Sea Legs - Coast Guard Glossary

Coast Guard Terms

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ABOARD - on or in a ship.
AFT - in, near or toward the stern of the ship.
AIRDALE - slang, a naval aviator.
ALLOTMENT - assignment of part of military pay directly to a person or bank.
ANCHOR - the hook used at the end of a chain and dropped to the sea bottom to hold a ship in one particular place.
ANCHORAGE - suitable place for ship to anchor; a designated area of a port or harbor.
ANCHOR’S AWEIGH - said of the anchor when just clear of the bottom.
AT - Annual Training for a Coast Guard Reservist.
AYE-AYE - term used to acknowledge receipt of a command or order from senior.

- to cancel an order; stop; firmly secure a line.
BELOW - below decks; below main deck.
BERTH - space assigned ship for anchoring or mooring.
BILLET - an individual’s position in the ship’s organization.
BOATSWAIN - refers to warrant officer or petty officer in charge of boats, rigging, and ground tackle aboard ship.
BOOT - slang for recruit.
BOW - most forward part of a ship.
BRAVO ZULU or BZ! – Well done!
BRIDGE - platform or area from which ship is steered, navigated and conned;
BRIG - Military jail.
BROW - large gangplank leading from a ship to a pier, wharf or float; usually equipped with handrails.
BULKHEAD - one of the upright, crosswise partitions dividing a ship into compartments.


Coast Guardsman with shopping carts at the commissaryCAPTAIN - Rank of a senior officer, or title given to commanding officers of a cutter.
COLORS - National ensign; distinguishing flag flown to indicate a ship’s nationality.
COMMISSARY - grocery store on base where service members and families can purchase food, beverages, etc., at prices usually lower than in civilian stores.
COMMISSION - to activate a ship or station; written order giving an officer rank and authority.
COMMISSIONING CEREMONIES - ceremonies during which a new ship is placed in service. It is customary to invite friends of officers and others interested to attend the ceremony, along with the sponsor who christened the ship.
COMPARTMENT - space enclosed by bulkheads, deck and overhead, same as a room in a building.
COURSE - direction steered by a ship or plane.
COURT-MARTIAL - military court for trial of serious offenses,
CPO - Chief Petty Officer.
CROW - (slang) eagle on petty officer's rating badge.
CRUISE - to sail with no definite destination; more commonly used to describe round trip.

- a floor or platform extending from end to end of a ship.
DEERS - Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System. The DEERS database lists everyone entitled to active duty and retired pay and his or her family members.
DEPLOY - tactical term used for dispersal of troops; also disposition of ships in battle formations.
DIVISION - in the organization of ship or plane groups, the unit between sections and squadrons; in shipboard organization, Sailors and officers grouped together for command purposes.


EAPC - Employee Assistance Program Coordinator
EMBARK - to go aboard ship preparatory to sailing.
ENLISTED EVALUATION - marks; written report of an enlisted service member's performance of duty.
ENSIGN - lowest ranking commissioned officer; or term used for flags used as an official identification.
EXCHANGE - department store run by the military.
EXECUTIVE OFFICER (XO) - regardless of rank, the officer second in command.

- main deck section in after part of flush-deck ship.Finance
FATHOM - in measuring depth of water, six feet.
FLAG AT HALF-MAST - begun in times of mourning in old sailing days, indicated that grief was so great it was impossible to keep things shipshape. Half-masting of colors is the survival of days when slack appearance characterized mourning on shipboard.
FLAG OFFICER - Rear Admiral, Lower Half; Rear Admiral, Upper Half; Vice Admiral; and Admiral are flag officers.
FLEET - from Anglo-Saxon fleet. Organization of ships and aircraft under one commander.
FLIGHT DECK - deck of ship on which planes land, takeoff.
FORECASTLE - pronounced “focsul.” In the days of Columbus, ships were fitted with castle-like structures fore and aft. The structures have disappeared, but the term forecastle remains; refers to upper deck in forward part of ship. Abbreviated fo'c'sle.
FORWARD - toward bow; opposite of aft.
FRAME - ribs of vessel.

- see Brow.
GANGWAY - open in bulwarks or rail of ship to give entrance; order to stand aside and get out of the way.
GEEDUNK - slang; ice cream soda, malted milk, anything from soda fountain or Geedunk stand.
GENERAL QUARTERS - battle stations for all hands.


HASH MARK - slang, service stripe worn on uniform of enlisted personnel. Each stripe denotes four years of service.
HEAD - nautical term for rest room, washroom or toilet.
HEEL - to list over.
HOLIDAY ROUTINE - followed aboard ship on authorized holidays and Sundays.
HONORS - ceremonies conducted in honor of a visiting dignitary.
HSWL RP - Health, Safety, and Work-Life Regional Practice
HSWL SC - Health, Safety, and Work-Life Service Center

- stop work; cease what is being done.
KNOT - measure speed for ships and aircraft,

- in a ship, corresponds to stairs in a building.
LEAVE - paid vacation earned at the rate of two-and-a-half days per month of active duty.
LIBERTY - authorized absence of individual from place of duty, not chargeable as leave. No period of liberty shall exceed a total of 96 hours.
LOOKOUT - seaman assigned to watch and report any objects of interest; lookouts are "the eyes of the ship."

Coast Guard termsMAST
- captain's mast, or merely mast, derived from the fact that in early sailing days the usual setting for this type of naval justice was on the weather deck near ship's mainmast. Currently, means type of hearing with commanding officer presiding in which any punishment administered is non-judicial in nature and is an alternative to court martial.
MESS - meal; a place or group of officers and crew who eat together as in ‘the Chief’s Mess’.
MILITARY TIME - The easiest way to remember military or Coast Guard time is for any time prior to 10:00 a.m. simply add a zero before the hour, example: nine o’clock in the morning would be spoken as “zero nine hundred” and written as 0900. For any time after 12:00 noon simply add twelve to the time.
MUSTER - to assemble crew; roll call.


OLD MAN - seaman's term for captain of a ship.
OMBUDSMAN - spouse of a member of the command who is appointed by the Commanding Officer to serve as official liaison between the command and family members.

- corridor or hallway on ship.
PLAN OF THE DAY - schedule of day's routine and events ordered by Executive Officer; published daily aboard ship or at shore activity.
PORT - left side of ship looking forward.

- part of main deck reserved for honors and ceremonies; the station of the OOD in port.
QUARTERS - living spaces assigned to personnel aboard ship; government-owned housing assigned to personnel at shore stations; assembly of personnel for drill, inspection or meeting.

- grade or official standing of commissioned and warrant officers.
RATE - grade or official standing of enlisted personnel; identifies pay grade or level of advancement.
RATING - job classification with the Coast Guard, such as Electronics Technician (ET).

- a drinking fountain in Coast Guard is called scuttlebutt. A scuttlebutt in old days was a cask that had openings in the side, fitted with a spigot; also rumor, from the fact that Sailors used to congregate at the scuttlebutt or cask of water to gossip or report on day's activities - sometimes true, sometimes not.
SEA BAG - large canvas bag for stowing gear and clothing.
SEA DUTY - assignment to ship whose primary mission is accomplished while underway.
SELECTED RESERVE (SELRES) - Coast Guard Reservists who are required to participate in active duty training periods and annual training, and are paid for this duty.
SERVICEMEMBERS' GROUP LIFE INSURANCE (SGLI) - life insurance coverage up to $400,000 that can be elected by the service member.
SHAKEDOWN CRUISE - cruise of newly commissioned ship to test machinery and equipment and train crew as a working unit.
SHORT TIMER - one whose enlistment or tour of duty is almost completed.
SICK BAY - ship’s hospital or dispensary.
SIDEBOYS - impeccably uniformed crewmembers who participate in honors ceremonies on the quarterdeck.
SKIPPER - meaning captain.
STARBOARD - right side of ship looking forward.
STERN - aft part of ship.
STOW - to put gear in its proper place.
SWAB - rope or yarn mop used for cleaning.


Coast Guard terminologyTOPSIDE - upper level, or above decks.
TURN TO - an order to begin work.

UNDERWAY - a military vessel that is not presently moored to a pier, or at anchor.

- a compartment aboard ship near officers' stateroom used as officers' mess room.
WATCH - period of duty, usually of four hours' duration. The day at sea has long been divided into watches which are now called: midwatch (midnight to 4 a.m.); morning watch (4 to 8 a.m.); forenoon watch (8 a.m. to noon); afternoon watch (noon to 4 p.m.); first dog watch (4 to 6 p.m.); second dog watch (6 to 8 p.m.); and first watch (8 p.m. to midnight).