You say tomayto, I say tomarto! These nautical terms will help you ‘sail’ through your first shipboard contract…


In addition to being a Portuguese fortified wine, it is also a place where ships can dock (usually to load or unload cargo or people). Furthermore, if you hear somebody referring to the port-side of the ship, this is the left-hand side of the ship when facing the bow. Ships are designed with even cabin numbers on the port-side and odd cabin numbers on the starboard side (right-hand side of the ship when facing the bow).


This is the right-hand side of the ship when facing the bow (forward).


The stern is the aft-most part of a ship or a boat (the very back). Crew members humorously refer to it as ‘the blunt end’, with the bow being ‘the pointy end’!


Just as it sounds, the midship is the middle part of the ship.


The pointy end! This is the front part of the ship, the part facing forward when it is underway.


A dividing wall or barrier between the separate parts (compartments) of the ship. The wall between you and your neighbors cabin would be commonly known as a bulkhead.


A small, often round window on the outside of the ship


A dining room for the crew


The ship’s kitchen


The bridge, also known as the navigational bridge or nautical bridge, is the area from where the Captain and the ship’s officers direct operations.


A ship’s jail – usually a small empty room which is used to hold a passenger or a crew member temporarily, in the event they become a danger to themselves or others.


The walkway providing passage from the ship to the shore.


The term used when the ship docks in a port of call. In other words, when it is docked alongside the pier.


This word has a double meaning in ‘nautical speak’. It can be the ship’s allotted place at a dock (where it is moored) or the bunk in which the crew member is accommodated to sleep.


A bunker is a large container or compartment for storing fuel. This ship’s refueling process is more commonly known as ‘bunkering’.


A unit of speed which is the equivalent to one nautical mile per hour. A nautical mile is different to a land mile as it measures 1852 meters.


The ship’s Captain – the person with ultimate authority on board.


A ship’s pilot, also known as a marine or harbor pilot is a sailor who guides the ship through congested or difficult waters. He or she works alongside the Captain and the navigational team on the bridge to bring the ship in to port. Once the ship is alongside, the pilot will usually leave the ship until it is time for it to sail again. The pilot will guide the ship out of the port until it is in safer waters. He or she will then leave the vessel while it is underway, literally by jumping from the ship into a smaller boat.


A term used to describe a passenger’s cabin.


This word literally means to pack or store an object carefully in a particular place. Certain items on board need to be stowed, particularly in inclement weather, to stop them from toppling over and becoming dangerous.


A person who will join the ship without permission and then hides or ‘stows away’ there. Cases of stowaways on board passenger ships have decreased dramatically since the introduction of electronic card readers (similar to passport control) at the gangway.


This means ‘to wear’ something and is often used when referring to the life jacket. If you are told to, “don your life jacket”, you need to put it on!


A ship’s tender is a smaller boat used to service or support the vessel, generally by transporting the passengers to and from the shore in the event that the waters are too shallow for the cruise ship to dock in a port of call.

Dry Dock

A dry dock is a narrow basin which is flooded to allow a ship to sail into it. Once the ship is inside the basin, the water is then drained to allow the ship to sit on a dry platform. Dry docks are used for the construction, maintenance and repair of cruise ships and other vessels.


A watch is a period of time that a deck or engine officer will be on duty on the bridge or in the engine control room, hence why these employees are also known as Officers of the Watch (OOW). A typical bridge or engine watch is four hours in length starting at midnight. Officers will rotate over a twenty-four-hour period to ensure the ship is safely manned at all times. On cruise ships, officers will usually work a four-hour watch, followed by an 8 hour rest period.