H – Hotel

In the International Code H means, ‘[ have a pilot on board’. It is a commonly¬made single-letter signal since a ship normally flies the H flag whenever she does have a pilot. In Morse code H is four dots. In bad visibility a pilot vessel may iden¬tify herself by sounding H on her whistle. Otherwise, this signal may not be made by sound. In the phonetic alphabet H is Hotel, pronounced the English way rather than the French.

Half-breadth plan

A drawing showing horizontal sections of a boat’s hull, or what are known as Waterlines, though only one section is really the waterline. Only half the boat is shown, thus allowing the designer more time to watch television.


An open boat with a certain amount of decking – commonly over the forepeak, over the stern sheets, and along each side of the well. About half the total area is decked, and the decking is around all the outer margin.


Half of a very useful hitch known as ‘two half hitches’. One half-hitch by itself has little other than very transient value, but make a second one and you have enduring security. Please see Round turn and two half-hitches.


A half-tide mooring is one where your boat floats for (roughly) half the day and is aground for the other half. A half-tide rock is sometimes immersed and sometimes not. Pretty obvious, really.


Originally ‘haul-yards’, now any rope for raising a yard, a sail, an ensign or a burgee up a mast or staff. A rope which adjusts the height of something or simply holds it up, rather than moving it from bottom to top is a Lift, as in Topping lift. But the rope that lifts a cargo aboard, or raises a dinghy in davits is a Fall.

Hambro line

Small hemp rope or cord, in the region of four to five millimetres in diameter, used for lashings and so forth. I wish I knew why it is called Hambro line, though. Codline is technically not the same, but yachtsmen treat it as if it were, and either can be used for odd jobs. If not sure what to call cord when aboard, the term ‘small stuff will mark you down as a mariner of unrivalled experience, and saves you the trouble of searching for the precise term.

Hand compass

More commonly called a Hand bearing-compass, and nearly al¬ways with the stress on the word ‘hand’ as if it grew hands like a fruit-bearing tree. It is a bearing-compass, that’s to say one with some form of sight for taking bear¬ings of other vessels or objects ashore, and one which is small enough to be held in the hand.

Hand, to

To lower and furl a sail. The knowing chap doesn’t ‘get the mainsail down’, he ‘hands’ it.

Handy billy

A small tackle which many owners like to have aboard just in case. Normally consists of a single and a double block, each of which has a rope tail (or perhaps one has a hook). Such a tackle can be used wherever an extra purchase may be required – or perhaps for breaking out an anchor or to set up a jury stay for the mast.


A ‘clip’ type fitting that holds the luff of a headsail to a stay. A hank can be a simple clip or a more complex spring loaded ‘piston hank’ type. Spaced a regular distance apart along the luff of a sail, hanks are usually made from either bronze, stainless steel or nylon. Most staysails (vulgarly called ‘jibs’) are hanked to their forestays with piston hanks, taking the form of P-shaped hooks closed with a spring-loaded plunger. But there are moulded nylon hanks and hanks made of tape which are held by press-studs. The latter are surprisingly rare, considering how neat and light they are.

Also a verb, ie to Hank on.


The chap in charge of a harbour. I say in charge deliberately because under an Act of Parliament now some 130 years old he has real authority. You must berth where he tells you, and move if he tells you. If you don’t move your boat he can move her – and charge you with the cost. By the same Act, a skipper who brings his boat into a port where harbour dues are payable must report his arrival to the harbourmaster within 24 hours. In short, a harbourmaster is master within his own harbour.


1. A stretch of shore which is firm enough for landing or launching boats. Hard 2 As an adjective corresponds to ‘right’ as in ‘put the helm hard over’, or ‘hard to port’, or ‘hard down’. It means all the way.

Hard a-lee

A warning cry by the helmsman that he is putting the helm over in order to go about. Best preceded by Ready About. (See Lee-Oh).


Hulls are either Round-bilge or Hard-chine, the latter form resulting where the hull is built from flat sheets so that the sides meet the bottom at a dis¬tinct angle. The line along which the side and bottom meet is in fact the chine, and if there is an angle it is ‘hard’. Obviously there is no common term ‘soft chine’, though it would be useful where the angle of a hard-chine form is a little rounded, perhaps by using a substantial chine stringer with a rounded bevel. Some people tend to suppose that a hard-chine hull is inherently inferior to a round-bilge form, but in fact a hard-chine hull can be very satisfactory.

Harden in, to

To haul a sheet in, so as to flatten the sail.


An easterly wind which occasionally blows during the dry season (December, January, February) on the west coast of Africa, coming off the land instead of the more normal wind which blows off the sea. It is a very dry wind, usually accompanied by dust storms which the wind has picked up from the desert. It is sometimes known as the ‘doctor’, as it is cooler than the normal temperatures of the coast.

Harmonic rolling


Please see Rhythmic rolling.


Or Safety harness, is a harness of webbing worn around the chest and shoulders, with a lifeline whose end is attached to a suitable strongpoint on the boat. Ideally the lifeline should be so short that, from its point of attachment, there is insufficient length to allow the wearer to go over the side. But that is not al¬ways possible, and then the only consolation is that you will still be attached to the boat, even if somewhat wet.


An opening in a deck, through which people or goods can pass. Note that the hatch is the opening. The cover is properly the Hatch-cover, though many people mis-use the word Hatch to mean that.


This verb is used afloat in the same way that it is used ashore, but it has a special application to the behaviour of the wind. If the wind Hauls ahead it shifts to come from a point farther ahead. Likewise it may ‘haul aft’. But a boat which Hauls her wind changes course to bring it more on the nose. In other words, usage has it that the wind may haul itself either way, but a vessel hauls her wind only one way.


A hole through the bulwarks, or even through the bows of the hull itself, where the anchor chain enters. The chain then disappears down through the deck and into the chain locker via the Navel pipe.


The rope we commonly use is of a construction known as hawser¬laid. If you hold the rope in front of you, the strands run upward to the right, and are said to be ‘laid right-handed’. Each strand is made of a number of yarns which are laid left·handed. Each yarn is made of fibres, laid right-handed. Just to com¬plete the story, heavy warps are made for ships by laying up three or four hawser¬laid ropes left-handed. The result is then known as Cable-laid.


Hull Construction Certificate. Certifies that a given hull was constructed in accordance with Lloyds’ standards.


1. The stem or forward end of a boat. (please see Bow where this concept is covered more fully.) Also the upper end of a spar, as in Masthead. (Though see Truck, which may be useful to you.) The Head of a sail is the top corner of a trian¬gular one, or the whole top edge of a four-sided one. (And see Tack and Clew.) The upper extremity of the Rudder stock is the head. 2. Of a pier or jetty, the seaward end. The other end is the Root.

Head up

Radar plot or chart shown with the vessel’s heading pointing directly up the screen. This will change continuously as the vessel’s head changes (see Course up).


See windshift.


A moulding, over the length of the forestay, normally plastic or aluminium, with grooves in its aft face to accept a headsail boltrope.


A vessel’s heading is simply the direction in which she is heading, in short it is usually her compass course.


A Hoyal Navy term for lavatory, deriving from the days (which the R.N. finds hard to forget) when the projecting timbers at the bows of sailing vessels, known as knight-heads, served as perches for the performance of natural functions. Regardless of that, ‘heads’ really have no place on a yacht – unless you want to assert your past naval service, as may indeed be your right.


Any sail set forward of the mast – or, on yachts with more than one mast, the fore-mast.


A sail that is set at or near the head of the vessel, that’s to say before the mast or before the foremast. Most modern yachts are sloops with a single headsail which is hanked on the forestay and logically called a forestaysail or Staysail. A Cutter has two headsails, a staysail and a Jib ahead of that, often set from the bowsprit end. Nowadays, when most boats enjoy only a single heads ail, it is common to call that sail a jib, and especially so in sailing dinghies, so in practice the word jib has two meanings. The word foresail is not a generic term for all forward sails as headsail is, but has two specific meanings. In some fishing and working boats the headsail set from stemhead to masthead (not the topmast head, for these would be boats with a mast and separate topmast) was called the foresail. The staysail would then be set outside on the long stay from stemhead to topmast. The jib would always be the sail set from the bowsprit end. The other kind of foresail is set abaft the foremast of a Schooner, and usually has a boom at its foot, so that it is a miniature sister of the mainsail which sets on the after mast (mainmast) of a schooner.


The stay from the masthead (or from some point not far below it) to the stemhead. Nowadays commonly called the Forestay.

Heave Apart

from its ordinary use (verb), the noun describes the vertical motion of a vessel in the water as the seas lift her. Her other motions are Pitch, Roll, Yaw and Scend.


To bring the boat as nearly to a stop as possible, by use of sails or engine. In a sailing boat the headsail(s) is Backed by hauling it over to the windward side of the boat by the sheet. Then by adjustment of mainsail and helm the vessel is held quiet and steady with very little forward movement. A very useful manoeuvre which seems to be used less often than it might be. Please also see Fore-reach (under Fore).

Heaving line

A light line, with a weighted end, which can be heaved to a hel¬per on a dockside and subsequently used by him to haul a mooring line over. The weight is often made of the line itself, by forming it into a decorative knot called a Monkey’s fist.


The lower end of a mast, embracing the end-face and the couple of inches next to it. The lower few feet, where halyards are belayed and winches may be mounted, is the Foot of the mast. The lower extremity of a rudder-blade is th

Heel, to

The sideways tilt of a sailing boat (and sometimes of a motor boat too) under the influence of the wind. Most people find a heel angle of fifteen degrees to be enough for sustained and pleasurable sailing. Note that if a boat lies over to one side’ because she is heavy on that side, she Lists. If she heels regularly and alter¬nately first to one side and then to the other, she Rolls.

Heeling error

A form of compass Deviation. When a boat heels, both the com¬pass and any magnetic material on board may move sideways in relation to each other. (Picture a compass mounted on deck and an engine below.) Thus devia¬tion is not the same when heeled as when upright. In practice most owners ignore heeling error, largely because of the difficulty of making out deviation cards to correspond to different angles of heel.

Height of tide

(also Rise and Range) The Height of the tide is the difference of the water level at that moment above Chart datum, which is effectively the lowest level the sea reaches. A term not much used nowadays is the Rise which is properly the Height at High Water specifically; the figure shown under Height in many tide tables should properly be Rise, because it relates to High Water, but the word Height seems more common nowadays. The Range of the tide is the difference between successive Low and High Waters. This figure is the same as Height only at Lowest Astronomical Spring tides, because at other times the Low-Water tide level is not so low as Chart datum. It is important to remember this, because it is a common error to use the height shown in a tide table as if it were the amount by which the level will rise and fall on that day – in other words to confuse it with Range. If you really need to know the range it can be deduced from the height of Mean level: subtract the Height of Mean Level from the Height of HW on that day, and double the result. (Because the tide rises as far above the Mean Level as it falls below, you see.) Now all you need is the Mean Level, which is rarely shown on the tide tables I filch from chandlers’ counters. But it can be found by looking for the maximum Springs height and halving it. What you are looking for is the Highest Astronomical Tide which is the opposite of Chart datum, so to speak. Half-way between those high and low points is the Mean level. (Please see Tides, where Neaps and Springs are discussed as well for con¬venience.)


To sail high, or higher, is to sail close to the wind, or closer.

High Water

High tide. Likewise Low Water.

High Water, Full and Change

The ‘full’ refers to the time of the full moon and the ‘change’ to the time of new or ‘changing’ moon. The time of High Water bears a constant relationship to the full and new moons at any particular place, and if you know the time of high tide after full moon you will know it for every subsequent full moon through the year. Still, you don’t really care, do you, because you get a free tide table from your chandler, or your club, or perhaps even from your bank.

Highfield lever

A device for tensioning stays, most commonly runner back¬stays. The lever swings fore and aft, and throws over top dead centre to lie on the deck when in either the forward (slack) or aft (taut) positions.

Hike, to

or to Hike-out. To sit on the gunwale of (usually) a sailing dinghy with weight as far out to windward as appropriate. Toes may be hitched beneath web¬bing bands fitted along the bottom of the boat – Le. hiking straps.


Hull Identification Number. As required by the RCD.


A sort of knot. And a knot is a sort of hitch. You can argue as long as you like (and some people do, believe me) but I don’t believe there is any way of decid¬ing for certain which knots are hitches and which hitches are knots. In any case they are all bends. Nevertheless, when used as a verb, to Hitch means to make fast a rope to a ring or a spar, whereas you Bend one rope to another. You can use a reef knot to bend to ropes together, a topsail sheet bend to hitch a rope firmly to the eye in the clew of a sail, or a rolling hitch to bend one rope to another rope or to a spar. (Now you’re as confused as I am)

Hobby-horse, to

A yacht hobby-horses when she pitches up and down with an unpleasantly sharp and rapid motion, making little forward progress the while. It tends to happen when the frequency of short steep seas comes into coincidence with the natural pitching frequency of the hull. One tries to avoid hobby-horsing.


A confused choppy sea, such as will be found at the confluence of tidal streams, or where reflected waves running back from a harbour wall cross at an angle the waves which are running towards it.


A fore-and-aft timber running above the keel in a wooden boat.


Arch-backed, like a hog. A vessel may be hogged accidentally through grounding with her ends unsupported, or she may be designed with a hogged Sheer in the first place. She Sags if she bends the other way. (See Wring.)


As a verb has its ordinary sense, but as a noun it is also the vertical dimension of a sail or flag, and the term for a group of signal flags. (See Fly.)

Holding (or holding ground)

Mud, clay and sand provide an anchor with good holding. An area of shingle, on the other hand, is poor holding ground.


To owners, a period of rain and gales, but in a boat yard an area of skimped work, especially a patch where paint or glue are deficient.

Hollow run

An area of the hull which is concave gives a hollow run to the water flowing aft, and is itself called a hollow run.


A synthetic stiffening material formed from hexagonal cells in a matrix. Widely used as a core in a laminate.

Hood ends

The ends of the planks where they fit into the stem or stern-post rabbets.

Hoops (or mast-hoops)

Hoops of ash, Canadian rock elm, or oak, steam-bent into a circle and riveted with copper nails. On gaff-rigged boats they encircle the mast, and the luff of the mainsail is seized to them at regular intervals. When the sail is hoisted they make useful climbing steps.

Horn, horn timber

A traditional cleat has two horns, though not so curvaceous as a cow’s. The jaws of a gaff end in two horns. A horn timber is similar to a transom Knee, but the latter implies a more or less vertical transom, whereas a horn timber has a more oblique angle and is appropriate to the shallower-sloping archboard of a counter stern.


1. A thwartships metal bar or tube on which a sheet end slides. Most commonly used for the mainsheet, but is also used with a boomed staysail or club-footed jib. 2. A bank of sand or mud in what otherwise would be the fairway. Usually one that is exposed at Low Water.


Wooden chocks on the mast to engage eyes formed in the lower shrouds, which are slipped over the mast of a gaff-rigged boat. A modern Bermudan-rigged boat cannot have wire eyes passing right round as they would obstruct the track for the sail-slides. Nevertheless, the locality where the lower shrouds and spreaders meet the mast is still called the hounds.


A cabin or similar structure built on the deck, or standing substantially above it. Broadly speaking if you stand in a cabin and the deck is at chest level or higher, the superstructure is a Coach-roof. But if the deck comes at hip level or below you would be better advised to call it a House. If it’s in between, please yourself.

House, to

To set anything in its proper place, as you might house an anchor in its deck chocks before lashing it down, or house the lower end of a stanchion in its socket.


The private flag of a shipping line or of a private owner. A very pretty thing to have, if you are good at sewing. Choose your own designs, taking care only to avoid one that has already been adopted by somebody else.


In English ‘hove’ is the past tense and past participle of the verb ‘to heave’. It retains those functions when in the compound verb to Heave-to. Thus: ‘Please heave-to’. ‘I have hove-to’. ‘That boat over there is hove-to as well’. ‘We were both hove-to yesterday afternoon’, It ought to be clear enough, but not to some people it ain’t: hence my lengthy examples. Personally I rather fancy ‘I have hoven-to’ for the past tense. Either is permissible, but the older ‘hoven’ pleases me. At all events, please refer to Heave-to.


A trade name for what some people call an ‘air-cushion vehicle’. Properly it is only one brand, deriving from Sir Christopher Cockrell’s original invention. But, like Hoover, it has entered our language, which is what happens when it is nobody’s responsibility to invent words for newly-invented things.


The body of a boat, excluding her decks and superstructure, her internal fitments and bulkheads, and her bolt-on ballast keel. If you order a hull all you can expect is an open-topped, rather floppy shell.

Hull speed

The maximum speed that a hull can theoretically achieve based on its waterline length, without allowance for surfing or planning.


A boat is Hull-down when she is so far away from you that her hull is below the horizon and only her mast and sails are visible.


A tropical revolving storm with wind of Force 12 or more. Such storms are called cyclones, typhoons and other names in various parts of the world.


High Water, Neaps.


High Water, Springs.


A boat that uses more than one form of power for auxiliary propulsion.

Hydraulic drive

A form of coupling between engine and propeller in which the engine drives an oil pump and the oil passes to a hydraulic motor mounted close to the propeller. With this arrangement the engine can be mounted wherever it maybe convenient, and may even lie with its crankshaft athwartships, since it is merely a matter of running the oil pipes to the hydraulic motor in the stern of the boat. But hydraulic drives are not cheap.

Hydraulic gearbox

A mechanical forward-neutral-astern gearbox in which the shifts are made by a hydraulic link from the hand lever. A small boat may have a direct-acting lever like a motor car, but a hydraulic link allows the control lever to be fitted at some more remote point in a larger boat. Engine lubricating oil, sup¬plied by the engine pump, is often used as the hydraulic fluid.


A wing designed to work in water and to provide lift when moving forward. The term is also commonly applied to a boat fitted with hydrofoils. Such a boat floats in the ordinary way when at rest or moving slowly, but as she accelerates the underwater wings provide enough lift to raise the whole hull from the water. Drag is then much reduced, and high speed can be maintained with economy of power.


One who practises hydrography, which is the mapping of the seas and the preparation of charts and other information necessary for safe navigation.