Have You Heard of These Offbeat Nautical Terms? Part 1

Have You Heard of These Offbeat Nautical Terms? Part 1 Jan 17, 2024

Welcome to the weird and wonder­ful world of nautical terms. The dictio­nary tells us the word ‘nautical’ pertains to seamen, also to slips and navigation. The scope of our glossary will be very broad, from unusual fish to weird winds to strange hap­penings at sea. In fact, all the things that would interest our boating readers. 

Every word and phrase listed in this glossary is taken from a dictionary or reference book. Some will already be familiar to you; quite a few will not. The derivations sup­plied are accurate, the editori­alizing is questionable. 

Try working some of these odd nautical definitions into con­versation at the marina or boat club bar. It could be good for a round of drinks. Good luck! 


This is the name given to a very nervous and high-strung skip­per. Captain Queeg was a fan­tod. If you happen to be a fan­tod, better that you don’t get involved with any of these strange nautical terms. You could likely wind up in restraint without a cellular phone. 


A brickfielder, sometimes known as a southern buster, is a very cold wind that comes up from the south of Australia. Don’t forget, of course, that south of Australia is the Antarctic. But that still doesn’t explain why they call it a brickfielder. 

Australians like to call things Willy. There’s the Willy Willy, a heavy wind, and rain­storm along their northern coast. Then there’s the Canned Willy, which is Australia’s name for corned beef. 


There may not be any still alive, but until recently they swam in the China Sea and created a legend. 

The Oarfish is a remark­able eel-like creature that grows to a length of 25 feet or more, with a wavy fringe-like dorsal fin that runs from its blunt head to its pointed tail. A dozen spiny rays, each about two feet long, stick up like antenna from its head. 

It sounds like a crazy joke, but it is very real. And no doubt it created those early seafarers’ sightings of horrible sea serpents! 

Mitten money 

Mitten money is the extra charge demanded by a regis­tered ship’s pilot in cold weather. In Australia that includes when a Brickfielder or a Willy Willy is blowing. (See above.) 

I wonder if  ‘cold weather’ means the same to a Canadian as it does to an Argentinean. And how does mitten money work? Maybe $10 for every degree drop in temperature, but $20 if the ship’s pilot for­got his mittens! 


That was the original name for a marine toilet and is the reason we call them ‘heads’ today. 

A beak-head was a small platform built near the bow of a ship on which crew’s latrines were located. This was to place it as far as possible from the captain’s quarters. 

From the beak-head, the head-chute carried the stuff overboard. By the way, it is ‘head’, singular, if you have only one marine toilet aboard. But you already knew that if your were using your head. 


There are six feet in a fathom. The reason that Samuel Clemens chose Mark Twain as his nom-de-plume was that was the call from the lead man on a Mississippi river­boat when the depth reached 12 feet, the draft of most loaded riverboats. 

Just think. If that draft had been nine feet, we would probably know him today as Mark One-and-a-half! 


In general terms, while flot­sam is anything that is acci­dentally swept overboard, jet­sam is something that is delib­erately tossed over the side. 

For instance, a guest aboard your boat who has become obnoxious can rightly be regarded as jetsam. 


A tsunami is a giant wave usu­ally caused by a seismic dis­turbance on the ocean floor. Giant waves are not uncom­mon but the accurate measurement of their size is very rare. In 1933, in the South Pacific Ocean, the USS Ramapo was in a position to measure a wave that topped 112 feet! And it actually survived this gigantic wave that very nearly rolled it over. 

Shades of  “The Poseidon Adventure.” 

Blackwell hitch 

A blackwell hitch is a clever way to tie a rope to a hook. There is also a double black­well hitch that is even more clever. 

An Englishman, Thomas Blackwell invented them both while sailing alone around the world, with plenty of time on his hands. 

He died at sea, still sailing alone, at age 80. 


Well, now, a Flucky is a Scottish word for an unexpect­ed puff of hard wind. In some parts of the Scottish highlands it is known as a McFlucky. Another food word from Scotland is a flam, an uncer­tain and baffling wind. Both of these winds are particularly important to Scotsmen who wear kilts! 


A thalweg is a line drawn on a map or chart which follows the deepest course of a river constituting a boundary between countries. 

It has been noted that, on some Quebec maps, a thal­weg is shown down the cen­ter of the Ottawa River. But not, incidentally, between Quebec and Labrador. I won­der if there is any signifi­cance in all this. 

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