Fun Nautical Terminology

There is a complete nautical language to learn. There is some charming terminology, here are some of our favourites:

Baggy Wrinkle (aka “those fluffy things”)

Picture the sails filled with wind and the canvas of that sail coming into contact with the standing rigging. That causes friction on the sails as they rub on the rigging and will wear through the canvas – tearing a hole. To protect the sail we use chafing gear– wrapping the protection around the strands of rigging – this protection, usually a soft covering, is called a baggywrinkle.

Baggy Wrinkles
Baggy Wrinkles Image by Erin Westendarp

Smelling the Bottom (aka Smelling the Ground, or Squat)
Smelling the Bottom Is a hydrodynamic explanation for squat. And squat is when water squeezes between the bottom of the boat and the seafloor. This creates an area of low pressure and the vessel sinks, or squats, into it. So the boat rides deeper in the water. Technically speaking, the vessel does not increase its draft β€” the waterline stays the same. However, the water immediately surrounding the vessel assumes a lower level. This will result in the vessel touching the bottom where it should not (according to depth).

The effect is heightened by speed – slow down!

So how far does a vessel squat? That is depended on the vessel’s draft and the depth of water that draft is in. Sea state is also a factor, when you are in a trough you are in less water.


Painter (aka “Bit of rope” or “line”)
A painter is a rope (usually called a line on a boat) that is attached to the bow of a dinghy, or other small boats, and is used for tying up or towing. Ideally, the length of the painter should be no longer than the length of the boat, especially on small craft, to prevent fouling the propeller of an outboard engine.

The painter on the bow
The painter on the bow
towing a dinghy with the painter
Towing a dinghy with the painter




Dead weight
In stability terms and when performing stability calculations, deadweight is the sum of the weights of cargo, fuel, fresh water, ballast water, provisions, passengers, and crew.

Futtocks are the separate pieces of wood that together form a frame in a timber vessel.

A Shroud Futtock: Is a shroud used to brace and support the base of the topmast. (If climbing a mast that has these Futtocks, you may find it tricky to get your buttocks over these futtocks!) πŸ˜‰

Scupper (aka ‘Drain hole’)
A scupper is basically a drain in the deck:Β  Scuppers allow for the deck to drain using gravity. They are imperative and must be kept clear, boats can easily take a wave over the bow. This water must be drained quickly to avoid stability issues (free surface effect – details coming soon!).

Scupper – picture by Justine Porter, SV Shima, Author and Professional Beta Reader

Windlass (“Anchor Winch”)
On recreational sail boats the windless is usually an electrically powered winch that raises the anchor and chain. A notched wheel engages the links of the chain.

Gypsies and wildcats. The wheels on either a vertical or horizontal windlass provide for either chain or line to be engaged. The wheel for a line is termed a warping head, while the chain handling wheel is variously referred to as the gypsy (in the UK) or wildcat (in North America).

Windlass Picture from Justine Porter, SV Shima, Author and Professional Beta Reader

The Warping Drum is the top smooth cylinder, used for lines.

The chain sits snug into the notched ‘wheel’
This type of windlass is also called a Capstan

Windlass – Picture from Sonia Robinson de Andujar, Owner/Managing Director at EziYacht

This Windlass is like the one above, just horizontal. The warping drum (for lines) is on the left, and the notched wheel for the chain on the right.


Coming next – Goosenecks – poop decks and lots more. Do you know some funny terminology?




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