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Safe at Sea: ‘Boat speak’ for landlubbers

By Staff | Apr 30, 2019

If you own a boat or owned one a while back, this column is not for you. Today, I am trying to help the next door neighbor or maybe a visiting relative who is invited to ride along on the boat, enjoying some of the great beauty looking from seaward to our island shores.

If the voyage is on a powerboat, the captain – the person in charge of driving the boat – should want to help you understand some boat-speak and maybe even some boat customs. For instance, those inflated rubber balloon-like things hanging on the side of the boat are not “bumpers.” They are “fenders.” They serve to fend off the boat from the dock. Bumpers on your car are used to mitigate damage if you drive your car into something or somebody drives into your car. Fenders should not be left dangling alongside the vessel when underway, so the captain may request passengers assistance in stowing the fenders.

Another important way to avoid being type cast as a landlubber is to not refer to something you always identified as a rope as a “rope.” Once on board for the purpose of securing something or attaching to something, it is a line. Perhaps one may think of a rope brought on board the boat as being something of a baptism, as the rope becomes a line. Hence, we have mooring lines which may be specifically a bow line securing the front of the boat, a stern line securing the back end of the boat, or perhaps a spring line to apply directional tension in order to keep the boat parallel to the dock. Of course the anchor line is there ready to deploy in case there is a need or desire to hold the boat by anchor in a particular place on the water. The language of lines becomes a bit more complicated on a sailboat as some are unique to a sailing vessel. A line intended to lift the top of a sail to the top of a mast is a “halyard.” The line that extends horizontally to the lower outboard eye of a jib sail is the “sheet.” What may seem like a “floor” to the layman is a “deck,” and the space beneath the deck is the bilge.

The word used to describe the interior lounge space aboard a larger vessel, perhaps being part of what some may choose to call a yacht, is subject to debate. We find that area sometimes called a “saloon.” Others may describe it as the “salon.” Each has an interesting connotation that seemingly dictates which is favored. While “salon” is more commonly accepted as correct, it is colored by other uses such as nail salon or maybe beauty or hair salon. Perhaps “saloon” may seem too rough and tumble in this age, but then we might want to make allowance for a very masculine, bewhiskered captain who may bristle at the thought of having a “salon” on his 2,000 horsepower battle wagon! Try to be sensitive to the type captain you are with in which term you use.

Many boats in our waterways are diesel powered. One of the leading power plants for our larger vessels come from the Cummins Engine Company. Do not make the grave error of calling these engine “Commings.” They are definitely “Cummins,” as in “Come in!” A last bit of advice I can provide for you in choosing good “boat speak.” Do not ask where the “bathroom” is! You will never take a bath on board a boat, so it may be a toilet or the potty that you seek, but those would result in you being tagged as a landlubber. You seek the “head” when called upon by nature, and it may be a very tiny room with a sign above a familiar plumbing device that reads, “Please put nothing in this head that you have not first eaten or drank!”

Bob Eidsvold is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more information, contact 239-985-9472 or Commander@SanibelCaptivaSPS.org or visit online at sancapboating.club.