Do You Know These US Navy Terms?


By: Robin Tyler

6 Min Quiz

Image: Fatihhoca / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

The history of the United States Navy is long and colorful and dates back many years. 

During that time, many have served in this prestigious branch of the United States armed forces. The Navy has been at the forefront of defending America since its inception during colonial times. It's seen many victories, most notably during World War II, but it's also suffered some painful defeats. However, without a doubt, it's easily the most powerful navy on the planet today! And that's not in terms of an active fleet only. The air wing of the United States Navy is larger than many air forces in the world!

Of course, like many organizations, the United States Navy has many of its own terms and slang words. A specialized lingo, you might say. These are used daily by regular seaman, officers and even the captains of fleet ships. But just how many of these do you think you would be able to decipher?

Some terms are general and used in boating around the world, while others are certainly only used by the Navy itself. Let's see how many of them you're able to get right! And you better have your thinking cap on, because this quiz is a salty seadog for sure! 

If you were in the "aft" of a U.S. Navy ship, where would you be?

That's right, in U.S. Navy terminology, the "aft" of the boat is the rear end. It's not the stern, which is the very back end of the boat, but aft is headed in that direction.


Do you know what the "foc'sle" is?

An abbreviation for "forecastle," the "foc'sle" is a section on the front of a ship. This is usually where the anchor would be dropped from.


Someone using the "autovon" on a U.S. Navy ship would be using what?

The internal telephone system used by the Navy is called the "autovon," short for "Automatic Voice Network." This telephone system was designed for the military and connects the captain of a large warship with all of the crucial areas that make it operate efficiently—for instance, the engine room.


A Navy seaman deployed on a ship going to the "West Pac" would be going to which ocean?

It's just easier to give all the oceans in the world cool, shortened names like West Pac for the Western Pacific. If you were transferred to a ship in the Mediterranean, you would be serving on a "Med cruise."


On which type of vessel would a "bubblehead" serve?

It stands to reason that "bubbleheads" would serve on a submarine, don't you think? Especially as they spend most of their time underwater! In the past, the term was also used for Navy divers.


On a U.S. aircraft carrier, which of these would be a "black shoe"?

In the U.S. Navy, the term "black shoe" refers to a naval officer who is NOT an airman. Officers that are airman will wear brown shoes, not black.


What is stored in a "chain locker" aboard a Navy vessel?

Depending on the size of the ship, anchor chains need different sized chain lockers. For example, on an aircraft carrier, the chain locker would be huge. It has to be to store over 1,400 feet of chain, where the links weigh around 130 pounds each.


What is prepared in the "galley" of a U.S. Navy ship?

A "galley" is just another name for a kitchen aboard a U.S. Navy vessel. Just never call it a kitchen, OK? On a U.S. aircraft carrier, a "galley" will produce close to 20,000 meals a day!


Which of these terms would refer to a U.S. Marine based on a Navy vessel?

The term "jarhead" was given to Marines by U.S. Navy sailors in World War II. It's said they were called this because in their dress blue uniform, which had a high collar, they looked like a mason jar.


A U.S. Navy sailor wanting some "geedunk" wants which of these below?

Although "geedunk" refers to any kind of sweet, it's most notably associated with candy. Interestingly, a medal, the National Defense Service Medal, is sometimes called the "geedunk medal."


What's the port side of a ship?

In nautical terms, the "port" side of a ship is the left-hand side of a ship. Hence, a command of turn 30 degrees to port would see a ship change direction by 30 degrees to the left.


The term "combatant ship" would refer to which of these?

A "combatant ship" is any ship that will be involved in combat should the need arise. U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, submarines and other similar vessels are all considered to be "combatant ships."


On a U.S. Navy ship, which of these below defines a "mess"?

The "mess" on a U.S. Navy ship is the area where meals are consumed. And there's not just one mess aboard most vessels; for example, there will be a mess for regular sailors and a separate one for officers.


A sailor in the "crow's nest" is where on a vessel?

The "crow's nest" is a lookout point on a ship. Most modern vessels no longer need them, thanks to radar and other detection devices, but in the old days, this was where the most eagle-eyed sailor would sit to spot other ships or land.


If you have "hot rack" with another sailor, what are you doing?

Ships are confined spaces, and in some cases, bunks have to be shared. Don't worry, in most cases the sailors sharing the bunk are on different watches, so they don't need to sleep at the same time.


What is a "fathom" in U.S. Navy-speak?

A "fathom" is simply a nautical measurement. It's the equivalent of six feet deep. Originally, it was the distance of the outstretched arms of a sailor.


Where would you find the "fantail" of a vessel?

The "fantail" is found at the rear of the ship. Often, this area of the deck at the rear of a vessel is used for ceremonies, such as the awarding of medals.


If you were in the "bow" of a U.S. Navy ship, where would you be?

That's right, in U.S. Navy terminology, the "bow" of the boat is the front section. On older ships, this is where the figurehead—a beautifully carved piece of wood depicting a lady, for example—would be found.


Which item of clothing would a "Dixie Cup" be?

Sailors are instantly recognizable thanks to the unique caps they wear. These are commonly known as "Dixie Cups" and should always be worn at a jaunty angle!


What type of boat is a "gig"?

The commanding officer of a ship would need to get to and from his vessel, especially if it's moored of a port. To do this, he has his own personal transport, a small motorboat called a "gig."


While in combat, what would a "bandit" be?

The term "bandit" has been used in aerial warfare since World War I. Today, the U.S. Navy still use it to describe threatening enemy aircraft.


In terms of armament, what is a "bird"?

"Birds" are common U.S. Navy terminology for surface-to-air missiles that might be used against enemy aircraft. An example of one is the RIM-67 Standard ER, which could be used against air targets or other enemy naval vessels.


If sailors are called "topside", where do they need to go?

"Topside" is simply the first deck on the ship in which a sailor would be exposed to the elements. Don't worry, they aren't called topside in a storm unless they're needed to man a specific station.


Of the options below, a sailor nicknamed a "sparky" would be a _____?

Early radio equipment was not very reliable and could sometime let out sparks or shock their users. For this reason, a radioman is known as a "sparky." This term could apply to an electrician as well.


Who would you find in a section of the a vessel called the "goat lockers"?

A goat locker is an area of the boat where you will find the Chief Petty Officers. Why a goat locker? Well, CPOs are normally older than the crew, hence the goat reference. However, legend has it that in the early days, goats were kept on Navy vessels to provide milk, and it was the CPOs that looked after them!


What is the starboard side of a ship?

In nautical terms, the "starboard" side of a ship is the right-hand side of a ship. Hence, a command of turn 30 degrees to starboard would see a ship change direction by 30 degrees to the right.


A U.S Navy ship that is "balls to the wall" is _______?

Not strictly a U.S. Navy term but certainly used by sailors, "balls to the wall" means to go as fast as the vessel is capable of going. Early speed controllers on ships had two metal balls that would push forward when the ship was going as fast as it could, hence the term.


Someone who has just had their "crow tacked on" has been _______?

Someone boasting that they have had their "crow tacked on" has been promoted in navy terms. Petty Officers wear an emblem of an eagle with inverted chevrons. The eagle is often referred to as a crow.


Any idea as to what the term "all hands" means?

Have you heard the expression "all hands abandon ship"? Well, it simply means that every member of the crew should get off the ship.


When commanded to "batten down the hatches", what do U.S. Navy sailors do?

A term that we use today, "batten down the hatches," is a Navy term which means that all watertight fixtures should be closed so no water can come in. This might be done in extreme weather when a ship encounters monster waves.


A Navy seaman serving on a "tin can" is on which kind of vessel?

Destroyers have always been known as "tin cans" in the U.S. Navy. Although these vessels are not that small, they're not as heavily armored as other ships, making them very quick and maneuverable.


If a seaman is reported "AWOL", then he is ______?

Not strictly just a U.S. Navy term, to go "AWOL" means to be absent without leave. This is a very serious offence, and when caught, the person who was "AWOL" will be in very serious trouble.


No sailor wants to end up in "Davey Jones' locker". Where is that exactly?

Simply put, "Davey Jones' locker" is the bottom of the ocean. Many a ship have been sent to their doom here, especially during wartime. Davey Jones is said to be the ocean's keeper.


In the U.S. Navy, what is "snipe"?

Engineers aboard U.S. Navy ships are referred to as "snipes." These include machinist's mates, boiler tech's and electrician's mates, among others.


Can you tell us what the term "ahoy" is used for?

"Ahoy" is a U.S. Navy term that's used to bring attention to something. It might simply be "Ahoy, ship on the horizon," as an example. Originally, it was used as a greeting and actually comes from a Viking battle cry.


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