• Jennifer Abella

Ships, ahoy! A round up of selected nautical terms

“The Battle of Cape Ortegal” by Thomas Whitcombe, 1805

Don’t know the difference between a knot and a nautical mile? We’ve rounded up a few navy terms you may be curious about:


Admiral of the Red/White/Blue: The officer commanding ships of the Red, White and Blue squadrons, in descending order.


Battery: Broadside guns on one side of the ship


Flag captain: Captain of a flagship


Flagship: An admiral’s ship


Frigate: Smaller, faster ships with one deck and up to 36 guns


Head money: Prize money awarded for every person who’s on board a captured enemy warship


Knot: Speed measurement. One knot equals one nautical mile an hour.


Midshipman: Boy or young man who hopes to become a commissioned officer


Nautical mile: Distance measurement. At 6,075.6 feet, a nautical mile is longer than a statute mile (5,280 feet). 60 nautical miles equals one degree of latitude.


Post captain: Rank of a captain of a sixth-rate ship or higher.


Prize money: Profits from the sale of prizes (cargo or the vessel itself). The prize money is then distributed in specific ways.


Privateer: Vessel armed and equipped by merchants who have permission from admiralty to cruise and capture enemy ships


Sloops: Small warship with one internal deck and main batteries on the upper deck


Table money: The entertainment allowance afforded to ships’ commanders, graded by rank


Sources: “The Pursuit of Victory: The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson,” by Roger Knight; “In the Hour of Victory: The Royal Navy at War in the Age of Nelson,” Sam Willis.


Winner of the North Carolina Humanities Council’s Joel Gradin Award for Excellence in Public Humanities

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