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  Nautical Talk

"Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

Due to the seafaring nature of the items and gifts we have at Robinís Dockside Shop, we decided to have this special page to explain some of the terms and items we carry on-board.


As one looks around Robinís Dockside Shop one thing is clear, that most of our items have their origins steeped in our history.  Consider the fact that if it were not for the seafarers, sailors and pirates of the early centuries, most of us would not be here where we are today.   Most of our ancestors came to where we live today by ship.  They crossed the mostly uncharted seas in wooden ships driven by the wind and at the mercy of the elements.  These were generally very young, hearty men and women who overcame extreme hardships and environments to emerge with tales and deeds and instruments and songs that survive to this day.


Their lives and their tall ships became so inspiring to us that we still write books and produce movies based on the period when tall wooden ships and iron men (actually teenagers) were the rulers of the seas.   We all know the names - Admiral Lord Nelson, Old Ironsides, HMS Victory, Port Royal, the Battle of Trafalgar, Blackbeard the Pirate, and of course Captain Jack Sparrow.   The list is endless. But aside from the more famous names there are the men and women of today who do commercial fishing in some of the most hazardous conditions, and who man our naval and merchant vessels and live at sea every day of the year regardless of the weather season.


Along with the men and ships there developed a whole list of objects that were essential to sailing in an era when electricity, computers, GPS, radio and radar did not exist.  These are the nostalgic items and pieces of history that Robinís Dockside Shop has become famous for.


Thus we have compiled this little list for those of you who do not know what these items are, and for those who just want to refresh their memories.   Plus we would like to hear from any of those old salts amongst you who may know better about some of our items and treasures than we do.


So shop around matey, have fun in our store, and drop us a word or two if you have time.    We are Robinís Dockside Shop where the rum is always awash and the sea stories abound.  We are always here to serve you.


Nautical phrases that pertain to items we carry in our store.

Anchor Lamp - a white light displayed by a ship or boat at anchor. Two such lights are required to be displayed by ships over 150 feet in length.

Awash - so low in the water that the water is constantly washing across the surface.

Avast - to stop! Cease or desist from whatever is being done.

Binnacle - the stand on which the ship's compass is mounted.  Also refers to the compass itself that is located behind the shipís wheel.  See

  Boatswain or bosun - a non-commissioned officer responsible for the sails, ropes and boats on a ship who issues "piped" commands to seamen using a ďboatsunís pipe" or whistle.
  Bowsprit - a spar projecting from the bow used as an anchor for the forestay and other rigging.
  Cabin - an enclosed room on a deck or flat part of the ship, usually a sleeping quarters with it's own washing facilities and uses particular lighting or cabin lamp.

Cargo Lantern  - a sturdy larger oil lantern used to light the cargo hold of a ship.  Since ships do not have windows on lower decks, these lights were always lit or could be easily lit when entering the area of the ship where the cargo was stored.

Chart Magnifier - a small magnifier used to look closely at markings on charts and maps and the fine print on documents.
  Colors - flags or banners that represent a ship, its owners, or country of origin.

Compass - navigational instrument that revolutionized travel, by giving early sailors accurate directional readings other than relying on the position of sun and certain stars at night.  Compasses come in many styles.

Master Compass - usually a compass enclosed in a box and kept in the captainís quarters away from other metal that might influence its operation. 

Used by the captain and officers when consulting charts and readings.

Sundial Compass  - a complex instrument used to tell time before clocks were invented by using the angle of the sun and the direction of its shadow.
  Coxswain or cockswain - The helmsman or crew member in command of steering a boat or ship. Generally an older, experienced seaman who knew how to "read" the ship and the seas.


Figurehead - symbolic image at the head of a traditional sailing ship or early steamer


First Mate - the Second in command of a ship but generally in charge of the enlisted crew.


Forecastle - a partial deck, above the upper deck and at the head of the vessel; traditionally  above the sailors' living quarters. Abbreviated "Fo'c'sle by old sailors.

Galley - the kitchen of the ship; on smaller vessels it is also the dining area as well.  This area is also used for meetings and other events, or just a place the enlisted crew hang out with drinks and snacks.  Galley tables would have a small candle or oil lantern for light.

Grog - watered-down rum. From the time of British Admiral Vernon who, in 1740, ordered the men's ration of rum to be watered down. He was called Old Grogram because he often wore a grogram coat), hence the watered rum came to be called 'grog'.  For some good rum, click here


Gunwale - upper edge of the hull of a ship or boat.  Term is derived from the place where deck guns were placed.   The Gun-Rail.


Halyard or Halliard - ropes used for hoisting a spar (cross piece of wood) with a sail attached.

  Head Ė usually referring to the toilet on board but also used to designate an entire bathroom facility.  On large passenger liners the upper-class cabins are called "staterooms" and have a "head" or adjoining bathroom marked by a brass sign.

Helm  - the station and shipís wheel that controlled the shipís direction.  The term refers to the actual wheel but is also extended to that entire station where the ship is controlled.
  Hourglass  - used aboard ship to mark small periods of time as when taking depth soundings or timing the crew while performing certain tasks like raising or lowering sails, etc.

Lighthouse Lantern  - generally a fairly large oil lantern with a Fresnel lens that is placed inside the big rotating Fresnel lens of a lighthouse.  This double magnification of light then shines out to sea warning ships of obstructions along the shore.  The lens is named after the French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel who developed the glass structure to magnify the light that shines through it.

Line  - the correct nautical term for the majority of the cordage or "ropes" used on a vessel. A line 

will always have a more specific name, such as mizzen topsail halyard, which describes its use.  Mainmast (or Main) - The tallest mast on a ship.

Navigation Lamps - the port ( red) and starboard (green) lamps on all ships.  These give other passing ships a good idea which side of a ship (or boat) one is seeing and thus in which direction it is headed at night.
  Privateer - a privately owned ship authorized by a national power (by means of a Letter of marquee) to conduct hostilities against an enemy. Also called a private man of war.  Often these "Privateers" were unsupervised and ended up becoming the pirates we know so well.

  Running rigging - rigging used to manipulate sails, spars, etc. in order to control the movement of the ship. Rigging is the term used for the full collection "lines" and sails that one sees on sailing ships and boats.

Sextant  - A sextant is a measuring instrument generally used to measure the angle of elevation of a celestial object above the horizon. Making this measurement is known as sighting the object, shooting the object, or taking a sight. The angle, and the time when it was measured, can be used to calculate a position line on a nautical or aeronautical chart. A common use of the sextant is to sight the sun at noon to find one's latitude
  Shipís Bell - the bell on a ship is used to alert the crew to many events.  It was used to tell time as it would be rang each hour on the hour.  ďFour bells and all is well."  The shipís bell also summoned the crew to quarters when needed.

Spyglass Ė a small hand-held telescope which extends when pulled open, and is adjusted to the focal length of a personís eye.  The most important instrument used by all sailors on the high seas.
  Shipís Telegraph  - a tall standing instrument used on the bridge of steamships or ships with an engine. The desired speed would be dialed up on the telegraph and an attached cable attached would move the dial of a slave telegraph in the engine room.  This would ring a bell and alert the crew to change the speed of the engine.

Weather Station  - generally a small cluster of instruments that give temperature and barometric pressure readings.  From these one can quickly determine what weather conditions may be approaching.


This is by no means a complete list of terms and items used by seaman the world over, but gives one some idea what these things are, and of the complexity and difference between life at sea and on the land.  

This list will be constantly updated so maybe you should check back later.  If you would like to add to it, just drop us a line via e-mail.  We also invite you to join our Monthly Newsletter Mailing List, Simply Click Here
to sign up.


Happy Sailing,

Robinís Dockside Shop