Sailor Speak of the Week – Hawser

Royal Navy supply ratings moving a 16 inch towing hawser circa World War II. (Photo credit: Imperial War Museum)



  • A heavy, cable-laid line for anchoring or towing. In modern usage, a hawser is a mooring line.
  • A vessel’s mooring ropes, chains, and warps. A rope is hawser-laid when it is composed of 3 or 4 strands which are twisted left-handed.


14th century Middle English and thence Anglo-Norman word haucer.


Obviously these get very heavy when wet. Like any kind of rope, line, cable, or chain, these need to be inspected and maintained by the Boatswain’s Mates to ensure they are in proper working order. Trust me, you do not want a hawser to snap under tension, especially if you are towing something.


Angelucci, E. & Cucari, A. (1975). Ships. Milan, IT: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore.

Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic, CT: Mystic Seaport Museum.

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