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Nautical Terms & Definitions

Aft. The rearward direction or portion of a ship. or that direction.

Amidships. The ship’s center.

Ballast. Weight placed in the lower middle of a ship to help keep it steady in water.

Beam. The width of the ship, measured at its widest point, typically around midship.

Bilge. The broadest part of the hold at the bottom of a ship. Pumps are often placed here to evacuate water from leaky vessels.

Belaying pin. Short wooden rod used to secure rigging and a common improvised club-like weapon.

Boom. A long spar extending from a mast to hold or extend the foot of a sail.

Bow. The front of a ship.

Come about. Changing the direction of a ship.

Cordage. The ropes in the rigging of a ship.

Crow’s nest. Small platform at the top of a mast used to get a better view when watching for approaching sails, monsters or land.

Draft. The minimum depth of water to float a ship. A ship with a 5-foot draft requires at least 5 feet of water to float and will run aground in water with a depth of less than 5 feet.

Fore. The forward direction or portion of a ship.

Forecastle. Upper deck of a ship forward of the foremast where non-officer living quarters were usually found.

Gangplank. A board or ramp used as a removable bridge between a ship and a pier.

Heave to. To come to a halt.

Heel. Tilting of a ship over to one side due to the wind or seas.

Hull. The frame or body of a ship. It is the hollow, lowermost portion, floating partially submerged and supporting the remainder of the ship.

Keel. The underside of a ship which becomes covered in barnacles after sailing the seas. Keelhauling, was a punishment that dragging a person under a ship, across the keel, until near-death or death.

Knots. The measure of a ship’s speed in nautical miles per hour. One nautical mile is equal to 1.15 miles or 6080 feet.

Length. The overall length of the ship, as measured from bow to stern.

List. A ship leaning to one side due to shifted cargo or taking on water.

Mast. A mast is a large vertical pole upon which the ship’s sails hang. The large one in the central is the mainmast, the rear-most is the mizzen.

Poop deck. Highest deck at the stern of a large ship, usually above the captain’s quarters.

Port. The left-hand side of the ship when facing forward.

Prow. Forward-most part of a ship’s bow that cuts through the water.

Quarterdeck. Raised deck behind the main mast of a sailing ship

Rigging. System of ropes used to support and move the sails. Often used to describe the entire system of masts, sails and ropes (or cordage) used for sailing.

Rudder. A flat piece of wood, hinged vertically near the stern of a boat or ship for steering, controlled by a tiller or wheel.

Running. To sail with the wind.

Sail. A sail is a surface, typically made of fabric and supported by a mast, whose purpose is to propel a sailing vessel.

  • Square: A rectangular sail hung from a single yard. The simplest and oldest form of rigging which permitted sailing only before the wind.
  • Lanteen: A triangular sail set on a long yard mounted at an angle on the mast. Capable of taking the wind on either side.
  • Jib: A triangular headsail that sets ahead of the foremast of a ship, mainly used to increase performance and overall stability by reducing turbulence.

Starboard. The right-hand side of the ship when facing forward.

Stern. The rear of a ship.

Speed. The base sailing speed in light winds of the ship.

Tacking. Changing a ship’s course by angling into the wind.

Velocity. The current speed a ship is traveling, measured in feet per round.

Waist. Central deck of a ship that is found between the forecastle and the quarterdeck.

Yard. A horizontal pole on which a sail is hung.

Yardarm. The main arm across the mast which holds up the sail. or enemies.

Section 15: Copyright Notice

Naval Combat Rules for Fifth Edition 1.0 published by Tribality.com (Innovaworks Inc.); Copyright 2018 Shawn Ellsworth.