Glossary - Types of Sea Craft

Generally accepted definitions of vessels which crop up in the various shipwreck and ship incident reports.  Some are are very obvious but are listed accordingly;


Two-masted square-rigged [1] vessels with an additional lower fore-and aft sail on a gaff and a boom to the mainmast, can be a shortened form of brigantine.


A small seagoing vessel with sails or a flat bottomed freight-boat or lighters for canals, river and harbours or a ceremonial vessel of state propelled by oars or an ornamental houseboat or a small boat used for the conveyance of officers, usually those of warships.


Generally medium-size sailing vessels or ocean-going sailing vessels of a particular rig, i.e. with the aftermost mast fore-and aft rigged and the other masts square rigged.


Three-masted vessels with the foremost sail square-rigged and main and mizzen masts rigged fore and aft.


Warship of the most heavily armed and armoured class, of sufficient size to take part in a main attack.


Small vessels equipped for both sailing and rowing (often used for piracy, espionage etc) or two-masted vessels with a square-rigged foremast and fore-and aft rigged mainmast.


Generally French coasting luggers, often used for smuggling or privateering.


A development of the original ketch, square rigged on the main and carrying a lugsail on the mizzen, with two jibs on a long bowsprit.  Short, wide-beamed, and small, named after fishing craft using the Dogger Bank, North Sea.  In the mid seventeenth century they were increasing in size to well over 50 tons.  BACK to Shaftsbury.

East Indiaman

Vessel trading with the East Indies.  Ships from the English, Dutch, French Companies being the most common.


A broad flat-bottomed boat. Like a Dorset 'Trow'.  Not generally used in the sea due to lack of a deep keel.


A light swift vessel powered by oar or sail or a fast-sailing merchantman or a sailing warship carrying 28-60 guns or a general purpose warship with mixed armament usually lighter than a destroyer, designed for convoy work.


Two-masted, fore-and-aft rigged sailing vessels in which the mizzen.  Mast is shorter than the mainmast and stepped forward of the rudder post. Ketches were especially used for coastal trading.


A vessel belonging to a line of passenger ships.


A sailing vessel with a 'lugsail rig'[2] , normally two masted except when they were used for smuggling or as privateers, when a mizen was stepped right aft.  The 'lug rig' came in during the late 17th, early 18th century for coastal use.  See also Chasse-mare.


Sometimes ships of the line -  Square-rigged vessels equipped for warfare and belonging to the recognised navy of a country.


First-raters, vessels mounting 100 or more cannon ranging from 12-pounders to 32-pounders. Measuring over 61m (200ft) on the lower gun deck they were generally crewed by 875 officers and men.  None are recorded lost in Scilly.


Second-raters, vessels carrying 90 to 98 cannon on three gun decks. The lowest one of which was 59m (195 ft) long. Manned by 750 to 800 men. The Association, a flagship of the line, was a second-rater.


Third-raters, this ship of the line came in several sizes from 80-gun three deckers to 64-gun two deckers. Manned by 490 to 720 men.


Fourth-raters, vessels 45m (150ft) in length with two gun decks, mounting between 50 and 56 guns. Crewed by 350 officers and men. Their main role was as flagships of cruiser squadrons serving overseas.


Fifth-raters, frigates, 45m (150ft) in length, with a crew of 250 and a single gun deck, used for scouting ahead of the fleet for contact with the enemy. Mounting 32-40 guns on a single deck.


Sixth-raters, nimble sloops and brigs, 38m (125ft) long with a crew of about 195. Their speed and manoeuvrability made them useful escort and courier vessels.


A generic term used to describe ships carrying merchandise or a vessel of the merchant marine.

Pilot vessel

Self-explanatory generic term used to describe a vessel used by a pilot. These were exceptionally important to Scilly and here, these were generally gigs or cutters.


A small square-rigged ship with a narrow overhanging stern, often used for the carriage of masts.  In 15th and 16th centuries the name was loosely applied to small ships with narrow sterns, a fairly common design in that period.  Recorded as being used by the Danish Navy to describe a small warship in which the stern was broadened out at the upper deck level to accommodate quarter guns.  BACK to Shaftsbury.

Preventative Service Vessel

A generic term used to describe vessels used by the Preventative Service or Coast Guard to deter smugglers. These vessels were usually cutters or sloops.  Very relevant to the Isles of Scilly.  See Times reports.


An armed vessel owned by a private individual but holding a government commission authorising its use in war, especially in the capture of merchant shipping.


Usually small sea-going fore-and aft rigged vessels, originally with two masts, later often with three or four, the foremast being equal or smaller than the other masts.


Shallop, a sort of large boat with two masts, and usually rigged like a schooner


Small one-masted fore-and aft rigged vessels with a mainsail and jib or large open boats (long boats) or small sailing warships carrying guns on the upper deck only. It was the frequent custom at this time to speak of sloops as cruisers. The term is also used to describe one of the smaller classes of anti-submarine convoy escort vessels in the second world war.


A snow was a vessel with three masts resembling the main and foremast of a ship with a third and small mast just abaft the mainmast, carrying a sail nearly similar to a ship's mizzen. The foot of this mast was fixed in a block of wood or step but on deck. The head was attached to the afterpart of the maintop. The sail was called a trysail, hence the mast was called a trysail-mast.


Single masted fore-and-aft-rigged sailing vessels, usually employed for coasting or fishing.


Vessels propelled by steam, whether driven by paddles or screw propeller.


Ships fitted with tanks for transporting oil or other fluids in bulk.

Target tugs

Sea vessels and aircraft used for towing targets used in shooting practice.

Torpedo boat

A small fast lightly armed warship for carrying and discharging a torpedo or torpedoes. Post 1866.


A type of fishing vessel, boats which fish with a trawl or drag net.

Troop ships

Ships for transporting troops.


Small, stoutly built, powerful boats used to tow larger vessels. Steamship era.


Armoured vessels used in war. This is a vessel type used to describe a wreck whose exact type is not recorded. Vessels recorded as destroyer, battleship etc are not normally listed under this vessel type.


The term wherry was applied to various decked fishing-vessels belonging to England, Ireland, and
the Isle of Man.

West Indiaman

A vessel engaged in trade with the West Indies.


A two-masted fore-and-aft rigged sailing boat with a short mizzen stepped far abaft of the rudder post or small undecked two-masted fishing boat or a ships jollyboat with usually four or six oars.


[1] - Arrangement of sails in a vessel where the main driving sails are laced to the yards which lie square to the mast.
[2] - A four sided sail set on a lug or yard, usually on small boats.
[3] - Trysail - Small sail, normally triangular.


Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea edited by Peter Kemp.