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Common Nautical and Sailing Terms With Abbreviations

There are many nautical terms, acronyms, and abbreviations that facilitate communication on the seas and standardize the international nautical language. Whether you’re a landlubber with dreams of sailing or just love the sound of nautical terms, you can learn some of the basic lingo used to travel on water. 

Commonly Used Nautical Terms

Important nautical terms include everything from the parts of a ship to how you’ll speak to the rest of the crew. 

Terms for the Parts of a Ship 

The first thing any good sailor needs to learn is the parts of a ship or vessel. 

  • Aft - Back half of the vessel

  • Anchor - A heavy object attached to a vessel which is thrown overboard to prevent drift

  • Backstays - Lines or cables used to support the mast 

  • Berth - A sleeping area on a vessel

  • Bilge - Compartment at the bottom of a ship’s hull

  • Bow - The front of a vessel

  • Bridge - Command center of the ship

  • Cleat - Stationary device on a vessel where you secure a rope

  • Fender - Bumper filled with foam or air that keeps boats from bumping into others or docks

  • Foot - Bottom of a sail

  • Galley - Kitchen of a ship

  • Mast - Vertical pole that supports rigging or sails

  • Poop deck - High deck on aft of a ship

  • Rigging - System of lines and masts on vessels

  • Stern - Back of the vessel

Directional Nautical Terms

Forget your left and right. When sailing on the high seas, you’ll need to understand a whole new set of directions. 

  • Aboard - On or in a vessel

  • Above board - On or above the deck

  • Astern - Boat moving in reverse

  • Bearing - A horizontal visual line between two objects

  • Forward - Moving toward the front end of a boat

  • Port - The left side when you’re looking toward the bow of a ship

  • Starboard - The right side when you’re looking toward the bow of a ship

  • Upbound - A vessel traveling upstream

Nautical Weather Terms

Weather plays an important role in sailing on any body of water, so make sure you understand things like wind direction and signs of a storm. 

  • Brass monkeys - Very cold weather

  • Gale - Sustained high winds of around 35-45 knots

  • Gust - Rapidly fluctuating wind speed

  • Leeward - In the direction the wind is blowing

  • Ox-eye - Cloud or other indicator of a coming storm

  • Scud - The lowest clouds 

  • Swell - Waves generated by wind that have moved away from where they started

  • Waterspout - Rotating column of air that forms over water and reaches its surface

  • Windward - The side from which wind is blowing

Sailing Measurement and Tool Terms 

Anyone traveling on a vessel through water needs to know how to measure things like distance and what tools can help them stay safe. 

  • Azimuth compass - Used for finding the position of the sun relative to magnetic north

  • Binnacle - What holds the ship’s compass

  • Fathom - A measurement of depth, about 6 feet

  • Flank - Maximum speed of a ship 

  • Knot - A measurement of speed, about 1.1508 miles per hour

  • League - A measurement of depth, equal to 3 nautical miles

  • Nautical mile - A measurement of length, equal to approximately 6,076 feet

  • Scuttlebutt - Barrel that holds drinking water

  • Yardarm - The very end of a yard

Nautical Phrases and Slang

From pirate sailing terms to modern sailing slang, you’ll sound like a real sailor with these useful, and sometimes funny, sailing phrases. 

  • Ahoy - A cry for attention

  • Abandon ship - Directive to leave the ship immediately

  • All hands - Everyone who works on the ship

  • Anchor’s away - The anchor has cleared the bottom

  • As the crow flies - Direct line between two points

  • Davy Jones locker - The bottom of the sea

  • Flog - To beat or punish

  • Hand over fist - Climb steadily upward

Terms for Nautical People and Actions

Each person who works or spends time on a ship has a specific word to describe their specific role in the voyage. 

  • Adrift - Vessel is not attached to the shore or seabed

  • Bar pilot - A person who guides a vessel over dangerous sandbars

  • Bosun - Ship’s officer who takes care of equipment

  • Captain - The person in charge of the ship

  • Careening - Making the ship tilt on its side

  • Helmsman - The person who steers the ship

  • Maritime - Anything nautical or related to the sea

  • Piracy - Robbery or violence at sea on the occupants of a vessel by the occupants of another vessel

  • Skipper - Person in charge of a small boat

  • Stowaway - A person on a vessel without permission

Commonly Used Nautical Acronyms and Abbreviations

As with any category of transportation, groups and organizations affiliated with everything nautical and maritime use acronyms and abbreviations for efficiency. 

Nautical Groups and Organizations

There are many groups and organizations that regulate water travel, and most are known by their initials or acronym rather than their full name. 

  • ABS - American Bureau of Shipping

  • AMNI - Associate Member of The Nautical Institute

  • Bimco - Baltic and International Maritime Council

  • BOSVA - British Offshore Support Vessel Owners Association

  • CCS - China Classification Society

  • CEN - European Committee for Standardisation

  • EC - European Community or European Commission

  • FNI - Fellow of the Nautical Institute

  • HSE - Health Safety and Environmental, Health and Safety Executive

  • IACS - International Association of Classification Societies

  • IBIA - International Bunker Industry Association Ltd

  • IFTPA - International Forest Product Transport Association

  • IFSMA - International Federation of Ship Masters' Associations

  • IGO - Intergovernmental Organization

  • ISMA - International Ship Managers' Association

  • ISO - International Standards Organisation

  • LAN - Local Apparent Noon (nautical), Local Area Network

  • MCA - Maritime and Coastguard Agency

  • MEPC - Marine Environment Protection Committee, IMO

  • NECSA - Navigational Electronic Chart System Association

  • NI - Nautical Institute

  • Opec - Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries

  • P and I (P&I) - Club Protection and Indemnity Club

  • PRS - Polish Register of Shipping - classification society

  • RMT - National Union of Rail, Maritime And Transport Workers

  • UN - United Nations

  • Unclos - United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

  • USCG - United States Coast Guard

  • WHO - World Health Organisation

  • WMO - World Meteorological Organisation

  • WMU - World Maritime University

Abbreviations for Nautical Tools, Systems, and Acts

If you’re traveling on water or work to manage and regulate this travel, these nautical abbreviations and acronyms can make your life a lot easier. 

  • AIS - Automatic Identification System

  • AMVER - US Coast Guard's Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System

  • BFI - Baltic Freight Index

  • Bimcosale - Bimco standard form of bill of sale

  • BPI - Baltic Panamax Index

  • DGPS - Differential Global Positioning System

  • DLong - Difference in Longitude

  • DNC - Digital Nautical Chart

  • DOC - Document of Compliance (as per ISM Code)

  • DSV - Diving Support Vessel

  • Dwt - Deadweight Tonnes

  • DX.90 - Format for digital cartographic data

  • ECDIS - Electronic Chart Display and Information System

  • ECS - Electronic Chart System

  • EEZ - Exclusive Economic Zone

  • EN - European Standard

  • EPIRB - Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon

  • EPS - IMO performance standard for ECDIS

  • FO - Fuel oil

  • FPSO - Floating Production, Storage and Offloading System

  • FSA - Formal Safety Assessment

  • HO - Hydrographic Office, observed height

  • HP - High pressure

  • HSC - International Code of Safety for High-Speed Craft, IMO

  • HSWA - Health and Safety at Work Act

  • IBCS - Integrated bridge control system

  • IGS - Inert Gas System

  • IICL - Institute of International Container Lessors

  • ISM - Code International Safety Management Code, IMO

  • IS - Information Systems

  • ISSN - International Standard Serial Number

  • IT - Information Technology

  • Lash - Lighter Aboard Ship

  • LOC - Letter of Credit, Letter of Compliance (USCG)

  • LOR - Letter of Readiness

  • LPG - Liquefied Petroleum Gas

  • LR - Lloyd's Register (classification society)

  • LSA - Life Saving Appliances, Lloyd's Standard Form of Salvage Agreement

  • LST - Local Standard Time

  • LW - Low Water, Winter Load Line (timber)

  • MAIIF - Marine Accident Investigators' International Forum

  • Marisat - Maritime Satellite System

  • Mb - Megabyte

  • MDO - Marine Diesel Oil

  • MEO - Medium Earth Orbit (satellite configuration)

  • MERSAR - Merchant Ship Search and Rescue Manual

  • NDT - Non-destructive Testing

  • NFTZ - Non Free Trade Zone

  • OMBO - One Man Bridge Operation

  • OOD - Officer of the Deck, Officer of the Day

  • OOW - Officer of the Watch

  • OPA 90 - Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (USA)

  • OPPR - Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response

  • PSC - Port State Control

  • PV - Pressure/Vacuum, Prime Vertical

  • QA - Quality Assurance

  • RCC - Rescue Coordination Centre

  • RCDS - Raster Chart Display Systems

  • RNC - Raster Navigational Chart

  • SCOPIC - Special Compensation P&I Clause

  • SCR - Special Casualty Representative (P&I)

  • SMC - Safety Management Certificate (as per ISM Code)

  • SPI - Ship-Port Interface, IMO

  • SPM - Single Point Mooring

  • STCW - International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping, IMO

  • TFLL - Tropical Fresh Load Line

  • TLL - Timber Load Line

  • TPI - Tonnes Per Inch Immersion

  • UFL - Upper Flammable Limit

  • UPS - Uninterrupted Power Supply

  • UTC - Universal Time (Coordinated)

  • VDR - Voyage Data Recorder

  • VDU - Visual Display Unit

  • WL - Water Line

  • WT - Watertight

  • ZD - Zone Description

Nautical Knowledge

Nautical terms, acronyms, and abbreviations are important to communicate effectively at sea. Now that you know some official maritime abbreviations and terms, get inspired for your own aqua adventure with motivational pirate quotes

Nautical Terms Acronyms and AbbreviationsNautical Terms Acronyms and Abbreviations

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