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Did You Know?
Interesting Nautical Facts, Myths & Superstitions

Red Sky At Night
While the origin of the saying is unknown, although a form of it appears in the bible (Matthew 16:2-3). It has some basis in science and is a fairly good predictor of-though no guarantee-of weather at the mid latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, where storm systems generally follow the jet stream from west to east. A red sky in the morning indicates a sun rising in clear eastern skies casting its rays on storm clouds approaching from the west. At night the clear sight of the red setting sun would tell a sailor that no storms are to the west.*****

Ever wonder where that nautical expression came from? Here is an overview of common nautical expressions and their origin (sometimes mythological origin).

Taken Down A Peg

This expression comes from the practice of admirals and officers having their own flags aboard ship. Superior officers would have their flags positioned higher on the mast than subordinates and these flags would be attached to the mast by a peg. If a senior officer handed over his command to a junior then the flag would have to be flown in a subordinate position or be taken down a peg.***


A large square sail used downwind or on a reach that could be used easily and quickly. This made it very useful for sailing at night especially by people who dealt in contraband. Since these people's character was always in question they became known as fly-by-night-ers.***

Miss The Boat

This expression came from the liberty boats that carried the sailors returning from shore leave out to their ships. Hence to miss the boat was to miss the only opportunity to get back to the ship.***

True Colors

The national flag or ensign was known aboard ship as her colours - and a very important issue when ships engaged in battle. The expressions true colours, come off with flying colours both originated from this nautical tradition.***


Uniforms were not common place amongst the lower deck but most captains like to show off their crews for ceremonies and since the captain paid the bills they were able to choose the outfits for their men. The snappy blue jackets worn by the crew of the H.M.S. Blazer were the most memorable and in no time the crew were known as 'the blazers' and that is how the garment got it's name.***


The word is derived from the tide hence the meaning of being well arranged and methodical as associated with tides.***


Some English landowners were prevented to either fall or sell timber as this was reserved for building ships for the Royal Navy . However, this did not apply to trees which were blown down. Hence, a windfall became a financial blessing.***

Chew the Fat

In the days when brine was added to barrels of meat, it had a hardening effect on the fat. It was still edible but it took considerable chewing. So, to "chew the fat" has come to mean to talk endlessly.***


The harlot's call to the sailor "Hi, Jack!" acquired its more sinister meaning when, after the first embrace, she hit him with a lead filled handbag and he was dragged off to be sold to a ship in need of crew.***

Excited Fisherman are Forgetful

The Nova Scotia fishing boat The Johnny and Sisters was so pleased with their record catch of 30,000 lbs., the crew did not remember that the vessels capacity was only 15,000 until they were nearly sunk! **

Need a Job

Sir Ernest Shakletons newspaper ad for his 1914 expedition read as such: " Men Wanted For Hazardous Journey, Small wages, bitter cold, long months of darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success". **


Greenland was named as such by the Vikings not because of its lush geography but as a promotion tool to encourage migration to their new lands.

Fogged In

The sea is foggiest on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland where on average, 120 days of the year are foggy.**


Only thirty nations of the world are landlocked! Of the rest of the nations that have a coastline, Canada leads all the world with 56,453 miles of coastline! The next closest country is Indonesia with 33,987 miles.** From sea to sea to sea brings on a whole new meaning!

Trading on the High Seas

The first recorded sea voyage involved sea trading between the Greek Mainland and the Aegean island of Melos in 7250 BC.**


From the old Dutch word "loef" meaning windward. Said of a vessel amongst a fleet of ships which sails higher into the wind so that she draws apart. Thus aloof has come to mean "one who stands apart".*


In the ancient mariners terms was "to rinse or clean out - as in to binge a cask". Hence a sailor who had cleaned out a cask of rum was said to have a binge.*


Evidence leading to the recovery of a missing sail.****


A navigational instrument that records a variety of directional errors and increases the presence of machinery and magnets on board ship by spinning wildly.****


A "glim" is a light of any kind. A candle or a lantern. Hence the term glimmer of light.


From the early days of signal flags when messages were recorded on slate and a canceled message was sponged or "washed out".*

* from A Sea Of Words By Dean King. ** from The Ocean Almanac by Robert Hendriksen *** from Salty Dog Talk" by Bill Beavis **** from Sailing by Henry Beard ***** National Geographic June 2001