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The Quintessential Maritime Glossary

Maritime is a word that refers to all things of the sea. Today, maritime activities bring the world to our doorstep. Maritime activities transport people, food, and nearly every commodity of modern living throughout the world and acts as an agent by which to spread influences throughout many world powers and nations. Maritime commerce brings automobiles from one side of the world to the other and it brings the fuel to power those vehicles, too. Thanks in part to maritime transportation, food is never out of season. Medicines, clothes, toys, games, furniture, appliances, building / construction materials, and almost everything in the typical American home is a result of maritime commerce, being that the majority of our products are shipped in from all over the world. While we enjoy these things, we often take for granted the tremendous degree of navigational expertise it took to get them to us. This glossary is provided as a service to those interested in all things maritime by the Action Boat and Yacht Donation Service Corporation and provides an opportunity to understand the world of maritime travel, commerce, and typical terminology of sailors throughout the world.

Aft – toward the rear of the ship; anything at, near, or in the stern section.

Amidships – The middle section of a vessel.

Astern – the rear, or behind, area of the ship; backward travel of the vessel; opposite of ahead.

At Sea – A vessel free of all moorings; ready for or engaged in free sail.

Bow – The front section of a ship.

Bridge – The section of the vessel used for navigation, where the wheel house and chart room are situated.

Bulkhead – Vertical partitions that separate different compartments of the ship.

Cargo Preference – The practice of reserving a portion of a ship’s cargo area for transporting goods to and from the ship’s nation of origin.

Clean Ship – Tankers that have cargo areas free of all traces of oil from previous transport of crude or heavy fuel oils.

Displacement – The weight of the ship and its contents, measured in long (2,240 pound) tons; the area of water moved, or displaced, by the ship.

Dry Dock – An enclosed, drainable basin where a ship is taken to make repairs and clean the parts of it that are submerged under water during normal operations; once the ship is docked, the water in the basin is released, allowing dry access to the underwater portion of the ship.

Entry – A customs document that authorizes legal passage of a ship or its contents.

Even Keel – The state of a ship’s fore and aft being at the same depth, or draft, in the water.

Fore and Aft – The direction parallel to the center line of a vessel.

Freight – All cargo carried on a ship or the money paid to transport the cargo.

General Cargo – All types of freight except bulk oil transported by a cargo vessel.

Grounding – Describes the contact of the ship with the bottom of the sea or lake; can be deliberate or expected, as when water levels drop due to tidal action, or by accident.

Harbor Master – The person responsible for directing the movement of all ships and other vessels within or in the near vicinity of a particular port; this certified master mariner possesses knowledge of the port and all characteristics which make it and the area surrounding it unique from all others.

Helm – The wheel or tiller, housed in a ship’s bridge or wheelhouse, used to maneuver the vessel’s rudder for navigation; the steering wheel of the ship.

Inland Carrier – A cargo operation that specializes in transporting goods from sea ports to destination points inland.

Inland Waters – All bodies of water that are not a part of the sea, including bays, canals, lakes, rivers, and streams.

Jacob’s Ladder – A rope ladder that, when suspended from the deck of a ship, can be used for boarding.

Jettison – To throw cargo (flotsam) or equipment (jetsam) overboard when the integrity of the ship is jeopardized.

Keel – The lowest timber or iron plate of a vessel; this piece forms the integral element of framework from which the rest of the ship is constructed.

Knot – The measure of speed used for navigation; one knot is equal to traveling 6,080 feet or 1,852 meters per hour.

Laker – A cargo ship under operation in North America’s Great Lakes; cargo is typically grain and ore.

List – The sideways tilting of a ship measured in degrees different from vertical.

Longshoreman – A person employed at a port to load or unload cargo from docked ships.

Manifest – The document itemizing all the cargo on a ship.

Maritime – Refers to all navigation or commerce taking place on the sea or in sea ports.

Nautical Mile – The measure of one minute of longitude at the equator; approximately 6,076.115 feet or 1,852 meters.

Net Tonnage – The portion of a ship available for transporting cargo or passengers; the seafaring weight of the ship, often used to calculate tolls, after deducting the weight of the ship, all fixed equipment used to operate it, and its crew.

Oil Record Book – The log book kept by an oil tanker’s master to document every discharge of oil or any oil that has escaped by whatever means.

Oil Tanker – A ship designed and built specifically for the transport of bulk oil.

Pilot – The person who assists a ship’s master with navigation when a ship is entering or leaving port.

Port of Call – The port where a ship docks to load or unload cargo.

Purser – The officer of the ship responsible for all financial transactions.

Quarters – The parts of a ship where crew members or passengers conduct the activities of everyday life, such as sleeping, eating, and recreation.

Quay – The structure attached to land but extending over the water to which a ship is moored while docked.

Reefer – A refrigerated ship; a cargo vessel designed to carry goods such as meat or other foods which require refrigeration during transport.

Return Cargo – The fresh cargo a ship takes on once it’s been unloaded at a port of call; return cargo is then unloaded at the ship’s home port. Return cargo provides revenue in both directions, whereas an empty ship, without return cargo, earns money only on the first half the voyage.

Slip – The space between two piers where a ship is moored while at port.

Starboard – When facing the front of a ship, the starboard is on the right-hand side of the vessel; during the night, a green light represents the starboard side of the ship.

Stern – The upright post at the bow of a ship.

Stevedore – The business entity responsible for hiring longshoremen to load and unload ships at dock.

Trim – The relationship of water at the front of the ship to the back of the ship.

Tug – A small vessel equipped with very powerful engines that push or pull large barges and ships into port.

Unseaworthy – Describes the condition of a ship when it is not ready for sea voyage; unseaworthiness can be the result of inadequate maintenance, improperly loaded cargo, insufficient crew, or any other conditions that render the ship not safe for navigation.

VLCC – Very Large Crude Carriers are tankers that hold 200,000 to 300,000 dead-weight tonnage (dwt).

War Risk – Insurance that covers the value of goods lost as a result of an act of war.

Watch – One of six four-hour periods during the day by which a ship schedules its watch crew; a typical watch consists of three watch-standers who remain on duty for four hours, off for eight hours, and then back to work on their watch.

Wharfage – The cost a shipper pays to the owner of the dock or pier at which a ship is being loaded or unloaded.

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