Sailor Speak of the Week – Avast



  • An order to hold or cease doing something.


Probably earlier than the 17th Century. From Old Dutch, hou’vest, and possibly related to the Portuguese word, abasta, meaning, enough. Earlier origins could be from Arabic as well.


A fairly straightforward order. For example, the order ‘avast rowing’ would simply mean, ‘stop rowing’. If you’ve seen the 1996 Ridley Scott movie White Squall, there’s a scene where the new crew members aboard the school ship Albatross are learning the ropes. Jeff Bridges’ character, Captain Chris Sheldon gives the order ‘Avast hauling!’ The boys continue to haul away, probably because they’re unfamiliar with the term. Sheldon eventually yells, ‘STOP!’

*In real life, the Bridges family (Lloyd Bridges and his sons Jeff and Beau) actually have backgrounds in the sea service having served in the U.S. Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve.


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

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