Some linguistic offenses on the water are merely amusing, but others are just plain wrong and make the offending orator sound like a landlubber. Don’t be a landlubber, it’s probably boring.


Fenders v. Bumpers: Let’s start off easy, gentle reader. Cars have both fenders and bumpers. The fenders are on the side. Boats have fenders. On the side. If your boat has “bumpers” you have an Amphicar. Want to sound like you know what you’re doing? Never say “bumper” on a boat. Want to look like you know what you’re doing? Bring the damn fenders in the moment you leave the dock.

Verdict: Unless your boat is that new Lexus, it doesn’t have bumpers. Fend for yourself.

Saloon v. Salon: True story: 12-year-old Bill Prince wrote a letter to the editors of the previously esteemed but now near-pointless Boating magazine (honest to God, they recently published an article called “Five Things That Might Be Safer To Eat Than A Boat Show Hot Dog.” I’ll save you the time of looking it up: signal flare, Birkenstock sandal, teak trim, spoiled calamari and stuff from the bottom of your baitwell). But I digress. In my letter, 12-year old me inquired about the use of the word “salon” vs. “saloon.” In their September ‘85 issue they glibly replied that they didn’t want to be accused of telling 12 year-olds about saloons.

But the truth of the matter is that there are plenty of people who feel silly saying “salon,” as in hair salon, nail salon or tanning salon, when inviting people aboard their 3,000-hp battlewagon. Don’t we own boats to help keep us out of those places? Alas, saloon just sounds too rough and tumble for our time, so I’d call this battle lost.

Verdict: Just call it a salon.

Lines v. Ropes: This is a touchy one because so many people get it wrong. The raw material from which every working line is made is, clearly, rope. But once on board, whether to tie to a dock, shackle to an anchor, or to hoist up a mast, these former ropes only do their job in tension. Thus, they are lines. A stern line only works in tension, as does an anchor line, a bow line, etc. So every working “rope” on a boat is a liiiiine. As I see it, there are only two ropes on a boat. The first is the bell rope, which hangs from the clapper. The second is the throw rope which is sewn into the four collars on a life ring. That’s it!

Verdict: Don’t say rope.

Boater v. Boatman: Rarely seen outside of barbershop quartets and the Princeton University Band, a boater is a straw hat, not a person on a boat. These stiff summer hats were made popular in the late 19th century when recreational boating really began to take off in the U.S. It’s been said that FBI agents wore boaters as an unofficial uniform in the agency’s early years.

Verdict: In our gender-touchy society, this one is hopelessly over. You can’t call a woman a boatman, even if it’s proper grammar. Boaters we are, and boaters we shall be.

Cummins v. Cummings: It’s fingernails on a chalkboard time, folks. The engine manufacturer in question was founded by Mr. Clessie Cumm-INS in 1919. Our man Clessie held 33 U.S. patents and set five world speed and endurance records with his diesel engines. (Capt. Mansfield Smith Cumm-ING, incidentally, was the first director of the UK’s MI6 intelligence service and developed the “portable invisible ink” concept for his field agents, which made his name a household word.)

Verdict: Say it with me—the engines are Cumm-INS!

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.