough to take her place in the line of battle.
shrouds The set of ropes forming part of the standing rigging and supporting the mast or topmast.
sloop 1. A vessel having one fore-and-aft rigged mast with mainsail and a single foresail. 2. In the Royal Navy any ship or vessel commanded by an officer with the rank of master and commander, usually rigged as a ship or brig with 16 to 18 guns.
snow A two-masted vessel similar to a brig and square-rigged on both masts but with an additional trysail mast stepped close behind the mainmast on which was set a fore-and-aft sail.
sound (or take a sounding) To measure the depth of water beneath a ship, usually with the aid of a lead weight and a line marked at regular intervals.
spar A stout wooden pole used for the mast or yard of a sailing vessel.
square-rigged The principal sails set at right angles to the length of the ship and extended by horizontal yards slung to the mast (as opposed to fore-and-aft rigged).
standing rigging That part of the rigging which supports the masts and spars and which is not moved when operating the vessel – as distinct from running rigging.
starboard The right side of a vessel facing forward.
stem, stempost The main timber forming the leading edge at the very front of a vessel.
stern The back or aft part of a vessel.
swivel gun, swivel-cannon A small piece of artillery, firing a shot of half a pound or less, which was fixed in a socket on the top of a ship’s sides, stern or bow. The gun could be swivelled by hand to direct it up or down or sideways.
tack To change the direction of a sailing vessel’s course by turning her bows into the wind until the wind blows on her other side.
tender A vessel attending a larger vessel and used to supply stores or convey passengers.
three-decker The largest class of warship with upwards of 90 guns on three gun decks.
two-decker A ship of the line having two complete gun decks.
van The foremost or leading ships of a fleet.
warp (noun) A rope used in towing or warping.
warp (verb) In calms or contrary winds it was often necessary to warp a vessel in and out of harbour or along a river. This was done by taking a rope or ropes from the ship to a fixed point ashore, or to a heavy post or pile driven into the river bed alongside the channel, and then heaving in the rope to haul the ship along.
warrant officers These ranked below the commissioned officers (the captain and lieutenants) and included the master, purser, surgeon, gunner, boatswain, carpenter and cook.
wear (as in to wear ship) To change the direction of a sailing vessel’s course by turning her bows away from the wind until the wind blows on her other side (the opposite manoeuvre from tacking when the bows are turned into the wind).
weather (adjective) The side facing the wind. The weather column of a fleet is that to windward or nearest the direction from which the wind is blowing.
weigh To pull up the anchor.
yard A long spar suspended from the mast of a vessel to extend the sails.
yardarm Either end of a yard.
yawl A ship’s boat of medium size (eighteen to twenty-six feet in length) which was developed from the seaworthy, clinker-built boats built at Deal in Kent to service the ships anchored in the Downs.