Nautical Terms Origin

Saturday, September 15, 2018
Nautical Terms Origin - Article Image

New to the yachting industry and unsure what the nautical terms and basic seamanship phrases originate from or the meaning behind them? Which side is port? What is a superyacht?

Yacht terminology can be a little tough to wrap your head around for yachties in the yachting industry. Many yacht crew underestimate the importance of understanding commonly used nautical terms and phrases. In an emergency situation, it’s important everyone is on the same page of communication so you don’t get your port mixed up with your starboard.

Nautical phrases and what the mean


ABAFT – Toward the rear (stern) of the boat. Behind.

ABEAM – At right angles to the keel of the boat, but not on the boat.

ABOARD – On or within the boat.

ABOVE DECK – On the deck (not over it – see ALOFT).

ABREAST – Side by side; by the side of.

ADRIFT – Loose, not on moorings or towline.

AFT – Toward the stern of the boat.

AFT DECK – The deck towards the stern of the boat

ALEE - The side of a boat or object away from the direction of the wind.

ALOFT - Above deck in the rigging or mast.

AMIDSHIPS - In the centre of the yacht.

ANCHORAGE – A place suitable for anchoring in relation to the wind, seas and bottom.

ANCHOR BALL – Round black shape hoisted up to show the yacht is anchored.

ANTI-FOULING PAINT - A special paint applied to a boat's hull to prevent marine growth.

APPARENT WIND - The direction and speed of wind as felt in a moving boat - the way it 'appears”.

ASTERN - The direction toward or beyond the back of the boat (stern).

AWEIGH - An anchor that is off the bottom.


BACKSTAY - A support for the mast to keep it from falling forward.

BATTEN DOWN – Secure hatches and loose objects both within the hull and on deck.

BEAM – The greatest width of the boat.

BEARING – The direction of an object expressed either as a true bearing as shown on the chart, or as a bearing relative to the heading of the boat.

BEATING - Sailing upwind.

BEAR OFF - To turn away from the wind.

BELOW – Beneath the deck.

BERTH – 1) A cabin or other place to sleep aboard a boat. 2) A boat slip at a dock where the boat can be moored.

BIGHT – The part of the rope or line, between the end and the standing part, on which a knot is formed.

BILGE - The bilge is the lowest compartment on a ship, below the waterline, where the two sides meet at the keel, where water collects.

BITTER END – The last part of a rope or chain. The inboard end of the anchor rode.

BOAT – A fairly indefinite term. A waterborne vehicle smaller than a ship. One definition is a small craft carried aboard a ship.

BOAT HOOK – A short shaft with a fitting at one end shaped to facilitate use in putting a line over a piling, recovering an object dropped overboard, or in pushing or fending off.

BOOT TOP – A painted line that indicates the designed waterline.

BOSUN – A non-commissioned officer in charge of the deck crew.

BOW – The forward part of a boat.

BOW LINE – A docking line leading from the bow.

BOWLINE – A knot used to form a temporary loop in the end of a line.

BRIDGE – The location from which the yacht is navigated from.

BRIDLE – A line or wire secured at both ends in order to distribute a strain between two points.

BRIGHTWORK – Varnished woodwork and/or polished metal.

BULKHEAD – A vertical partition separating compartments.

BUOY – An anchored float used for marking a position on the water or a hazard or a shoal and for mooring.

BURDENED VESSEL – That vessel which, according to the applicable Navigation Rules, must give way to the privileged vessel. The term has been superseded by the term “give-way”.



CABIN – A compartment for passengers or crew.

CAPSIZE – To turn over.

CAPSTAN – A large vertical winch used for anchors or mooring lines.

CAST OFF – To let go.

CATAMARAN – A twin-hulled boat, with hulls side by side.

CHAFING GEAR – Tubing or cloth wrapping used to protect a line from chafing on a rough surface.

CHART – A map for use by navigators.

CHINE – The intersection of the bottom and sides of a flat or v-bottomed boat.

CHOCK – A fitting through which anchor or mooring lines are led. Usually U-shaped to reduce chafe.

CLEAT – A fitting to which lines are made fast. The classic cleat to which lines are belayed is approximately anvil-shaped.

CLOVE HITCH – A knot for temporarily fastening a line to a spar or piling.

COAMING – A vertical piece around the edge of a cockpit, hatch, etc. to prevent water on deck from running below.

COCKPIT – An opening in the deck from which the boat is handled.

COIL – To lay a line down in circular turns.

COURSE – The direction in which a boat is steered.

CUDDY – A small shelter cabin in a boat.

CURRENT – The horizontal movement of water.


DEAD AHEAD – Directly ahead.

DEAD ASTERN – Directly aft.

DECK – A permanent covering over a compartment, hull or any part thereof.

DINGHY – A small open boat. A dinghy is often used as a tender for a larger craft.

DISPLACEMENT – The weight of water displaced by a floating vessel, thus, a boat’s weight.

DISPLACEMENT HULL – A type of hull that plows through the water, displacing a weight of water equal to its own weight, even when more power is added.

DOCK – A protected water area in which vessels are moored. The term is often used to denote a pier or a wharf.

DOCK WALK - Dock Walking to get a job. 

DOLPHIN – A group of piles driven close together and bound with wire cables into a single structure.

DRAFT – The depth of water a boat draws.


EBB – A receding current.

EPIRB – Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacon.

ENG1 - All you need to know about and ENG1


FAIR LEAD – Device uses to guide a line, rope or cable around an object, out of the way or to stop it from moving laterally.

FATHOM – Six feet.

FENDER – A cushion, placed between boats, or between a boat and a pier, to prevent damage.

FIGURE EIGHT KNOT – A knot in the form of a figure eight, placed in the end of a line to prevent the line from passing through a grommet or a block.

FIRE EXTINGUISHERS – You will cover this in Basic Fire Fighting STCW 95.

FIRST MATE (Chief Officer) – Second in Command.

FLARE – The outward curve of a vessel’s sides near the bow. A distress signal.

FLOTILLA - A group of yachts cruising together.

FLOOD – An incoming current.

FLOORBOARDS – The surface of the cockpit on which the crew stand.

FLUKE – The palm of an anchor.

FOLLOWING SEA – An overtaking sea that comes from astern.

FORE-AND-AFT – In a line parallel to the keel.

FOREPEAK – A compartment in the bow of a small boat.

FORWARD – Toward the bow of the boat.

FOULED – Any piece of equipment that is jammed or entangled, or dirtied.

FREEBOARD – The minimum vertical distance from the surface of the water to the gunwale.

FURLING - Rolling or folding a sail on its boom. Many charter yachts today are 'self furling” which take much of the work out of dropping the sails.


GALLEY – The kitchen/cooking area of a boat.

GANGWAY – The area of a ship’s side where people board and disembark.

GEAR – A general term for ropes, blocks, tackle and other equipment.

GIVE-WAY VESSEL – A term used to describe the vessel which must yield in meeting, crossing, or overtaking situations.

GRAB RAILS – Hand-hold fittings mounted on cabin tops and sides for personal safety when moving around the boat.

GROUND TACKLE – A collective term for the anchor and its associated gear.

GUNWALE – The upper edge of a boat’s sides.

GYBE (also spelled jibe) - To change the course of a boat by swinging a fore-and-aft sail across a following wind (e.g. the wind is blowing from behind the boat).


HALYARD - Line (rope) used to hoist a sail.

HARBOR MASTER - The person at a harbour in charge of anchorages, berths and harbour traffic.

HARD CHINE – An abrupt intersection between the hull side and the hull bottom of a boat so constructed.

HATCH – An opening in a boat’s deck fitted with a watertight cover.

HEAD – A marine toilet or ships bathroom. The nautical term Head derives from sailing ships in which the toilet area for crew was at the head area or bow of the ship. The toilets were placed there because ships were powered by wind, and since sailing vessels can not sail directly into the wind, this placed the toilets downwind most of the time.Also the upper corner of a triangular sail.

HEADING – The direction in which a vessel’s bow points at any given time.

HEADWAY – The forward motion of a boat. Opposite of sternway.

HEEL - To temporarily tip or lean to one side. Monohulls heel more than catamarans.

HELM – The wheel or tiller controlling the rudder.

HELMSPERSON – The person who steers the boat.

HITCH – A knot used to secure a rope to another object or to another rope, or to form a loop or a noose in a rope.

HOLD – A compartment below deck in a large vessel, used solely for carrying cargo.

HULL – The main body of a vessel.


INBOARD – More toward the centre of a vessel; inside; a motor fitted inside a boat.

INTRACOASTAL WATERWAY – ICW: bays, rivers, and canals along the coasts (such as the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts), connected so that vessels may travel without going into the sea.


JACOBS LADDER – A rope ladder, lowered from the deck, as when pilots or passengers come aboard.

JETTY – A structure, usually masonry, projecting out from the shore; a jetty may protect a harbour entrance.

JIB -Triangular sail projecting ahead of the mast.

JIBE - See gybe.


KEEL – The centreline of a boat running fore and aft; the backbone of a vessel.

KNOT – A measure of speed equal to one nautical mile (6076 feet) per hour (1 knot equal to 1.852 km/h).

KNOT – A fastening made by interweaving rope to form a stopper, to enclose or bind an object, to form a loop or a noose, to tie a small rope to an object, or to tie the ends of two small ropes together. 


LATITUDE – The distance north or south of the equator measured and expressed in degrees.

LAZARETTE – A storage space in a boat’s stern area.

LEE – The side sheltered from the wind.

LEEWARD – The direction away from the wind. Opposite of windward.

LEEWAY – The sideways movement of the boat caused by either wind or current.

LINE – Rope and cordage used aboard a vessel.

LIST – (also HEEL) – tilt to one side; “The balloon heeled over”; “the wind made the vessel heel”; “The ship listed to starboard”.

LOA - Length Over All. The length of a charter yacht as measured from 'stem to stern”. This is important because yachts are usually charged a price by the foot for dockage at marinas.

LOG – A record of courses or operation. Also, a device to measure speed.

LOG BOOK - The nautical term originally referred to a book for recording readings from the chip log, used to determine the distance a ship travelled within a certain amount of time.

Speed measurements were made by means of a weighted chip of a tree “log” on the end of a reeled log line (typically 150 to 200 fathoms). The log lay dead in the water, and sailors counted the time it took the line to play out. The line was marked by different numbers of knots tied at regular intervals; hence the nautical measurement sense of the “knot”.

Todays log has grown to include many other types of information such as observations, readings, progress etc.

LONGITUDE – The distance in degrees east or west of the meridian at Greenwich, England.

LUBBER’S LINE – A mark or permanent line on a compass indicating the direction forward parallel to the keel when properly installed.

LUXURY YACHT - a crewed charter yacht that strives to provide 5 star service to its charterers including cuisine, water sports, housekeeping and navigation.


MAINSAIL - The largest regular sail on a sailboat.

MAIN SALON - The primary indoor guest area on a yacht’s main deck.

MAKE FAST - To secure a line.

MARINA - A place where yachts dock and receive services such as provisioning, water and fuel. Typically marinas offer protection from bad weather, and have hundreds of slips for yachts of various sizes. Slips are rented long term or by the day.

MAST - Vertical spar that supports sails.

MASTER CABIN - Typically the best/largest cabin onboard any charter yacht.

MARLINSPIKE – A tool for opening the strands of a rope while splicing.

MAYDAY - The distress call nautical term MAYDAY is used to signal a life-threatening emergency, used primarily by aviators and mariners in radio communications. The nautical term originated in London, 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford. "Mayday" taken from the French word "m'aider", a shortened version of "venez m'aider", meaning "come and help me" would be easily understood by all.

Note: A Mayday call is always given three times in a row ("Mayday, Mayday, Mayday") to prevent it being mistaken for some similar-sounding phrase under noisy conditions.

MEGAYACHT - A large, luxury motor yacht. No hard and fast definition, but normally crewed luxury yachts 100 feet or longer: similar to superyacht.

MIDSHIP – Approximately in the location equally distant from the bow and stern.

MONOHULL - A yacht with one hull, as opposed to a multihull or catamaran that has pontoons.  While most motor yachts are Monohulls, the term typically refers to sailing yachts.

MOORING – An arrangement for securing a boat to a mooring buoy or a pier.

MOTORSAILOR - A yacht built to sail and cruise under power with equal efficiency.


NAUTICAL MILE – One minute of latitude; approximately 6076 feet – about 1/8 longer than the statute mile of 5280 feet.

NAVIGATION – The art and science of conducting a boat safely from one point to another.

NAVIGATION RULES – The regulations governing the movement of vessels in relation to each other, generally called steering and sailing rules.


OUTBOARD – Toward or beyond the boat’s sides. A detachable engine mounted on a boat’s stern.

OVERBOARD – Over the side or out of the boat.


PASSARELLE - The passageway you walk on from the dock to the yacht. Often incorrectly called a gangplank.

PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICE (PFD) - A safety vest or jacket capable of keeping an individual afloat.

PIER – A loading platform extending at an angle from the shore.

PILE – A wood, metal or concrete pole driven into the bottom. Craft may be made fast to a pile; it may be used to support a pier (see PILING) or a float.

PILING – Support, protection for wharves, piers etc.; constructed of piles (see PILE).

PILOTING – Navigation by use of visible references, the depth of the water, etc.

PLANING – A boat is said to be planing when it is essentially moving over the top of the water rather than through the water.

PLANING HULL – A type of hull shaped to glide easily across the water at high speed.

PORT (DIRECTION) - The left side of a boat when facing the bow. Signified by Red. Opposite side from Starboard. Trick to remember - 'After a party, there’s no red port left”.

PORT (PLACE) - A marina harbour or commercial dock for boats.

PORT HOLES - The nautical term "port hole" originated during the reign of Henry VI of England (1485). The King insisted on mounting guns too large for the ship and therefore the traditional methods of securing these weapons on the forecastle and aft castle could not be used.

A French shipbuilder named James Baker was commissioned to solve the problem. He put small doors in the side of the ship and mounted the cannon inside the ship. These doors protected the cannon from weather and were opened when the cannon were to be used. The French word for "door" is "porte" which was later anglicized to "port" and later went on to mean any opening in the ship's side, whether for cannon or not.

PRIVELEGED VESSEL – A vessel which, according to the applicable Navigation Rule, has right-of-way (this term has been superseded by the term “stand-on”).


QUARTER – The sides of a boat aft of amidships.

QUARTERING SEA – Sea coming on a boat’s quarter. 


RADAR - An acronym standing for Radio Detecting and Ranging.

REACH - To sail across the wind.

REEFING – This is a way of reining in the sails in strong winds.

RIB (rigid inflatable boat) - An inflatable boat fitted with a rigid bottom, often used as a dinghy or tender.

RODE – The anchor line and/or chain.

ROPE – In general, cordage as it is purchased at the store. When it comes aboard a vessel and is put to use it becomes line.

RUDDER – A vertical plate or board for steering a boat.

RUN – To allow a line to feed freely.

RUNNING LIGHTS – Lights required to be shown on boats underway between sundown and sunup.


SAILING YACHT - A yacht whose primary method of propulsion is sails. Nearly all sailing yachts have engines in addition to their sails.

SATELLITE NAVIGATION – A form of position finding using radio transmissions from satellites with sophisticated on-board automatic equipment.

SCOPE – Technically, the ratio of length of anchor rode in use to the vertical distance from the bow of the vessel to the bottom of the water. Usually six to seven to one for calm weather and more scope in storm conditions.

SCREW – A boat’s propeller.

SCUBA - An acronym standing for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

SCUPPERS – Drain holes on deck, in the toe rail, or in bulwarks or (with drain pipes) in the deck itself.

SEA COCK – A through hull valve, a shut off on a plumbing or drain pipe between the vessel’s interior and the sea.

SEAMANSHIP – All the arts and skills of boat handling, ranging from maintenance and repairs to piloting, sail handling, marlinespike work, and rigging.

SEAMANS BOOK - Seaman’s Book

SEA ROOM – A safe distance from the shore or other hazards.

SEAWORTHY – A boat or a boat’s gear able to meet the usual sea conditions.

SECURE – To make fast.

SET – Direction toward which the current is flowing.

SHIP – A larger vessel usually thought of as being used for ocean travel. A vessel able to carry a “boat” on board.

SLACK – Not fastened; loose. Also, to loosen.

SOLE – Cabin or saloon floor. Timber extensions on the bottom of the rudder. Also the moulded fiberglass deck of a cockpit.

S.O.S. – Contrary to popular belief, the letters S.O.S. do not stand for "Save Our Ship" or "Save Our Souls". They were selected to indicate a distress because in Morse code, these letters and their combination create an unmistakable sound pattern.

SOUNDING – A measurement of the depth of water.

SPRING LINE – A pivot line used in docking, undocking, or to prevent the boat from moving forward or astern while made fast to a dock.

SQUALL – A sudden, violent wind often accompanied by rain.

SQUARE KNOT – A knot used to join two lines of similar size. Also called a reef knot.

STABILIZERS - A feature that helps to prevent a motor yacht from rolling too drastically, especially in bad weather, greatly improving the comfort of the guests. The most advanced form is a zero-speed stabilizer, which works both under way and at anchor.

STANDING PART – That part of a line which is made fast. The main part of a line as distinguished from the bight and the end.

STAND-ON VESSEL – That vessel which has right-of-way during a meeting, crossing, or overtaking situation.

STARBOARD – The right side of a boat when looking forward.

STCW - Training

STEM – The forward most part of the bow.

STERN – The after part of the boat.

STERN LINE – A docking line leading from the stern.

STOW – To put an item in its proper place.

SUPERYACHT – Definition 

SWAMP – To fill with water, but not settle to the bottom.

SWIM PLATFORM - The space at the back of the yacht from which you typically can go swimming or board a dinghy. Lately, these have become entire pool/beach areas on some of the larger luxury yachts.


TACK (SAIL) - The lower corner of a sail.

TACK (SAILING) - Each leg of a zigzag course, typically used to sail upwind.

THWARTSHIPS – At right angles to the centreline of the boat.

TENDER - A boat that a yacht carries or tows used for transfers to and from shore, short day cruises and water sports. Also sometimes called a dinghy.

THRUSTER - A bow thruster or stern thruster is a transversal propulsion device built into, or mounted to, either the bow or stern, of a ship or boat, to make it more manoeuvrable.

TIDE – The periodic rise and fall of water level in the oceans.

TILLER – A bar or handle for turning a boat’s rudder or an outboard motor.

TOPSIDES – The sides of a vessel between the waterline and the deck; sometimes referring to onto or above the deck.

TRANSOM – The stern cross-section of a square sterned boat.

TRIM – Fore and aft balance of a boat.

TRUE WIND - The direction and velocity of wind as measured on land, distinct from apparent wind which is how it appears on a moving yacht.


UNDERWAY – Vessel in motion, e.g. when not moored, at anchor, or aground.


V BOTTOM – A hull with the bottom section in the shape of a “V”.

VHF - Very high frequency; a bandwidth designation commonly used by marine radios.

VIP CABIN - Typically the second-best cabin onboard any charter yacht.


WAKE – Moving waves, track or path that a boat leaves behind it, when moving across the waters.

WASHDOWN – To clean the Boat

WATERLINE – A line painted on a hull which shows the point to which a boat sinks when it is properly trimmed (see BOOT TOP).

WAY – Movement of a vessel through the water such as headway, sternway or leeway.

WAYPOINT - The coordinates of a specific location.

WEIGH - To raise anchor.

WINCH – Horizontal rotating drum, turned by crank or by motor or other power source also known as a windlass.

WINDLASS - Rotating drum device used for hauling line or chain to raise and lower an anchor.

WINDWARD – Toward the direction from which the wind is coming.


YACHT – A pleasure vessel, a pleasure boat; in American usage the idea of size and luxury is conveyed, either sail or power.

YACHTIE – Definition link to UBP

- The experience of being on a yacht.

YAW – To swing or steer off course, as when running with a quartering sea.


ZERO-SPEED STABILIZERS - The most sophisticated type of motor yacht stabilizers that keep the yacht from rolling both under way and at anchor, significantly improving their comfort.

yacht terminology

Nautical Phrases

“Feeling blue”

How often do you hear people talking about feeling blue or have the blues? Who knew that this nautical phrase came from the world of sailing? An entire genre of music comes from this phrase and apparently, the phrase comes from a custom that was practised when a ship lost its captain during a voyage. The ship would fly blue flags and have a blue band painted along her hull when she returned to port.

“Pipe down”

Remember when your parents or even your mates have been screaming “pipe down”? Ever wondered where the nautical phrase actually originated from? Pipe Down was the last signal from the Bosun’s pipe each day, which meant lights-out, quiet down, time to go to bed.

“Loose cannon”

Everyone has known a few people who are loose cannons – unpredictable and dangerous to some extent. The nautical phrase comes from when a ship’s cannon would come loose from its lashing. The massive and dangerous cannon would be sliding all over the place making it a very uncomfortable time on deck trying to get that bad boy back in its spot.

“As the crow flies”

Back in the day, it was very common for century ships to carry crows on board to use as a last resort when navigation attempts failed. When released, a crow will instinctively head to shore if it is near. Navigators would often time the crow’s flight as a means of measuring the distance from ship to shore.

“Three sheets to the wind”

While one might assume that the nautical phrase “sheet” represents the sail of the ship, it actually refers to the line used to control the sail. When several sheets were loose, a ship’s sail would flail wildly about, often causing the ship to appear to be staggering uncontrollably, as if in a drunken state. The expression was used to refer to drunkenness even during the age of sail and was often part of a sliding scale. When a sailor was just a wee bit tipsy, he was one sheet to the wind. Two sheets to the wind described a sailor who was well-oiled, while three sheets to the wind represented a sailor who was a stumbling, slurring mess.

“Jury rigged”

This nautical phrase dates back to the mid-18th century, jury rigged refers to an improvised, temporary solution to a problem similar to those gadgets produced by MacGyver when he found himself in a pinch. When a ship lost its mast at sea, a new mast had to be improvised from available materials. This mast and accompanying replacement rigging was known by sailors as a jury rig.

Port and Starboard

Port and Starboard are nautical terms for right and left, respectively.

In Old England, before ships had rudders on their centerlines, the Starboard was the steering board setup on the the right side on the back of the vessel (mainly because more people are right handed).

Port, previously called Larboard, referred to the left side (the side on which the ship was loaded). So how did larboard become port? Shouted over the noise of the wind and the waves, larboard and starboard sounded too much alike. The nautical term port means the opening in the "left" side of the ship from which cargo was unloaded. Sailors eventually started using the term to refer to that side of the ship.

“Port is the red wine that is left in the glass.”

Watertight Doors and Weathertight Doors

A watertight door prevents the passage of water when exposed to a head of water (3-10 meters). No ingress of water from both sides of the door and this ensures the integrity of the neighboring compartment is not lost. Typically located below deck level and are of a slide type.

watertight door definition

A weathertight door is typically located above the waterline of the vessel that can be subject to adverse weather conditions. They prevent the ingress of water from the outside to the inside and are designed to withstand brief submersion experienced by green seas (no higher than the height of the door itself). They are designed to open outwards only ensuring a positive pressure should the vessel be taking on a large sea. Generally tested with a high-pressure hose that is directed at the seal. No leakage can be present.

weathertight door definition

Gross Tonnage and Net Tonnage

Gross Tonnage is the volume of all enclosed spaces on ship. This includes the Engine Room and other non-cargo spaces as well. The tonnage is calculated by a complex formula. If you’re interested, details can be found here.

Most of the Maritime Regulations (SOLAS, MARPOL etc.) are applicable to ships based on their Gross Tonnage.

Net Tonnage on the other hand, is the volume of only the cargo carrying spaces on the ship. This is the tonnage that determines the earning capability of the vessel. The photos below will give you an idea of the difference.

Gross Tonnage

 gross tonnage net tonnage

Net Tonnage

Straits and Channels - The Difference

Straight is a narrow waterway joining two larger bodies of water. It’s naturally formed and normally connects two seas. Water flow is both directions and is tidal. E.g. The straits of Gibraltar, Singapore Straits, Lombok straits, etc.

A Channel can be defined as a wider straight or waterway between two landmasses. Channels can be either natural or man-made and have more navigable water. E.g. English Channel, Ambrose Channel, etc.

The photo below is an example of the two.

straights channels difference 

What is Port State Control?

what is port state control

It's not only the commercial world that can be audited at any time, a Port State Control Officer can board a superyacht whenever they like. Safety, security, environmental protection and seafarer welfare are the main areas of interest. The Management Company and Captain are responsible to ensure the superyacht is always ready for Port State Inspection and the eligibility of superyachts to port state control.

Port State Control, also known as PSC, is the foreign ship inspection that takes place in various national ports. The reason why it was created is to investigate compliance with the requirements of international conventions, such as SOLAS, MARPOL, STCW, and the MLC.

It’s crucial to have Port State Control for a Superyacht as it assures you that the vessel is safely manned properly, while having the best maintenance and conditions. Meeting these IMO requirements is very important for all vessels, regardless of their size.

Is the Port State Control necessary?

Although the Port State Control was designed as a state implementation backup flag, time has shown that this type of checkup can be very efficient. Since a ship that goes to port in a country will most likely visit other countries as well, it’s a lot easier to perform a Port State Control one time as it will offer a better coordination. This will also help prevent multiple inspections and the costs will be lower as a result.

Not only does this offer a great way to inspect multiple ships, but at the same time it also helps avoid any potential delays that might appear from unnecessary inspections. Although Flag State inspection is still the most important, the Port State Control inspection is a very good safety net. A lot of low par ships can be caught this way. The Port State Control will check if the vessel is operated according to the international laws at first. The Port State Control (PSC) will also verify the ship master competency, the competency of his officers and the overall equipment and ship condition.

If a ship doesn’t comply with the rules, the Port State Control can issue a detention. In 2017 alone, 683 ship detentions were issued by the Paris memorandum of understanding (PMU) due to a wide range of reasons. These of which included hardware deficiencies, crew deficiencies and so on. 

According to the Port State Control Officer (PSCO) courses of action, there are deficiencies which can be rectified within 14 days due to minor infractions, while others can be rectified whenever the ship will arrive at the next port. However, the Port State Control can also state deficiencies that need to be rectified before the ship will depart that port. It all comes down to the situation and changes can be issued on the fly based on that.

Port State Control detention criteria

Usually, a detention is issued when the ship is seen as unsafe. The inspectors will have to create a list with all the deficiencies before the ship will be able to sail once again. The deficiencies you can find here include crew certification, maritime security, ship safety, working and living conditions as well as management or operational tasks depending on the situation. These are a major concern for the PSCO and every ship has to address them in order to get the best results and stay safe. The Port State Control has to be issued for all ships, from boats to superyachts and it’s very important since it offers a great insight into a ships state.

Top 5 Port State Control Deficiencies

1. ISM

2. Fire Doors

3. Nautical Publications

4. Charts

5. Voyage or Passage Plan

For more information, visit Lloyd's Register

What is a Flag State?

flag state

When Superyacht owners are looking to build a new yacht, they must register their superyacht to a country of their choice. The decision of choosing a flag state is mainly influenced by tax regimes and proposed usage, along with exposure to liability and boarding, vessel’s success as a commercial yacht, safety etc.

There are different advantages of choosing a flag state however the majority of superyachts are registered in the Cayman Islands and the Marshall Islands. A flag state is the country or government entity under whose laws a vessel is registered or licensed to – they will generally require a yacht to be in compliance with standards set forth by one or more of the main classification societies such as Lloyd’s Register. Each flag state has its own manning requirements and has the authority to enforce regulations over vessels registered under its flag and carry out inspection ensuring the vessel is meeting safety and practice standards.

ISM stands for International Safety Management Code. It is one of the required regulations that provides an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships at sea. The ISM code was first adopted and formally integrated as part of the SOLAS Convention in 1994, it is to ensure the safety of seafarers, ship, cargo and the environment. 

What is ISM - International Safety Management Code? The ISM Code consists of the categories below which forms the main structure and definition of its entirety.

1. Prevent pollution at sea

2. Ensure safety of life at sea

3. Prevent human injury or loss of life at sea

4. To avoid damage to the environment and ship

What is the Safety Management System (SMS)?

1. It is an organised and documented system under the ISM code which enables shipping companies and crew members to effectively implement all safety policies. It is mandatory for all ships to follow and implement the ISM Code by the Safety Management System (SMS) which details the requirements that need to be followed such as: 

2. Establishment of a managerial team to oversee the various proceeding

3. Ensure managerial officers carry out their duties and responsibilities

4. Identify the differences between the outlined responsibilities and the actions to resolve issues, if any occur

5. Audits both internally and externally to eliminate all possibilities of safety issues and to verify the compliance of the ship and the company are up to standards of the code

What is the Certificate of Compliance?

It is issued to a company verifying its compliance with the requirements of the Code 

What is the Safety Management Certificate?

A Document of Compliance (DOC) is a certificate issued verifying the company and the ship personnel are operating in accordance with the code.


A manual which consists of information, records, reports or statements which indicate implementation of safety management systems and policies by the company and the ship. The documentation will be proof of evidence based on observations, measurements or tests made during an audit.

What is Non Conformity?

It is when the documentation indicates a company and its ships failure of upholding the requirements of the ISM code.

What is Major Non Conformity?

This poses serious threat to the safety of seafarers, the ship or the environment, this indicates an extreme failure in effective and systematic implementation of the code and will be required immediate corrective action.

The internal audit is carried out by the company and ship itself whereas the external audit is carried out, every 2-3 years, by the ships flag state. If the vessel has successfully incorporated all the safety requirements, the company is then issued with a Certification of Safety Management or the Safety Management Certificate.

To find out more about the ISM Code check out the International Maritime Organization.