“Jack-Tar” Sea Terms

Baggy Wrinkle/ Railroad Sinnet, germ. Tausendbein : A sort of chafing gear. This was served round stays, topping lifts, backstays, etc. to protect sails and running rigging from chafing.

Belay, germ. Belegen: To make a rope fast by turns round a belaying pin or coil, without hitching or seizing it.

Bends, germ. Stek: Bends are knots by which one rope is  made fast to another.  

Bitter end: "It is the turn of the cable about the bitts; that so it may be veered out by little and little at ease. And when a ship is thus stopped by the cable, she is said to be brought up to the bitter. And the Bitter end of the cable is that which is always at the bitts when the ship is at an anchor. And then the sea language is, bend it to the bitter end." From Boteler`s Dialogues.

Bitts: "They are those two main pieces of timber which stand pillar-wise , abaft the manger, in the loof of the ship; and they serve  to belay (that is to fasten) the cable when the ship rides at an anchor: and the main timber that is laid across in this place, is termed the Cross-piece; and to it is belayed the cable." From Boteler`s Dialogues

Boatswain`s Locker, germ. Kabelgatt: Where tools and small stuff for working upon rigging are kept.

Bollard-eye, germ. großes gespleißtes Auge: This is a large soft eye, 5 feet long from crown to splice, fitted in the ends of berthing hawsers so that they can be placed over bollards.

Bollard-strop: A wire hawser fitted with a hawser-eye is secured to a bollard with a bollard strop and an anchor shackle.

Bowline on the Bight, germ. Doppelter Palstek: As its name implies, this bowline is made on the bight, the first two operations in its formation being the same as for a simple bowline. It is used for lowering a man from aloft or over the ship`s side, the short bight being placed under his buttocks.

Bowline-Knot, germ.Palstek: Used to make a temporary eye in the end of a rope; it is a very reliable knot and will never slip.

Brace, Braces, germ. Brassen: A rope by which a yard is turned about.

Bulls-Eye, germ. Klotje, Klotchen: A small piece of stout wood with a hole in the center for a stay or ropr to reeve through, without any sheave, and with a groove round it for the strap, which is usually of iron. Also a piece of  thick glass inserted in the deck to let light below.

Buntlines, germ. Gordings: Ropes used for hauling up the body of a sail.

Cable Laid Rope, germ. Kabelschlag: Three hawser-laid ropes laid up together in the opposite direction to that of their own lay will form a “cable-laid” or “water-laid” rope.

Cable: A large, strong rope, made fast to the anchor, by which the vessel is secured. It is usually 120 fathoms in length.

Carrick Bend, germ. Trossenstek: This is used for joining two hawsers together when the join will have to pass round the capstan. The ends should be stopped to their standing parts.

Chafe, germ. schamfilen, reiben: To rub the surface of a rope or spar. Chafing-gear is the stuff put upon the rigging and spars to prevent their chafing.

Clove Hitch,germ. Webeleinstek: A clove hitch is used to secure a rope to a spar, guard rail, or similar fitting; also for many other purposes.

Coachwhipping, germ. Kreuzkatning: This is used as an ornamental covering for boathooks, stanchions, bellropes, telescopes and similar fittings.

Cockscombing, germ. Schweinsrücken: Used to cover an eye or a ring. It can be made using one, three or any odd number of parts.

Constrictor Knot, germ. Konstriktor, Würgestek: This knot works well as temporary seizing, holding together the end of a rope, a bundle of lines before making a button knot and many other examples.

Cordage, germ. Tauwerk: In its broadest sense, cordage includes all forms and kinds of rope, string, twine, cable, etc., formed of braided or twisted strands.

Crown Knot, germ. Hahnepoot: The crown knot forms the basis of the backsplice, and with the wall knot it forms  the basis of many of the knots commonly used in ropes ends

Cringle: A short piece of rope with each end spliced into the bolt-rope of a sail, confining an iron ring or thimble.

Dead Eyes, germ. Juffer, Jungfer: Circular block of wood, with three holes through it,for the lanyards of rigging to reeve through, without sheaves, and with a groove round it for an iron ring strap.

Diamond Knot/ Knife Lanyard Knot, germ. Diamant Knoten: Used as stopper knot in rope ends and footropes. Also as a favourite fancy knot in knife lanyards ect.

Ditty Bag, germ. Kreefbüdel, Zampel, Werkzeugbeutel: Small bag made of sailcloth where the old time sailor carried his privat personal tools with him from ship to ship.

Eye, ger. Auge: The circular part of a shroud or stay, where it goes over a mast.

Eye-Bolt, germ. Augbolzen: A long iron bar, having an eye at one end, driven through a vessel`s deck or side into a timber or beam.

Eyelet, Eylet-hole, germ. Gatje, Gatchen: A hole made in a sail for a cringle or roband to go through.

Eye-Splice, germ. Augspleiß: Is used to make a permanent eye in the end of a rope.

Forecastle, Fo`ksl, germ.Logis, Vorschiff: That part of the upper deck forward of the fore mast.

Fid, Fids, germ. Fid, Fitt : A wooden or bone pin, tapered, used in splicing ropes and in opening eyes, ect.

Fiddlers Green, germ. des Seemanns Himmel : The traditional heaven of  mariners, a place of unlimited rum and tobacco.

Figure of Eight Knot, germ. Achtknoten: Simple stopping knot. Used to prevent a rope unreeving throug an eye or a block.

Flemish Eye, germ. Flämisches Auge: An early eye splice used in leech ropes and man-ropes.

Footrope or Horse Knot, germ. Fußpferdknoten : This knot was used on footropes or “horses” to prevent the men`s feet from slipping.

Footropes, Horses, germ. Fußpferde : The ropes stretching along a yard, upon which men stand when reefing or furling, formerly called horses.

Fox, Foxes, germ. Fuchjes: Made by twisting together two or more ropeyarns.

Gaskets: Ropes or pieces of plated stuff, used to secure a sail to the yard or boom when it is furled. They are called a bunt, quarter, or yard-arm gasket,according to their position on the yard.

Grafting, germ. Hundepint, Flechtung aus mehreren Garnen: This consists of nettles worked as in pointing, but it is used to cover the whole or any part of a rope instead of the end only. (Pointing , incidentally, can be regarded as a special kind of grafting.)

Grease Horn, germ. Fetthorn : Used by sailmakers to keep needles in and protect them from rust.

Grommet, germ. Grommet, Grummet, Kardeelring: A ring formed of rope, by laying round a single strand.

Halyards, germ. Fallen: Ropes or tackles used for hoisting and lowering yards, gaffs, and sails.

Handsomely,germ. vorsichtig, langsam:  Slowly, carefully. Used for an order, as „Lower handsomely“.

Handy Billy, germ. Dritte Hand, Arbeitstalje: A small tackle usually rove as a jigger but can be rove as a small gun-tackle.

Hawser: This is a heavy , fibre, cable-laid rope.

Heart-Yarns: The centre yarns of a strand. Also the center piece of shroud-laid rope.

Heaver, germ. Drehknüppel: A short wooden bar, tapering at each end. Used as a purchase. Also a small sailmaker`s tool which is T-shaped consting of a wooden handle and a metal pin.

Heaving Mallet, germ. Drehknüppel mit rundem Hammerkopf: Hammer shaped tool used to tighten strands in a large rope splice and for tightening seizings. It works best with a heaving board to pull/ heave again.

Keckling or Kackling: Old rope wound round cables to keep them from chafing.

Knettles /Knittels/ Nettles / Nittles: The halves of two adjoining yarns in a rope, twisted up together, for pointing or grafting. Also, a small line used for seizings and for hammock-clues.

Lacing: Rope used to lash a sail to a gaff, or a bonnet to a sail.

Lanyards : a) Ropes rove through dead- eyes for setting up rigging. b) Also a rope made fast to anything to secure it, or as a handle, is called a lanyard.

Lay: The direction in which the strands of a rope are twisted; as, from left to right, or from right to left.

Lignum Vitea, germ. Pockholz: Tropical hardwood used for making tools like fids, serving boards and serving mallets.

Leech,Leach: The border or edge of a sail, at the sides.

Manrope Knot, germ. Fallreepsknoten: Knob used as endknot on manropes and the like.

Man-Ropes: Ropes used in going up and down a vessel`s side.

Marl: To wind or twist a small line or rope round another.

Marline: Small two-stranded stuff, used for marling. A finer kind of spunyarn.

Marline Spike, marling-spike, marlin-spike: An iron pin , sharpened at one end, and having a hole in the other for a lanyard.

Mat, Mats: Made of strands of old rope, and used to prevent chafing.

Monkey`s Fist: Knob used to weight the end of a heaving line. Makes a nice key fob too.

Mouse: To put turns of rope yarn or spunyarn round the end of a hook and its standing part, when it is hooked to anything, so as to prevent its slipping out.

Mousing: A knot or puddening, made of yarns, and placed on the outside of a rope.

Oakum: Stuff made by picking rope-yarns to pieces. Used for caulking, and other purposes.

Parcel, to parcel: To wind tarred canvas round a rope.

Parcelling: This is wrapping narrow strips of tarred canvas round a rope.

Pay, to pay with rigger`s tar: To cover over a rope with tar or pitch.

Point, Pointing: This is the most efficient and most ornamental method of ending a ropes end which is intendet to pass easily through a block or a small eye.

Pricker: Wood-handled steel spike, 3,5, 8 or 10 icnches in length, used for splicing small wires and corage and for making holes in canvas.

Purchase: A mechanical power which increases the force applied. To purchase, is to raise by a purchase.

Purchase, Three Fold : The Threefold Purchase e.g., consists of two treble blocks.

Pudding: A pudding was formerly a pad to protect a mast where it is crossed by a yard. Later it was any sort of fender.( Clifford W.Ashley)

Ratlines: Lines running across the shrouds, horizontally, like the shrouds of a ladder, and used to step upon in going aloft.

Reef Knot: The reef knot consists of two overhand knots made consecutively, and is used as a common tie for bending together two ropes of approximately equal size.

Rope-Yarn: A thread of hemp, or other stuff, of which  a rope is made.

Rigging: The general term for all ropes of a vessel. Also, the common term for the shrouds with their ratlines: as the main rigging, mizzen rigging, etc.

Ring-Bolt: An eye-bolt with a ring through the eye.

Ringbolt hitching: This is used to cover curved fittings and is frequently used on circular fenders.

Robands: Small pieces of of two or three yarn spunyarn or marline, used to confine the head of the sail to the yard or gaff.

Running Rigging: The ropes that reeve through blocks and are pulled and hauled, such as braces, halyards etc.; in opposition to the standing rigging, the ends of which are securely seized, such as stays, shrouds, etc.

Sail Hook, Sailmaker`s Hook, Bench Hook: A hook about 4 inches long . used to hold the canvas when sewing; it serves as a “third hand” for the sailmaker. A short length of codline is spliced into the eye of the hook and secured to the head of the Sailmaker`s bench.

Sea Chest Becket: A handle made of a rope, in the form of a circle, (as the handle of a chest,) is called a becket. Also called a shackle.

Seamrubber: This is a sailmaker`s  tool used for producing sharp folds prior to sewing the seams of a sail.

Sea Gaskets : See gaskets.

Seizings: Laschings of spun yarn, marline or small stuff either with or without riding turns.

Seize: To fasten ropes together by turns of small stuff.

Selvagee Strap/ Strop: This consists of a hank of tarred marline or spunyarn. It is used for purposes similar to those for the common strop but has the virtue of being able to grip the spar or other object around which is passed more strongly so that it will withstand a sideway pull.

Sennit, Sinnet: A braid, formed by plaiting ropeyarns or spunyarns together.

Serve: To wind small stuff , as rope yarns, spunyarn, etc., round a rope, to keep it from chafing. It is wound and hove round taut by a serving-board or mallet.

Service: To Worm, Parcel and Serve a rope is to preserve it from wet or chafe.

Serving: The service is of spunyarn put or hove on by a serving mallet.

Serving Mallet: This is a hammer shaped tool made of  wood or iron. It has a score in the underpart according to the size of rope, so as to lay on the rope, and a handle about 15 inches long.

Sewing Palms: Those are made of leather and hide, shaped to fit over the hand, and designed to protect it. The eye of the needle rests in the metal cup as the needle is forced through the sailcloth.

Sheapshank: This is used to shorten a rope temporarely.

Sheet or Common Bend: This is used to secure a rope`s end to a small eye. It is also used to bend a small rope to a larger one.

Shroud Knot: This knot is used for joining two, usually three-stranded, ropes.

Shroud-laid rope: Four stranded rope laid up round a heart or centre.

Shrouds: A set of ropes reaching from the mast-heads to the vessel`s sides , to support the masts.

Single Whip : A purchase with a rope rove through a single block fixed in any position. No power gained. Used for all light work.

Single/ Double Matthew Walker Knot: Knots used for securing the standing part of a rope or making beckets for buckets, aso.

Snaking: Used for better securing of seizings on large ropes and pointings. Also used for decoration on manropes and yoke ropes.

Snatch Blocks: Those are single blocks, either of metal or internal bound, in each of which part of the shell is hinged to allow a bight of rope to be inserted into the swallow from one side.

Spanish Windless: This is a form of temporary ligature used principally for holding close together two parts of rope which are under strain. Especially used when strapping a large block.

Splicing, to splice: Splicing is a method of joining the ends of two ropes together, or of making an eye in the end of a rope, by interlocking the strands. Unless otherwise stated it should be understood that all splices reduce the strength of the rope by one-eighth.

Spun Yarn: Is a number of yarns, twisted up right-handed. The number of yarns varies from two to eight. Spun Yarn is made up in pads of 28 and 56 lbs.

Standing Fid: >Also named set, setting fid or commander. Those are large wooden fids with a heavy iron band round its base so that would stand steady on the floor when working cringles.

Small Stuff: The term for spunyarn, marline, and the smallest kinds of rope, such as ratline-stuff, etc.

Standing Rigging: That part of a vessel`s rigging which is made fast and not hauled upon.

Strand, Strands: Two or more ropeyarns twisted together form a “strand”. A rope is stranded when one of its strands is parted or broken by chafing or by strain.

Strap: A piece of rope spliced round a block to keep its parts well together.

Swab, Swabber: A mob formed of old rope, used for cleaning and drying decks.

Tackle: A purchase, formed by a rope rove through one or more blocks.

Tail: A rope spliced into the end of a block and used for making it fast to rigging or spars. Such a block is called a tail-block.

Tar: A liquid gum , taken from pine and fir trees, and used for calking, and to put upon yarns in rope-making, and upon standing rigging, to protect it from weather. Best known tar is Swedish- or “Stockholm Tar” but it is hard to get in our time.

Tarpaulin: A piece of canvas, covered with tar, used for covering hatches, boats, etc. Also , the name commonly given to a sailor`s hat when made of tarred or painted cloth.

Thimble: An iron ring, having its ring concave on the outside for a rope or strap to fit snugly round.

Thrum: To stick short strands of yarn through a mat or pieces of canvas, to make a rough surface.

Wall Knot, single or double: This knot is used for finishing off seizings, forming a shroud knot; is also used on the end of a rope to prevent it unreeving.

Whip, single: A rope rove through a single block fixed in any position. No power is gained. Used for all light work.

Whippings: Used to secure the ends of ropes.

Worm, worming: This is done to fill up the space between the strands of the rope with spunyarn or small rope, to render the surface smooth and round for parcelling and serving.


Books used:

Richard H. Dana, the Seaman`s Friend; Darcy Lever, Sheet Anchor; Royal Navy Manual`s of Seamanship, 1915, Vol. I; 1951Vol.I; 1967, Vol. II.; The Ashley Book of Knots; C.L. Spencer, Knots, Splices and Fancy Work.
A. Hayatt Verrill: Knots, Splices and Rope Work; John E. Horslay: Tools of the Maritime Trades.