Nautical Trivia Quiz for Sailors

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Nautical Trivia Quiz

Test your knowledge of fun nautical trivia with a sailing focus. These are great questions for a long night watch or the yacht club bar. The answer to each question is given on the next page.

1. Your disabled sailboat has been taken under tow. When a fog bank rolls in, what sound signals should you make?

2. What is the origin of the phrase "son of a gun"?

3. What is the origin of the term "mayday" for an emergency call?

4. What percentage of ocean water is composed of dissolved salts?

5. Where on a sailboat are you most likely to find an angel?

6. You have been sailing south through day after day of heavy overcast and fog, and are thus unable to use your sextant to determine your latitude (and you have no GPS). How can you tell when you have crossed the equator?

7. Few people with ancraophobia become sailors. Why? What are they afraid of?

8. Every mariner knows the different between port and starboard. Hundreds of years ago, however, a different word was used to refer to the left side of the boat. What is it? Do you know the origin of these terms?

9. Is everything on your boat hunky dory? This phrase for feeling carefree does have a nautical origin, but it's not related to a small wood boat that is rowed. Where does the phrase originate?

10. Rum punch is a favorite among sailors when the sun is over the yardarm. There's a delightful little verse to help you remember the proportions of different ingredients in rum punch:

One of sour
Two of sweet
Three of strong
And four of weak.

Name the four ingredients that are sour, sweet, strong, and weak.

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Answers to Nautical Trivia Quiz

Here are the answers to the trivia questions on the previous page:

1. A vessel under tow in fog should give one long sound blast followed by three short blasts. Repeat at two-minute intervals.

2. In historic sailing ships, women were occasionally smuggled aboard - and many naturally became pregnant in due course. Childbirth at sea traditionally happened between cannons on the gun deck, and the child was recorded in the ship's log as a son of a gun.

3. "Mayday" is said to have originated from the French phrase "M'aidez" - meaning "Help me."

4. Although salinity varies in different oceans and locations, on average sea water is about 3.5% dissolved salts.

5. An "angel" is another term for an anchor kellet or sentinel. This is a weight that is suspended from the anchor rode some distance down from the bow to lower the angle between the lower part of the rode and the sea bottom, thus increasing its holding power while also providing slack to absorb the strain caused by gusts and waves, especially when there is not room to let out sufficient scope.

6. Water going down a drain swirls counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. So just put some water in the galley sink and watch after you pull the plug. This is called the Coriolis effect, which also influences ocean and wind currents.

7. Ancraophobia is fear of the wind.

8. The term originally used for the left side of the boat was larboard. Given its similarity in sound to "starboard," you can see how the term "port" became preferable over time. "Starboard" derived from Old English terms for steering board (on the right side of historic ships). Larboard possibly came from the words for loading and board - and ships were traditionally docked on their left side for loading. "Port" is thought to have the same meaning: the side put to the wharf when in port.

9. Sailors in port in Yokohama liked to visit Hunki-Dori street when they felt carefree - in the center of the city's red light district where sailors were wont to go after a long time at sea.

10. Rum punch can be made in various ways, but this ditty helps you recall the basics. One part of lime juice (sour); two parts of sugar syrup or a sweet juice like orange or pineapple (sweet); three parts rum (strong); and four parts water or any lighter juice (weak).

How'd you score? Good enough to celebrate by flying three sheets to the wind?

Much of this nautical trivia comes from the Sailing Pocket Companion from Pavilion Books.

More nautical quizzes:

Test Your Knowledge of Navigational Aids


What to Do if You Run Aground

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