Sailor Speak of the Week – Gale



  • A strong and continuous wind roughly 35-65 knots in velocity.
  • Sustained surface winds of 34-47 knots (according to NOAA’s National Weather Service).


Probably earlier than the 16th century. Possibly from Old Norse, gallen, meaning mad, or frantic.


Usually issued to mariners as a gale warning. The equivalent on land is a wind advisory. Generally not good news and probably means you’ll see breaking waves and white caps. The stronger the gale; the rougher the seas. Just imagine being inside a washing machine for hours on end. There’s no shortage of examples of vessels being damaged in rough weather or completely foundering. If the sea doesn’t get you, then the seasickness just might.

Remember, a ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. Smooth seas do not make skilled sailors.

As the old salts used to say, “It’s not the medals that you’re earnin’ it’s the knowledge that you’re learnin’ that’ll comfort ye and save ye when old Neptune starts a churnin’.”


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

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service Glossary. (2009, June 25). G. Retrieved from

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