Aids to navigation: lights, buoys, day marks, and fog signals used by the U.S. Coast Guard to mark channels and warn mariners of dangers such as rocks, wrecks, and obstructions.
Ahoy Mate!: a cry meaning “Stop friend!” or “Hello friend!,” or a call to get someone's attention.
Bell: a ship's brass bell. Bells are also used as fog signals on many bridges and aids to navigation.
“Strike the bell” means to strike the bell every half hour to change the watch (see Stand the Watch).
Listen to the cool bell sounds below:
Listen to Bell #1
Listen to Bell #2
Buoy: a floating object that is one of several “aids to navigation” used by the U.S. Coast Guard to mark channels and warn mariners of dangers such as rocks, wrecks, and obstructions.
Davy Jones’s locker: a phrase used to describe the deep depth of the ocean; where the dead are buried at sea and their bodies settled deep into the ocean’s black depths.
Depth: how deep the water is, measured from the water surface to the bottom of the sea floor at low tide. In some places in the United States, tides may be as high as 20 feet.
Dead calm: when there is no wind at sea.
Dead reckoning: calculating the ship’s location from the distance run on other headings or direction from the last position identified, making adjustments for winds, currents, or compass error. A method to determine a boat’s position based on guesswork and without celestial observation (using the stars to find a ship’s position).
Fathom: a measurement of six feet, which came from measuring a piece of rope the distance of two arms stretched to each side. A sailor would throw out a lead line, count the knots, and call the depth “Ten fathoms, captain!” The captain knew the sea depth was 60 feet (6X10 = 60).
Fog signals: fog horns, bells, gongs, and whistles used to tell mariners where they are when it is too foggy or stormy to see lights and buoys. They often warn mariners of specific dangers such as rocks and reefs or bridge abutments.
"Hoist the Colors!": phrase shouted meaning to haul, or pull up specific flags that identify a certain ship. These flags would be hauled up the ship’s mast or stays.
"Land Ho!": the cry on a ship at sea when land is first seen.
Lead line: a rope with a heavy piece of lead, which is a type of metal, attached to the end and used to measure soundings. Specific marks are placed on the line at certain lengths to measure the water depth. The lead end is thrown overboard, hits the sea bottom, and sailors call out the water depth.
Usually lead lines were marked with knots rather than marks, because the marks would not last in the water.
Mariner: a person who works on a ship.
Mate: a good sailing friend. “Ahoy, mate!” means “Hello, friend!”
Navigate: to find your direction or way to a specific location.
Navigation: the task of finding your way from one place to another.
Nautical chart: a basic tool for every mariner, or sailor. A map of what is under, in, on, and around the water. A nautical chart is a mariner’s first safety tool because it shows where he is, where the aids to navigation (lights, buoys, day marks) are, and where the dangers (rocks, shallow spots, wrecks, reefs) are.
Notice to Mariners: a weekly publication by the U.S. Coast Guard telling mariners about important changes to their nautical charts. These notices tell the mariners when there are newly discovered wrecks and obstructions under the water. They warn mariners that there may be people and equipment in the water when new bridges and marinas are being built. They even tell mariners when a buoy or light needs to be moved, added, or deleted from a chart.
Point: tip of land that sticks out into the sea.
Run aground: when a ship runs into shallow waters and hits the sea floor.
Ship-shape: keeping something in a seaman-like matter; neat and tidy.
Ship star: also known as the “Pole Star.” The sailor’s name for Polairs, the North Star. This star is important for ocean navigation. Polaris is located in the Little Dipper constellation.
Shoal: places where the water is shallow enough to be dangerous to ships. Shoals can be made up of sand, silt, pebbles, or rocks. They are very dangerous, because you do not always know where they are. Sometimes in a really big storm, they MOVE!
Soundings: the depth numbers found on a chart that identify how deep the water is in a specific location.
Stand the watch: at specific times, sailors stand on the ship’s deck to watch for danger (rocky shoals, enemy ships, storms or shipwrecks). Sailors still “stand the watch” to keep alert to dangers at sea. The watch can last for hours until another sailor takes over this responsibility to watch for danger.
The Cape: a familiar term for the Cape of Good Hope, located on the Atlantic Ocean side of the southern tip of Africa.
Timbers: the ribs of a ship. “Shiver me timbers!” refers to the shaking or shivering of a ship when it slams down on a big wave during bad weather, or on a hidden rock, and the ship shivers, or shakes.
Tides: the rise and fall of sea level due to the pull of the moon on the water.
Weather-eye: to keep a sharp eye to the weather, to keep alert for storms and changing weather. A sailor would say “keep your weather-eye open” or “keep a weather eye on the horizon.”