(On charts, though for the most part I am omitting chart abbreviations.)


In the International Code of Signals the single letter F means, ‘I am disabled; communicate with me’, In the phonetic alphabet it is Foxtrot. In Morse code ..-..

Fair wind

A wind that allows a boat to fetch between two points without the need to tack. A boat maybe close-hauled with a fair wind, but she is less than close-hauled when the wind is Free. (Please see Slant.)


A device made to lead a rope smoothly or fairly. May be made of plastic or wood or metal, and in a variety of forms. Some fairleads are open, for example those mounted on side-decks to prevent chafe of mooring lines, and others are closed as is the case with the Bullseye sheet lead. A fair lead is fixed to the boat, whereas a Dead-eye is usually free to move: for example a dead-eye may be attached to a sail.


The main navigable channel in an estuary or harbour. The fairway should be kept clear of anchored craft, fleets of racing dinghies and the like, in the same way that racing and parking are discouraged on a main road.


A single coil of rope, or loop of chain, as it might lie on the deck. The difficulty here is that in the past the verb To Fake was used for the arranging of a a sail or rope in folds, whereas the modern word is Flake.


The hauling part of a halyard or other tackle. (See Halyard.)

Fall off, or fall away, to

To sail not quite so close to the wind as hitherto.

Fashion pieces

Shaped parts of timber used to thicken the inside face of a Transom around the edges so as to provide extra bearing surface for the plank ends.


Perversely, a boat is fast when she is held stationary, either by mooring lines or because she is stuck on the mud. Items of gear are fast when they are fixed – that’s to say ‘made fast’.


Nails, screws, rivets, bolts (and even Trunnels).


A unit of length equal to six feet, and used mainly where depth is involved, as in soundings or lengths of anchor cable. The unit is expected to die out slowly now that Admiralty charts and pilot books have gone metric (But having see French carpenters working in inches after about 150 years of the Metric System, I emphasise the ‘slowly’.)

Fathom lines

Contour lines drawn on charts to show the shape of the sea-bed. (On metric charts they ought to be ‘metre lines’, but I have not yet seen the term used.)

Fay, to

To shape and fit two surfaces accurately together.

Feather, to

To turn the blade of an oar so that it is parallel with the surface of the water and presents less windage on the return stroke. (See Propeller.)

Fend off, to

To hold a boat off an object she is about to strike


A cushion, shaped like a ball, a pear or a sausage, and with an eye for attachment of a lanyard, which is properly used to protect and pad the ship’s side when she is alongside a wall or another vessel. But some people flaunt them like a tart’s trinkets on all occasions, even when under way, to the disgust of all seamen


A structural material for boat hulls and decks which has been used by a few boat builders in the last few decades, though it has been known for about a hundred years. Essentially, a basket or armature of iron rods is made in the shape of the hull. The rods are then overlaid with a mesh of thinner welded rods, or even a heavy chicken wire., The whole is then plastered with cement, which is allowed to cure at a slow and carefully-controlled rate. Care is needed at every stage, and skill is needed especially for the plastering process, but if both are present the hull will be durable, pleasing to the eye, and not expensive

Fetch (1)

The distance a sea wave has travelled before it reaches you, or the uninterrupted extent of sea to windward. The point is that the longer the fetch the greater the chance for the seas to build up

Fetch (2)

A course that can be sailed to windward without tacking. A Close-fetch is the same, but close-hauled and meaning that you can just fetch the desired mark or position. As you see, the word is also a verb, and to ‘fetch a buoy’ means to be able to sail to it on the one Board


Flashing. (On charts, and another exception to my intention to omit the many, many chart abbreviations.)


The technique of drawing molten glass into fine threads has been known for more than three thousand years, and in the last few decades the high tensile strength of these filaments has been put to use in the reinforcement of resins. A fibreglass hull is only partly glass, the rest is polyester resin, so it is better to call this composite material Resinglass. The glass content of a moulded hull may lie between thirty and seventy per cent, from which it follows that the same may be said of the polyester content. The most common form in which glass is laminated or ‘laid up’ is the Chopped Strand Mat (CSM). This is a mat of randomly-laid strands tacked temporarily together by an adhesive which is soluble in the moulding resin. Individual fibres are about one-hundredth of a millimetre in diameter (ten times as thin as a human hair, say). They are made up into strands which in turn can be woven into cloth. A coarse form of cloth, loosely woven from bundles of strands is known as ‘woven Rovings’, which is used by some builders in hull moulding. If all woven rovings were used, the glass would account for some seventy percent of hull weight: if all CSM it would account for thirty per cent. Some moulders use a mixture of the two forms of glass


A fat, tapered bodkin used for opening the lay of a rope when making a splice. May be of wood or metal. (Another type of fid, rarely seen now, was the square-section metal pin used to retain a topmast or a bowsprit.)


An upstanding ledge around a table or stove-top, or along the front of a shelf, to prevent items from sliding off

Fiddle block

A block with two sheaves of different sizes, and fitted one above the other in the same plane, thus presenting a shape not unlike the body of a fiddle or the middle part of Miss Mae West, the renowned actress

Fiddle head

The decorative scrolled carving at the stem head of a clipper bow, similar in appearance to the scroll of a violin


A bar or rail, of wood or metal, in which several belaying pins are set in a row so that halyards can be made fast to them. Commonly situated at the foot of the mast, athwartships if a single, or fore and aft on either side if there be a pair. (See Pin-rail.)

Figure-eight knot

A Stopper knot, made in the end of a rope to prevent it slipping through a fairlead, or to make a handhold. Its merit is that it does not jarn. It is also the packer’s knot, which has nothing to do with boating, but is an essential part of life’s equipment – unless your servants make up all your parcels for you.

Fillers (1)

Pasty compounds of various consistencies used to smooth out the porous grain of wood and to fill minor cracks and blemishes. Stoppers or Stopping are stiffer and heavier, for filling deeper cavities.

Fillers (2)

Fillers in the form of fine powders may be used to improve the properties of reinforced plastics materials such as the resinglass composite used for moulding boat hulls. On occasion, and mainly in the ‘bad old days’, fillers were used to save money by bulking out the resin. For that reason they got a bad name, but when used for the proper reasons they are welcome

Fisherman staysail

Like other nautical words, the meaning differs from one region to another. On gaff cutters when I was a lad (long, long ago) the fisherman staysail was a long-footed staysail- so long in the foot that it was almost an equilateral triangle. But on a schooner, the fisherman is a four-side sail set between the two mastheads.

Fisherman’s anchor

The traditional type of anchor. The kind that looks like an anchor – please see the entry under Anchor and its accompanying sketch.

Fisherman’s Bend

A Useful knot for hitching a warp to an anchor, or for any purpose where the hitch may be heavily loaded. It is akin to the Round turn and two half hitches, but is less likely to jam.

Fit out, to

(and jitting out) Either the preparation of a new ship with all she needs to perform her duties at sea, or the subsequent and similar preparation after Laying up. For the average yacht owner, fitting out is a yearly task, following the winter lay up.


A fix is an estimate of position inferred from observations of fixed objects. The observations may be compass Bearings of shore marks, radio bearings on beacons, a Sounding, a Transit, or some specialised technique such as Decca. Crossed bearings are a common example of a fix which you ‘get’ or ‘take’.

Fixed and Flashing

A light that is permanently on, but with flashes of increased brilliance. The Mariner’s handbook also defines a Fixed and group flashing light whose flashes of brilliance are in coded groups – but I have never seen one, alas.

Fixed light

 A light which is permanently on (when it is on at all). Compare Flashing and Occulting. And see ‘Fixed and Flashing’, though you could hardly avoid it, for here it is:

Flake, to

To fold, or lay in folds. The mainsail, is flaked down over the boom when it is laid in folds left and right to make a neat package. An anchor chain is flaked down on deck when it is Ranged in long loops ready to run. A rope is flaked when looped on deck in figure-eights, likewise ready to run. There is possibility of confusion with Fake which was used by some people in the past as a verb with the meaning of ‘to fold’.


A hull section which is a convex curve all the way, growing wider from keel to sheer, has flam. Compare with Flare, immediately following …

Flare (1)

A hull section which starts from the keel as a convex curve, but changes to concave near the sheer. This results in outward-curving ‘lip’, like the inverted section of a bell. See also Tumblehome.

Flare (2)

A firework intended to create a bright light, red in colour as a sign of distress, or white to indicate ‘I am here- please don’t run me down’. White flares as used in small boats are always hand-held; red flares may be, but they may also be projected skyward by rocket, and may descend by parachute. Star shells, and hand-held fireworks which look like red Roman Candles also come under the general term of ‘flares’, though they may have more proper and precise names of their own.

Flare-up light

An obsolescent term for a white flare such as may be used to draw attention to your presence if you are afraid of being run down. Rule 36 of the Collision Regulations says that a vessel may attract attention by light or sound signals, provided that they cannot be mistaken for any other type of signal. In practice this is likely to mean shouting, or showing a white flare.

Flashing light

An intermittent light showing a single flash at regular intervals. The period of light is less than the intervening periods of darkness. Abbreviated FI. on the chart. A Group flashing light shows two or more flashes at regular intervals and is abbreviated FI.(3) with the number of flashes in the group shown in the brackets.


A barge, sometimes a sailing barge, but more often a towed barge on inland waters. Sometimes a raft-like contraption used for work alongside ship in harbour. (Please see Catamaran (2).)


Or leech Cunningham. On a mainsail, it acts as a mini-reef to flatten and reduce sail area.


A dinghy with a flat bottom, hard chines, and flat sides, In fact ‘flat’ is not strictly correct for, in common with other ‘flat-bottomed’ boats a flattie may have Rocker to her bottom and fore and aft curvature in her sides. They are flat only in the sense that they could be made by bending flat sheets in one plane only. (See Scow and Punt.)

Fleet, to

To shift something horizontally, whereas to Sway is to move vertically. You could sway the dinghy aboard, then fleet her aft, though I must confess that I don’t hear anybody using these words nowadays – more’s the pity.


The floating walkway of a marina in the USA – or what would be called a pontoon in Britain. See also Catamaran (2)

Flog, to

A sail flogs when it flaps widely from side to side. Flogging is like fluttering on a grand scale.


Both verb and noun. When the tide rises it floods, and the event is the Flood. One may plan to enter harbour or explore a creek ‘on the flood’, or to ‘take the flood’ up Channel. The contrary term is Ebb. (See Main flood.)


A structural member in a boat. It lies athwart the keel and links the keel itself to the frames on either side. There are many floors in a steel or wooden boat, of course. (Please note that the flat surface that forms the cabin ‘floor’ is called the Sole, and that it is a social solecism to call it anything else, even though it may be composed of pieces of wood which you can call ‘floor-boards’ with perfect propriety. The cockpit also has a sole.) A dinghy has Bottom boards.


A group of boats. Usually refers to an organised charter in company with several boats led by a skippered yacht from the charter operator.


Floating wreckage, goods or equipment accidentally lost overboard. Material deliberately thrown into the sea (sometimes to lighten ship) is Jetsam.


The flattened and broadened area of an anchor which digs in the bottom. Also known as the Palm.


A type of compass which electronically senses the horizontal component of the Earth’s magnetic field.

Fly (1)

The horizontal dimension of a flag. The vertical dimension is the Hoist. The fly is also the lower corner of a flag, farthest from the hoist, and it is in this corner that it may bear a special emblem. The flag is then said to be defaced.

Fly (2)

A small wind indicator, usually at the masthead, in the form of a pennant or wind-sock.

Flying bridge

 A lightweight raised deck structure, higher than the principal structure, and provided to give a good view all round.

Flying of a Sail

A sail which is attached only at head and tack, and is not hanked to a forestay. Jibs are often set flying, spinnakers invariably.

Foam Luff

Found in roller reefing headsails, where a foam pad is sewn into the luff of a sail to improve its aerodynamic shape when reefed.

Fog (in shipping forecast)

Visibility less than 1,000 metres

Fog signals

Commonly so called, but to be made when visibility is restricted by ‘fog, mist, falling snow, heavy rain, sandstorms or any other causes whether by day or night .. .’ Under way, signals are made by Whistle or horn; at anchor by bell. See the Collision Regulations, Reed’s Almanac or the like for extensive details.


In conventional use, an underwater appendage such as a keel or rudder.


A boat whose hull is (or hulls are) lifted clear of the water at speed by foils, such as the new breed of foiling Moth dinghies or the French record-breaking ‘Hydroptère’ trimaran.

Following wind

The opposite of headwind- that’s to say a wind up your tail. But some people call it a leading wind, because it leads on ahead to your destination, I suppose. That following and leading can mean the same thing may be a bit confusing until you get used to it.


The lower edge of a sail. (The forward edge is the Luff, and the after edge the Leech.) Also the lower few feet of the mast.

Foot block

See cheek block.


Mostly used as an adjective, when it has the opposite sense to After: fore cabin and after cabin, fore deck and after deck. But can be a noun, well to the fore, or an adverb, fore-and-aft, though that last is a peculiarity and the usual adverb is Forward. Its most common and important adverbial role is in Fore-reach, an expression used mainly to describe the slow forward movement of a sailing vessel which is Hove-to.

Fore-and-aft rig

The almost universal rig of sailing boats nowadays, with all sails fixed at the forward edges and sheeted from the after edges. Contrast with the Squaresails of yore.


Please see Fore


Used to be a built-up fighting platform over the bows of the vessel, but is nowadays generally used of the space under the fore deck where your fights are with your sleeping bag. Pronounced focsle, as in ‘folks’ll never believe you can sleep in that tiny space .. .’ It would be less pretentious to talk about your fore cabin and more descriptive to call it the forepeak – unless you have a large boat.


The lower part of the stem, where it joins the keel below the waterline, or the foremost part of the keel where it joins the underwater part of the stem take your choice … (And see Tuck.)


The meaning is so obvious that, like Foredeck, it barely seems worth troubling over. Yet in a ketch or a yawl, where the after of the two masts is the smaller, the forward mast is the mainmast. In a schooner where the aftermast is the greater, the forward one is indeed the foremast. In boats with three or more sticks the foremost is always the foremast.


The peaks are the narrow volumes under the deck in the bows of every boat and in the stern of those which have pointed after ends. Every boat has a forepeak, but only some have an afterpeak. (See Sternsheets.)


This is one of two quite different sails, according to the type of rig. In a Schooner it is a sail set abaft the foremast, usually with a boom at its foot just like an ordinary mainsail. But it may also be a Headsail, and usually the one set to the stemhead of the boat – in another word the forestaysail which is commonly shortened to Staysail. The chaps who sailed (and some still sail) Thames barges tend to call their staysails foresails – see illustration under Sprit – as did (and do) some fishing and workboat skippers. Where a boat has a single headsail it is commonly called the Jib, but where she has two headsails the jib is the foremost one.


That part of the shore which lies between high and low water at Mean Spring Tides.


(or headstay) The stay running from the masthead to the stem of the boat. The corresponding one aft is the Backstay.

Fork end

Rigging screws are made with fork ends or eye ends. A fork end is closed with a clevis-pin, an eye accepts the pin of a shackle.

Form stability

Stability derived from the shape of the hull rather than from the ballast.


Adjective and adverb. The winch is mounted forward on deck, forward of the foremast, and you go forward to get to it. But the boat herself does not go forward, she goes Ahead. The word is often pronounced forrard, but is not so spelled (except just this once.)

Foul Ropes and cables

Are fouled when tangled, especially around your own propeller or your own anchor. In such cases the anchor or propeller is foul or fouled, too. A boat with a Foul bottom has weed and barnacle growing there, but a foul bottom may be the same as Foul ground, an area of the sea-bed where it would be unwise to drop your anchor because rocks, wrecks or cables might foul it. A Foul berth has nothing to do with hygiene or comfort – it results when a vessel anchors so near another moored vessel that there is risk of collision between the two. It is up to the later arrival to avoid giving a foul berth to any boat already at anchor, and to shift if necessary.


Used only in the phrase ‘well found’, of a ship which is well fitted, provisioned and maintained. The converse, ‘ill found’ is rarely used, but enlivens conversation or writing the more so for that reason.

Founder, to

Not just another word for ‘to sink’, it has implications of sinking in a goodly depth, for it comes form the Latin, fundus, bottom, from which we also have ‘profundity’.

Four-point bearing

A special case of Doubling the Angle on the Bow. The log is read when an object bears forty-five degrees off the bow (Le. four points) and again when it bears ninety degrees. The distance off is then equal to the distance run between these two observations.

Fractional rig

A rig where the forestay attaches below the masthead.


A rib of the hull, either of steel or of sawn timber. If grown naturally to the shape, or steam-bent, such a rib will be called a Timber. Whether using timbers or frames, a hull is said to be ‘in frame’ when building has progressed as far as the skeleton.

Frap, to

To bind something tightly by wrapping a rope or cord around it. Those damnable halyards that clink and clank against metal masts should be frapped so should owners who neglect this simple social decency. When a spinnaker becomes frapped it is a nightmare.


The wind is free when it comes from abaft the beam, whereupon the boat is sailing ‘free’. Furthermore the wind ‘frees’, or even ‘frees the boat’ when it shifts more aft so that the boat is sailing ‘free-er’.


The height of the boat’s side above the water. Best measured to the lowest point at which water could get on the deck or into the cockpit.

Freeing port

An opening in the bulwarks, sometimes with a hinged flap, through which water can escape from the deck seaward.

Freshen the nip, to

To move or adjust a rope so that the wear does not continue to come at the same point.


A meteorological term. The line where a cold air mass meets a warmer one. If the colder air is advancing it is a Cold Front, and if the warmer air is advancing, well, give you three guesses.


Fibre-reinforced plastic. A term often used instead of GRP (glass-reinforced plastic) to reflect the fact that fibres other than those made of glass are now common in boat construction.

Full and by

A nice point about a point of sailing. The ‘by’ implies that the boat is being sailed ‘by the wind’ and not by compass course. In fact she is sailing close to the wind, but the sails are kept comfortably full so that she makes a good speed. In sailing ‘full and by’ the aim is to make the best possible progress to windward what our modern instrumentised skippers would call best Vmg – the best balance between high pointing and fast footing.

Full and change

The times of the full and new moon,. Significant dates in tidal predictions, relating to Spring and Neap tides respectively.

Fully battened main

A mainsail with battens extending the full width of the sail, from luff to leech.

Furl, to

To gather up a sail into a near package along its·length. A mainsail is furled along its boom – a headsail is often furled by rolling it up around its own luff. But furling implies merely a tidy stow. A partly furled sail cannot be set to the wind as a reefed sail can.


See roller reefing.


Where a curved frame or rib is made of more than one piece, each component piece is a futtock. Possibly it was originally a ‘fat-hook’, in the form of one curved piece turning the bilge between a vertical rib and a Floor. The word is not likely to be important to the modern yachtsman, but a shout of ‘and futtocks to you!’ has great force with perfect propriety.