P Flag

P, the Blue Peter, is one of the best-known flags ashore and afloat. Its principal meaning when flown by a ship is, ‘about to proceed to sea ‘. But the same flag, flown in the open sea by a fishing vessel means ‘My nets have come fast on an obstruction’. P is Papa in the phonetic and.- -.in the Morse code.


Please see A-bracket.


Similar to a lacing-eye, but larger and stronger so that a sheet block may, for example, be shackled to it. It consists of a base-plate on which stands a roughly semi-circular bridge to form the eye.


The rope spliced into the eye at the head of a launch, dinghy or other small craft, by which she is either towed astern or made fast. Oxford English Dictionary says that the origin of the word is obscure, but directs atten­tion to two facts: fIrst that in antique times it was spelled penter; second that in Old French a penteur was a rope on which to hang something, and that the nauti­cal use of penteur relates to a lifting rope rove at the masthead.


A leather pad made to be worn on the hand and to protect the palm when sewing sailcloth. The palm of an anchor is the flattened area of the Fluke, by anal­ogy with anatomy.


One of a number of geographer’s lines drawn around the world parallel to the equator. Each line is defined by its angular displacement from the equator, measured at the earth’s centre. See also: Meridian.

Parallel rules

A pair of rules linked by pivoted arms so that each rule always stays parallel to the other. By ‘walking’ the instrument across the chart a bearing or course can be transferred from one part to another. A more convenient instru­ment for small boats is the rolling rule – a single rule with inset rollers which allow it to be moved bodily across the chart without changing its attitude.



Traditional hauling and purchasing technique. If one end of a rope is made fast and the other is passed around a log, say, then as you pull the free end the log rolls towards you. In effect the log plays the part of a sheave in a block, and you get the two-to-one purchase of a single whip. You may still see the occasional drayman lowering a barrel into a cellar by parbuckling. A possible use for the yachtsman is to get an inert body from the water to deck level, perhaps using a sail in place of the rope.

Parcel, to

To cover a rope with canvas, plastic pipe, or smaller rope so as to protect it from chafe.


A rope strop holding a spar, such as a Gaff, to a mast. Also a similar strop holding the luff of a gaff mainsail to the mast. Wooden balls or beads are commonly threaded on such strops to save chafe and allow easy movement – they are then called Parrel trucks or beads or balls, or sometimes just ‘parrels’. See also Jaws and Junk.

Part, to

When a rope breaks, a sailor says it ‘parts’


Paired timbers as may be put either side of a mast at the deck for rein­forcement, or either side of Bitts or a Samson-post.


A trip in a boat from one place to another is usually called a passage. The round trip there and back is a ‘voyage’


A gangway used for boarding from the shore, often fitted with stanchions

Patent log

A name reserved for the type of distance-measuring device that trails a Rotator (spinner) at the end of a line. The rotator turns the plaited line and the line turns the mechanism in the recorder.

Pay, to

To fill a seam (the gap between two planks) with Caulking compound, such as Marine glue, pitch, or some modern polymer-based compound.

Payoff, to

The head of a vessel pays off when it swings away from the wind. With a cross-wind you may leave the jib slack and allow the head to payoff, and then sheet in and Let draw.

Payout, to

To ease or slacken a rope.

PBO rigging

Modern rigging made from Zylon. A high-strength, low weight and low stretch composite material similar to Aramid fibres, but stronger for its weight.


(I) The forward or after extremities of the interior of a hull. Normally the fore and after peaks are used for stowage, there being little space for anything else.

(2) The after upper corner of a Gaff sail and the upper end of the gaff it­self.

Pelican hook

A metal hook with a cam-action tongue which can be opened, as shown. Used for joining guard rails among other things.


A large circular protractor fitted with sights so that you can take bear­ings of objects ashore in relation to your boat’s centre line. It is used when Swing­ing the compass.


A marina berth formed by the space enclosed between two fingers or pon­toons.

Pendant (or pennant)

A short line, hanging from a reef point or the tack of a sail, and used for shortening down. Ashore, as afloat, a pennant (but not a pen­dant) is also a triangular flag. (See also Burgee.)


Also a withy, is a pole or sapling standing in the mud to mark the edge of a channel.

PFD – Personal Flotation Device

Personal Flotation Device – US catch-all acronym for a Buoyancy Aid or Lifejacket.

Phenomenal (in shipping forecast)

Wave height more than 14 m


Jocular term for Anchor

Pillar buoy

A buoy bearing a tall and relatively slender structure to make it visible from a greater distance, and often placed at the seaward end of a series of channel buoys to act as a Landfall buoy.


(1) A qualified, experienced captain with detailed knowledge of local waters, who helps the master of a ship negotiate those waters. Pilotage is compulsory for big ships in some harbours and their approaches. Private pleasure craft take a pilot only when they choose to. Fly flag G if you need a pilot – and can afford him.

(2) (or pilot book) A book of pilotage instructions or sailing directions for particular waters. Either government publications, prepared for shipping by bodies such as the United States Defense Mapping Agency (or the US Army Corps of Engineers for the Great Lakes), and by the Hydrographer of the Navy in Britain, or by commercial ventures specially suited to yachtsmen.

Pilot Chart

A planning aid for ocean passages. Shows expected directions and strengths of winds and currents, and likelihood of storms during each season of the year.

Pilot house

See deck saloon.


The art of finding one’s way around in waters where the coast, rocks, buoys and the like, provide visual references.


Also known as a Fife-rail, a bar of timber with holes bored through it to take a number of belaying pins to which halyards maybe made fast.

Pinch, to

(1) To pinch a boat is to sail her so close to the wind that the sails lose their drive, even though they are still drawing. One may say ‘You’re pinching her’, or simply, ‘You’re pinching’. (See Starve.)

Pinch, to (2) A hull which has been slightly crushed or squeezed is said to have been pinched. When buying a second-hand boat, one must look out for distortion resulting from pinching – which is not so unlikely as it may sound, since a small boat may easily find herself berthed between two bigger ones. (See also: Hogged)

Pinch, to (3) A yacht with pinched ends is usually one that was designed to the IOR handicapping rule as it stood in the ’70s. A pinched stern may have given a racing yacht of that vintage a good rating – but they rolled down-wind. Basically a wide beam and narrow at the ends.


Tiny holes in the gel coat of a resinglass moulding, usually caused by trapped air bubbles. If not corrected they will allow water to penetrate to the laminate and deterioration will follow.


Since pintles and gudgeons go together like bacon and eggs, please see also: Gudgeon.

The gudgeon is the female part of a pair of rudder hangings, into which the male Pintle fits. You need a pair of these pairs to hang a rudder, and sometimes more may be used.

Pipe cot

A sleeping berth made of canvas stretched within a marginal frame of galvanised pipe. It is usually tapered to one end, and the pipe at the shipside edge is attached by hinged brackets so that the whole cot can fold up against the side of the hull. The most comfortable form of sleeping accommodation when a boat is going to windward and therefore heeled, especially if a tackle is fitted to the in­board side. This allows vertical adjustment so that the sleeper can adjust his cot to the horizontal. Strangely seldom seen on cruising yachts. (Compare with the Root berth whose canvas rolls up towards the shipside.)

Pirogue or piragua

A seagoing canoe formed out of the trunks of two trees, hollowed out and fastened together, usually of cedar or balsa wood.

Piston hank

The metal clip with sliding plunger that is often used in some num­ber to attach the Luff of a headsail to the forestay.


(1) The rocking-horse motion of a vessel in the sea. (please see also: Roll, Yaw, Heave, and Scend)

Pitch (2) Of a propeller, the distance that a blade would move forward in one revolution if it were cutting through a solid. In practice there is a certain amount of ‘slip’. In choosing a propeller it is important to get correct pitch and diameter. These dimensions are related to the power of the engine, the rate (RPM) at which the propeller turns, and the speed of the boat. The short answer is to get technical advice, usually from the propeller manufacturer.

Pitch-pole, to

A sea pitch-poles a boat when it turns her end-over-end, stern over stem. It happens so rarely that it would hardly be worth mentioning were it not for the extraordinary experience of the Smeetons who had it happen twice, as recounted in their widely-read book Once is Enough. When it does happen, the boat pitch-poles too, so the verb is both transitive and intransitive.


An insidious type of galvanic corrosion that leads to the creation of small surface holes in metal and damages deep structures creating weakness

Plane, to

Light boats with plenty of propulsive power can ride and skim on the surface of the water, supported by dynamic pressure. The slower-moving or sta­tionary boat is supported by the static pressure of the water, summed up in the one word ‘buoyancy’. When a boat planes, the dynamic water pressure is higher than the static, with the result that her weight is supported by a smaller area in contact with the water. Friction and Drag are thus reduced and speed increases. Sailing dinghies, which have suitably shaped hulls and sail areas which are large for their weight, can ‘get on the plane’ in a fresh wind, though they do not quite reach the condition of a planing power boat. (see also: Displacement hull.)


A wooden hull is skinned with fore-and-aft planks, and is said to be ‘planked’ in teak, or larch or whatever. Boatbuilders tend to refer to planks as Strakes. (See for example Lapstrake.) But all the strakes together make up the planking.

Plank on edge

The very narrow, minimal beam hulls which were at one time favoured because it was thought they would be fast, were known as ‘plank on edge’ because of their proportions.


Personal Locator Beacon. An electronic device designed to be carried by an individual, which sends a 406MHz distress signal via satellite when manually activated. Most also have a homing radio beacon operating on the 121.5MHz frequency.

Plim, to

To swell, or swell up. Likewise to plim up. Used of plums and suchlike by fruit growers, and of the planking of wooden boats by yachtsmen. A boat which has been long ashore may take water when first put afloat, but, just ‘give her time to plim up’ and she’ll get tight.

Plot, to

To record position, course, bearings and such like observations and calculations on your chart. The result is ‘the plot’.

Plough or plow anchor

One with a single blade, shaped like a ploughshare. For example the CQR.


(1) Bung – something that fits into a hole to bung or plug it up, such as the drain hole in the bottom of a dinghy.
(2) the full-scale model, or male mould from which a hollow female mould is taken for the building of glassfibre hulls. To make a plug is a costly business; it must be very fair and accurate, with a fine surface finish, for the mould will faithfully reproduce any imperfections, and they in turn will be transmitted to all the hulls which are laid up inside it.


Please see: Nacelle


Point Of Interest. A common feature on electronic charts.


(1) A point of the compass is one of the 32 divisions which derived from taking a half-way position between North and East, say, then halving that, (East North-east) and then halving again.
Point (2) The crews of racing yachts refer to ‘the point’ as the bow end of the fore deck. The crew ‘doing point’ is the man with his backside wedged into the pulpit at the start, shouting or indicating to the helmsman to go high (luff) or down (bear away). He will be the poor soul responsible for the sail handling in the wettest part of the boat.

Point, to

A sailing boat ‘points to windward’ when she sails to windward. Colloquially the question, ‘How does she point’ means to ask whether she is close-winded. Likewise, ‘Point up a little more’ tells the helmsman to bring her a little closer on the wind, and, ‘She’s pointing well’ reveals the satisfaction of a proud owner.

Points of sailing

One may sail directly before the wind (run), or one may sail across it: each is a point of sailing. Running dead before the wind, for example, is generally said to be ‘a difficult point of sailing’. Probably the term derives from the way the boat points in relation to the wind, for each point of sailing is in fact a geometrical relationship between the boat and the wind. Truly there are three main points of sailing. The first is Running, when the wind is dead astern or up to about forty-five degrees either side of astern. The second is Reaching, when the wind is on the beam, or a little abaft or ahead of it. The third is Beating, when the wind is coming over either bow, say within an angle of 40-55 degrees to port or starboard. Needless to say, there is no precise angular definition of these expressions, and they are usually qualified by such phrases as, ‘We were running with the wind over the port quarter’; or ‘We should be able to reach to the buoy with the wind just before the beam’.

Pole mast

Times were when gaff-rigged boats had short masts, upon which Topmasts could be set. In heavy weather the Topsail was not wanted and the topmast was ‘Sent down’ to the deck, making a tiring and irksome job for one of the hands. But there came a time when some bright chap decided to have a single mast as long as main and topmast together, though with the gaff going no higher than before. That was the pole mast, and when no topsail was set and the bare upper end of the mast was left naked, the boat would be described as ‘bald-headed’.

Polyester resin

The man-made plastic (or polymer) of which Terylene sails and ropes are made (Dacron in the USA), and which is used in the building of ‘glassfibre’ hulls. When used in fibre form it is a ‘saturated’ resin. In fluid form, as it comes to the boatbuilder for hull moulding, it is known as ‘unsaturated’, and is commonly in the form of a solution of polyester in styrene. When a catalyst is added the styrene cross-links the molecular chains of the polyester to form a polymer, which is a network of linked molecules. This crosslinking is known as curing, and it is a non-reversible process.


A plastic or polymer material which can take many forms. In boats it is used, for example, to make moulded hoods for outboard motors, or the cases of some radios. For a boat-owner its more significant use is in fibrous form to make rope which is strong in relation to its cost – though not so strong as nylon or polyester in relation to diameter. Polypropylene ropes have the advantage that they float, whereas nylon and polyester do not. This makes them good for dinghy painters and ski-tows, but not for anchor rodes. However, it tends to become brittle and unreliable if exposed to sunlight since ultraviolet radiation from the sun seriously weakens it.


Another polymer that can be used as varnish in one form, as expanded rigid cellular foam in another, and as a waterproofing for textiles in another. The ordinary boat-owner knows it best as a quick-drying varnish of great durability.


A floating box, designed to act as a walk-way to give access to boats, or to support the spans of a floating bridge. Often called a Float in the USA.

Pooped, to be

In ships of the past the poop was the raised after deck at the stern. We don’t have poops nowadays, but if a sea breaks over the stern of your boat and into your cockpit she is pooped – and you become wet and perturbed. Fortunately it is a rarity, but if you ever find yourself in conditions where pooping seems likely or possible, clip yourself firmly to the boat so as not to be washed overboard.

Poor (in shipping forecast)

Visibility between 1,000 metres and 2 nautical miles

Pop rivet

A rivet which can be closed from one side with a special tool. The rivet is hollow and has a mandrel up its centre. The tool pulls the mandrel into the rivet so as to expand the inner end of the tube, and then snaps the mandrel off short. An inexpensive way of fixing attachments to an aluminium mast, for example.


(1) The vessel’s own left-hand side. Port (2) A commercial harbour.

Port tack

Sailing with the wind on the port side. If you then meet a boat on starboard tack (wind on her starboard side) it is your duty to keep clear. Colloquially people speak of being ‘on port’ or ‘on starboard’.

Port-hand buoy

A buoy to be left on your port hand when approaching from seaward or in the direction of the Main Flood tide. Where the flood tide flows in a variety of directions, a conventional direction may be decreed and will be shown on the chart. Beware of the fact that you can rely on this information only where IALA System A applies, so if you are travelling far and you arrive in System B waters you can either make your approach astern or reverse the information.

Portland Plotter

See Breton Plotter.

Position line, Line of Position (LOP)

A line drawn on a chart to pass through the position of your boat. If you take a bearing of a fixed object ashore and draw the corresponding line seaward from that object, it is assumed to pass through the observation point – your vessel. A position line may be obtained by a visual bearing, a radio bearing, by a Transit or Range, by Soundings, or by a sextant sight of a star or planet.

Pot life

The time interval, after the catalyst has been added, during which a resin remains sufficiently fluid to be used. Pot life depends mainly on the type and quantity of accelerator added to the resin, but as most amateur resins have the accelerator already added when we buy them, there’s not much we can do about it. Once you add the catalyst you probably have between ten and fifteen minutes before the stuff gets too sticky for use.


A small pool (or pond) in which dinghies may be kept afloat. Also used for an enclosed area ashore where dinghies maybe kept high and dry

Powerboat Level 2

Basic RYA powerboat qualification

Pram, praam

A dinghy with a Transom at both ends. The other kind, with tapering bows, is called a ‘stem dinghy’ to differentiate.


Quarantine clearance on arrival in port. Primarily a medical clearance, it is nowadays just as often used for customs clearance. The actual official meaning of the signal letter Q, flown as the yellow Q flag when we go foreign, is ‘My vessel is healthy and I request free pratique’. Neither goods nor people maybe put ashore until you have clearance.


The fore-and-aft bend of a mast, set by the tension in its standing rigging.


A line that prevents a yacht from gybing accidentally. Usually tied to the outboard end of the boom and fed forward of the mast and back to the windward side and tightened around a winch. See also: Backstay

Prime meridian

The Meridian which passes through Greenwich (England), Longitude zero.

Prismatic coefficient

A number that describes the fullness or fineness of the ends of a hull in relation to its beam. The higher the number, the fuller the ends.


Whereas a catamaran has two hulls of equal size and the same proportions, a proa has one hull and a small outrigger. The latter serves partly as a float (to hold up) and partly as a weight (to hold down). But a proa is normally sailed with the wind on the outrigger side, and instead of tacking through the wind she swings her sail round to sheet at the other end, and what was the stem becomes the stern and vice versa. That may involve shifting the rudder (or steering oar) from one end of the craft to the other.

Prohibited area

An area marked on the chart where anchoring, fishing, or even passage may be forbidden for one reason or another.

Prolonged blast

A sound signal consisting of a single hoot lasting from four to six seconds. A short blast lasts about one second.


Known also as a ‘screw’ or a ‘prop’ it is the familiar two-or three-bladed device which propels a boat by screwing its way though the water. Water not being a solid, there is a certain amount of ‘slip’, defined as the difference between the actual movement of a water-screw and the theoretical movement of a similar screw working in the solid. A propeller is right-handed if it turns clockwise when viewed from astern: left-handed if it turns the other way. Most propeller blades are at a fixed Pitch, but some have Variable pitch (VP) blades, and some have reversible pitch for going astern. With reversible pitch, the shaft turns always in the same direction, and there is no need for a reversing gear. It is often possible to Feather the blades of a VP prop, so that they stand edge-on to the water flow and have minimum Drag when the boat is under sail. Some propellers fold to reduce drag – that’s to say the blades hinge backward and come together like the palms of the hands in prayer and so present a form somewhat like a fish’s tail. (See also: Pitch.)


An obsolescent word for the front end of a boat which embraces the head of the boat, including the Stem and Cutwater as far back as the Bows, which are, strictly speaking, the boat’s shoulders

Pudding, puddening

A pad or mattress of rope, coir matting or whatever you have handy to serve as a fender or anti-chafing gear.


A curved rail above the prow of a boat, running from bow to bow via the stem, wherein you may stand without fear of toppling overboard. (See also Pushpit.)


A flat-bottomed boat, whose bottom fore and aft slopes up to square ends. Mostly associated with quiet rivers on Sunday afternoons, but there are fast sailing punts in some parts of the world.


The mechanical advantage gained by a Tackle or a lever, ie. three-to-one, two-to-one, etc. It may also refer to the tackle itself.


A protective rail around the after end of a boat, so named by analogy with the pulpit. A pushpit, of course, is a plain tubular structure and has none of the elegance of a Taffrail.

Put about, to

Or to ‘put the boat about’, is to change from one Tack to the other.

Put off

To leave the shore in a boat, or to leave another boat in a lesser boat. ‘We anchored off Cowes, where we saw a milkman on his round, and put off in the dinghy to see if he could spare us a couple of pints.’


The jocular term for mud – used most often in association with running aground

PY Number – Portsmouth Numbering System (or Yardstick)

This is a handicapping system based on recorded results of many races. It is used for mixed classes of boats, and attempts to average the relative performance of various types in many clubs over a long period. The numbers are published by the Royal Yachting Association in Britain.


A firework used as a signal. May be a Flare, red or white, some kind of rocket signal or star shell, or an orange smoke generator for daylight use. Red pyrotechnics (and orange smoke) are used only to indicate distress.