English Nautical Glossary P


W: Originally, a vessel employed by government to convey dispatches or mails; hence, a vessel employed in conveying dispatches, mails, passengers, and goods, and having fixed days of sailing; a mail boat. Packet boat, ship, vessel.

F: a vessel appointed by the government to carry the mail of letters, packets, and,expresses from one kingdom to another by sea, in the most expeditious manner. Thus the packet-boats, under the direction of the post-master-general of Great Britain, carry the mails from Dover to Calais, from Falmouth to Lisbon, from Harwich to Helvoetsluys, and from Parkgate to Dublin.


W: A rope connected to the bow of a boat, used to attach it to, e.g. a jetty or another boat.

F: a rope employed to fasten a boat either alongside of the ship to which the belongs, or to some wharf, key, &c. as occasion requires.


TFD: A metal shield worn by sailmakers over the palm of the hand and used to force a needle through heavy canvas.

F: an implement used instead of a thimble in the exercise of making and mending sails. It is formed of a piece of leather or canvas, on the middle of which is fixed a round plate of iron, of an inch in diameter, whole surface is pierced with a number of small holes, to catch the head of the sail needle. The leather is formed so as to encircle the hand, and button on the back thereof, while the iron remains in the palm; so that the whole strength of the hand may be exerted to thrust the needle through the canvas, when it is stiff and difficult to be penetrated in sewing.


TFD: a mixture of flour, water, etc., or of breadcrumbs soaked in milk, used as a thickening


TFD: A sling for raising or lowering an object vertically.

F: a contrivance used by sailors to lower a cask or bale from any height, as the top of a wharf or key, into a boat or lighter, which lies alongside, being chiefly employed where there is no crane or tackle. It is formed by fastening the bight of a rope to a post, or ring, upon the wharf, and thence pulling the two parts of the rope under the two quarters of the cast, and bringing them back again over it; so that when the two lower parts remain firmly attached to the post, the two upper parts are gradually slackened together, and the barrel, or bale, suffered to roll easily downward to that place where it is received below. This method is also frequently used used by masons, in lifting up or letting down large stones, when they are employed in building; and from them it has probably been adopted by seamen.


TFD: To wind protective strips of canvas around (rope).

F: certain long narrow ships of canvas, daubed with tar, and frequently bound about a rope, in the same manner as bandages are applied to a broken limb in surgery.

parcel a rope

B: Is to put a quantity of old canvass upon it before the service is put on.

F: This is chiefly practised when the said rope is intended to be served, at which time the parceling is laid in spiral turns, as smoothly upon the surface as possible, that the rope may not become uneven and full of ridges.

parcel a seam

B: Is to lay a narrow piece of canvass over it after it is caulked, before it is payed.

F: Parceling a seam, is laying a spred of canvas upon it, and daubing it over with melted pitch, both above and below the canvas.


W: A sliding loop of rope or metal, around the mast of a ship, to which a yard or gaff is fitted

F: a machine used to fasten the sail yards of a ship to the masts, in such a manner as that they may be easily hoisted and lowered thereon, as occasion requires.

Parry, William

Omai, Banks, SolanderWillaim Parry (1743-1791) was a Welsh artist who is not well-known today. When the Bounty left Tahiti, Tynah gave four of Parry's paintings as gifts; two to the King and two to Bligh. Here is the Wikipedia article about The William Parry (artist). (Click the picture to see a larger version.)


D: a framework of timber round a hole in a ship's deck, to support a mast, capstan, pump, etc.

F: certain pieces of plank nailed round the several scuttles, or holes, in a ship's deck, wherein are contained the masts and capstans. They are used to strengthen the deck where it is weakened by those breaches, but particularly to support it when the mast leans against it; as impressed by a weight of sail, or when the capstan bears forcibly upon it whilst charged with a great effort. Partners is also a name given occasionally to the scuttles themselves, wherein the masts and capstan are fixed.


TFD: a thick mat that prevents chafing

F: a sort of thick and strong mat, or texture, formed by interweaving twists of rope yarn, as close as possible. It is chiefly used to fasten on the outside of the yards, or rigging, to prevent their surfaces from being rubbed by the friction of some other contiguous object, particularly when the vessel is rocked by a tempestuous sea.


D: to coat or cover (seams, a ship's bottom, etc.) with pitch, tar, or the like.

B: To daub or cover the surface of any body with pitch, tar, &c. in order to prevent it from the injuries of the weather.

F: as a naval term, implies to daub or anoint the surface of any body, in order to preserve it from the injuries of the water, weather, &c. Thus the bottom of a ship is paid with a composition of tallow, sulphur, resin, &c. The sides of a ship are usually paid with tar, turpentine, or resin; or by a composition of tar and oil, to which is sometimes added red ocher, &c. to protect the planks thereof from being split by the sun or wind. The lower masts are, for the same reasons, paid with materials of the same sort, if we except those, along which their respective sails are frequently hoisted and lowered; such are the masts of sloops and schooners, which are always paid with tallow for this purpose; for the same reason all topmasts and topgallant masts are also paid with hog's lard, butter, or tallow.

pay away the cable

F: slacken it, that it may run out of the ship. This phrase is the same with veer away the cable.

pay off

TFD: To turn or cause to turn (a vessel) to leeward.

F: (paying off) the movement by which a ship's head falls to leeward of the point whither it was previously directed; particularly when, by neglect of the helmsman, she had inclined to windward of her course, so as to make the headsails shiver in the wind, and retard her velocity.

Paying off is likewise used to signify the payment of the ship's officers and crew, and the discharge of the ship from service, in order to be laid up at the moorings.

pay out

TFD: to release (a rope) gradually, hand over hand

B: To slacken a cable or other rope, so as to let it run out for some particular purpose.


TFD: 1. The narrow portion of a ship's hull at the bow or stern. 2. The upper after corner of a fore-and-aft sail. 3. The outermost end of a gaff.

F: a name given to the upper corner of all those sails which are extended by a gaff, or by a yard which crosses the mast obliquely, as the mizen yard of a ship, the mainyard of a bilander [small merchant ship with two masts], &c. The upper extremity of those yards and gaffs are also denominated the peak.

pendant, pendent

TFD: (pendent) Hanging down; dangling; suspended. (Usual meaning in the various texts on this site.)

D: (pennant) a long, tapering flag or burgee of distinctive form and special significance, borne on naval or other vessels and used in signaling or for identification.

B: The long narrow flag worn at the masthead by all ships of the navy.

F: (pendent) a sort of long narrow banner, displayed from the masthead of a ship of war, and usually terminating in two ends or points. Pendent is also a short piece of rope, fixed under the shrouds, upon the head of the mainmast and foremast, from which it depends as low as the cat-harpins, having an eye in the lower end, which is armed with an iron thimble, to prevent the eye from being fretted by the hooks of the main and fore tackles, &c. There are, besides, many other pendents of the latter kind, which are generally single or double ropes, to whose lower extremities is attached a block, or tackle; such are the fish pendent, the yard tackle pendents, the reef tackle pendents, &c. all of which are employed to transmit the effort of their respective tackles to some distant object.

broad pendant


See broad pendant

petty officer

WP: Petty officers rank between naval officers (both commissioned and warrant) and most enlisted sailors. These were men with some claim to officer rank, sufficient to distinguish them from ordinary ratings without raising them so high as the sea officers. Several were warrant officers, in the literal sense of being appointed by warrant, and like the warrant sea officers, their superiors, they were usually among the specialists of the ships's company.

Two of the petty officer's rates, midshipman and master's mate, were a superior petty officer with a more general authority, but they remained no more than ratings. However, it was quite possible for a warrant officer, such as the armourer, to be court-martialed for striking a midshipman as his superior officer. The reason why was both were regarded as future sea officers, with the all-important social distinction of the right to walk the quarterdeck. Midshipmen wore distinctive uniforms, master's mates dressed respectably, and both behaved like officers. Master's mates evolved into the rank of sub-lieutenant, and midshipmen evolved into a naval cadet.

ranks in the royal navy circa 1810

petty officers


British: an arcade or covered walk or gallery


a picul, a unit of weight used in some parts of Asia; approximately equal to 133 pounds (the load a grown man can carry)


W: A person who knows well the depths and currents of a harbor or coastal area, who is hired by a vessel to help navigate the harbor or coast.

F: the officer who superintends the navigation, either upon the seacoast or on the main ocean. It is, however, more particularly applied by our mariners to the person charged with the direction of a ship's course, on, or near the seacoast, and into the roads, bays, rivers, havens, &c. within his respective district.


W: A light boat, traditionally propelled by sails, but may also be a rowboat. Pinnaces are usually messenger boats, carrying messages among the larger ships of a fleet.

F: a small vessel, navigated with oars and sails, and having generally two masts, which are rigged like those of a schooner. Pinnace is also a boat, usually rowed with eight oars.


W: A pin or bolt, usually vertical, which acts as a pivot for a hinge or a rudder.

F: certain pins or hooks, fastened upon the back part of the rudder, with their points downwards, in order to enter into, and rest upon the googings [ gudgeons], fixed on the stern post to hang the rudder.


D: robbery or illegal violence at sea.


D: a person who robs or commits illegal violence at sea or on the shores of the sea.


TFD: To dip bow and stern alternately.

B: (pitching) The movement of a ship, by which she plunges her head and after part alternately in the hollow of the sea.

plain sail

GS: The square sails, i.e., the courses, topsails, topgallants and royals

plaise, plaice

TFD: A large edible marine flatfish (Pleuronectes platessa) of western European waters.


D: a plait or braid.

F: a sort of braided cordage, formed of several strands of old rope yarn, twisted into foxes. It is used to wind about that part of the cable which lies in the hawsehole, or against the fore part of the ship, where it would otherwise be greatly injured by the continual friction, produced by the agitation of the ship in stormy weather.

plum duff

(Serves 8)

4 pounds plain flour

2 pounds grated pork fat

1 cup sugar

1¾ pints (UK), 2 pints (US) water

1½ cups raisins or currants

Mix all the ingredients together and knead thoroughly (adding extra water if necessary) to make a stiff dough. Divide dough into eight portions, tie each snugly in a floured pudding bag or cloth, and serve with custard. For Double-shotted duff, double the 'plums'.


D: Also called plumb bob, a piece of lead or some other weight attached to a line, used for determining perpendicularity, for sounding, etc.


TFD: Property stolen by fraud or force; booty.

F: a name given to the effects of the officers or crew of a prize, which are pillaged by the captors.


One of 32 divisions, 11.25 degrees, of the compass rose, used for describing sailing directions, judging the wind direction or approximating bearings of distant objects at sea or ashore.


F: the operation of tapering the end of a rope, and weaving a sort of mat, or close texture, about the diminished part of it, so as to thrust it more easily through any hole, and prevent it from being readily untwisted. Thus the end of a reef line is pointed so, that, being stiffer, it may more readily penetrate the eyelet holes of the reef; and the ends of the strands of a cable are occasionally pointed, for the greater conveniency of splicing it to another cable, especially when this task is frequently performed. The extremities of the splice of a cable are also pointed, that it may pass with more facility through the hawseholes.


B: A number of platted ropes made fast to the sails for the purpose of reefing.

F: short flat pieces of braided cordage, tapering from the middle towards each end, and used to reef the courses and topsails of a ship.

poop, poop deck

W: A high, exposed deck at the stern of a ship, with cabins below.

B: The highest and aftermost deck of a ship.


W: The act of a wave (or other vessel) striking the stern of a vessel.

F: the shock of a high and heavy sea, upon the stern or quarter of a ship, when she scuds before the wind in a tempest. This circumstance is extremely dangerous to the vessel, which is thereby exposed to the risk of having her whole stern beat inwards, by which she would be immediately laid open to the entrance of the sea, and of course founder or be torn to pieces.


W: 1. A place on the coast at which ships can shelter, or dock to load and unload cargo or passengers. 2. A town or city containing such a place. 3. The left-hand side of a vessel when one is facing the front.

B: A name given on some occasions to the larboard side of the ship; as, the ship heels to port, &c. also a harbour or haven

port sills

the bottom framing of a port hole to which the lower half-port or shutter is hinged, also the frame to which the upper half-port is attached

E: the name given to the lengths of timber used for lining the top and bottom edges of the gunports in sailing men-of-war.

portable soup

TFD: Portable soup was a kind of dehydrated food used in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was a precursor of the later meat extract and bouillon cubes, and of industrially dehydrated food. It is also known as pocket soop or veal glew. It is a cousin of the glace de viande of French cooking. It was long a staple of seamen and explorers, for it would keep for many months or even years. In this context, however, it was a filling and nutritious, but frequently revolting, dish.


a very dark sweet ale brewed from roasted unmalted barley

W: A strong, dark ale, originally favored by porters, similar to a stout but less strong.

Portuguese man of war

W: A floating colony of hydrozoans (Physalia physalis) attached to a float; it superficially resembles a jellyfish.


D: any of various lines set up to reinforce or relieve ordinary running or standing rigging.

B: An additional rope employed at times to support any other, when the latter suffers an unusual strain, particularly when blowing fresh, or in a gale of wind.


Used sometimes (as a corruption of proa, prau, to refer to a type of boat.

W: The fore part of a vessel; the bow; the stem.

public house

W: (chiefly British) An establishment licensed to sell alcoholic beverages to be consumed on or off the premises; they often provide meals and sometimes accommodation.

pudding, puddening

E: a thick matting made of yarns, oakum, etc., which was used during the days of sail in places where there was a danger of chafing. Another form of puddening was fastened round the main and foremasts of square-rigged sailing warships directly below the trusses of the yards, both to guard against undue chafe and to prevent the yards from falling if the lifts were shot away in battle. It was made by taking a length of rope twice the circumference of the mast and splicing the two ends together to form a strop, thus doubling it in thickness. A thimble was then seized into each end and the doubled rope was parcelled and served to an extent where it was thickest in the middle, tapering to each end. It was then laced to the mast by lacing a lanyard between the two thimbles. As an extra precaution to prevent it slipping under the weight of the yard if the lifts or sling were shot away, a garland was passed over it to bind it even more securely to the mast. In general, puddening was used in all places where undue chafe was likely. In the old days of sail, when anchor cables were made of hemp, the rings of anchors were protected with it to stop chafe in the cables.

pumice stone

light-colored volcanic rock containing so many trapped bubbles it often floats on water


F: a well-known machine, used to discharge the water from the ship's bottom into the sea.




TFD: 1. a large cask of variable capacity, usually between 70 and 120 gallons 2. the volume of such a cask used as a liquid measure

The gallons in the table below are pre-Imperial system, which did not come into force until 1824, and apply to both the United States and Britain.


a tender and light wood, easily worked, widespread in the high islands of Polynesia

TFD: shrubby tree widely distributed along tropical shores; yields a light tough wood used for canoe outriggers and a fiber used for cordage and caulk; often cultivated for ornament


TFD: to draw, haul, or lift (a load) with the aid of mechanical apparatus

F: a name given by sailors to any sort of mechanical power employed in raising or removing heavy bodies, or in fixing or extending the ship's rigging. Such are the tackles, windlasses, capstans, screws, and handspikes.


F: an officer appointed by the lords of the admiralty, to take charge of the provisions of a ship of war, and to see that they are carefully distributed to the officers and crew, according to the instructions which he has received from the commissioners of the navy for that purpose.

put about

To change or cause to change direction; go or cause to go from one tack to another.


TFD: variant of futtock One of the curved timbers that forms a rib in the frame of a ship.