Shipboard Lingo

Last week, while doing our introductions to the new guests on board, I ran into an amusing situation. I was explaining that I teach a stretch class in the morning on the aft bridge deck. A woman tentatively raised her hand and asked what the aft bridge deck is. I told her that it is two levels up and all the way to the stern. She then asked me what the stern is. Sometimes I forget that ship lingo is not something in everybody’s vocabulary. Once on board it’s pretty easy to pick up (although it took me way to long to remember which side is port and which is starboard), but how many people actually spend more than a week on board a sailing vessel? So to help clear up any misunderstandings, I’ve created a little guide explaining some of the more common shipboard expressions in case I use a word in one of my posts that leaves you confused and wondering what I’m talking about.

Aft – Towards the back of the ship

Bulkhead – The walls and ceilings of the ship

Focsle – Originally the forecastle, but shortened to focsle. It’s the area just aft of the bow and in our case, underneath the lounge. It’s also where our stewards and deckhands sleep.

Galley – The kitchen

Zodiacs – Our means of going to and from shore and for getting closer looks at wildlife or other interesting sights. We have four (actually five, but one is for emergencies) inflatable black Zodiacs with pontoons that are stored on the Lido deck. We use them pretty much every day for Zodiac cruises, watch boats while people are snorkeling or kayaking, shuttling people to/from shore, etc… They’re also really nice to lay on during our time off. I love taking a good book, beach towel, and bottle of water to the Lido deck and sunbathing on the black pontoons.

Head – The bathroom. Our heads are complete with shower, toilet, and sink all in one tiny closet-sized compartment.

Fantail – The aft-most area on the ship, closest to the propellers. It’s where we load and unload the Zodiacs and where the crew hangs out most of the time since it’s off-limits to guests (except when loading and unloading Zodiacs)

Port – The left side of the ship

Starboard – The right side of the ship

Stern – The rear of the ship

Bosun – Shortened from boatswain. The person who takes care of our fleet of Zodiacs. He/she cleans them, repairs them if they get punctured, and helps to raise and lower them from the lido deck for shore operations

Third Mate – He/she is in charge of the kayaks as well as the environmental/waste management. They also do a lot of paperwork and occasionally stand a watch on the bridge (i.e. drive the ship)

Second Mate – This is the night officer. They usually have the night watch, so their sleep schedule is pretty weird. They also maintain and update the sailing charts, even though everything is computerized now.

Chief Mate – One step down from captain, the chief mate is the medical officer if any accidents or illnesses happen on board. They’re also in charge of supervising the deck staff (deckhands) and giving them projects like painting, cleaning, fixing things, etc…

Knot (nautical mile) – I just learned this. One nautical knot is equal to 1.15 statute (what you and I are used to) miles.

Lines – Ropes or cables used to tie up to a dock or secure the ship

Locker – A chest or compartment in which to stow things, such as my yoga mats, paint cans, lines, tarps, etc…

Lido Deck – The top deck where we store our Zodiacs and kayaks. It’s off-limits to guests and you have to climb a ladder to get up there.

The Bridge – Where the navigation happens. It’s located above the bow and has all the equipment needed to steer and pilot the ship. It’s also a nice place to hang out on a cold day in Alaska and look for wildlife.

Hope that helps! And let me know if you think of anymore!


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