From the 1867 Sailor’s Word-Book: Nautical Verbs, K-Z

Ship in a StormEvery profession develops its own jargon, a kind of short-hand between those in the know.  The sailing profession is one of the oldest on the planet, and has developed over the centuries; many of its terms have made it into everyday language.

Below is a gleaning of nautical actions from a digitalized version of the 1867 “The Sailor’s Word-Book:  An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, including some more especially military and scientific, but useful to seamen; as well as archaisms of early voyagers, etc. by the late ADMIRAL W. H. SMYTH, K.S.F., D.C.L., &c.”  For those of you interested in this topic you’ll appreciate the richness of life at sea represented here; for those of you interested in language, it’s a great source of history and etymology.  Because of the length, I’ve broken it down into two sections; here’s the second part, K-Z.  Enjoy!


KEN, To. Ang.-Sax. descrying, as Shakespeare in Henry VI.:— “And far as I could ken thy chalky cliffs.”  —Ken, a speck, a striking object or mark.

(Note:  “Ken, to” is also used in modern Scots to describe knowing or understanding someone or something.)

KICK THE BUCKET, To. To expire; an inconsiderate phrase for dying.

KICK UP A DUST, To. To create a row or disturbance.

KIDNAP, To. To crimp or carry off by artifice.

KREE, To. A north-country word: to beat, or bruise.

KRINGLE, To. To dry and shrivel up. Also a form of cringle.

LABBER, To. To struggle in water, as a fish when caught. To splash.

LACE, To. To apply a bonnet by lacing it to a sail. Also, to beat or punish with a rattan or rope’s-end. Also, the trimmings of uniforms.

LARRUP, To. An old word meaning to beat with a rope’s-end, strap, or colt.

LASK, To. To go large.—Lasking along. Sailing away with a quartering wind.

LATHER, To. To beat or drub soundly.

LAUNCH, To. To send a ship, craft, or boat off the slip on shore into the water, “her native element,” as newspapers say. Also, to move things; as, launch forward, or launch aft. Launch is also the movement by which the ship or boat descends into the water.

LAVEER, To. An old sea-term for beating a ship to windward; to tack.

LAY, To. To come or go; as, lay aloft, lay forward, lay aft, lay out. This is not the neuter verb lie mispronounced, but the active verb lay.

LAY A GUN, To. So to direct it as that its shot may be expected to strike a given object; for which purpose its axis must be pointed above the latter, at an angle of elevation increasing according to its distance.

LAY HER COURSE, To. To be able to sail in the direction wished for, however barely the wind permits it.

LAY IN SEA-STOCK, To. To make provision for the voyage.

LAY THE LAND, To. Barely to lose sight of it.

LAY-TO. To bring the weather-bow to the sea, with one sail set, and the helm lashed a-lee.

LAY UP A SHIP, To. To dismantle her.

LET DRIVE, To. To slip or let fly. To discharge, as a shot from a gun.

LET FLY, To. To let go a rope at once, suddenly.

LET IN, To. To fix or fit a diminished part of one plank or piece of timber into a score formed in another to receive it, as the ends of the carlings into the beams.

LET OUT, or Shake out, a Reef, To. To increase the dimensions of a sail, by untying the points confining a reef in it.

LIE ALONG, To.  A ship is said to lie along when she leans over with a side wind.—To lie along the land, is to keep a course parallel with it.

LIE ATHWART, To. When the tide slackens, and the wind is across tide, it makes a vessel ride athwart.

LIE BY, To. Dodging under small sail under the land.

LIE THE COURSE, To. When the vessel’s head is in the direction wished.

LIE-TO, To. To cause a vessel to keep her head steady as regards a gale, so that a heavy sea may not tumble into her. She has perhaps a main-topsail or trysails, and comes up to within six points, and falls off to wind abeam, forging rather ahead, but should not altogether fall too much to leeward.

LIE UNDER ARMS, To. To remain in a state of preparation for immediate action.

LIFT AN ANCHOR, To. Either by the purchase; or a ship if she has not sufficient cable on a steep bank lifts, or shoulders, her anchor.

LIGHT, To. To move or lift anything along; as “light over to windward,” the cry for helping the man at the weather-earing when taking in a reef. Each man holding by a reef-point helps it over, as the lee-earing cannot be passed until the man to windward calls out, “Haul out to leeward.”

LIGHTEN, To. To throw ballast, stores, cargo, or other things, overboard in stress of weather, to render the vessel more buoyant.

LINE, To. To cover one piece with another. Also, to mark out the work on a floor for determining the shape of a vessel’s body.—To line a ship, is to strike off with a batten, or otherwise, the directional lines for painting her. (See Toe a Line.)

LIST, To. To incline to one side; as “the ship has a list to port,” i.e. leans over to that side.

LIVE, To. To be able to withstand the fury of the elements; said of a boat or ship, &c.

LIVELY. To lift lightly to the sea; as a boat, &c.

LOCK, To. To entangle the lower yards when tacking.

LOOK, To. The bearing or direction, as, she looks up, is approaching her course.—A plank looks fore and aft, means, is placed in that direction.

LOOM, To. An indistinct enlarged appearance of any distant object in light fogs, as the coast, ships, &c.; “that land looms high,” “that ship looms large.” The effect of refraction.

LOOSE, To. To unfurl or cast loose any sail, in order to its being set, or dried after rain.

LOOSE A ROPE, To. To cast it off, or let it go.

LOSE WAY, To. When a ship slackens her progress in the water.

LOWER, To. The atmosphere to become cloudy. Also, to ease down gradually, expressed of some weighty body suspended by tackles or ropes, which, being slackened, suffer the said body to descend as slowly, or expeditiously, as occasion requires.

LUFF INTO A HARBOUR, To. To sail into it, shooting head to wind, gradually. A ship is accordingly said to spring her luff when she yields to the effort of the helm, by sailing nearer to the wind, or coming to, and does not shake the wind out of her sails until, by shortening all, she reaches her anchorage.

MAKE, To. Is variously applied in sea-language.

MAKE BAD WEATHER, To. A ship rolling, pitching, or leaking violently in a gale.

MAKE FAST. A word generally used for tying or securing ropes. To fasten.

MAKE FREE WITH THE LAND, To. To approach the shore closely.

MAKE LEE-WAY, To. To drift to leeward of the course.

MAKE SAIL, To. To increase the quantity of sail already set, either by letting out reefs, or by setting additional sails.

MAKE STERN-WAY, To. To retreat, or move stern foremost.

MAKE THE LAND, To. To see it from a distance after a voyage.

MAKE WATER, To. Usually signifies the act of a ship leaking, unless the epithet foul be added. (See Foul Water.)

MAN, To. To provide a competent number of hands for working and fighting a ship; to place people for duty, as “Man the barge;” “Man the capstan;” “Man the yards,” &c.

MANARVEL, To. To pilfer small stores.

MANGONIZE, To. To traffic in slaves.

MAN-HANDLE, To. To move by force of men, without levers or tackles.

MARINATE, To. To salt fish, and afterwards preserve it in oil or vinegar.

MARL, To. To souse fish in vinegar to be eaten cold.

MARLE, To. To wind marline, spun-yarn, twine, &c., about a rope, so that every turn is secured by a kind of knot, and remains fixed, in case the rest should be cut through by friction. It is commonly used to fasten slips of canvas, called parsling, upon the surface of a rope, to prevent its being galled, or to attach the foot of a sail to its bolt-rope, &c., with marling hitches, instead of sewing it.

MARRY, To, the Ropes, Braces, or Falls. To hold both together, and by pressure haul in both equally. Also so to join the ends of two ropes, that they will pass through a block.

MEND SAILS, To. To loose and skin them afresh on the yards.

MOOR, To. To secure a ship with anchors, or to confine her in a particular station by two chains or cables, either fastened to the mooring chains or to the bottom; a ship is moored when she rides by two anchors.

MOOR ACROSS, To. To lay out one of the anchors across stream.

MOOR ALONG, To. To anchor in a river with a hawser on shore to steady her.

MOOR QUARTER-SHOT, To. To moor quartering, between the two ways of across and along.

MOOR THE BOAT, To. To fasten her with two ropes, so that the one shall counteract the other, and keep her in a steady position.


MOUNT, To. When said of a ship-of-war, implies the number of guns she carries.—To mount, in a military sense, is also to furnish with horses.

MOUNT A GUN, To. To place it on its carriage.

MOVE OFF, To. To defile.

MOYLE, To. To defile; an old term.

MUFFLE THE OARS, To. To put some matting or canvas round the loom when rowing, to prevent its making a noise against the tholes, or in the rowlocks. For this service thole-pins are best. In war time, rowing guard near the ships or batteries of the enemy, or cutting out, many a pea-jacket has been sacrificed for this purpose. Whale-boats have their oars muffled to prevent frightening the whales.

MUSTER, To. To assemble in order that the state and condition of the men may be seen, and also at times to inspect their arms and clothing.

NAIL, To. Is colloquially used for binding a person to a bargain. In weighing articles of food, a nail is 8 lbs.

NAUFRAGIATE, To. An old expression, meaning to suffer shipwreck. It occurs in Lithgow’s Pilgrime’s Farewell, 1618.

NEGOTIATE, To. The duty of a diplomatist; the last resource and best argument being now 12-ton guns.

OBSERVE, To. To take a bearing or a celestial observation.

OCCUPY, To. To take military possession.

OPEN LOWER DECKERS, To. To fire the lower tier of guns. Also said of a person using violent language.

OUT-FLANK, To. By a longer front, to overlap the enemy’s opposite line, and thus gain a chance to turn his flank.

OUT-SAIL, To. To sail faster than another ship, or to make a particular voyage with greater despatch.

OVER-PRESS, To. To carry too much sail on a ship.

OVERSHOOT, To. To give a ship too much way.

OWN, To. To be a proprietor in a ship.


PARCEL, To. To wind tarred canvas round a rope.

PARLEY. That beat of drum by which a conference with the enemy is desired. Synonymous with chamade.—To parley. To bandy words.

PART, To. To break a rope. To part from an anchor is in consequence of the cable parting.

PASS, To. To give from one to another, and also to take certain turns of a rope round a yard, &c., as “Pass the line along;” “pass the gasket;” “pass a seizing;” “pass the word there,” &c.

PAY A MAST OR YARD, To. To anoint it with tar, turpentine, rosin, tallow, or varnish; tallow is particularly useful for those masts upon which the sails are frequently hoisted and lowered, such as top-masts and the lower masts of sloops, schooners, &c.

PAY A VESSEL’S BOTTOM, To. To cover it with tallow, sulphur, rosin, &c.

PAY ROUND, To. To turn the ship’s head.

PEAK, To. To raise a gaff or lateen yard more obliquely to the mast. To stay peak, or ride a short stay peak, is when the cable and fore-stay form a line: a long peak is when the cable is in line with the main-stay.

PICK UP A WIND, To. Traverses made by oceanic voyagers; to run from one trade or prevalent wind to another, with as little intervening calm as possible.

PITCH IN, To. To set to work earnestly; to beat a person violently. (A colloquialism.)

PLANK IT, To. To sleep on the bare decks, choosing, as the galley saying has it, the softest plank.

PLASH, To. To wattle or interweave branches.

PLY, To. To carry cargoes or passengers for short trips. Also, to work to windward, to beat. Also, to ply an oar, to use it in pulling.

POINT A GUN, To. To direct it on a given object.

POINT A SAIL, To. To affix points through the eyelet-holes of the reefs.

POWDER, To. To salt meat slightly; as Falstaff says, “If thou embowel me to-day, I’ll give you leave to powder me, and eat me too, to-morrow.”—Powdering-tub. A vessel used for pickling beef, pork, &c.

PRESS, To. To reduce an enemy to straits.

PRIME, To. To make ready a gun, mine, &c., for instantaneous firing. Also, to pierce the cartridge with the priming-wire, and apply the quill-tube in readiness for firing the cannon.—To prime a fire-ship. To lay the train for being set on fire.—To prime a match. Put a little wet bruised powder made into the paste called devil, upon the end of the rope slow-match, with a piece of paper wrapped round it.

PRISE, To. To raise, or slue, weighty bodies by means of a lever purchase or power.

PROVE, To. To test the soundness of fire-arms, by trying them with greater charges than those used on service.

PULL FOOT, To. To hasten along; to run.

PURCHASE A COMMISSION, To. A practice in our army, which has been aptly termed the “buying of fetters;” it is the obtaining preferment at regulated prices. At present the total value of a commission in a regiment of infantry of the line ranges from £450 for an ensigncy, up to £4540 for a lieutenant-colonelcy, and higher in the other branches of the service.

PURSUE, To. To make all sail in chase.

PUSH, To. To move a vessel by poles.

PUT BACK, To. To return to port—generally the last left.

PUT INTO PORT, To. To enter an intermediate or any port in the course of a voyage, usually from stress of weather.

PUT TO SEA, To. To quit a port or roadstead, and proceed to the destination.

PYKE, To. A old word signifying to haul on a wind.

PYKE OFF, To. To go away silently.

QUADRATE, To. To trim a gun on its carriage and its trucks; to adjust it for firing on a level range.

QUICKEN, To. In ship-building, to give anything a greater curve; as, to quicken the sheer, opposed to straightening it.

RACE, To. Applies to marking timber with the race-tool.

RADDLE, To. To interlace; as in making boats’ gripes and flat gaskets.

RAISE, To. To make an object subtend a larger angle by approaching it, which is the foundation of perspective, and an effect increased by the sphericity of our globe: the opposite of laying.

RAISE A SIEGE, To. To abandon or cause the abandonment of a siege.

RAISE THE METAL To. To elevate the breech, and depress thereby the muzzle of a gun.

RAISE THE WIND, To. To make an exertion; to cast about for funds.

RAM HOME, To. To drive home the ammunition in a gun.

RANGE, To. To sail in a parallel direction, and near to; as “we ranged the coast;” “the enemy came ranging up alongside of us.”

RANSACK, To. To pillage; but to ransack the hold is merely to overhaul its contents.

RATE A CHRONOMETER, To. To determine its daily gaining or losing rate on mean time.

RATTLE DOWN RIGGING, To; or, To Rattle the Shrouds. To fix the ratlines in a line parallel to the vessel’s set on the water.

RAZE, To. To level or demolish (applicable to works or buildings).

REAM or Reem Out, To. To enlarge the bore of a cannon with a special tool, so that it may take a larger projectile.

RE-ASSEMBLE. To gather together a fleet, or convoy, after having been scattered.

REAVEL, or Raffle. To entangle; to knot confusedly together.

REDUCE, To. To degrade to a lower rank; or to shorten the allowance of water or provisions.

REDUCE A CHARGE, To. To diminish the contents of a cartridge, sometimes requisite during heavy firing.

REDUCE A PLACE, To. To compel its commander to surrender, or vacate it by capitulation.

REEVE, To. To pass the end of a rope through any cavity or aperture, as the channel of a block; to unreeve is the opposite.

REINFORCE, To. To strengthen a fleet, squadron, army, or detachment, by additional means and munitions.

RELIEVE, To. To put fresh men or ships upon a stipulated duty.

REPEAT SIGNALS, To. Is to make the same signal exhibited by the admiral, in order to its being more readily distinguished at a distance, or through smoke, &c. Frigates and small vessels out of the line were deemed repeating ships, and enforced signals by guns. The repeat from a superior intended to convey rebuke for inattention, is usually accompanied by one gun, or several.

REPLENISH, To. To obtain supplies of water and provisions up to the original amount.

REPORT ONE’S SELF, To. When an officer returns on board from duty, or from leave of absence.

RE-SHIP. To ship again, or ship goods that have been imported or conveyed by water.

RESOLVE, To. To reduce a traverse, or day’s work, to its exact limits.

RET, To. To soak in water, as in seasoning timber, hemp, &c.

RETURN A SALUTE, To. Admirals are saluted, but return two guns less for each rank that the saluting officer is below the admiral.

RIDE, To. To ride at anchor. A vessel rides easily, apeak, athwart, head to wind, out a gale, open hawse, to the tide, to the wind, &c. A rope rides, as when round the capstan or windlass the strain part overlies and jams the preceding turn.—To ride between wind and tide. Said of a ship at anchor when she is acted upon by wind and tide from different directions, and takes up a position which is the result of both forces.

RIG, To. To fit the shrouds, stays, braces, and running-rigging to their respective masts, yards, and sails. Colloquially, it means to dress.—To rig in a boom, is to draw it in.—To rig out a boom, is to run it out from a yard, in order to extend the foot of a sail upon it, as with studding-sail booms, &c.

RIG THE CAPSTAN, To. To fix the bars in the drumhead in readiness for heaving; not forgetting to pin and swift.

RISK A RUN, To. To take chance without convoy.

ROLL UP A SAIL, To. To hand it quickly.

ROUND-IN, To. To haul in on a fall; the act of pulling upon any slack rope which passes through one or more blocks in a direction nearly horizontal, and is particularly applied to the braces, as “Round-in the weather-braces.” It is apparently derived from the circular motion of the rope about the sheave or pulley, through which it passes.

ROUND-TO, To. To bring to, or haul to the wind by means of the helm. To go round, is to tack or wear.

ROUSE, To. To man-handle. “Rouse in the cable,” haul it in, and make it taut.

ROW, To. To propel a boat or vessel by oars or sweeps, which are managed in a direction nearly horizontal.

RUN ATHWART A SHIP’S COURSE, To. To cross her path.

RUN DOWN A COAST, To. To sail along it, keeping parallel to or skirting its dangers.

RUN DOWN A VESSEL, To. To pass over, into, or foul her by running against her end-on, so as to jeopardize her.

RUN OUT A WARP, To. To carry a hawser out from the ship by a boat, and fasten it to some distant place to remove the ship towards that place, or to keep her steady whilst her anchors are lifted, &c.


SAGG, To. To bend or give way from heavy weight; to press down towards the middle; the opposite of hogging. In Macbeth the word is figuratively applied—

“The mind I sway by, and the heart I bear,
Shall never sagg with doubt, nor shake with fear.”

SAGGING TO LEEWARD. To drift off bodily to leeward. The movement by which a ship makes a considerable lee-way.

whose chief at that time was the redoubtable Saladin.

SALAM, To. To salute a superior; a very common term, borrowed from India. Overdoing it does not please Jack, for he dislikes to see his commander “salamming like a captured Frenchman.”

SCOUR A BEACH, To. To pour a quick flanking fire along it, in order to dislodge an enemy.

SCOUR THE SEAS, To. To infest the ocean as a pirate.

SCUTTLE, To. To cut or bore holes through part of a ship when she is stranded or over-set, and continues to float, in order to save any part of her contents. Also, a trick too often practised by boring holes below water, to sink a ship, where fictitious cargo is embarked and the vessel insured beyond her value.

SEDUCE, To. To inveigle a man to desertion.

SEND, To. To rise after pitching heavily and suddenly between two waves, or out of the trough of the sea.

SERVE, To. To supply the gun with powder and shot. Also, to handle it through all the changes of station.

SERVE THE VENT, To. To stop it with the thumb.

SET THE CHASE, To. To mark well the position of the vessel chased by bearing, so that by standing away from her on one tack, she may be cut off on the other.

SET UP RIGGING, To. To take in the slack of the shrouds, stays, and backstays, to bring the same strain as before, and thus secure the masts.

SHAKE, To. To cast off fastenings, as—To shake out a reef. To let out a reef, and enlarge the sail.—To shake off a bonnet of a fore-and-aft sail.—To shake a cask. To take it to pieces, and pack up the parts, then termed “shakes.” Thus the term expressing little value, “No great shakes.”

SHAKE IN THE WIND, To. To bring a vessel’s head so near the wind, when close-hauled, as to shiver the sails.

SHEER OFF, To. To move to a greater distance, or to steer so as to keep clear of a vessel or other object.

SHEER TO THE ANCHOR, To. To direct the ship’s bows by the helm to the place where the anchor lies, while the cable is being hove in.

SHEER UP ALONGSIDE, To. To approach a ship or other object in an oblique direction.

SHIEVE, To. To have head-way. To row the wrong way, in order to assist the steersman in a narrow channel.

SHIFT A BERTH, To. To move from one anchorage to another.

SHIN UP, To. To climb up a rope or spar without the aid of any kind of steps.

SHOOT, To. To move suddenly; as “the ballast shoots on one side.” Also, a ship shoots ahead in stays. Also, to push off in a boat from the shore into a current; to descend a rapid. The term is well used thus amongst the powerful rivers of N. America, of which perhaps the finest example is given by the St. Lawrence at La Chine, there reported to rush in spring-time at the rate of 40 miles an hour. Thus the shooting Old London Bridge was the cause of many deaths, and gave occasion to the admirable description in the Loves of the Triangles (anti-Jacobin), when all were agreed:

“‘Shoot we the bridge,’ the vent’rous boatmen cry;
‘Shoot we the bridge,’ th’ exulting fare reply.”

SHOOT THE COMPASS, To. To shoot wide of the mark.

SHOOT THE SUN, To. To take its meridional altitude; literally aiming at the reflected sun through the telescope of the instrument. “Have you obtained a shot?” applied to altitudes of the meridian, as for time, lunar distances, &c.

SHORTEN, To. Said of a ship’s sails when requisite to reduce those that are set. And shorten in, when alluding to the anchor, by heaving in cable.

SHUT IN, To. Said of landmarks or points of land, when one is brought to transit and overlap the other, or intercept the view of it.

SIDE OUT FOR A BEND, To. The old well-known term to draw the bight of a hempen cable towards the opposite side, in order to make room for the bight being twined to coil it in the tier. The most expert and powerful seamen were selected for this duty, now rare.

SIGHT THE ANCHOR, To. To heave it up in sight, in order to prove that it is clear, when, from the ship having gone over it, there is suspicion that it may be fouled by the slack cable.

SIGNALIZE, To. To distinguish one’s self; a word also degraded to the meaning of communicating intelligence by means of signals or telegraph.

SILT-UP, To. To be choked with mud or sand, so as to obstruct vessels.

SINGLE, To. To unreeve the running part of top-sail sheets, &c., to let them run freely, or for harbour duty.

SIZE, To. To range soldiers, marines, and small-arm men, so that the tallest may be on the flanks of a party.

SKEDADDLE, To. To stray wilfully from a watering or a working party. An archaism retained by the Americans.

SKELP, To. To slap with the open hand: an old word, said to have been imported from Iceland:— “I canno’ tell a’;
Some gat a skelp, and some gat a claw.”

SLING, To. To pass the top-chains round the yards when going into action. Also, to set any large article, in ropes, so as to put a tackle on, and hoist or lower it. When the clues are attached to a cot or hammock, it is said to be slung; also water-kegs, buoys, &c., are slung.

SLUE, To. To turn anything round or over in situ: especially expressing the movement of a gun, cask, or ship; or when a mast, boom, or spar is turned about in its cap or boom iron.

SNAGGLE, To. To angle for geese with a hook and line properly baited.

SNAPE, To. In ship-carpentry, is to hance or bevel the end of anything, so as to fay upon an inclined plane: it is also designated flinch.

SPAN IN THE RIGGING, To. To draw the upper parts of the shrouds together by tackles, in order to seize on the cat-harping legs. The rigging is also “spanned in” when it has been found to stretch considerably on first putting to sea, but cannot be set up until it moderates.

SPEAK A VESSEL, To. To pass within hail of her for that purpose.

SPILL, To. Whether for safety or facility, it is advisable to shiver the wind out of a sail before furling or reefing it. This is done either by collecting the sail together, or by bracing it bye, so that the wind may strike its leech and shiver it. A very effeminate captain was accustomed to order, “Sheevar the meezen taus’le, and let the fore-topmast staysail lie dormant in the brails!”

SPIN A TWIST OR A YARN, To. To tell a long story; much prized in a dreary watch, if not tedious.

SPOOM, To. An old word frequently found in Dryden, who thus uses it, “When virtue spooms before a prosp’rous gale,
My heaving wishes help to fill the sail.”

SPREAD A FLEET, To. To keep more open order.

STAND, To. The movement by which a ship advances towards a certain object, or departs from it; as, “The enemy stands in shore;” “We saw three sail standing to the southward.” “That ship has not a mast standing,” implies that she has lost all her masts.

STAND IN SHORE, To. To sail directly for the land.

STAND SQUARE, To. To stand or be at right angles relatively to some object.

STAVE, To. To break a hole in any vessel. Also, to drive in the head of a cask, as of spirits, to prevent the crew from misusing it in case of wreck.—To stave off. To boom off; to push anything off with a pole.

STEER HER COURSE, To. Going with the wind fair enough to lay her course.

STEER LARGE, To. To go free, off the wind. Also, to steer loosely.

STEER SMALL, To. To steer well and within small compass, not dragging the tiller over from side to side.

STEP OUT, To. To move along simultaneously and cheerfully with a tackle-fall, &c.

STOKE, To. To frequent the galley in a man-of-war, or to trim fires.

STOP THE VENT, To. To close it hermetically by pressing the thumb to it.

STORM, To. To take by vigorous assault, in spite of the resistance of the defenders.

STREAM THE BUOY, To. To let the buoy fall from the after-part of the ship’s side into the water, preparatory to letting go the anchor, that it may not foul the buoy-rope as it sinks to the bottom.

STRETCH ALONG A BRACE, To. To lay it along the decks in readiness for the men to lay hold of; called manning it.

STRIKE, To. A ship strikes when she in any way touches the bottom. Also, to lower anything, as the ensign or top-sail in saluting, or as the yards, topgallant-masts, and top-masts in a gale. It is also particularly used to express the lowering of the colours in token of surrender to a victorious enemy.

STRIKE SOUNDINGS, To. To gain bottom, or the first soundings, by the deep-sea lead, on coming in from sea.

STRIP THE MASTS, To. To clear the masts of their rigging.

SUCK THE MONKEY, To. To rob the grog-can.

SUGG, To. To move or rock heavily on a bank or reef.

SUPPORT A FRIEND, To. To make every exertion to assist a vessel in distress, from whatever cause. Neglect of this incurs punishment.

SURGE THE CAPSTAN, To. To slacken the rope heaved round upon its barrel, to prevent its parts from riding or getting foul.

SWAGG, To. To sink down by its own weight; to move heavily or bend. Synonymous with sagg. Also, the bellying of a heavy rope.

SWAY UP, To. To apply a strain on a mast-rope in order to lift the spar upwards, so that the fid may be taken out, previous to lowering the mast. Or sway yards aloft ready for crossing.

SWIG OFF, To. To pull at the bight of a rope by jerks, having its lower end fast; or to gain on a rope by jumping a man’s weight down, instead of hauling regularly.

SWILKER, To. A provincialism for splashing about.

SWIM, To [from the Anglo-Saxon swymm]. To move along the surface of the water by means of the simultaneous movement of the hands and feet. With the Romans this useful art was an essential part of education.

SWING, To. A ship is said to swing to the wind or tide, when they change their direction while she is lying at anchor.—To swing ship for local attraction and adjustment of compasses. This is done by taking the bearings of a very distant object at each point of the compass to which her head is brought; also, by using a theodolite on shore, and taking its bearing from the ship, and the observer’s head from the theodolite.

TAKE WATER ON BOARD, To. To ship a sea.

TALLY, To. To haul the sheets aft; as used by Falconer— “And while the lee clue-garnet’s lower’d away,
Taut aft the sheet they tally, and belay.”

TEACH, To. In marine architecture, is applied to the direction which any line or curve seems to point out.

TELEGRAPH, To. To convey intelligence to a distance, through the medium of signals.

TELL OFF, To. To divide a body of men into divisions and subdivisions, preparatory to a special service.

TEND, To. To watch a vessel at anchor on the turn of a tide, and cast her by the helm, and some sail if necessary, so as to keep the cable clear of the anchor or turns out of her cables when moored.

TERTIATE, To. To examine whether a piece of ordnance is truly bored and has its due proportion of metal in every part, especially at the vent, the trunnions, and the muzzle.

TEW, To. To beat hemp.

TOP A YARD OR BOOM, To. To raise up one end of it by hoisting on the lift, as the spanker-boom is lifted before setting the sail.

TOP THE GLIM, To. To snuff the candle.

TOP THE OFFICER, To. To arrogate superiority.

TOSS UP THE BUNT, To. In furling a sail, to make its final package at the centre of the yard when in its skin.

TOUCH UP IN THE BUNT, To. To mend the sail on the yard; figuratively, to goad or remind forcibly.

TOUT, To. An old term for looking out, or keeping a prying watch; whence the revenue cruisers and the customs officers were called touters. The name is also given to crimps.

TOW, To. To draw or drag a ship or boat by means of a rope attached to another vessel or boat, which advances by steam-power, rowing, or sailing. The Roman method, as appears by the triumphal arch at Orange, was by a rope fastened to a pulley at the top of the mast. They also fastened a rope to the head of a boat, and led it over men’s shoulders, as practised on our canals at the present day.

TRAIL A PIKE, To. To hold the spear end in the right hand, and the butt trailed behind the bearer.

TRANS-SHIP, To. To remove a cargo from one ship to another.

TRAVEL, To. For a thimble, block, &c., to run along on beams or ropes.

TRAVERSE A YARD, To. To get it fore and aft.

TREAD WATER, To. The practice in swimming by which the body is sustained upright, and the head kept above the surface.

TRENCH THE BALLAST, To. To divide the ballast in a ship’s hold to get at a leak, or to trim and stow it.

TREND, To. To bend or incline, speaking of a coast; as, “The land trends to the south-west.” Also, the course of a current or stream.

TRICE, To. To haul or lift up by means of a lashing or line.

TROUNCE, To. To beat or punish. An old word; in Mathew’s translation of the Bible, 1537, we find, “The Lord trounced Sisera.”

TRUSS UP, To. To brail up a sail suddenly; to toss up a bunt.

TRY BACK FOR A BEND, To. To pay back some of the bight of a cable, in order to have sufficient to form the bend.

TRY DOWN, To. To boil out the oil from blubber at sea in whalers.

TURN A TURTLE, To. To take the animal by seizing a flipper, and  throwing him on his back, which renders him quite helpless. Also applied to a vessel capsizing; or throwing a person suddenly out of his hammock.

TURN IN, To. To go to bed.—To turn out. To get up.

TURN IN A DEAD-EYE OR HEART, To. To seize the end of a shroud or stay, &c., securely round it.

TURN OVER MEN, To. To discharge them out of one ship into another.

TURN THE HANDS UP, To. To summon the entire crew on deck.

TURN TO WINDWARD, To. To gain on the wind by alternate tacking. It is when a ship endeavours to make progress against the wind by a compound course inclined to the place of her destination; otherwise called plying or beating to windward.

TWIG, To. To pull upon a bowline. Also, in familiar phrase, to understand or observe.


UNBEND, To. To cast off or untie; to remove the sails from their yards and stays; to cast loose the cables from their anchors, or to untie one rope from another.

UNBITT, To. To remove the turns of a cable from off the bitts.

UNDER-RUN A HAWSER OR WARP, To. To haul a boat along underneath it, in order to clear it, if any part happens to be foul. To under-run a tackle, is to separate the several parts of which it is composed, and range them in order, so that the general effort may not be interrupted when it is put in motion by the parts crossing, or by thorough-foots.

UNDER-SHORE, To. To support or raise a thing by putting a spar or prop under it, as a ship is shored up in dock.

UNLIMBER, To. With a gun on a travelling-carriage, to release it from the limber, by lifting the trail off the pintle and placing it on the ground, thus bringing it to the position for action.

UNREEVING. The act of withdrawing a rope from any block, thimble, dead-eye, &c., through which it had formerly passed.

UNRIG, To. To dismantle a ship of her standing and running rigging.—To unrig the capstan is to take out the bars.

UNSHIP, To. The opposite of to ship. To remove any piece of timber from its situation in which it is generally used, as “unship the oars,” lay them in the boat from the rowlocks; “unship the capstan bars,” &c.

VAIL, To. An old word signifying to lower, to bend in token of submission; as, “Vail their top-gallants.” Thus in the old play George a-Green, “Let me alone, my lord; I’ll make them vail their plumes.”

VEER, To. To let out, to pay out, to turn or change. Also, to veer or wear, in contradistinction from tacking. In tacking it is a necessary condition that the ship be brought up to the wind as close-hauled, and put round against the wind on the opposite tack. But in veering or wearing, especially when strong gales render it dangerous, unseamanlike, or impossible, the head of the vessel is put away from the wind, and turned round 20 points of the compass instead of 12, and, without strain or danger, is brought to the wind on the opposite tack. Many deep-thinking seamen, and Lords St. Vincent, Exmouth, and Sir E. Owen, issued orders to wear instead of tacking, when not inconvenient, deeming the accidents and wear and tear of tacking, detrimental to the sails, spars, and rigging.

VEER A BUOY IN A SHIP’S WAKE, To. To slack out a rope to which a buoy has been attached, and let it go astern, for the purpose of bringing up a boat, or picking up a man who may have fallen overboard.

VEER AND HAUL, To. To gently tauten and then slacken a rope three times before giving a heavy pull, the object being to concentrate the force of several men. The wind is said to veer and haul when it alters its direction; thus it is said, to veer aft, and haul forward.

VEER AWAY THE CABLE, To. To slack and let it run out.

WADE, To. An Anglo-Saxon word, meaning to pass through water without swimming. In the north, the sun was said to wade when covered by a dense atmosphere.

WAIVE, To. To give up the right to demand a court-martial, or to enforce forfeitures, by allowing people who have deserted, &c., to return to their duties.

WALK SPANISH, To. To quit duty without leave; to desert.

WALK THE QUARTER-DECK, To. A phrase signifying to take the rank of an officer.

WATER, To. To fill the casks or tanks; to complete water.

WEATHER ONE’S DIFFICULTIES, To. A colloquial phrase meaning to contend with and surmount troubles.

WEATHER THE CAPE, To. To become experienced; as it implies sailing round Cape Horn, or the Cape of Good Hope.

WEED, To. To clear the rigging of stops, rope-yarns, and pieces of oakum.

WELD, To. To join pieces of iron or other metal by placing in contact the parts heated almost to fusion, and hammering them into one mass.

WELL OFF, To. A mode of shutting off a leak by surrounding it by timbers screwed home through the lining to the timbers, and carrying up this trunk, like a log-hut, above the water-line.

WEND A COURSE, To. To sail steadily on a given direction.

WHISTLE FOR THE WIND, To. A superstitious practice among old seamen, who are equally scrupulous to avoid whistling during a heavy gale.—To wet one’s whistle. To take a drink. Thus Chaucer tells us that the miller of Trumpington’s lady had “Hir joly whistle wel ywette.”

WIND A SHIP OR BOAT, To. To change her position by bringing her stern round to the place where the head was.

WIND AWAY, To. To steer through narrow channels.

WING UP BALLAST, To. To carry the dead weight from the bottom as high as consistent with the stability of a ship, in order to ease her quick motion in rolling.

WOBBLE, To. In mechanics, to sway or roll from side to side.

WOOD, To. A gun is said to wood when it takes the port-sills or port-sides, or the trucks the water-ways.—To wood. When wooding-parties are sent out to cut or procure wood for a ship.

WORK, To. Said of a ship when she strains in a tempestuous sea, so as to loosen her joints.

WORK A SHIP, To. To adapt the sails to the force and direction of the wind.

WORK DOUBLE-TIDES, To. Implying that the work of three days is done in two, or at least two tides’ work in twenty-four hours.

WORK UP JUNK, To. To draw yarns from old cables, &c., and therewith to make foxes, points, gaskets, sinnet, or spun-yarn.

WRING A MAST, To. To bend, cripple, or strain it out of its natural position by setting the shrouds up too taut. The phrase, to wring, is also applied to a capstan when by an undue strain the component parts of the wood become deranged, and are thereby disunited. The head of a mast is frequently wrung by bracing up the lower yards beyond the dictates of sound judgment.

WRONG, To. To out-sail a vessel by becalming her sails is said to wrong her.



Filed under Articles, History, Lists, Research

7 responses to “From the 1867 Sailor’s Word-Book: Nautical Verbs, K-Z

  1. OMG I have this exact same book!!!! 🙂

  2. Enjoyed the read and the history. Thanks for your recent visit to my blog.

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