New to cruising? Here are all the terms you need to know

Andrea M. Rotondo October 20, 2020

The ship and nautical terms


The rear (stern) area of the ship. When you select a cabin, you can pick one in that’s aft, midship or forward.


The splashy main entrance and lobby of the ship. If you sail Norwegian Cruise Line, you may know this spot as the Centrum.

The atrium aboard Norwegian Star. (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)


Refers to the ship’s width at its widest point. This is important since it’s the measurement that will tell a captain if a vessel can transit tight spaces.


The very front of the ship.


The bridge is usually on a high deck and forward. It’s where the captain and officers navigate the ship. It’s command central and usually off-limits to passengers with the exception of small cruise lines such as Windstar Cruises and Uncruise Adventures that offer specific times when you can stop by the bridge to ask the officer and his or her team questions.

Bulkhead: Partition walls in strategic places on the ship to prevent the spread of fire or flooding.

Dry dock: When a ship is at a shipyard or other location to be refurbished or have technical upgrades made.

Forward: Toward the front of the ship.

Funnel: The smokestack at the top of the ship. Most cruise lines paint their logo on the side of the funnel.

Galley: The ship’s kitchen. Megaships like Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas may have more than one galley.

Gangway: This is the removable ramp or steps that passengers use to board or disembark the ship.

Grand staircase: Many posh ships, such as Oceania’s R-class ships, have a grand staircase in the atrium. It’s a fabulous spot for photographs — especially when you’re all dressed up. You could use the shot on next year’s holiday card!

GRT: Stands for gross registered tons and indicates the weight of the ship.

Helm: The ship’s wheel (or remote control navigation) and steering apparatus make up the helm.

Hull: The watertight body of a ship.

Keel: A bow-to-stern structural support that runs along the bottom of the ship. You’ll often hear about a ship’s keel-laying ceremony, which kicks off a major construction milestone.

Knot: Indicates the speed of a ship in nautical miles.

Lido deck: Old-school cruisers use this term to denote the pool deck.

The lido deck, also known as the pool deck. (Photo by Vintagepix/

Lifeboat: Every cruise ship carries smaller boats that can be used by passengers in case of emergency. Most often, these are separate vessels from the ship’s tenders (see that term below).

M.S.: Means motor-sail, a type of ship. If you sail Windstar Cruises, you’re likely already familiar with the term M.S.Y., which indicates motor-sail-yacht. Wind Surf, Wind Spirit and Wind Star are all motor-sail-yachts.

Midship: The middle section of the ship. If you’re worried about getting seasick, book a cabin on a low deck at midship so you’re close to the vessel’s fulcrum point, where you’ll feel less movement.

Mooring: A mooring is a physical structure to which a ship can be secured. Examples include piers, wharves, jetties, quays and anchor buoys.

Muster station: A designated location on the ship where each passenger must report for muster drill, a practice run in case of an actual at-sea emergency. Your muster station is printed on a map on the back of your cabin door and is listed on your cabin key card. The location could be in an interior bar or theater or on an open deck.

Panamax: A ship that’s the right width to sail the Panama Canal. Anything larger than a Panamax vessel cannot transit the canal.

Port side: This refers to the left side of the ship as you face forward.

Porthole: An oval or round window. It’s sealed shut so water can’t get in, but it does provide light and a limited view to the world outside.

Promenade: The open-air walkways that usually span the entire length of both sides of the ship.

S.S.: Stands for “steam ship.”