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The raven, or crow, was an essential part of the Vikings' navigation equipment.  These land-lubbing birds were carried onboard to help the ship's navigator determine where the closest land lay when weather prevented sighting the shore.  In cases of poor visibility, a crow was released and the navigator plotted a course corresponding to the bird's flight path because the crow invariably headed towards land.

The Norsemen carried the birds in a cage secured to the top of the mast.  Later on, as ships grew and the lookout stood his watch in a tub located high on the main mast, the name "crow's nest" was given to this tub.  While today's Navy still uses lookouts, in addition to radars and other sensors, the crow's nest is a thing of the past.

Posted on Tuesday, January 11, 2005 8:15 PM Day Job | Back to top

Comments on this post: Nautical Terminology: Crow's Nest

# re: Nautical Terminology: Crow's Nest
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I am delighted to get this background for a teaching workshop I am giving this afternoon. I had thought that the term came simply from the idea that the framework was like a crow's nest in appearance, and had no idea that it originated from a place where birds were actually housed. The entry is clear, concise and informative. Thanks.
Left by Dr Geoff Ward on May 16, 2005 11:12 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Crow's Nest
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What is the Nautical term for the "lookout" in the crow's nest?
Left by Jimmy Sheldon on Mar 02, 2006 4:36 AM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Crow's Nest
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So far as I am aware, he was just the "lookout." He may have been designated "main", "top" or "primary" lookout, but he was just the lookout.
Left by Mark on Mar 03, 2006 6:08 PM

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