Abaft - Toward the stern of a ship.
- Mad, insane, or just stupid. An "addlepate" is a fool.
Admiral of the Black - A title given to the leader of the Brethren of the Coast.
Aft - At, in, toward, or close to the stern of a ship.
Ahoy! - (1) An interjection used to hail a ship or a person or to attract attention. (2)
Ahoy, matey! - Hello, my friend!
Ahoy, me hearties! - "Hello, my friends!"
All hand hoay! - All hands on deck!
American Main - The eastern coastal lands of North America.
Arr! - An exclamation.
Aaaarrrrgggghhhh! - Exhortation of discontent or disgust
Athwartships - At a right angle to the midline or centerline of the boat, which is an
imaginary line drawn from bow to stern that equally divides the ship.
Avast - A command meaning stop or desist.
Avast ye! - Stop and check this out or pay attention.
Aye (or ay) - Yes; an affirmation.
Ballast - Heavy material that is placed in the hold of a ship to enhance stability.
Bachelor's wife - A mistress.
Barbary Coast - The Mediterranean coastline of North Africa, from Egypt to the Atlantic
Barkadeer - A small pier or jetty vessel.
Barque (also bark) - A sailing ship with from three to five masts, all of them
square-rigged except the after mast, which is fore-and-aft rigged; a small vessel that is
propelled by oars or sails.
Barquentine - A sailing ship with three or more masts, and with a square rigged foremast
and only fore-and-aft rigged sails on the main, mizzen and any other masts.
Batten down the hatches - Put everything away on the ship and tie everything down because
a storm is brewing.
Be in Davy's Grip - To be close to death, or frightened.
Begad! - By God!
Belay - (1) To secure or make fast (a rope, for example) by winding on a cleat or pin. (2)
To stop, most often used as a command.
Belaying pin - A short wooden rod to which a ship's rigging is secured. A common
improvised weapon aboard a sailing ship, because they're everywhere, they're easily picked
up, and they are the right size and weight to be used as clubs.
Beauty The best possible pirate address for a woman. Always preceded by
me, as in, Cmere, me beauty, or even, me buxom
Bilge - (1) The lowest part inside the ship, within the hull itself which is the first
place to show signs of leakage. The bilge is often dank and musty, and considered the most
filthy, dead space of a ship. (2) Nonsense, or foolish talk.
Bilged on her anchor - A ship holed or pierced by its own anchor.
Bilge rat - (1) A rat living in the bilge of a ship. It is considered the lowliest
creature by pirates, but many pirates take to eating the animals to survive. (2) An
insulting name given by a pirate.
Bilge-sucking - An insulting description.
Bilge water - Water inside the bilge sometimes referred to as bilge itself.
Binnacle - A box or case which houses the compass upon the deck.
Black jack - A leather tankard.
Black spot - A black smudge on a piece of paper used by pirates as a threat. A black spot
is often accompanied by a written message specifying the threat. Most often a black spot
represents a death threat.
Blaggard - Blackguard. An insult.
Blimey! - An exclamation of surprise.
Blow me down! - Expression of shock of disbelief akin to "Holy Crap!"
Blow the man down - To kill someone.
Boatswain (also bos'n or bosun) - A warrant officer or petty officer on a merchant ship
who is in charge of the ships rigging, anchors, cables, and deck crew.
Boom - A long spar extending from a mast to hold or extend the foot of a sail.
Booty - Treasure.
Bounty - Reward or payment, usually from a government, for the capture of a criminal,
specifically a pirate.
Bowsprit - The slanted spar at a ship's prow which is the furthest front of the ship. It
is usually used as a lead connection for a smaller, navigational sail. It was from the
bowsprit that Blackbeard's head was hung as a trophy.
Bosun - Boatswain, a petty officer.
Brethren of the Coast - A self-given title of the Caribbean buccaneers between 1640-1680
who made a pact to discontinue plundering amongst themselves. After 1680, a new generation
of pirates appeared, who did not trust each other and the fraternity ended.
Brig - A sailing ship with two square-rigged masts (fore and main). The main-mast, being
the aft one, carries a small fore-and-aft sail (also called a a gaff sail).
Brigantine (also brig) - A two-masted sailing ship, at least one of which is
Bring a spring upon her cable - To come around in a different direction.
Bring to - heave to, or check the movement of a ship by arranging the sails in such a way
that they counteract each other and keep her stationary.
Broadside - A general term for the vantage on another ship of absolute perpendicular to
the direction it is going. To get along broadside a ship was to take it at a very
vulnerable angle. This is of course, the largest dimension of a ship and is easiest to
attack with larger arms. A "Broadside" has come to indicate a hit with a cannon
or similar attack right in the main part of the ship.
Buccaneer - A pirate, especially one of the freebooters who preyed on Spanish shipping in
the West Indies during the 17th century. The buccaneers were first hunters of pigs and
cattle on the islands of Hispanola and Tortuga, but were driven off by the Spanish and
turned to piracy. Buccaneers were said to be heavy drinking, cruel pirates.
Bucko - A familiar term meaning friend.
Buffer - chief bosun's mate who is in charge of discipline.
Bumboat - a boat privately selling goods or provisions to sailors aboard ships in a
Bumboo - A drink of the West Indies made with watered rum and flavored with sugar and
Bung hole Victuals on a ship were stored in wooden casks. The stopper in the barrel
is called the bung, and the hole is called the bung hole.
Cable - A heavy rope or chain for mooring or anchoring a ship.
Cackle fruit - Hens eggs.
Cap'n - Short for "captain."
Capstan - An apparatus used for hoisting weights, consisting of a vertical spool-shaped
cylinder that is rotated manually or by machine and around which a cable is wound.
Careen - To take a ship into shallower waters or out of the water altogether and remove
barnacles and pests such as mollusks, shells and plant growth from the bottom. Often a
pirate needs to careen his ship to restore it to proper speed. Careening can be dangerous
to pirates as it leaves the ship inoperable while the work is being done.
Careenage - a place suitable for careening.
Carouser - One who drinks wassail and engages in festivity, especially riotous drinking.
Case shot - A collection of small projectiles put in cases to fire from a cannon; a
Cat o'nine tails (or cat) - a whip with nine lashes used for flogging. "A taste of
the cat" might refer to a full flogging, or just a single blow to "smarten
up" a recalcitrant hand.
Chain shot - Two cannonballs chained together and aimed high in order to destroy masts and
Chandler, or ship-chandler - See sutler.
Chantey (also chanty, shantey or shanty) - A song sung by sailors to the rhythm of their
movements while working.
Charlie Noble - Upon finding that the stack for the ship's galley was copper, merchant
captain Charles Noble then required it to be kept polished, the stack took his name
thereafter. Old Salts would kid around with the new recruits and tell them to find or
summon Charlie Noble.
Chase - A ship being pursued. ie: "The chase is making full sail, sir"
translates to "The ship we're after is going as fast as she can."
Chase guns - Cannon situated at the bow of a ship, used during pursuit.
Clap of thunder - A strong, alcoholic drink.
Clipper - A fast moving ship.
Coaming - A vertical rim surrounding hatch openings and such to keep any water on deck
from entering below it, excellent for tripping on.
Code of conduct - A set of rules which govern pirates behavior on a vessel.
Coffer - A chest in which treasure is usually kept.
Cog - A small warship.
Come about - To bring the ship full way around in the wind. Used in general while sailing
into the wind, but also used to indicate a swing back into the enemy in combat.
Corsair - (1) A pirate, especially along the Barbary Coast; a romantic term for pirate.
This term was used for Christian and Muslim privateers in the Mediterranean between the
16th and 19th centuries. The Barbary corsairs centered on North African states and were
often "hired" by Muslim nations to attack Christian ships. The Christian
Corsairs were known as the Maltese corsairs and they took their orders from the Knights of
St. John to attack the Turks. (2) A pirate ship, often operating with official sanction.
Corvette - A small, maneuverable, lightly armed warship, smaller than a frigate but larger
than a coastal patrol craft
Coxswain - Originally the Captain's attendant who would row him to and from the ship,
later came to mean the person who usually steers a ship's boat and has charge of its crew.
Crack Jennys tea cup - To spend the night in a house of ill repute.
Crimp - To procure (sailors or soldiers) by trickery or coercion, or one who crimps.
Crow's nest - A small platform, sometimes enclosed, near the top of a mast, where a
lookout could have a better view when watching for sails or for land.
Cutlass - A short, heavy sword with a curved blade used by pirates and sailors. The sword
has only one cutting edge and may or may not have a useful point.
Dance the hempen jig - To be hanged.
Davy Jones' Locker - A fictional place at the bottom of the ocean. In short, a term
meaning death. Davy Jones was said to sink every ship he ever over took, and thus, the
watery grave that awaited all who were sunk by him was given his name. To die at sea is to
go to Davy Jones' Locker.
Deadlights - (1) Strong shutters or plates fastened over a ship's porthole or cabin window
in stormy weather. (2) Thick windows set in a ship's side or deck. (3) Eyes. ie: "Use
yer deadlights, matey!"
Dead men tell no tales - Standard pirate excuse for leaving no survivors.
Dog - A mild insult, perhaps even a friendly one.
Doubloon - A Spanish gold coin.
Draft - The depth of a vessel's keel below the water line, especially when loaded; the
minimum water depth necessary to float a ship.
Draught (also draft) - (!) The amount taken in by a single act of drinking. (2) The
drawing of a liquid, as from a cask or keg.
Drivelswigger - One who reads about nautical terms too much.
Driver - A large sail suspended from the mizzen gaff; a jib-headed spanker.
Duffle - Everything a sailor owns, also the nickname for the bag which holds it.
Dungbie - A person's arse.
Execution dock - The usual place for pirate hangings, specifically on the Thames in
London, near the Tower.
Fair winds! - Goodbye, good luck!
Fathom - A unit of length equal to six feet, used principally in the measurement and
specification of marine depths.
Feed the fish - Will soon die.
Fire in the hole - A warning issued before a cannon is fired.
Flibustier - Term the French gave pirates of the Golden Age
Fire ship - A ship loaded with powder and tar then set afire and set adrift against enemy
ships to destroy them.
Flogging - The act of beating a person severely with a rod or whip, especially the cat or
the punishment of being beaten.
Fluke - The broad part of an anchor.
Fo'c's'le (or forecastle) - (1) The section of the upper deck of a ship located at the bow
forward of the foremast. (2) A superstructure at the bow of a merchant ship where the crew
Fore (also forrard) - At, to, or toward the front end of the ship.
Freebooter - From the Dutch for 'free' and 'plunder', reference to a pirate.
Frigate - A relatively fast and lightly built warship.
Furl - Roll up and secure a sail.
Futtock shrouds - Pieces joining the rigging of lower and top masts.
Gabion - A cylindrical wicker basket filled with earth and stones, used in building
Gaff - A spar attached to the mast and used to extend the upper edge of a fore-and-aft
Galleon - A large sailing ship with three to five masts, and a lateen sail on the last
(usually third) mast, usually two or more decks, used from the 15th to the 17th century
especially by Spain as a merchant ship or warship.
Gally - A low, flat vessel propelled partly or entirely by oars.
Gangplank - A board or ramp used as a removable footway between a ship and a pier.
Gangway - (1) A passage along either side of a ships upper deck. (2) A gangplank. (3) An
interjection used to clear a passage through a crowded area.
Gibbet (cage) - Chains in which the corpses of pirates are hung and displayed in order to
Gold Road - A road across the Isthmus of Panama used to transport gold by train of pack
Go on account - A pleasant term used by pirates to describe the act of turning pirate. The
basic idea was that a pirate was more "free lance" and thus was, more or less,
going into business for himself.
Grapple (also grappling hook, grappling iron, or grapnel) - An iron shaft with claws at
one end, usually thrown by a rope and used for grasping and holding, especially one for
drawing and holding an enemy ship alongside.
Grub - food.
Grog (see also spirits) - An alcoholic liquor, especially rum diluted with water. Admiral
Vernon is said to have been the first to dilute the rum of sailors (about 1745.)
Grog blossom - A redness on the nose or face of persons who drink ardent spirits to
Gun - A cannon.
Gunwales (gunnells, gunwalls) - The sides of the top deck which act as a railing around
the deck, and have openings where heavy arms or guns are positioned.
Hail-shot - A shot that scatters like hail when fired from a cannon.
Hands - The crew of a ship; sailors.
Handsomely - Quickly or carefully; in a shipshape style.
Hang the jib - To pout or frown.
Hardtack (also sea biscuit) - A hard biscuit or bread made from flour and water baked into
a moisture-free rock to prevent spoilage; a pirate ships staple. Hardtack has to be broken
into small pieces or soaked in water before eaten.
Haul wind - To direct a ship into the wind.
Have the Davies or the Joneseys - To be frightened.
Head - A marine toilet, which could be no more than a hole cut in the decking at the head
or bow of the ship that would allow waste to go into the sea, the waves hopefully washing
away what may have not hit the water (also called a jardin), NOT the same as the poop
Hearties - A term of familiar address and fellowship among sailors.
Heave down - To turn a vessel on its side for cleaning.
Heave ho! - Give it some muscle and push it.
Heave to - An interjection meaning to come to a halt.
Hempen halter - A hangman's noose.
Ho - Used to express surprise or joy, to attract attention to something sighted, or to
urge onward as in Land ho! or Westward ho!
Hogshead - (1) A large cask used mainly for the shipment of wines and spirits. (2) A unit
of measurement equal to approximately one hundred gallons.
Holystone - A piece of soft sandstone used for scouring the wooden decks of a ship.
Hornpipe Both a single-reeded musical instrument sailors often had aboard ship, and
a spirited dance that sailors do.
Hornswaggle - To cheat.
Hulk - British prison ships that captured pirates and privateers.
Interloper - One that trespasses on a trade monopoly, as by conducting unauthorized trade
in an area designated to a chartered company; a ship used in unauthorized trade.
Jack - A flag, especially one flown at the bow of a ship to indicate her nationality.
Jack o' coins - the paymaster.
Jack o' cups - the first mate.
Jack o' staves - the first lieutenant.
Jack o' swords - the bosun.
Jack Ketch - The hangman. To dance with Jack Ketch is to hang.
Jack Tar , or tar - A sailor. (Early sailor's tarpaulin clothing was infused with tar,
which some say also deflected sword blows in addition to shedding water)
Jacob's ladder - The rope ladder used to climb aboard the ship.
Jib - A triangular sail stretching from the foretopmast head to the jib boom and in small
craft to the bowsprit or the bow.
Jolly boat - A light boat carried at the stern of a larger sailing ship.
Jolly Roger - A pirate flag depicting a skull-and-crossbones. It was an invitation to
surrender, with the implication that those who surrendered would be treated well. A red
flag indicated "no quarter."
Jury mast - A temporary or makeshift mast erected on a sea vessel after the mainmast has
been destroyed. Often, in combat, the mast was the most damaged (providing the ship didn't
sink). Without the mast, a ship was powerless, so a term grew out of the need to make
masts to power damaged ships.
Keel - The underside of a ship which becomes covered in barnacles after sailing the seas.
Keelhaul - A punishment in which a person where dragged underneath the pirate ship from
side to side and was lacerated by the barnacles on the vessel. Both pirates and the Royal
Navy were fond of this practice.
Killick - A small anchor, especially one made of a stone in a wooden frame.
Kiss the gunner's daughter - A punishment: to be bent over one of the ship's guns and
Lad - A way to address a younger male.
Landlubber or just lubber - A person unfamiliar with the sea or seamanship. The term
doesn't derive from "land lover," but rather from the root of lubber, meaning
clumsy or uncoordinated. Thus, a landlubber is one who is awkward at sea for familiarity
with the land. The term is used to insult the abilities of one at sea.
Lanyard (or laniard) - A short rope or gasket used for fastening something or securing
Lass, lassie - A way to address a younger female.
Lateen sail - A triangular sail set on a long sloping yard.
League - A unit of distance equal to three miles.
Lee - The side away from the direction from which the wind blows.
Letter of marque - A document given to a sailor (privateer) giving him amnesty from piracy
laws as long as the ships plunders are of an enemy nation. A large portion of the pirates
begin as privateers with this symbol of legitimacy. The earnings of a privateer are
significantly better than any of a soldier at sea. Letters of marque aren't always
honored, however, even by the government that issues them. Captain Kidd had letters of
marque and his own country hanged him anyway.
Lights - Lungs. A pirate might threaten to "have someone's lights and liver."
Line - A rope in use as part of the ship's rigging, or as a towing line. When a rope is
just coiled up on deck, not yet being used for anything, it's all right to call it a rope.
List - To lean or cause to lean to the side.
Loaded to the gunwales - To be drunk.
Log - (1) A record of a ship's speed, its progress, and any shipboard events of
navigational importance, or the book in which the record is kept. (2) A knotted length of
line with a piece of wood at the end which is thrown into the water to determine how many
"knots" run out in a set period of time.
Long boat - The largest boat carried by a ship which is used to move large loads such as
anchors, chains, or ropes. pirates use the boats to transport the bulk of heavier
Long clothes - A style of clothing best suited to land. A pirate, or any sailor, doesn't
have the luxury of wearing anything loose that might get in the way while climbing up
riggings. Landsmen, by contrast, could adorn themselves with baggy pants, coats, and
Lookout - A person posted to keep watch on the horizon for other ships or signs of land.
Loot - Stolen goods; money.
Lubber - Landlubber.
Lugger - A two-masted sailing vessel with a lugsail rig.
Lugsail - A quadrilateral sail that lacks a boom, has the foot larger than the head, and
is bent to a yard hanging obliquely on the mast.
Main sheet - The rope that controls the angle at which a mainsail is trimmed and set.
Man-of-war - A vessel designed and outfitted for battle.
Maroon - To abandon a person on a deserted coast or island with little in the way of
supplies. It is a fairly common punishment for violation of a pirate ship's articles, or
offending her crew because the victims death cannot be directly connected to his former
Marooned - To be stranded, particularly on a desert isle.
Matey - A piratical way to address someone in a cheerful, if not necessarily friendly,
Me - My.
Measured fer yer chains - To be outfitted for a gibbet cage.
Mizzen - A fore-and-aft sail set on the mizzenmast.
Mizzenmast - The largest and, perhaps, most important mast located in the mizzen; the
third mast or the mast aft of a mainmast on a ship having three or more masts.
Monkey - A small cannon.
Monkey jacket - A short waist jacket worn by midshipmen.
Mutiny - To rise against authority, especially the captain of a ship.
Nelson's folly - Rum.
Nipper - A short length of rope used to bind an anchor cable.
Nipperkin - A small cup or drink.
No prey, no pay - A common pirate law meaning a crew received no wages, but rather shared
whatever loot was taken.
No quarter! - Surrender will not be accepted.
Old coat, old salt - An experienced sailor.
Orlop - The deck for stowing cables.
Overhaul - (1) To slacken a line. (2) To gain upon in a chase; to overtake.
Parrel (also parral) - A sliding loop of rope or chain by which a running yard or gaff is
connected to, while still being able to move vertically along, the mast.
Pieces of eight - Spanish silver coins worth one peso or eight "reales.,"
sometimes literally cut into eight pieces, each worth one real.
Picaroon - A pirate or pirate ship.
Pillage - To rob of goods by force, especially in time of war; plunder.
Pink - A small sailing vessel with a sharply narrowed stern and an overhanging transom.
Pinnace - A light boat propelled by sails or oars, used as a tender for merchant and war
vessels; a boat for communication between ship and shore.
Piracy - Robbery committed at sea.
Pirate - One who robs at sea or plunders the land from the sea without commission from a
sovereign nation; the opposite of a privateer.
Pirate round - Route from North America to the Indian Ocean.
Plate fleet - Fleet of Spanish ships used to carry silver and gold to Europe.
Plunder - To take booty; rob.
Poop deck - The highest deck at the stern of a large ship, usually above the captains
quarters, NOT to be confused with the head!
Port - (1) A seaport. (2) The left side of the ship when you are facing toward her prow.
Powder monkey - A gunner's assistant.
Pressgang - A company of men commissioned to force men into service such as on a vessel,
specifically a pirate ship.
Privateer - A privateer is a sailor with a letter of marque from a government. This letter
"allows" the sailor to plunder any ship of a given enemy nation. Technically a
privateer was a self employed soldier paid only by what he plundered from an enemy. In
this, a privateer was supposed to be above being tried for piracy. A privateer is
theoretically a law-abiding combatant, and entitled to be treated as an honorable prisoner
if captured. Most often, privateers were a higher class of criminal, though many turned
plain pirate before all was said and done.
Provost - The person responsible for discipline on board a ship.
Prow - The "nose" of the ship.
Quarter - Derived from the idea of "shelter", quarter is given when mercy is
offered by pirates. To give no quarter is to indicate that none will be spared. Quarter is
often the prize given to an honorable loser in a pirate fight. If enraged, however, a
pirate would deprive the loser any such luxury.
Quarterdeck - The after part of the upper deck of a ship.
Red ensign - A British flag.
Reef - An underwater obstruction of rock or coral which can tear the bottom out of a ship.
Reef sails - To shorten the sails by partially tying them up, either to slow the ship or
to keep a strong wind from putting too much strain on the masts.
Rigging - The system of ropes, chains, and tackle used to support and control the masts,
sails, and yards of a sailing vessel.
Rope's end - Another term for flogging. ie: "Ye'll meet the rope's end for that, me
Rullock - The cutaway or notch on the side rail of the boat from which oars would pivot.
Rum - An intoxicating beverage, specifically an alcoholic liquor distilled from fermented
molasses or sugar cane.
Run a rig - To play a trick.
Run a shot across the bow - A command to fire a warning shot.
Rutters - Detailed instructions listing all that is known about a place or rout.
Sail ho! - An exclamation meaning another ship is in view. The sail, of course, is the
first part of a ship visible over the horizon.
Salmagundi - A popular dish of chopped meat ( beef, fish, chicken, pig, turtle, etc.),
eggs, anchovies, onions, grapes, cabbage or herring, seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic,
served with vinegar and oil.
Savvy? - Do you understand and do you agree?
Scallywag - A villainous or mischievous person; rapscallion or rogue.
Schooner - A fore-and-aft rigged sailing vessel having at least two masts, with a foremast
that is usually smaller than the other masts.
Scourge of the seven seas - A pirate known for his extremely violent and brutal nature.
Scuppers - Openings along the edges of a ship's deck that allow water on deck to drain
back to the sea rather than collecting in the bilge. "Scupper that!" is an
expression of anger or derision meaning "Throw that overboard!"
Scurvy - (1) A disease caused by deficiency of vitamin C often affecting sailors. (2) Mean
and contemptible; a derogatory adjective suitable for use in a loud voice, as in "Ye
Scurvy dog - mild insult.
Scuttle - (1) A small opening or hatch with a movable lid in the deck or hull of a ship.
(2) To sink by means of a hole in a ships hull.
Seadog - old pirate or sailor.
Sea legs - The ability to adjust one's balance to the motion of a ship, especially in
rough seas. After walking on a ship for long periods of time, sailors became accustomed to
the rocking of the ship in the water. Early in a voyage a sailor was said to be lacking
his "sea legs" when the ship motion was still foreign to him. After a cruise, a
sailor would often have trouble regaining his "land legs" and would swagger on
Shark bait - Will soon join Davy Jones' Locker
See you to Davy Jones - To threaten to kill some one.
Sheet - A line running from the bottom aft corner of a sail by which it can be adjusted to
Shipshape - Cleaned up and under control.
Shiver me timbers! - An expression of surprise or strong emotion, comparable to "Holy
Shrouds - One of a set of ropes or wire cables stretched from the masthead to the sides of
a vessel to support the mast.
Sink me! - An expression of surprise.
Six pounders - Cannons.
Skysail - A small square sail above the royal in a square-rigged vessel.
Sloop - A single-masted, fore-and-aft-rigged sailing boat with a short standing bowsprit
or none at all and a single headsail set from the forestay. This boat was much favored by
the pirates because of its shallow draught and maneuverability.
Smartly - Quickly. "Smartly there, men!" = "Hurry up!"
Snow - A square-rigged vessel, differing from a brig only in that she has a trysail mast
close abaft the mainmast, on which a large trysail is hoisted.
Spanish Main - Lands taken by Spain from Mexico to Peru including the Caribbean islands.
Spanker (see also driver) - The after sail of a ship or bark, being a fore-and-aft sail
attached to a boom and gaff.
Spike - To render (a muzzleloading gun) useless by driving a spike into the vent.
Spirits - An alcoholic beverage, especially distilled liquor.
Splice the main brace - To have a drink or perhaps several drinks.
Sprogs - raw, untrained recruits.
Spyglass - A telescope.
Square-rigged - Fitted with square sails as the principal sails.
Squiffy - Somewhat intoxicated; tipsy.
Starboard - The right side of the ship when you are facing toward her prow.
Stern - The rear part of a ship.
Strike colors - To lower, specifically a ships flag as a signal of surrender.
Stripey - seaman of long service.
Sutler - A merchant in port, selling the various things that a ship needs for supplies and
Swab - (1) To clean, specifically the deck of a ship. (2) A disrespectful term for a
seaman. ie: "Man that gun, ye cowardly swabs!"
Sweet trade - buccaneering or the career of piracy.
Swing the lead - The lead was a weight at the bottom of a line that gave sailors a way to
measure depth when near land. To Swing the Lead was considered a simple job, and thus came
to represent one who is avoiding work or taking the easy work over the hard. In today's
terms, one who swings the lead is a slacker.
Tack - (1) The lower forward corner of a fore-and-aft sail. (2) The position of a vessel
relative to the trim of its sails or the act of changing from one position or direction to
Tackle - A system of ropes and blocks for raising and lowering weights of rigging and
pulleys for applying tension.
Take a caulk - To take a nap. On deck of a ship, between planks, was a thick caulk of
black tar and rope to keep water from between decks. This term came about either because
sailors who slept on deck ended up with black lines across their backs or simply because
sailors laying down on deck were as horizontal as the caulk of the deck itself.
Tender - A vessel attendant on other vessels, especially one that ferries supplies between
ship and shore; a small boat towed or carried by a ship.
Thar she blows! - Whale sighting.
Three sheets to the wind - Someone who is very drunk. One sheet is mildly drunk and four
sheets is passed out.
Topgallant - Of, relating to, or being the mast above the topmast, its sails, or its
Topmast - The mast below the topgallant mast in a square-rigged ship and highest in a
Topsail - A square sail set above the lowest sail on the mast of a square-rigged ship or a
triangular or square sail set above the gaff of a lower sail on a fore-and-aft-rigged
Transom - Any of several transverse beams affixed to the sternpost of a wooden ship and
forming part of the stern.
Trysail - A small fore-and-aft sail hoisted abaft the foremast and mainmast in a storm to
keep a ship's bow to the wind.
Waister - an incompetent sailor.
Walk the plank - Perhaps more famous than historically practiced, walking the plank is the
act of being forced off a ship by pirates as punishment or torture. The victim, usually
blindfolded or with bound hands or both, is forced to walk along a plank laid over the
ship's side and fall into the water below. The concept first appeared in nineteenth
century fiction, long after the great days of piracy. History suggests that this might
have happened once that can be vaguely documented, but it is etched in the image of the
pirates for its dastardly content.
Warp - To move (a vessel) by hauling on a line that is fastened to or around a piling,
anchor, or pier.
Weather side - side from which the wind is blowing.
Weigh anchor - To haul the anchor up; more generally, to leave port.
Wench - A young woman or peasant girl, sometimes a prostitute.
Wherry - A light, swift rowboat built for one person usually used in inland waters or
Yard - A long tapering spar slung to a mast to support and spread the head of a square
sail, lugsail, or lateen.
Yardarm - The main arm across the mast which holds up the sail; Either end of a yard of a
square sail. The yardarm is a vulnerable target in combat, and is also a favorite place
from which to hang prisoners or enemies. Black Bart hung his governor of Martinique from
Yawl (or dandy) - A two-masted fore-and-aft-rigged sailing vessel similar to the ketch but
having a smaller jigger- or mizzenmast stepped abaft the rudder; a ships small boat,
crewed by rowers.
Ye - You.
Yellow jack - A yellow flag flown to indicate the presence of an illness, often yellow
fever, aboard a ship. Often the flag is used to trick pirates into avoiding potential
Yo Ho Ho - Cheerful exhortation to demand attention.