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SLASPA TRIVIA-Why is a Bathroom on a Boat called the “Head”?

So far through this medium, you have learnt why ships are called “she”, how a nautical mile was arrived and why is sea speed calculated in “knots”. This week, we have a funnier one which is, why is a bathroom on a boat called the head? And why do boaters jokingly say when on a boat be sure to use your "Head". Also, in the end of this issue, we have provided the communication protocols that boat masters should adhere to.

“Head” is a much used maritime word meaning the top or forward part. Head was also the name given to that part of the older sailing ships, forward of the raised section near the bow or forward part of the boat called the forecastle.

So when someone said they were going to the head it meant they were going to the forward part of the boat. The sailors would climb down onto an area floored with a grating to relieve themselves. The grating allowed the open sea to help keep the area clean. The name has been largely retained among seamen, even in these days of modern toilets and modern flushing devices. And now you know how the bathroom was called the “head”.

We always want you to use your head on a boat ride and we are sure that some of you have noticed that when on a Sunset/Evening excursions/ Daytime Local Boat ride, before the vessel leaves port, the boat masters or captains are on the radio. If you have wondered what they are doing, they are notifying the Lighthouse of the following:

  1. The number of passengers and crew on board;
  2. The Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) back to port

They must do this and the information is important as it can be utilized by the Police Marine Unit (PMU) in the event of a Search and Rescue (SAR) operation. In that regard, the master must ensure the numbers given are accurate to ensure accountability.              

In turn, the Lighthouse may alert the PMU to the presence of vessels conducting such rides. Whilst on the boat ride, if you notice that you are out later than scheduled, then the ETA has been delayed, the master would have to alert the lighthouse keeper; who will then inform the relevant authorities including the PMU if necessary. And don’t get too upset if the music is turned down when the boat master an captain are on the radio because he/she is responsible for ensuring that the Music is Turned Off when transmitting messages to the Lighthouse and upon entering and exiting the ports of entry or various bays for clear communication.

For more information please call the Division of Maritime Affairs at 457-6151.