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Glossary, expressions and vocabulary of sailors

Do you speak the language of sailors? A boat has so many parts and the maneuvers are so diverse that a specific jargon has appeared over time. Here is an anthology of the most useful marine words and expressions.




  • Alpha  : I have a diver or a diver overboard. Stand clear and move slowly.

  • Mooring: securing the boat with a mooring line (rope or cable that connects the ship to a fixed pontoon).

  • Dock: bring the boat closer to a floating object until you touch it.

  • To approach: close to the concept of accosting but with a notion of violence, of physical shock.

  • Fittings: set of deck accessories used on a sailboat to maneuver the sails.

  • Antifouling: paint that protects the hull from marine organisms and prevents them from clinging to the living works.

  • Harness: reduce the surface of the mainsail.

  • Trim: longitudinal inclination of a ship.


  • Bravo: I load, or unload, or I transport dangerous goods.

  • Port: Left side of the ship when facing forward.

  • Beaconing: signaling of the route to follow and the dangers using beacons.

  • Bar: rod, wheel or now "joystick" which is used to maneuver the rudder.

  • Shallows: the bottom is far from the surface and the depth is sufficient to navigate without risk of grounding.

  • Cradle: wedge or frame (sometimes also ropes) which supports the boat during hauling, launching, transport.

  • Biture: length of chain placed on the deck in preparation for anchoring

  • Boom: rigid bar hinged to the mast which allows the mainsail of a boat to be steered.

  • Bordache: pupil at the naval school.




  • Charlie: yes (affirmative answer), or the preceding group should be understood as an affirmation.

  • Cabin: room where you live (office, bedroom, etc.)

  • Pebble: rocky reef.

  • Hold: place where goods are stored below deck.

  • Heading: direction in which the boat is pointing. Angle formed by the route followed and the direction of the north.

  • Hull: submerged part of the hull of a boat, assimilated to the underwater work.

  • Cabin: reinforcing parts of the longitudinal structure of a boat.

  • Rowboat: large boat of more robust construction than that of a canoe used for all harbor or sea services or as a fishing boat.

  • Shipyard: Place of construction of ships and boats.

  • Hunt: slide on the bottom, for an anchor at anchor.

  • To shock: to relax, to give slack to a rope (opposite to tacking).

  • Trunk: buoy, connected to the deadman, to moor a boat.

  • Colours: national flag.

  • Crest: top of a wave.


  • Delta: don't bother me, I'm maneuvering with difficulty.

  • Deballasting: emptying compartments (ballasts) that contain seawater taken as ballast by a ship.

  • Planing: lifting, for a boat, the waterline rising above the level of the water.

  • Drift: move away from its direction under the pressure of the wind or under the action of a current.

  • Docks: basin surrounded by quays, in which ships enter to load and unload their cargo.

  • Duke of Alba: pilings anchored in the bottom of basins or channels, on which a ship can moor or lean.


  • Echo: I'm coming to starboard.

  • Beaching: operation which consists in letting a ship land on its bottom in a place where a boat can run aground without danger.

  • Hatch: Opening in the deck of a ship to provide access to the holds and between decks.

  • Cable length: old length measurement for measuring mooring chains or average cable distances.

  • Spur: part of the prow of a building which ends in a point and which has more or less projection on the front.

  • Erre: residual speed of a ship when it has no more propulsion.

  • Stern: rear part of a ship, synonymous with stern.

  • Bow: front part of a ship (the bow on a sailboat)


  • Foxtrot: I am distraught, communicate with me.

  • Dunnage: windage offered by the emerged part of the ship or dead works. Too much windage can make maneuvering in a congested port particularly difficult.

  • False deck: deck located below the main deck. On old ships, deck or movable floor, below the upper deck.

  • Flame: long, narrow streamer in the shape of a triangle, which is attached to the top of a mast.

  • Bottom: lower part of the wedge.

  • Fur: protection of a cable by surrounding it with a rope.


  • Golf: I need a driver

  • Gaff: long rod with an inwardly curved hook at one end for catching floating objects or rope in the sea.

  • Gallery: sort of open balcony around the stern or the navigation shelter.

  • Garcette: small short rope for mooring small equipment (bucket, sail, etc.).

  • Genope: rope wrapped tightly around another rope, to prevent it from slipping.

  • List: the inclination of a ship on its longitudinal axis to port or starboard.

  • To steer: to maneuver the helm of a boat so that it follows its course.

  • Grapple: small anchor with four or five curved arms, for small boats.

  • Rigging: on a motor ship, all the equipment necessary for the maneuvering and safety of the ship.


  • Hotel: I have a pilot on board

  • Haul on board: rope used to bring a sail or object on board.

  • Fisheries: relating to sea fishing and the species caught.

  • Guys: cables and ropes placed on each side of the mast, which keep it vertical.

  • Offshore: which relates to offshore navigation, on the high seas, far from the coast.

  • Houache: eddy caused on the surface of the water by the movement of the boat, generally synonymous with the wake left behind by the boat.

  • Porthole: small opening, glazed or not, pierced in the side of a boat, to give light and air.



  • India: I'm coming to port

  • Inboard: said of an engine installed inside the hull (as opposed to an outboard engine).

  • Incidence: angle of attack of the sail in relation to the apparent wind.

  • Island: a stretch of land completely surrounded by water. See also Island, Presqu'ile, Archipelago.

  • Isobar: On a weather map, isobars connect points on the earth's surface with equal atmospheric pressure. When the isobars are close together, there is a strong pressure gradient and there is a good chance that the wind will be strong.

  • Isthmus: narrow strip of land between two seas, joining two continents or two islands together, or a peninsula or a peninsula to a continent or a larger land area.

  • Itague: rope that passes through a simple, stiffened pulley using a hoist.


  • Juliet: keep your distance, I have a fire on board and I am transporting dangerous goods, or I have a leak of dangerous substances.

  • Leg-of-dog: node making it possible to shorten a rope under tension, without cutting it.

  • Anchor stock: bar perpendicular to the rod of an anchor, keeping the upper part of the anchor away from the bottom so that it does not lie flat and that one of the legs necessarily rests on the bottom, to that she hooks more easily.

  • Gauge: measurement of a ship's characteristics.

  • Logbook : register in which all the details of the navigation are recorded. Obligatory from the third category, but useful and recommendable in the fourth and fifth categories. The expression “Logbook”, which in principle designates something else, is so commonly used in the sense of logbook that it has become a de facto synonym.

  • Binoculars: magnifying binocular optical device.

  • Ebb: period during which the tide is falling. It is also the ebb tide current.




  • Kilo: I want to communicate with you or I invite you to transmit.

  • Ketch: two-masted sailboat whose front mast (mainmast) is taller than the aft mast.


  • Lima: Stop your ship immediately.

  • Leash: space left uncovered by the tide.

  • Docker: assistant in the mooring of ships.

  • Wide: maritime area located at a good distance from the coast, the high seas, outside coastal waters.

  • Latitude: angular value, positioning of a point on Earth north or south of the equator.

  • League: the nautical league is an old unit of distance which represents 3 nautical miles (i.e. 5.5 km).

  • Lifeline: metal cable, rope or textile strap stretched from the front to the back of a building, on each side, on which you can moor your harness, so as not to risk falling overboard

  • Livet: intersection between the main deck of a boat and the hull.

  • Log: navigational instrument that measures the speed of a ship.

  • Longitude: angular value, east-west positioning of a point on Earth.

  • Tackle: draw zigzags in order to "go up" to the wind.

  • Loxodrome: sailing route with a constant heading, intersecting all meridians (and parallels) at a constant angle, represented on the most common nautical charts by a straight line.




  • Mike: my ship is stopped and has no way.

  • Link: metal ring constituting the unitary element of a chain.

  • Mainz or Mainz: on-board kitchen where meals are prepared and distributed.

  • Manifest: detailed summary of all goods in the shipment.

  • Tide: periodic wave phenomenon due to the attraction of the Sun and the Moon which deforms the mass of ocean water and causes the water to withdraw or the level of the water to rise for a few hours.

  • Tide gauge: device intended to measure variations in sea level due to the tides.

  • Tidal range: difference in height between the level of high tide and that of low tide.

  • Nautical mile or nautical mile: distance corresponding to 1,852 meters.

  • Mayday: international distress signal used for the safety of human life at sea, corresponding to the old SOS

  • Anchor: immerse one or more anchors in the bottom to immobilize the boat.

  • Multihull: term designating sailboats with several hulls, catamarans, trimarans and proas.


  • November: no (negative answer), or the preceding signal must be understood in negative form.

  • Deck filler: opening fitted with a plug, in the bottom of a boat, allowing the water to drain away.

  • Mat: protective element that is placed in the mast and in the rigging to protect it from friction.

  • Cloudiness: cloud cover. One way to measure it is to divide the sky into eight roughly equal sectors; the number of sectors covered is then counted, to express the nebulosity in eighths, sometimes called octats.

  • Leech line: small rope or lanyard which regulates the tension of the leech of a sail.

  • New: state of a ship at the end of its construction, when it enters into service.

  • Knot: unit of speed measurement corresponding to one nautical mile per hour.


  • Oscar: Man Overboard

  • Eye: loop formed at the end of a rope using a knot or a splice.

  • Eyelet: hole, the perimeter of which is reinforced, in a sail to pass a rope through.

  • Organeau: ring at the end of an anchor, by which it is attached to its chain.

  • Oscar: Man Overboard.


  • Dad (At the port): all people must come on board, the ship will go to sea.

  • Hoist: assembly of pulleys and ropes, which are used either to perform maneuvers on board ships or to lift heavy loads.

  • Pantoire: solid rope, terminated by an eyelet or a pulley, the other end of which is fixed.

  • Passavant: side part of the bridge allowing to pass from front to back (and vice versa).

  • Flag: flag used for signaling between boats or to indicate the nationality of the building.

  • Lighthouse: maritime signaling system, consisting of a powerful lighting system generally placed at the top of a tower.

  • Foot: lower part of the mast.

  • Pontoon: in a port, a floating platform to which boats can moor.

  • Stern: rear part of a ship.

  • Prow: front part of a ship.


  • Quebec: my ship is unscathed, I request free practice.

  • Quadrant: on the old compasses, the wind rose was not graduated in degrees, but

  • divided into four quadrants of 90 degrees each.

  • Wharf: lift used for docking, mooring and unloading or boarding people and goods.

  • Quest: angle of inclination of a mast with respect to the vertical.

  • Keel: lower axial part of the hull.



  • Romeo: procedure signal.

  • Raban: cord or braid used to tighten a sail on a yard.

  • Radar: system for detecting and locating objects (other ships, coastline, icebergs, etc.).

  • Refit: hold or basin that can be emptied, allowing the hull of a building to be maintained or repaired.

  • Reef: rock, chain of rocks or coral reef at water level constituting a danger for navigation.

  • Refloating: operation consisting of putting a wreck entirely afloat.

  • Reverses: when the current changes direction.

  • Ride: rope used to stiffen a stay.

  • Rouer: bend a cable, a maneuver in circles, in hoops.

  • Road: small-scale nautical chart (covering a large area), on which the general route of a boat is drawn, for example when crossing an ocean.


  • Sierra: I beat back.

  • Rudder: flat part of a boat's rudder.

  • Seizure: rope intended to seize an object, that is to say to secure it firmly.

  • Sasser: pass a lock, or pass it through.

  • Sentine: place, at the bottom of the hold, where waste water collects.

  • Sextant: instrument which contains the sixth part of a circle, and which is used to measure angles to determine the position of the boat.

  • Sonar: device used to measure depth.

  • Whipping: ligature made at the end of a rope to prevent the strands from untwisting.


  • Tango: Don't bother me, I do twin trawling.

  • Table: relatively flat rear part of the hull of a boat.

  • Talweg: Extension of a depression between two anticyclones or areas of high pressure.

  • Cleat: device located on the ship to block a rope.

  • Holding: ability of an anchor to hook the bottom well, without hunting, or of the bottom to hold it well. A sandy or muddy bottom generally holds better than a gravel or pebble bottom. Solidity of a knot, its ability to stay in place without coming undone.

  • Tidal: relating to the tide or the variations in sea level and the currents that the movement of the tide generates.

  • Drawbar: long piece of wood attached to the rudder of a ship and used to move it.

  • Tonnage: measurement of the volume of a boat.

  • Touline: rope thrown on the ground or on another boat, to send a mooring line or a bump.

  • Starboard: right side of a ship looking forward.


  • Uniform: You are running into danger.

  • UT: Universal Time, corresponding to Greenwich Mean Time. France, one hour must be added to legal winter time to obtain UTC time, and two hours to summer time.


  • Victor: I request assistance.

  • Mop: broom or brush used to wash the decks of ships.

  • Verloquet: rope used to guide a suspended load during its movement.

  • VHF: initials of Very High Frequency (very high frequency). VHF radiotelephone system providing links with a range of approximately 30 to 35 miles and operating in the 156 to 162 MHz band.

  • Turn: change direction in the event of a change of course or to go around a buoy, for example.

  • Leakage: accidental opening in the underside of the hull, through which water enters the boat.

  • Twist: difference in opening of a sail between the top and the bottom of the mast.


  • Whiskey: Request for medical assistance.

  • Way-point: English word meaning “point of passage”. When the most direct route cannot be taken because it is dangerous or there are obstacles, a route is drawn that circumvents the area to be avoided.

  • Whiskey: Medical aid needed.

  • Winch: small winch on a sailboat allowing traction on a rope.


  • X-ray: Stop maneuvering and watch for my signals.


  • Yankee: My anchor is hunting.


  • Zulu: I need a tug.

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