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  • line

    The correct nautical term for the majority of the cordage or "ropes" used on a vessel. A line will always have a more specific name, such as mizzen topsail halyard, which describes its use.

  • halyard

    Originally, ropes used for hoisting a spar with a sail attached; today, a line used to raise the head of any sail.

  • sheet

    A rope used to control the setting of a sail in relation to the direction of the wind.

  • boom

    A spar used to extend the foot of a sail.

  • gaff

    The spar that holds the upper edge of a sail. Also a long hook with a sharp point to haul fish in.

  • topping lift

    This is a halyard of so.urts since it holds up the aft end of the boom. Were it not for a topping lift the boom could do some damage when the halyard is loose. The topping lift is used prior to taking the mainsail down.


  • reef

    1. To temporarily reduce the area of a sail exposed to the wind, usually to guard against adverse effects of strong wind or to slow the vessel.
    2. Rock or coral, possibly only revealed at low tide, shallow enough that the vessel will at least touch if not go aground.
  • mainsail

    A mainsail is the most important sail raised from the main (or only) mast of a sailing vessel.

  • jib

    A triangular staysail at the front of a ship.

  • staysail

    A sail whose luff is attached to a forestay.

  • mast

    A vertical pole on a ship which supports sails or rigging.

  • purchase

    The purchase of a tackle refers to its mechanical advantage. In general the more sheaves in the blocks that make up a tackle, the higher its mechanical advantage. The matter is slightly complicated by the fact that every tackle has a working end where the final run of rope leaves the last sheave. More mechanical advantage can be obtained if this end is attached to the moving load rather than the fixed end of the tackle.

  • bow

    The front of a ship.

  • stern

    The rear part of a ship, technically defined as the area built up over the sternpost, extending upwards from the counter to the taffrail.

  • galley

    The kitchen of the ship

  • below


    "Below" is down or under. "Going below" is going down from the the deck to the salon or main cabin.

  • hatch

    The hatch provide access to the deck.

  • port

    Towards the left-hand side of the ship facing forward (formerly Larboard). Denoted with a red light at night.

  • starboard

    Towards the right-hand side of a vessel facing forward. Denoted with a green light at night.

  • harness


  • wheel

    The wheel of a ship is the modern method of adjusting the angle of the rudder, in turn changing the direction of the boat or ship. It is also called the helm, together with the rest of the steering mechanism.

  • jack line

    or Jack Stays – Lines, often steel wire with a plastic jacket, from the bow to the stern on both port and starboard. The Jack Lines are used to clip on the safety harness to secure the crew to the vessel while giving them the freedom to walk on the deck.

  • bloc

    A block is a single or multiple pulley. One or a number of sheaves are enclosed in an assembly between cheeks or chocks. In use a block is fixed to the end of a line, to a spar or to a surface. Rope or line is rove through the sheaves, and maybe through one or more matching blocks at some far end to make up a tackle.

  • runners (running backstays)

    Long lines or cables, reaching from the rear of the vessel to the mast heads, used to support the mast.

  • cleat

    A stationary device used to secure a rope aboard a vessel.

  • anchor line


  • down haul

    A line used to control either a mobile spar, or the shape of a sail.

  • This is a glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, many date from the 17th-19th century.
©2006 Truls Henriksen (Truls)