Ship Nomenclature

Wildcat and riding pawl; never heard of them!

A wildcat is called a gypsy in many other parts of the world outside of the US.

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Anchor Equip


The longer you sit on anchor the more the boat wanders about twisting up the chain.

It also gets called a Cable lifter or Chain Lifter and Norwegians call it a Cabelar.

Even just in English some pieces of equipment on ships have lots of alternative names, quite often people use the wrong name for a similar piece of equipment that has a different name.

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Don’t forget the non politically correct terms either…


Some pieces of that apparatus are also referred to in words that are not politically correct these days.

Reminds me of the early days at KP. Our class was on the KINGS POINTER, and the instructor was going over the nomenclature of the equipment on deck. At the anchor windlass, he pointed to an item and stated, “This has another name, but these days we call it a Gypsy Head.” From the back of our group, someone shouted, “Hey, I’m a Gypsy!”


As a rule of thumb, most bits of machinery on a ship have a merchant marine name, a U.S. Navy name, a British name, and a racist name handed over from the 19th century. Not to be confusing.

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Gypsy Head works fine for me.

I’ve never known a pawl by any other name for this piece of gear except for some people calling it a dog:

A pawl is a mechanical component that engages with another component to prevent movement in one direction, or prevent movement altogether. It is a type of latch. It consists of a spring-loaded solid part that is pivoted at one end and engages the other component at a steep angle at the other end. Wikipedia

Also part of the internal mechanism of winches.


USCG Deck General:

And while I’m here:

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Dog was what we called it, in addition to pawl.

I remember using the same nomenclature in practice. Set or lock the dog has a more nautical ring to it than engage the pawl.

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As a young wannabe engineer that helped out on deck I didn’t understand what the captain was talking about when he said drop a line on that timber head until he started screaming and pointing. OK, got that it’s a bollard. When I asked him why they were called timber heads he said he didn’t know, maybe they were made out of timber once but they were n***** heads when he was learning. I asked him, "Were they ever made out of n****r heads? I was young and curious back then.


As was I. Wouldn’t trade that experience with those salty fellows for all the tea in China. I retired with ten toes and ten fingers. No matter what they called shit, kept me safe. For that I am grateful.

Likeky because they were painted black?

I referred to Gypsy heads or the other term as a horizontal capstan mounted either on the tow winch and/or the anchor windlass. A moving part. Perhaps I had a different perspective . Haven’t heard the term “Timberhead” in many years, but that was common back in the day, as was Bollard in more recent years. Bollards were generally steel filled with concrete mounted on the dock or pier to tie off on that looked like fat giant light bulbs. But we all know that ya think?

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Once upon a time a coral head was known as a n***** head.

It was common at one time. Now it’s not.

In several English-speaking countries, niggerhead or nigger head is a former name for several things thought to resemble the head of a black person (cf. “nigger”).[1][2]

The term was once widely used for all sorts of things, including nautical bollards[3][4] and consumer products including soap, chewing tobacco, stove polish, canned oysters and shrimp, golf tees, and toy cap pistols, among others. It was often used for geographic features such as hills and rocks and geological objects such as geodes.[5][6] The term appears in several US patents for mechanical devices prior to about 1950.[7][8] Languages other than English have used similar terms to describe chocolate-coated marshmallow treats.

In 1955, the Aughinbaugh Canning Company of Mississippi renamed its “Nigger Head Brand” oysters to “Negro Head Brand” following pressure from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.[9] More than a hundred “Niggerheads”, and other place names now considered racially offensive, were changed in 1962 by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, but many local names remained unchanged.[10]

Here’s the key point: “now considered racially offensive”