Rules of the Road

(and other "Rhymes of Occasion")


If close hauled on the starboard tack,
No other ship can cross your track;
If on the port tack you appear,
Ships going free must all keep clear;
While you must yield, when going free,
To ships close-hauled upon your lee.
And if you have the wind right aft,
Keep clear of every sailing craft.


When both side lights you see ahead,
Port your helm and show your RED.
Perfect safety-go ahead!

If to your starboard RED appear,
It is your duty to keep clear.
But when upon your port is seen
A vessel's starboard light of GREEN,
There's nothing much for you to do,
For GREEN to port keeps clear of you!

From Roll and Go by Joanna Carver Colcord (1924)
Weather rhymes in great store:

Winds that change against the sun
Are always sure to backward run.

And of the barometer,

First rise after a low,
Squalls expect and more blow.

Of sunset and sunrise,

Red at night,
Sailor's delight.
Red in the morning,
Sailor's warning.

Of winds and clouds:
First the rain and then the wind,

Topsail sheets and halliards mind;
First the wind and then the rain,
Hoist your topsails up again.

Mackerel skies and mares' tails
Make tall ships carry low sails.

Grace before meat:

Old horse! old horse! how came you here?
-From Sacarap' to Portland Pier.
I carted stone this many a year,
Until, worn out by sore abuse,
They salted me down for sailors' use.
The sailors they do me despise;
They turn me over and damn my eyes,
Cut off my meat and pick my bones,
And heave the rest to Davy Jones.

And these were the rhymes for turning out the watch, which were sometimes chanted at the forecastle door. In the second rhyme, the terms "larbowlin" and "starbowlin" are old names for the port and starboard watches respectively.

Awake, awake, you weary sleepers,
Know you not 'tis almost day?
Here while thus you're sleeping,
God's best hours will pass away.

Show a leg! Show a leg!

Larbowlins stout, you must turn out
And sleep no more within;
For if you do we'll cut your clew,
And let starbowlins in.

From Roll and Go by Joanna Carver Colcord (1924)
When in safety and in doubt,
Always keep a good lookout
Strive to keep a level head,
Mind your lights and heave your lead.

Two close-hauled ships upon the sea,
To one safe rule must each agree;
The starboard tack must keep his luff,
The port, -- bear off.
Francis Pease Harlow's Making of a Sailor (1928)