Terms and names can vary from company to company and ship to ship but the following will provide a reasonable basis for understanding some shipboard terminology.


Getting Onboard

  • Accommodation Ladder – means of access to a larger ship. Ship’s gear, normally a permanently rigged ‘stairway’ onto vessels
  • Gangway – means of access to a ship, normally set at right angles to the vessel, secured to the ship’s deck at one end and resting on the quay at the other
  • Pilot Ladder – substantial rope ladder usually lying against ship’s side
  • Jacobs Ladder – lighter, ‘portable’ rope ladder
  • Tower – rigid, shore based structure incorporating a stairway up to a platform upon which a ‘gangway’ stretches to the ship
  • Jetty Ladder – vertical metal ladder built into a jetty to provide access to craft lying below the level of the jetty
  • Link span – heavy shore structure over which vehicular traffic gains access to vessels (such as ferries)
  • Ramp – may be bow, stern or side mounted on a ship to allow vehicular access


General Layout

  • Bow – forward/front end of the ship
  • Focsle – (from Fore Castle) forward mooring deck
  • Stern – after (aft)/back end of the ship
  • Poop – aft mooring deck
  • Accommodation – block of superstructure containing the cabins, mess, bridge, etc
  • Main Deck – open area between accommodation and focsle and/or poop
  • Flying Bridge or Catwalk – raised walkway on main deck (usually on tankers) between accommodation and focsle and/or poop
  • Port side – left hand side looking forward (shows a red side light)
  • Starboard – right hand side looking forward (shows a green light)
  • Amidships – (or midships) middle of the vessel
  • Bulwark – solid parapet round deck (usually main deck)
  • Bulkhead – a wall
  • Deck – a floor
  • Deckhead – a ceiling
  • Heads – toilets
  • Storm Step – raised sill in way of doors (to prevent ingress of water)
  • Muster Station – place at which personnel gather in emergency
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Finding the Ship’s Staff

  • Alleyway – passage or corridor
  • Mess Room - (or ‘The Mess’) – dining room. Often one for officers (known as the saloon) and one for crew (known as the crew mess)
  • Galley – the kitchen
  • Wardroom – the officer’s bar
  • Ship’s Office or Cargo Control Room – centre for ship’s operation in port
  • Bridge Deck – (known as ‘The Bridge’) or navigation deck – top deck of accommodation
  • Control Room – the engine room control centre
  • Monkey Island – open deck on top of the bridge


Ship’s routine

  • Watch – period of duty/a shift
  • Watchkeeper – persons on shifts/watches (includes Deck Officers and duty ‘seamen’ and, possibly, Engineer Officers)
  • OOW – Officer Of the Watch, the duty officer
  • Day-worker – works 0800 to 1700 each day (includes seamen in deck or engine room team and engineers in UMS ships)
  • UMS – unmanned machinery space, engine room operates unmanned outside of ‘day-work hours’
  • GP – General Purpose, crew members that undertake work rota in Deck and Engineering departments (as opposed to specialising in one or the other)


 Ship’s Personnel (and rank insignia, if uniform worn)




 Master (4 gold rings/bars and gold braid on cap peak) – official title of the senior officer in command of the ship. The ship’s master is usually afforded the courtesy title ‘Captain’. Often referred to as ‘The Old Man’

  • Chief Engineer (4 gold rings/bars with purple inserts) – ‘The Chief’ is the senior ranking engineer onboard
  • Chief Mate (3 gold rings/bars) - Chief Officer or ‘The Mate’ is head of the Deck, or Navigation, department
  • Second Engineer (3 gold rings/bars with purple inserts) – ‘The Second’ reports to the Chief Engineer regarding operation of the engine room.
  • Second Mate and Third Mate (2 or 1 gold rings/bars) - a Deck/Navigating watchkeeping officer
  • Third Engineer, Fourth Engineer, Junior Engineer (2, 1, or half gold rings/bars with purples inserts) – engineering watchkeepers
  • Electrician/ETO (2 gold rings/bars with purple inserts)
  • Radio Officer (2 gold rings/bars with green insert) – a rare/dying breed responsible for radio communications and maintenance
  • Catering Officer (2 gold rings/bars with white insert) – also rare in most merchant ships, known as Pursers in passenger vessels (and may wear up to 4 gold rings), responsible for ‘housekeeping’, catering and interface with shore organisations such as Customs
  • Cadet (gold line on epaulette or lapel flash) – trainee officer
  • Bosun – may be known as ‘Chief Petty Officer’ or ‘CPO’, crew’s foreman
  • Fitter – engine room petty officer
  • Storekeeper – second petty officer in ships with large crew
  • Quartermaster – bridge rating or petty officer (depending on ship type) main duty is steering the ship when required
  • Pumpman – on tankers, works for OOW in pump room and assisting on deck
  • Cook – runs the galley
  • AB – Able Bodied Seaman (or GP1) – works on deck
  • Greaser – works in engine room
  • Oiler - works in engine room
  • Steward(ess) – undertakes ‘housekeeping’ and/or waiter(ess) work
  • Shipboard Security Officer (SSO) – person onboard with specific responsibility for the ship’s security under the ISPS Code as a part of their duties. (Sometimes SSO is used to describe the Ship’s Safety Officer).