Types of sailing ships

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Types of sailing ships with the abbreviations used in the Mercantile Navy List

Human ingenuity has produced a huge variety of sailing ships with an extensive, and sometimes inconsistent, jargon to describe the ship types, rigs and sails. From the 19th century onwards, the naming of a sailing ship type was based mainly on the sail plan (the number of masts and which types of sail are used) rather than the hull type or the ship's function. For more information and a gallery of images, see this Wikipedia article: Wikipedia

The list below shows some of the more common types, including the abbreviations used in the Mercantile Navy List and links to more information about that type.

Ship type Abbreviation Notes Link
Bateau Bat A small flat-bottomed boat used for river navigation in North America. However, the small number of entries in MNL show tonnages over 70 tons. Wikipedia
Barca Bca A small Mediterraean two or three masted lugger. AKA barca-longa Wikipedia
Bagala Bla A large, deep-sea dhow (qv). AKA baghlah or baggala. Wikipedia
Barque Bk A vessel with three or more masts having the fore- and mainmasts rigged square and only the mizzen mast rigged fore and aft. Wikipedia
Barquentine Bkn A vessel with three or more masts; with a square rigged foremast and fore-and-aft rigged main, mizzen and any other masts. AKA Barkentine. Wikipedia
Boomsail Bmsl A fore-and-aft rig with a boom, as opposed to a loose-footed sail as used on most Thames sailing barges.
Bracciera Bra An Adriatic coastal vessel with a fore-and-aft rig. AKA bracera or brazzera. Wikipedia
Brig Bg A vessel with two square rigged masts. Wikipedia
Brigantine Bn A two-masted sailing vessel with a fully square-rigged foremast and at least two sails on the main mast: a square topsail and a gaff sail mainsail (behind the mast). Wikipedia
Chassemaree Ch A vessel used around the English Channel and the Atlantic coast of France. Wikipedia
Cutter Cr A single-masted decked vessel, gaff-rigged, with two or more headsails and often a bowsprit of some length, with a mast sometimes set farther back than on a sloop. Wikipedia
Dhoney Dhy A vessel with lateen sails used in the Maldives, South India and Sri Lanka. AKA Dhoni, Thoni. Wikipedia
Dogger Dr A small ketch (qv) used for fishing in the North Sea. It was gaff-rigged on the main-mast, with a lug sail on the mizzen, and two jibs on a long bowsprit. Wikipedia
Dandy Dy Another name for ketch or yawl rigs (qv).
Felucca Fel A small vessel used in the eastern Mediterranean, with one or two lateen sails. Wikipedia
Fifie A lugger (qv) used for herring drifting on the East coast of Scotland. Wikipedia
Flat F A sea-going double-ended sailing barge used in canals, the rivers Mersey, Irwell and Weaver, and around Liverpool Bay. Wikipedia
Galliot G A Dutch or German ship similar to a ketch (qv). Wikipedia
Gaffsail Gfsl A gaff rig has a four-sided fore-and-aft sail hoisted from a gaff. Wikipedia
Gabbart Gt A sailing barge used for inland navigation and coasting, especially on the River Clyde. Wikipedia
Hoy H A small sloop-rigged coasting ship or heavy barge, used in the Thames and the coast of Kent. Wikipedia
Hermaphrodite (brig) Her A type of Brigantine (qv) square rigged on the foremast with fore-and-aft sails on the main mast. Wikipedia
Hooker Hkr A fishing boat used around the coast of Galway, with a single mast and two fore-sails. AKA Galway hooker. Wikipedia
Hulk A dismasted vessel that is afloat but incapable of going to sea. Wikipedia
Junk Jk A Chinese sailing ship with fully battened sails. Wikipedia
Jigger Jr The rearmost mast on a multi-masted ship. However, there are entries in MNL for vessels of about 80 tons from Liverpool (the Africa, America and Europe and others) which were previously described as flats, so this may also be another term for a flat (qv). There are also similar entries for smaller vessels from Glasgow and the Clyde ports.
Jury Jy A term used for a makeshift rig used in emergencies. We are not able to find any reference for this in the MNL entries. Wikipedia
Keel Kl (Norfolk Keel, Humber Keel, Tyne Keel). A square-rigged vessel used for inshore and inland cargo transport. Wikipedia
Ketch K A fore-and-aft rigged vessel with the mizzen mast positioned forward of the rudder stock. Wikipedia
Katoo Ko We are not able to find any reference for this online or in MNL (apart from in the MNL list of abbreviations).
Lateen Ln A rig used in the eastern Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean for feluccas and dhows (qv) with a triangular sail on a long yard. Wikipedia
Lorcha Lor A vessel with a junk rig on a European style hull. Wikipedia
Lugger Lr A vessel with lug sails on all its masts, eg Fifie, Lancashire Nobby, Manx Nobby, Manx Nickie. Wikipedia
Lighter Ltr A flat-bottomed barge, usually unpowered, used to transfer goods and passengers to and from moored ships. Wikipedia
Martingana Ma A vessel used in Sicily and the eastern Mediterranean. Image
Mistico Mis A vessel used in the Mediterranean, rigged partly like a xebec (qv) and partly like a felucca (qv). Wikipedia
Nobby Ny (Lancashire Nobby, Manx Nobby, Manx Nickie). A lug-rigged herring drifter used on the coast of Lancashire and around the Isle of Man. Wikipedia
Pielago Plo We are not able to find any reference for this online. The only reference we have found in MNL is for one ship (Israel, ON 61638 of Malta).
Polacca Pol A Mediterranean vessel similar to the xebec (qv). It had two or three single-pole masts, the three-masted vessels often with a lateen hoisted on the foremast and a gaff or lateen on the mizzen mast. The mainmast was square-rigged after the European style. AKA Polacre. Wikipedia
Schooner Sr A vessel with two or more masts, all fore-and-aft rigged. Wikipedia
Ship S A generic term for surface vessels but, in the context of sailing vessels, a (full-rigged) ship has three or more masts, all square rigged. Wikipedia
Speronara Sa A single-masted small sailing vessel originating in Malta, often with a lateen or sprit sail. Wikipedia
Smack Sk A fishing vessel with either a cutter or ketch rig. Wikipedia
Sloop Sp A vessel with a single mast with usually only one sail in front of the mast and one mainsail aft of (behind) the mast. Wikipedia
Snow Sw A square-rigged vessel with two masts with an additional snow- or trysail-mast stepped immediately abaft (behind) the main mast. Wikipedia
Spritsail Spl A fore-and-aft rig particularly associated with Thames barges. Wikipedia
Square Sq Probably used in MNL as a generic term for any vessel which was square rigged. Wikipedia
Tartana Ta A small Mediterranean vessel with one mast.   Image
Tongkang Tkg A Malay vessel propelled by oar, punt poles or sails, Junk (qv) or Ketch (qv) rigged. Wikipedia
Trow Tw A cargo vessel used inshore and in the rivers Severn and Wye. Wikipedia
Wherry Wy A sailing boat used for inland navigation including the rivers Cam and Thames and in the Broads. Wikipedia
Xebec Xbk A two or three masted Mediterranean vessel with both square and lateen sails. AKA Xebeck, Zebec. Wikipedia
Yawl Yl A two masted fore-and-aft rigged vessel with the mizzen mast positioned abaft, or close to, the rudder stock. Wikipedia