English Nautical Glossary M


D: a room or place for keeping gunpowder and other explosives, as in a fort or on a warship.

F: a close room or store-house, built in the fore, or after part of a ship's hold, to contain the gunpowder used in battle, &c. This apartment is strongly secured against fire, and no person is suffered to enter it with a lamp or candle; it is therefore lighted, as occasion requires, by means of the candles or lamps which are fixed in the lightroom contiguous to it.

mahi, mahee

paste made of pulp of fruits and edible roots, mainly bread-fruit and taro (Tahiti)


the brace attached to the mainyard, the largest on the ship

splice the mainbrace


TFD: the main part of a land mass as opposed to an island or peninsula


D: 1. The principal mast of a sailing vessel. 2. The taller mast, whether forward or aft, of a two-masted sailing vessel. 3. The second mast aft of a sailing ship with three or more masts.


TFD: the largest and lowermost sail on the mainmast


W: A stabilising rope ( stay) from the top of the mainmast to the bottom of the foremast.


W: A platform at the top of a square-rigged vessel's mainmast; used for observation and for the attachment of rigging. See top.


W: The yard of the mainmast, from which the mainsail is hung

make a board

B: making a stretch upon any tack when a ship is working upon a wind

make a good board

F: sails nearly upon a straight line, without deviating to leeward when close-hauled.

make a stern board

B: that is, when she loses ground in working upon a wind.

make foul water

B: to muddy the water, by running in shallow places, so that the ship's keel disturbs the mud at the bottom.

make sail

F: is to increase the quantity of sail already extended, either by letting out the reefs, and by hoisting an additional number of small sails, or by performing either of those exercises separately.

make sternway

B: to retreat or move with the stern foremost

make the land

F: is to discover it from a distant situation, in consequence of approaching it after a sea voyage

make water

To leak.

make way

W: (of a vessel) to progress through the water


TFD: a light rope, usually tarred, made of two strands laid left-handed


marlinspikeW: A pointed metal spike, used to separate strands of rope or wire in splicing.

F: an iron pin, tapering, to a point, and furnished with a large round head. It is principally used to penetrate the twists, or strands of a rope, in order to introduce the ends of some other through the intervals, in the act of knotting or splicing. It is also used as a lever, on many other occasions, about the rigging, particularly in fixing the seizings upon the shrouds, block strops, clues of the sails, &c.


W: To abandon in a remote, desolate place, as on a deserted island.


TFD: Any of several parts of standing rigging strengthening the bowsprit and jib boom against the force of the head stays.


F: a long round piece of timber, elevated perpendicularly upon the keel of a ship, to which are attached the yards, the sails, and the rigging.

fish the mast


TFD: Furnished with a mast or masts; - chiefly in composition; as, a three-masted schooner.

B: Having all her sails complete.


WP: The master, or sailing master, was a historic term for a naval officer trained in and responsible for the navigation of a sailing vessel. The rank can be equated to a professional seaman and specialist in navigation, rather than as a military commander. In the British Royal Navy, the master was a rank of warrant officer who ranked with, but after, the lieutenants.

F: an officer appointed by the commissioners of the navy to assist in fitting, and to take charge of the navigating and conducting a ship from port to port, under the direction of the captain, or other his superior officer. The management and disposition of the sails, the working of the ship into her station in the order of battle, and the direction of her movements in the time of action, and in the other circumstances of danger, are also more particularly under his inspection. He is to be careful that the rigging, sails, and stores, be duly preserved; to see that the log and logbook be regularly and correctly kept; accurately to observe the appearances of coasts, rocks, and shoals, with their depths of water and bearings, noting them in his journal. He is to keep the hawser clear when the ship is at anchor, and to provide himself with proper instruments, maps, and books of navigation. It is likewise his duty to examine the provisions, and accordingly to admit none into the ship but such as are sound, sweet, and wholesome. He is moreover charged with the stowage, or disposition of these materials in the ship's hold. And when she shall be laid up, he is to deposit a copy of the logbook and journal with the commissioners of the navy. And to enable him the better to perform these services, he is allowed several assistants, who are properly termed mates and quartermasters.

master's mate

WP: Originally, a master's mate was an experienced petty officer, who assisted the master, but was not in line for promotion to lieutenant. By the mid-eighteenth century, he was far more likely to be a superior midshipman, still waiting to pass his examination for lieutenant or to receive his commission, but taking rather more responsibility aboard ship.


D: a petty officer who has various duties, such as keeping order on the ship, taking charge of prisoners, etc.

F: an officer appointed by warrant from the board of admiralty, to teach the officers and crew of a Ship of war the exercise of small arms; to confine and plant centinels over the prisoners, and superintend whatever relates to them during their confinement. He is also, as soon as the evening gun shall be fired, to see all the fires and lights extinguished, except such as shall be permitted by proper authority, or under the inspection of centinels. It is likewise his duty to attend the gangway, when any boats arrive aboard, and search them carefully, together with their rowers, that no spirituous liquors may be conveyed into the ship, unless by permission of the commanding officer. He is to see that the small arms be kept in proper order. He is to visit all vessels coming to or going from the ship, and prevent the crew from going from the ship without leave. He is also to acquaint the officer of the watch with all irregularities in the ship which shall come to his knowledge. In these several duties he is assisted with proper attendants, called his corporals, who also relieve the centinels, and one another, at certain periods.


W: The top of a mast.


F: a sort of thick web or texture, formed of spun yarn, or of a variety of strands, or separate parts of a small rope; or of a number of rope yarns twilled into foxes. The foxes are therefore larger or smaller, as containing a greater or lesser number of rope yarns, in proportion to the thickness of the mat intended to be woven. Mats are commonly used to fasten upon the outside of such parts of the standing rigging as are exposed to the friction of other ropes, in extending, shifting, or trussing up the sails, particularly the lower ones. The largest and strongest sort of these mats are called paunches.


D: an assistant to a warrant officer or other functionary on a ship. As master's mate, gunner's mate, carpenter's mate.

F: of a ship of war, an officer under the direction of the master, by whose choice he is generally appointed, to assist him in the several branches of his duty. Accordingly he is to be particularly attentive to the navigation in his watch, &c. to keep the log regularly, and examine the line and glasses by which the ship's course is measured, and to adjust the sails to the wind in the fore part of the ship. He is also to have a diligent attention to the cables, seeing that they are well coiled and kept clean when laid in the tier, and sufficiently served when employed to ride the ship. Finally, he is to superintend and assist at the stowage of the hold, taking especial care that all the ballast and provisions are properly stowed therein.


TFD: a type of large pick that has one end of its blade shaped like an adze, used for loosening soil, cutting roots, etc.


TFD: The tentacled, usually bell-shaped, free-swimming sexual stage in the life cycle of a coelenterate, such as a jellyfish.

mend the service

B: Put on more service.


TFD: A great circle passing through the two poles of the celestial sphere and the zenith of a given observer.


F: a particular company of the officers or crew of a ship, who eat, drink, and associate together.


W: A light line with which a heavier line may be hauled e.g. from the deck of a ship to the pier.

B: A small kind of cable, which being brought to the capstan, and the cable by which the ship rides made fast to it, it purchases the anchor.


W: an associate with whom one shares a mess (eating place) on a ship


TFD: The streaks of light we sometimes see in the night sky and call meteors were not identified as interplanetary rocks until the 19th century. Before then, the streaks of light were considered only one of a variety of atmospheric phenomena, all of which bore the name meteor. Rain was an aqueous meteor, winds and storms were airy meteors, and streaks of light in the sky were fiery meteors. This general use of meteor survives in our word meteorology, the study of the weather and atmospheric phenomena.


W: An officer of the lowest rank in several navies; especially, a trainee officer.

F: a sort of naval cadet, appointed by the captain of a ship of war, to second the orders of the superior officers, and assist in the necessary business of the vessel, either aboard or ashore.

The number of midshipmen, like that of several other officers, is always in proportion to the size of the ship to which they belong. Thus a first-rate man of war has twenty-four, and the inferior, rates a suitable number in proportion. No person can be appointed lieutenant, without having previously served two years in the royal navy in this capacity, or in that of mate, besides having been at least four years in actual service at sea, either in merchant ships, or in the royal navy.

Midshipman is accordingly the station in which a young volunteer is trained in the several exercises, necessary to attain a sufficient knowledge of the machinery, discipline, movements, and military operations of a ship, to qualify him for a sea officer.

As the chief object of our attention has been to facilitate the acquisition of this intelligence, we have endeavoured to treat those subjects at large, in the different parts of this work, according to their importance. We have also sketched the general outlines of the respective charges of all the superior officers, which, in conformity to the plan of this work, become previous to this article. Thus the duties of the admiral, the captain, the lieutenant, and the master, are already explained in their proper places; and whatever intelligence appears necessary to discharge those offices, is also, in a high degree, essential to the midshipman. Those officers indeed, as well as many others, are furnished with suitable instructions to regulate their conduct; but the midshipman, being invested with no particular charge from the government, is by consequence omitted in those official regulations. In a work of this kind, however, the importance of the subject is not always determined by the superiority of rank or station. If our province is to communicate instruction, those who are the least informed are certainly the principal objects thereof, and to them our attention is more peculiarly directed. Hence the extent of our design comprehends many circumstances which would be immaterial in general orders and regulations; and hence abundance of particular directions to respective officers, inserted in those general regulations, are rejected here as foreign to our purpose. Averse as we are, on other occasions, to offend the rigid nicety of a critic, by introducing moral reflections, in a performance dedicated to scientifical description, we must for once be indulged with a short deviation from the plan hitherto invariably followed. Happy if our efforts may in any degree operate to produce the effects for which they were calculated.

On his first entrance in a ship of war, every midshipman has several disadvantageous circumstances to encounter. These are partly occasioned by the nature of the sea service, and partly by the mistaken prejudices of people in general, respecting naval discipline, and the genius of sailors and their officers. No character, in their opinion, is more excellent than that of the common sailor, whom they generally suppose to be treated with great severity by his officers, drawing a comparison between them not very advantageous to the latter. The midshipman usually comes aboard tinctured with these prejudices, especially if his education has been amongst the higher rank of people; and if the officers happen to answer his opinion, he conceives an early disgust to the service, from a very partial and incompetent view of its operations. Blinded by these prepossessions, he is thrown off his guard, and very soon surprized to find, amongst those honest sailors, a crew of abandoned miscreants, ripe for any mischief or villainy. Perhaps, after a little observation, many of them will appear to him equally destitute of gratitude, shame, or justice, and only deterred from the commission of any crimes by the terror of severe punishment. He will discover, that the pernicious example of a few of the vilest in a ship of war is too often apt to poison the principles of the greatest number, especially if the reins of discipline are too much relaxed, so as to foster that idleness and dissipation, which engender sloth, diseases, and an utter profligacy of manners. If the midshipman, on many occasions, is obliged to mix with these, particularly in the exercises of extending or reducing the sails in the tops, he ought resolutely to guard against this contagion, with which the morals of his inferiors may be infected. He should however avail himself of their knowledge, and acquire their expertness in managing and fixing the sails and rigging, and never suffer himself to be excelled by an inferior. He will probably find a virtue in almost every private sailor, which is entirely unknown to many of his officers; that virtue is emulation, which is not indeed mentioned amongst their qualities by the gentlemen of terra firma, by whom their characters are often copiously described with very little judgment. There is hardly a common tar who is not envious of superior skill in his fellows, and jealous on all occasions to be outdone in what he considers as a branch of his duty! Nor is he more afraid of the dreadful consequences of whistling in a storm, than of being stigmatized with the opprobrious epithet of lubber. Fortified against this scandal, by a thorough knowledge of his business, the sailor will sometimes sneer in private, at the execution of orders, which to him appear awkward, improper, or unlike a seaman. Nay, he will perhaps be malicious enough to suppress his own judgment, and by a punctual obedience to command, execute whatever is to be performed, in a manner which he knows to be improper, in order to expose the person commanding to disgrace and ridicule. Little skilled in the method of the schools, he considers the officer who cons his lesson by rote as very ill qualified for his station, because particular situations might render it necessary for the said officer to assist at putting his own orders in practice. An ignorance in this practical knowledge will therefore necessarily be thought an unpardonable deficiency by those who are to follow his directions. Hence the midshipman, who associates with these sailors in the tops, till he has acquired a competent skill in the service of extending or reducing the sails, &c. will be often entertained with a number of scurrilous jests, at the expence of his superiors. Hence also he will learn, that a timely application to those exercises can only prevent him from appearing in the same despicable point of view, which must certainly be a cruel mortification to a man of the smallest sensibility.


See amidships


W: 1. Mizzenmast. 2. A fore-and-aft sail set on the mizzenmast.

F: the aftermost or hindmost of the fixed sails of a ship, extended sometimes by a gaff, and sometimes by a yard which crosses the mast obliquely; the fore-end reaching almost down to the deck, and the after-end being peaked up as high above the middle of the yard, where it is attached to the mast. The figure of the mizen is accordingly a trapezia, or a parallelogram, one of whose corners is cut off by a diagonal, extended from one of its sides to the opposite corner, which becomes the peak of the mizen.

mizen course

The lowest sail on the mizzenmast.

mizen peak

the top of the mizen mast


W: The aftmost mast on a ship having three or more masts

F: the mast upon which the mizen and its topsail and staysails are supported, besides other sails, which are set occasionally, as the driver, ring tail &c.


TFD: To rain in fine, mistlike droplets; drizzle.


W: Half; A share or portion


TFD: 1. A wind system that influences large climatic regions and reverses direction seasonally. 2. a. A wind from the southwest or south that brings heavy rainfall to southern Asia in the summer. b. The rain that accompanies this wind.

F: a name given to the periodical or trade winds, which blow regularly in certain latitudes of the Indian ocean. They continue five or six months invariably in one direction, and then alter their course, and blow, during an equal space of time, from a different point of the compass with the same uniformity.


W: To fix or secure, as a vessel, in a particular place by casting anchor, or by fastening with cables or chains

B: is to secure a ship with two anchors.

F: the act of confining and securing a ship in a particular station, by chains or cables, which are either fastened to the adjacent shore, or to anchors in the bottom. A ship may be either moored by the head, or by the head and stern; that is to lay, she may be secured by anchors before her, without any behind; or the may have anchors out, both before and behind her; or her cables may be attached to posts, rings, or moorings, which answer the same purpose. When a ship is moored by the head with her own anchors, they are disposed according to the circumstances of the place where she lies, and the time she is to continue therein. Thus wherever a tide ebbs and flows, it is usual to carry one anchor out towards the flood, and another towards the ebb, particularly where there is little room to range about; and the anchors are laid in the same manner, if the vessel is moored head and stern in the same place. The situation of the anchors, in a road or bay, is usually opposed to the reigning winds, or those which are most dangerous; so that the ship rides therein with the effort of both her cables. Thus if the rides in a bay, or road, which is exposed to a northerly wind and heavy sea from the same quarter, the anchors passing from the opposite bows ought to lie east and west from each other; hence both the cables will retain the ship in her station with equal effort against the action of the wind and sea.


W: A place or places where a vessel may be made fast

F: are usually an assemblage of anchors, chains, and bridles, laid athwart the bottom of the river, or haven, to ride the shipping contained therein. The anchors, employed on this occasion, have rarely more than one fluke, which is sunk in the river near low-water mark. Two anchors, being fixed, in this manner, on the opposite sides of the river, are furnished with a chain, extending across from one to the other. In the middle of the chain is a large square link, whose lower end terminates in a swivel, which turns round in the chain as about an axis, whenever the ship veers about with the change of the tide. To this swivel-link are attached the bridles, which are short pieces of cable, well served, whose upper ends are drawn into the ship, at the mooring-ports, and afterwards fastened to the masts, or cable-bits. A great number of moorings, of this sort, are fixed in the royal ports, or the harbours adjacent to the king's dockyards, as Deptford, Chatham, Portsmouth, Plymouth, &c.


"The Morai is a kind of funeral altar, which the people of Otaheite raise to the memory of their deceased friends. They bring to it a daily tribute of fruits, flowers, and the plumage of birds. The chief mourner wanders around it in a state of apparent distraction, shrieking furiously, and striking at intervals a shark’s tooth into her head. All people fly her, as she aims at wounding not only herself, but others."

Anna Seward, note to Elegy for Captain Cook (1780)


a short barreled musket


F: the act of calling over a list of the whole ship's company, or any particular detachment thereof, who are accordingly summoned to answer by their names on the occasion. Also the list.