Cruise Lifestyle

Cruise Lifestyle: Glossary of cruise industry terms and nautical jargon

The cruise industry is awash with nautical and industry-specific terms that most experienced cruisers are aware of, while first time cruisers often find themselves feeling perplexed with this at-sea lexicon. To make things easier for newcomers to the industry, Cruise Arabia & Africa has compiled a glossary of cruise ship jargon.

While some of these cruise terms may seem very straight forward, you may be surprised by the differences between them (a cruise ship is not a boat, and a ship does not rock, it rolls). Have we forgotten any, or made a mistake? (

Cruise ship/ship – A passenger ship that undertakes regular voyages between ports, usually to a set itinerary. Cruise ships are a unique class of ship in that they are specially designed for on-board comfort and entertainment. In the cruise industry a cruise ship and ship are interchangeable terms, but generally speaking, a ship is any vessel of more than 100-gross tons.

Lifeboat/boat – A lifeboat is a specialised vessel designed to be carried aboard a ship to be used in case of emergency, usually only when the danger of remaining aboard a ship for the crew and/or passengers becomes greater than the risk involved in launching a small boat full of people into the open ocean.

Ferry – A passenger ship designed to carry passenger on short voyages between regional ports, usually within the space of a few hours or overnight at the very most. They contain some of the same amenities as a cruise ship, but are not intended to carry passengers long distances and so facilities are generally limited. Most ferries also carry cars below deck.

Vessel – all of the above, this term encompasses any man-made object that is intended to navigate on water.

Cruise liner – same as a cruise ship.

Ocean liner – a very different kind of passenger ship, which is no longer in service (except with Cunard and smaller specialist cruise lines). An ocean liner was used before the airliner to carry passengers between countries, it was designed for speed and comfort and was expected to maintain these attributes in all weather conditions, they were therefore characterised by their size, thick hulls, long bows and high freeboard.

Passenger/guest – Any person aboard a ship that is not a member of the crew or staff. In the cruise industry, passengers are the people on-board who have paid to be there for the cruise, but in recent years cruise lines have begun referring to them as guests as it’s seen as more friendly and hospitable.

Crew – the people on-board who work the ship (deck hands, engineers, officers, captain etc).

Staff – staff and crew are two very different types of jobs. Generally speaking, cruise staff are involved in meeting passenger needs, they are the ‘front of house’ employees of the cruise lines, although many cruise staff as work behind the scenes in the various hospitality departments on-board.

Forward – toward the front of the ship.

Aft – toward the back of the ship.

Bow – the front of the ship.

Stern – the back of the ship.

Starboard – right.

Port – left.

Embark – getting on a ship (also referred to as boarding).

Disembark – getting off of a ship.

Roll – the swaying or rocking motion a ship makes at sea, stabilisers are used aboard most cruise ships to eliminate this motion. While a boat rocks on water, a ship does not, it rolls.

List – when a ship ‘leans’ to one side, either port or starboard, for an extended period of time, usually because of a ballast malfunction or due to flooding. A ship will also lean to one side if it is turning at high speed.

Pitching – the up and down motion of the ship’s bow and stern when underway at sea.

Waves – a ship rarely encounters waves unless it has run aground on a beach, waves form when a swell at sea encounters increasingly shallow waters, forcing it to grow in height until it collapses on itself.

Swell – a swell is the movement of the ocean at sea, often incorrectly referred to as waves.

Heavy seas/Heavy weather – when the sea is rough.

Capacity – the maximum number of passengers a ship is able to carry.

Freeboard – the height from the waterline to a ship’s first open deck, on passengers ships generally the Boat Deck or Promenade Deck. Cruise ship’s generally have a lower freeboard than ferries and ocean liners still in service because maritime designers place the lifeboats low to make space for unobstructed balcony views above.

Hull – the part of the ship from the boat deck down.

Superstructure – the part of the ship from the boat deck up.

Keel – the very bottom of a ship, this is a long hydrodynamic element to the ship’s hull and runs from bow to stern along the bottom of the hull. In British and American shipbuilding, the laying of the keel was the most significant point in the building of a ship, second only to launching, as ships were traditionally built from the keel up. Nowadays, most ships are built in pre-fabricated sections, like lego blocks, and the steel cutting as replaced the traditional keel laying.

Underway – when a ship is moving through the water under power.

Companionway – any corridor or hallway aboard a ship.

Bulkhead – the walls within a ship’s interior.

Bridge – a cruise ship is navigated from the bridge, this is the nerve centre of the vessel; it is NOT the cockpit, ship do not have a cockpit, they have a bridge.

Itinerary – a set of identical cruises scheduled by a cruise line for a given period of time, although cruise itinerary can also refer to one specific cruise and the scheduled ports of call on that voyage.

Butterfly itinerary – Cruise ships sometimes sail to different regions one after the other from the same home port, for example to the eastern and western Mediterranean from Rome, Italy. These cruises are usually a week at most, but can be booked back-to-back as a two week butterfly itinerary.

Home port – a ship’s home port is usually where it is registered (for example Hamilton, Bermuda is a popular home port for cruise ships), but home port is also used to refer to the port out of which a cruise ship is operating for a set amount of time, usually during the cruise season in that region.

Turnaround port – a port in which a cruise ship disembarks its passengers and takes a new lot on-board. This is usually also the home port during a particular cruise season, but most World Cruises are also broken up with a set of turnaround ports with passengers able to book the entire World Cruise, or sections of it between turnaround ports. Dubai in the UAE and Cape Town in South Africa are both popular turnaround ports on World Cruise itineraries.

Is there a term you’ve come across that we’ve missed, or have we gotten one wrong? Let us know:

Categories: Cruise Lifestyle

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