Talk Like A Pirate

A sailing vessel is a fairly complicated system of rigging and sails. It takes a dedicated crew to keep a ship running smoothly. There are countless parts of a sailing ship, but these terms may help make sense of it.

Term Definition
aft At, in, toward, or close to the stern of a ship.
ballast Heavy material that is placed in the hold of a ship to enhance stability (most of the time rocks).
bark A reference to a smaller ship than the average size.
beam An imaginary line extending port and starboard of a ship from directly amidships. If another ship is directly beside yours it is on your beam. Beam is also used to describe the width of a ship, as in a ship's specs its stated width is always the width at midships, at the beam.
bilge 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.
bilge water Water inside the bilge sometimes referred to as bilge itself.

blood flag

A flag colored completely red it means the crew of the ship flying it will give no quarter to its enemies and won't take quarter if offered to them. Often this meant NO PRISONERS.


A long spar extending from a mast to hold or extend the foot of a sail.

bow chaser A cannon mounted in the bow of a ship, pointing forward, for use in a chase at sea
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.
brass monkey A brass tray for holding cannon balls. The expression "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey" came from the fact that, in extreme cold conditions, the brass monkeys would contract, expelling the cannon balls they were holding
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.
cable A heavy rope or chain for mooring or anchoring a ship.
capstan An apparatus used for hoisting anchors or other objects, consisting of a vertical spool-shaped cylinder that is rotated manually or by machine and around which a cable is wound.
carronade A type of heavy ship armament mounted on a non-moving sliderail rather than a wheeled carriage. Carronades are usually more powerful, but less accurate and with less range, than a cannon.
chase guns A cannon situated at the bow of a ship, used during pursuit.
crow's nest The name often inaccurately given to the platforms up on the masts above the yards. These are properly called 'tops' or 'fighting tops'. The term 'crow's nest' was only applied to those platforms on whaling ships where the crew would line the platforms with blankets, straw, etc., in order to stay warm during long cold watches in the cold climates where the whales were found
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. i.e.: "Use yer deadlights, matey!"
draft The depth of a vessel's keel below the water line, especially when loaded; the minimum water depth necessary to float a ship.
driver A large sail suspended from the mizzen gaff; a jib-headed spanker.
Flank The maximum speed of a ship. Faster than "full speed", usually only used for emergencies for a short period of time.
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 is housed. Despite caste being the name, they were anything but luxurious.
fore (also forward) At, to, or toward the front end or bow of the ship.
foremast A mast located towards the bow of a ship, fore of the main mast
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.
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.
halyard A line used to hoist a sail, spar, or flag
head The proper term for a ship's toilet
jack A flag, especially one flown at the bow or stern of a ship to indicate her nationality.
jib A triangular sail stretching from the foretopmast head to the jib boom and in small craft to the bowsprit or the bow.
Jib sheet The sheet or line that controls the jib sail
Jibing Different from Tacking, more dangerous, means to turn the back of the vessel so that it moves through the wind
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 backbone of a ship, a heavy wood beam running down from the bow along the bottom of the hull to the stern post
keelhaul A horrific punishment involving being dragged under the ship, resulting in massive lacerations at best, drowning at worst.
killick A small anchor, especially one made of a stone in a wooden frame.
lanyard (or laniard) A short rope or gasket used for fastening something or securing rigging.
larboard older term for the Port or left side of a ship.
lateen sail A triangular sail set on a long sloping yard.
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.
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 Nine A cannon that fires a nine-pound shot at extra long range.
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 mast primary mast, largest of a ship's masts. Located directly amidships, the middle mast in a three-masted ship
main sheet The rope that controls the angle at which a mainsail is trimmed and set.
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.
nipper A short length of rope used to bind an anchor cable. Also a term to describe a very young child.
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.
poop deck The highest deck on the ship; usually above the captain's quarters
port (1) A seaport.
(2) The left side of the ship when you are facing toward her prow.
prow The "nose" of the ship.
quarterdeck Deck above the main deck at the aft of a ship. Usually where the captain and officer command the ship from
ratline Horizontal lines run along the shrouds (see shrouds) to create a ladder for the crew to use in getting to the rigging and yards
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.
rode An anchor line or chain
scope Length of anchor rode, measured in water depth units
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!"
scut Small crack or chink in the deck
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 ship's hull.
sheet A line running from the bottom aft corner of a sail by which it can be adjusted to the wind
shiver A wooden splinter. The timbers of a ship splintering during battle gave rise to the infamous pirate phrase, "Shiver me timbers."
six pounders Cannons that typically fired a six-pound iron ball.
skysail A small square sail above the royal in a square-rigged vessel.
slow match A rope of braided hemp, often infused with gunpowder, that burned slowly like a candle wick and was applied to the touch hole of a cannon in order to fire it. Blackbeard braided small pieces of slow match into his hair and beard to create a wreath of smoke around his head, terrifying his enemies
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.
spanker (see also driver) The after sail of a ship or bark, being a fore-and-aft sail attached to a boom and gaff.
square-rigged Fitted with square sails as the principal sails.
starboard Right side of vessel looking forward from stern
starting rope A short length of heavy rope with a large knot in the end which the bosun uses to beat crew members to 'start' them - i.e. make them work harder and/or faster
stay A heavy line running for or aft of a mast that supports the mast. Stays often have tiangular sails rigged from them called 'staysails'
stern The rear part of a ship.
stern chaser A cannon mounted in the stern of a ship aimed behind the ship for use if the ship is being chased
studdingsails Square sails that are rigged to extra yards that are lashed to and extra further out from the primary yards, they extend the width of the sails on a square-rigged ship
swivel gun A small cannon mounted on a swivel mount afixed to a ship's rail. Used to repel boarders or clear an enemy's deck prior to boarding
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 another.
tacking A technique for sailing a ship against the wind. It involves sailing the ship on a zig-zag course, sailing a few degrees off the direction of the wind for a period of time, then turning through the wind and sailing for another period of time a few degrees the other side of the direction of the wind.
tackle A system of ropes and blocks for raising and lowering weights of rigging and pulleys for applying tension.
Top or fighting top The platforms on the masts above the yards. Used in combat as a platform for firing small arms down on an enemy's deck. Often inaccurately called 'crow's nests'
Topgallant or t'gallant Of, relating to, or being the mast above the topmast, its sails, or its rigging.
topmast The mast below the topgallant mast in a square-rigged ship and highest in a fore-and-aft-rigged ship.
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 ship.
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.
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 the governor of Martinique from his yardarm.
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 targets.

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