Rutter example

Maritime Brain Trust for ABC Radio

Occasionally our local ABC radio station calls me up to hop on the airways to explain maritime terminology.

The most recent question was, what is a Rutter?

The listener’s guesses were great but no one came close.

What is a Rutter?

A Rutter is a mariner’s handbook of written sailing directions – it was the primary source (or store) of maritime navigation.

The word Rutter is derived from the French word for route: Routier

Sailing Directions

We have sailing directions today. Known as Sailing Directions, not Rutters. But they have the same information. The fundamentals of navigation haven’t changed in centuries.

  • Routes
  • Anchorages
  • Port entrances
  • Navigation points
  • Tides, etc

Sailing directions


When Rutters were used (the earliest remaining example is from the 13th century). The ship’s master ran the ship but heavily relied on the pilot who created these Rutters. The pilot’s guarded this information and kept it a secret to ensure their job security. The information held great value and was often passed from father to son.

Rutter example

Valuable Navigation Information

Around the 14th century, the government and ship’s captains understood the importance of this information and paid the pilots to write out their knowledge for everyone. This created the current-day sailing directions that we can all buy and use.

The pilots were happy as they no longer had to endure lengthy and unsafe passages. Everyone was happy, but the ship’s captains added this to their responsibility. That responsibility remains today – every aspect of the boat is on the ship’s captain’s shoulders:
“You’re the Skipper, You’re Responsible”

Combining with Nautical Charts

Sailing directions (which were rutters) combined with our nautical charts of the present day, help keep us all safe. But we must learn how to use the information properly!

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