Glossary of Commonly Used Shipping Terms


Aft- At, in, toward, or close to the stern of a vessel or the rear of an aircraft or a spacecraft.

Aground- Onto or on a shore, reef, or the bottom of a body of water: a ship that ran aground; a ship aground offshore.

Anderson- Freighter which was following behind the Edmund Fitzgerald by about 10 miles for most of its journey.

Anemometer- An instrument for indicating and measuring wind force and velocity.

Astern- At or to the stern of a vessel.


Ballast- Heavy material that is placed in the hold of a ship or the gondola of a balloon to enhance stability.

Barge- a. A long, large, usually flat-bottomed boat for transporting freight that is generally un-powered and towed or pushed by other craft. b. A large, open pleasure boat used for parties, pageants, or formal ceremonies.

Beacon- A signaling or guiding device, such as a lighthouse, located on a coast.

Bottom-out- The contact of a ship and the sea bottom, often resulting in the sinking of a ship.

Broad-side- Side of the vessel above the waterline.

Bulkhead- Upright partition in a vessel separating compartments.

Buoy- Warning float moored on a dangerous rock, shoal, or edge of a channel.


Cadet- One in training for a military or naval commission.

Captain- Master of a vessel.

Cargo- Merchandise conveyed on a ship, airplane, or vehicle.


Deckhand- Seaman who performs manual duties.


Expedition- Journey made for a specific purpose.


Fathom- Six feet.

Freighter- Ship used chiefly to carry freight.


Gale- Strong air current.

Gitche Gumee- Ojibwa for "Big Lake."


Hard-water Captain- A captain who would sail a ship no matter how dangerous...a so-called "fearless captain."  Many called Ernest McSorley a hard-water captain.

Hatch- a: an opening in the deck of a ship or in the floor or roof of a building b: the covering for such an opening.

Hull- The structure of a ship.  (The outside walls)


Knot- Any of various units of distance used for sea and air navigation based on the length of a minute of arc of a great circle of the earth and differing because the earth is not a perfect sphere.


Lifeboat- A sturdy buoyant boat (as one carried by a ship) for use in an emergency and especially in saving lives at sea.

List- A tilt to one side.

Lock- An enclosure (as in a canal) with gates at each end used in raising or lowering boats as they pass from level to level.



Maintenance Man- One that is in charge of the maintenance on a vessel.

Master- The captain of the vessel.

Mate- A deck officer on a merchant ship ranking below the captain.



Ore- A mineral containing a valuable constituent (as metal) for which it is mined and worked.



Port- The left side of a ship or aircraft looking forward -- also called larboard.

Porter- A person who does routine cleaning.


Radar- Device or system consisting usually of a synchronized radio transmitter and receiver that emits radio waves and processes their reflections for display.

Radio- The wireless transmission and reception of electric impulses or signals by means of electromagnetic waves.


Salvage- The act of saving or rescuing a ship or its cargo.

Shoal- Very shallow place in a body of water.

S.S.- Steamship, States Ship

Starboard- Right side of a vessel.

Stern- Rear of a vessel.

Steward- Cook.



Wiper - The wiper on the Edmund Fitzgerald was in charge of keeping the engine room clean and "wiped" of oil at all times.