2 minute read

Fun Sailing Terms that Also Apply to Financial Services


 With the recent release of our whitepaper, “Smooth Sailing Through the Ideal Customer Experience,”  we began to wonder what other sailing terms might apply to the world of financial services. Many of these terms date back centuries and have survived changes to our English vernacular while being adapted for more general use. Maybe you’ve even recently heard some of these around your institution.

 Batten down the hatches – First used by Admiral W.H. Smyth in 1867, this term refers to securing deck and hull hatches on a ship during storms to prevent water from coming in. In credit terms, it refers to preparing for a coming storm, whether during a general economic event or a workout of a specific lending relationship. Battening down the hatches equates to reviewing credit files, evaluating collateral risk and opening lines of communication with your borrower. “ABC Corporation just filed bankruptcy. Time to batten down the hatches.”

Hand over fist – This was an early 18th century boating phrase that was quickly hijacked by the financial industry. Originally, it referred to the technique of securing ships with ropes. By the 1830s, people began using it in reference to making money … lots of money. Since financial institutions pride themselves on providing high levels of customer service rather than boosting profits, we may reserve this term when referring to a strong business prospect. “That client is really taking off. They are making money hand over fist.”

White Paper: Smooth Sailing Through the Ideal Customer Experience

Loose cannon – Given the size and weight of cannons, it’s easy to understand the dangers associated with failing to secure one to the ship. Today we use the phrase to reference people who are increasing risk or danger due to their actions. While serving as a commercial lender, it is not uncommon to hear this term in credit committee. “If Joe tries to bring that credit in here one more time, I’m not sure what I’ll do. He’s a loose cannon.”

By and large – In sailing terms, “by” means into the wind and “large” means off the wind. The sailing phrase was used when referring to ship stability as in, “By and large this ship handles well.” Today, the term is used in virtually every walk of life, including financial services. “By and large, they have great customer service and competitive rates.”

Know the ropes – The first known use of this term comes to us from Richard H. Dana Jr.’s memoir, “Two Years Before the Mast,” in 1840. Old sailing ships had a lot of ropes, and they each had a specific purpose. Those of you who were in Scouts also know the ropes, and realize that most knots have a sailing origin. Today, we use this term when referring to people who are really on top of their game and understand their industry. “That credit officer really knows the ropes.”

A clean bill of health – Given what was often a serious lack of general hygiene on board ships, they had to produce a bill of health when entering port. Google terms referred to it as “a certificate relating to the incidence of infectious disease on a ship or in the port from which it has sailed.” Today, while the term is still used in healthcare, it has also been borrowed in financial services. “We just finished our OCC exam and they gave us a clean bill of health.” No diseases here. 

There you have it. Maybe you’ll throw a few of these zingers out around the branch this afternoon. While you’re at it, we invite you to attend our webinar, “Smooth Sailing Through the Ideal Customer Experience.” One last thought before you go: a nice sailing quote by William Arthur Ward to think about as you look forward to the rest of 2018. “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

Until next time, we wish you smooth sailing and a nice tailwind. Hope to see you in port.


Thanks to the following sources on sailing terms:



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