Nautical terms used in aviation

I find it interesting that so many of the terms that we use in our modern air travel date back to the the original form of long distance travel – ocean going ships.  I decided to go through Wikipedia’s glossary of nautical terms to pull out some nautical terms used in aviation today.

  • (Air)port – A location on a coast or shore containing one or more harbors where ships can dock and transfer people or cargo to or from land.
  • Boarding – To step onto, climb onto, or otherwise enter a vessel.
  • Bulkhead – An upright wall within the hull of a ship. Particularly a watertight, load-bearing wall.
  • Captain – The person lawfully in command of a vessel. “Captain” is an informal title of respect given to the commander of a naval vessel regardless of his or her formal rank; aboard a merchant ship, the ships master is her “captain.”
  • Cabin – An enclosed room on a deck or flat.
  • Cockpit – The seating area (not to be confused with Deck). The area towards the stern of a small decked vessel that houses the rudder controls.
  • Crew – On leisure vessels with no formal chain of command, those persons who are not the skipper or passengers.
  • Flagship – A vessel used by the commanding officer of a group of naval ships. The term derives from the custom of the commander of such a group of ships, characteristically a flag officer, flying a distinguishing flag aboard the ship on which he or she is embarked.  Used more loosely, the lead ship in a fleet of naval or commercial vessels, typically the first, largest, fastest, most heavily armed, or, in terms of media coverage, best-known.  Also think of AA’s Flagship Lounge and Admirals Club.
  • Gangway (probably more commonly called a Jet Bridge now) – An opening in the bulwark of the ship to allow passengers to board or leave the ship.
  • Galley – The kitchen of a ship.
  • Manifest – A document listing the cargo, passengers, and crew of a ship for the use of customs and other officials.
  • Plane – To skim over the water at high speed rather than push through it.
  • Pilot – Navigator. A specially knowledgeable person qualified to navigate a vessel through difficult waters, e.g. harbour pilot etc.
  • Purser – The person who buys, stores and sells all stores on board ships, including victuals, rum and tobacco. Originally a private merchant, latterly a warrant officer.
  • Steward/Stewardess – A member of a vessels crew involved in commissary duties or in personal services to passengers or other crew members.
  • Trim – Adjustments made to sails to maximize their efficiency.


While not a term used in air travel, I still found the origins of “Slush Fund” to be quite interesting.

Slush – Greasy substance obtained by boiling or scraping the fat from empty salted meat storage barrels, or the floating fat residue after boiling the crew’s meal. In the Royal Navy the perquisite of the cook who could sell it or exchange it (usually for alcohol) with other members of the crew. Used for greasing parts of the running rigging of the ship and therefore valuable to the master and bosun.

Slush Fund – The money obtained by the cook selling slush ashore. Used for the benefit of the crew (or the cook).

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