English Nautical Glossary W


TFD: A plug, as of cloth or paper, used to retain a powder charge in a muzzleloading gun or cannon.

F: a quantity of old rope yarns, hay, &c. rolled firmly together into the form of a ball, and used to confine the shot or shell, together with its charge of powder, in the breech of a piece of artillery. M. Le Blond observes, in his Elements of war, that the wad is necessary to retain the charge closely in the chamber of the cannon, so that it may not, when fired, be dilated around the sides of the ball, by its windage as it passes through the chace; a circumstance which would considerably diminish the effort of the powder. But as the wad cannot be fastened to the sides of the bore, it is carried away in the same instant when the charge is inflamed, and that with so little resistance, that it cannot, in any degree, retard the explosion, or give time for the entire inflammation of the powder. This reasoning may with equal propriety be applied to the wad that covers the bullet; which, nevertheless, is absolutely requisite, to prevent it from rolling out when the piece is fired horizontally or pointed downwards. Both are therefore peculiarly necessary in naval engagements, because, without being thus retained in its chamber, the shot would instantly roll out of the chace by the agitation of the vessel.


W: a flag, (also called a waif or wheft), used to indicate wind direction or, with a knot tied in the center, as a signal

F: a signal displayed from the stern of a ship for some particular purpose, by hoisting the ensign, furled up together into a long roll, to the head of its staff. It is particularly used to summon the boats off from the shore to the ship whereto they belong; or as a signal for a pilot to repair aboard.


W: That part of the upper deck of a ship between the quarterdeck and the forecastle.

F: that part of a ship which is contained between the quarterdeck and forecastle, being usually a hollow space, with an ascent of several steps to either of those places.

waist boards

W: The planking made to fit into a vessel's gangway on either side.


TFD: The visible track of turbulence left by something moving through water

F: the print or track impressed by the course of a ship on the surface of the water. It is formed by the reunion of the body of water, which was separated by the ship's bottom whilst moving through it; and may be seen to a considerable distance behind the stern, as smoother than the rest of the sea. Hence it is usually observed by the compass, to discover the angle of leeway. A ship is said to be in the wake of another, when the follows her on the same track, or on a line supposed to be formed on the continuation of her keel.


D: the heavy planks or strakes extending along the sides of a wooden ship.

F: an assemblage of strong planks extending along a ship's side, throughout her whole length, at different heights, and serving to reinforce the decks, and form the curves by which the vessel appears light and graceful on the water. As the wales are framed of planks broader and thicker than the rest, they resemble ranges of hoops encircling the sides and bows. They are usually distinguished into the main wale and the channel wale. The situation of the wales, being ascertained by no invariable rule, is generally submitted to the fancy and judgment of the builder. The position of the gun ports and scuppers ought, however, to be particularly considered on this occasion, that the wales may not be wounded by too many breaches.


W: 1. A line or cable used in warping a ship. 2. To move a vessel by hauling on a line or cable that is fastened to an anchor or pier; especially to move a sailing ship through a restricted place such as a harbour.

F: a small rope employed occasionally to remove a ship from one place to another, in a port, road, or river. And hence, To warp is to change the situation of a ship, by pulling her from one part of a harbour, &c. to some other, by means of warps, which are attached to buoys; to anchors sunk in the bottom; or to certain stations upon the shore, as posts, rings, trees, &c. The ship is accordingly drawn forwards to those stations, either by pulling on the warps by hand, or by the application of some purchase, as a tackle, windlass, or capstan, upon her deck. When this operation is performed by the ship's lesser anchors, these machines, together with their warps, are carried out in the boats alternately towards the place where the ship is endeavouring to arrive; so that when she is drawn up close to one anchor, the other is carried out to a competent distance before her, and being sunk, serves to fix the other warp by which the is further advanced. Warping is generally used when the sails are unbent, or when they cannot be successfully employed, which may either arise from the unfavourable state of the wind, the opposition of the tide, or the narrow limits of the channel.

warrant officer

WP: an officer in a military organization who is designated an officer by a warrant, as distinguished from a commissioned officer who is designated an officer by a commission, or non-commissioned officer who is designated an officer by virtue of seniority.

The warrant officer corps began in the 13th century in the nascent English Royal Navy. At that time, noblemen with military experience took command of the new Navy, adopting the military ranks of lieutenant and captain. These officers often had no knowledge of life on board a ship – let alone how to navigate such a vessel – and relied on the expertise of the ship's Master and other seamen who tended to the technical aspects of running the ship. As cannon came into use, the officers also required gunnery experts.

Originally, warrant officers were specialist professionals whose expertise and authority demanded formal recognition. They eventually developed into four categories:

Wardroom warrant officers

Gunroom warrant officers

Standing warrant officers

Lower-grade warrant officers

Literacy was one thing that all warrant officers had in common, and this distinguished them from the common seamen. According to the Admiralty Regulations, "No person shall be appointed to any station in which he is to have charge of stores, unless he can read and write, and is sufficiently skilled in arithmetic to keep an account of them correctly". Since all warrant officers had responsibility for stores, this was enough to debar the illiterate.

Warrant Chart

Relative Ranks in the Royal Navy, c1810. Warrant Officers are underlined in the chart.


TFD: a vertical planklike shield fastened to the gunwales of a boat to prevent water from splashing over the side

F: a broad thin plank fixed occasionally on the top of a boat's side, so as to continue the height thereof, and be removed at pleasure. It is used to prevent the sea from breaking into the vessel, particularly when the surface is rough, as in tempestuous weather.



A 2-Section Dogged Watch

Name Time Day 1 Day 2 Day 3

First watch 2000-0000 Team 1 Team 2 Team 1

Middle watch 0000-0400 Team 2 Team 1 Team 2

Morning watch 0400-0800 Team 1 Team 2 Team 1

Forenoon watch 0800-1200 Team 2 Team 1 Team 2

Afternoon watch 1200-1600 Team 1 Team 2 Team 1

First dog watch 1600-1800 Team 2 Team 1 Team 2

Last dog watch 1800-2000 Team 1 Team 2 Team 1

The watches kept on sailing ships-the square-rigged barques or windjammers of the late 19th century and in the British Royal Navy—consisted of 5 four-hour periods and 2 two-hour periods. Those members of the crew whose work must be done at all times of the day were assigned to one of two divisions: the Starboard or the Port (Larboard) division. These two groups of personnel alternated in working the following watches:

This pattern allowed the two watches, known as the 'port' and 'starboard' watches, to alternate from day to day, so that the port watch had the night watch one night and the starboard watch had it the next night.

A similar system can also be used with a crew divided into three, giving each sailor more time off-duty. Names for the three watches-instead of Port and Starboard-vary between ships; "Foremast", "Mainmast" and "Mizzen" and "Red", "White" and "Blue" are common.

See also: bells.

F: the space of time wherein one division of a ship's crew remains upon deck, to perform the necessary services, whilst the rest are relieved from duty, either when the vessel is under sail or at anchor. The length of the sea watch is not equal in the shipping of different nations. It is always kept four hours by our British seamen, if we except the dog watch between four and eight in the evening, that contains two reliefs, each of which are only two hours on deck. The intent of this is to change the period of the night watch every twenty-four hours; so that the party watching from eight till twelve in one night, shall watch from midnight till four in the morning on the succeeding one. In France the duration of the watch is extremely different, being in some places six hours, and in others feven or eight; and in Turkey and Barbary it is usually five or six hours. A ship's company is usually classed into two parties; one of which is called the starboard and the other the larboard watch. It is, however, occasionally separated into three divisions, as in a road, or in particular voyages. In a ship of war the watch is generally commanded by a lieutenant, and in merchant ships by one of the mates; so that if there are four mates in the latter, there are two in each watch; the first and third being in the larboard, and the second and fourth in the starboard watch; but in the navy the officers who command the watch usually divide themselves into three parts, in order to lighten their duty.

watch and watch

TFD: the regular alternation in being on watch and off watch of the two watches into which a ship's crew is commonly divided.

water sail

TFD: A small sail sometimes set under a studding sail or under a driver boom, and reaching nearly to the water.

F: a small sail spread occasionally under the lower studding sail, or driver-boom, in a fair wind, and smooth sea.

water spout

TFD: A tornado or lesser whirlwind occurring over water and resulting in a funnel-shaped whirling column of air and spray.

F: an extraordinary and dangerous meteor, consisting of a large mass of water, collected into a sort of column by the force of a whirlwind, and moved with rapidity along the surface of the sea. A variety of authors have written on the cause and effects of these meteors, with different degrees of accuracy and probability. As it would be superfluous to enter minutely into their various conjectures, which are frequently grounded on erroneous principles, we shall content ourselves with selecting a few of the latest remarks; and which are apparently supported by philosophical reasoning.

Dr. Franklin, in his physical and meteorological observations, supposes a water-spout and a whirlwind to proceed from the same cause, their only difference being, that the latter passes over the land, and the former over the water. This opinion is coroborated by M. de la Pryme, in the Philosophical Transactions; where he describes two spouts observed at different times in Yorkshire, whole appearances in the air were exactly like those of the spouts at sea; and their effects the same as those of real whirlwinds. Whirlwinds have generally a progressive as well as a circular motion; so had what is called the spout at Topham, described in the Transactions; and this also by its effects appears to have been a real whirlwind. Water-spouts have also a progressive motion, which is more or less rapid; being in some violent, and in others barely perceptible. Whirlwinds generally rise after calms and great heats; the same is observed of water-spouts, which are therefore most frequent in the warm latitudes. The wind blows every way from a large surrounding space to a whirlwind. Three vessels, employed in the whale fishery, happening to be becalmed, lay in fight of each other, at about a league distance, and in the form of a triangle. After some time a water-spout appeared near the middle of the triangle; when a brisk gale arose, and every vessel made sail. It then appeared to them all by the trimming of their sails, and the course of each vessel, that the spout was to leeward of every one of them; and this observation was further confirmed by the comparing of accounts, when the different observers afterwards conferred about the subject. Hence whirlwinds and water-spouts agree in this particular likewise. But if the same meteor, which appears a water-spout at sea, should, in its progressive motion, encounter and pass over land, and there produce all the phaenomena and effects of a whirlwind, it would afford a stronger conviction that a whirlwind and a water-spout are the same thing. An ingenious correspondent of Dr. Franklin gives one instance of this that fell within his own observation:

"I had often seen water-spouts at a distance, and heard many strange stories of them, but never knew any thing satisfactory of their nature or cause, until that which I saw at Antigua; which convinced me that a water-spout is a whirlwind, which becomes visible in all its dimensions by the water it carries up with it."


TFD: Heavy and sluggish in the water because of flooding, as in the hold

B: The state of a ship become heavy and inactive on the sea, from the great quantity of water leaked into her.

F: the state of a ship when, by receiving a great quantity of water into her hold, by leaking, &c. she has become heavy and inactive upon the sea, so as to yield without resistance to the efforts of every wave rushing over her decks. As, in this dangerous situation, the center of gravity is no longer fixed, but fluctuating from place to place, the stability of the ship is utterly lost; she is therefore almost totally deprived of the use of her sails, which would operate to overset her, or press the head under water. Hence there is no resource for the crew, except to free her by the pumps, or to abandon her by the boats as soon as possible.


TFD: A channel at the edge of a ship's deck to drain away water.

F: a long piece of timber serving to connect the sides of a ship to her decks, and form a sort of channel to carry off the water from the latter by means of scuppers. The convexity of the decks necessarily carries the water towards the sides, where this piece is fixed, which is principally designed to prevent the water from lodging in the seams, so as to rot the wood and oakum contained therein. The waterways are therefore hollowed in the middle lengthways, so as to form a kind of gutter or channel, one side of which lies almost horizontally, making part of the deck, whilst the other rises upwards, and corresponds with the side, of which it likewise makes a part. They are scored down about an inch and a half, or two inches, upon the beams, and rest upon lodging knees or carlings. They are secured by bolts driven from without through the planks, timbers, and waterways, and clinched upon rings on the inside of the latter. The scuppers, which are holes by which the water escapes from off the deck, are accordingly cut through the waterways.


F: the course or progress which the makes on the water under sail. Thus, when she begins her motion, she is said to be under way; and when that motion increases, she is said to have fresh way through the water. Hence also she is said to have headway or sternway.


W: To bring (a sailing vessel) onto the other tack by bringing the wind around the stern (as opposed to tacking when the wind is brought around the bow); to come round on another tack by turning away from the wind.

TFD: turn away from the wind


B: To weather any thing is to get to windward of it. Synonymous with windward.

F: Weather is also used as an adjective, applied by mariners to every thing lying to windward of a particular situation. Thus a ship is said to have the weather gage of another, when the is further to windward. Thus also, when a ship under sail presents either of her sides to the wind, it is then called the weather side; and all the rigging and furniture situated thereon are distinguished by the same epithet; as, the weather shrouds, the weather lifts, the weather braces, &c.

weather cloth

TFD: a long piece of canvas of tarpaulin used to preserve the hammocks from injury by the weather when stowed in the nettings.


W: To raise an anchor free of the seabed.

F: denotes in general to heave up the anchor of a ship from the ground, in order to prepare her for sailing.


W: A vertical, cylindrical trunk in a ship, reaching down to the lowest part of the hull, through which the bilge pumps operate.

F: an apartment formed in the middle of a ship's hold to inclose the pumps, from the bottom to the lower deck. It is used as a barrier to preserve those machines from being damaged by the friction or compression of the materials contained in the hold, and particularly to prevent the entrance of ballast, &c. by which the tubes would presently be choaked, and the pumps rendered incapable of service. By means of this inclosure, the artificers may likewise more readily descend into the hold, in order to examine the state of the pumps, and repair them, as occasion requires.


W: A distance travelled westward


TFD: A landing place or pier where ships may tie up and load or unload.


D: a circular frame with an axle connecting to the rudder of a ship, for steering


TFD: any of certain kinds of half-decked commercial boats, such as barges, used in Britain


See call


white spirit, a solvent


W: Any of various forms of winch, in which a rope or cable is wound around a cylinder, used for lifting heavy weights


TFD: a sail rigged as an air scoop over a hatch or companionway to catch breezes and divert them below

F: a sort of wide tube or funnel of canvas, employed to convey a stream of fresh air downward into the lower apartments of a ship. This machine is usually extended by large hoops situated in different parts of its height. It is set down perpendicularly through the hatches, being expanded at the lower end like the base of a cone; and having its upper part open on the side which is placed to windward, so as to receive the full current of the wind; which, entering the cavity, fills the tube, and rushes downwards into the lower regions of the ship. There are generally three or four of these in our capital ships of war, which, together with the ventilators, contribute greatly to preserve the health of the crew.


F: towards that part of the horizon from whence the wind bloweth.


TFD: the side of a hold alongside a ship's hull

F: a name given to those parts of a ship's hold which are nearest to the sides, or furthest removed from the middle of her breadth. This term is particularly used in the stowage of the several materials contained in the hold; as, Stow the large casks amidships, and the smaller barrels in the wings.


F: to direct the movements of a ship, by adapting the sails to the force and direction of the wind. A ship is also said to work, when she strains and labours heavily in a tempestuous sea, so as to loosen her joints or timbers.

working up junk

Spinning yarns obtained from old cordage, cables, etc. (junk), to make fenders, reef points, gaskets, and other items.


F: the act of winding a rope spirally about a cable, so as to lie close along the interval between every two strands. It is generally designed to support and strengthen the cable, that it may be enabled to sustain a greater effort when the ship rides at anchor, and also to preserve the surface of the cable, where it lies flat upon the ground, near the station of the anchor; particularly in moderate weather.


SB: the binding about a Mast, or the like, with Ropes.