Etymology
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dead reckoning (n.)

"ascertaining of the position of a ship by measurement of the distance run" (without observation of heavenly bodies), 1610s, perhaps from nautical abbreviation ded. ("deduced") in log books, but it also fits dead (adj.) in the sense of "unrelieved, absolute."

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half seas over (adj.)
slang for "drunk," 1736, sometimes said to be from notion of a ship heavy-laden and so low in the water that small waves (half seas) wash over the deck. This suits the sense, but the phrase is not recorded in this alleged literal sense. Half seas over "halfway across the sea" is recorded from 1550s, however, and it was given a figurative extension to "halfway through a matter" by 1690s. What drunkenness is halfway to is not clear.
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close quarters (n.)

1722, originally nautical, also close-fights, "bulkheads fore and aft for men to stand behind in close engagements to fire on the enemy," it reflects the confusion of close (v.) and close (adj.); "now understood of proximity, but orig. 'closed' space on ship-board where last stand could be made against boarders" [Weekley]. Compare also closed-minded (1880s), a variant of close-minded, as if "shut" rather than "tight," also closed-fisted, occasional variant of close-fisted "stingy."

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bitter end (n.)

In lexicons of sea language going back to 1759, the bitter end is the part of a cable which is round about the bitts (the two great timbers used to belay cables) when the ship is at anchor (see bitt).

Bitter end of the Cable, the End which is wound about the Bitts. ["The News-Readers Pocket-Book: Or, a Military Dictionary," London, 1759]

So, when a cable is played out to the bitter end, there is no more left to play. The term began to be used c. 1835 in non-nautical use and with probable influence of or merger with bitter (adj.).

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ditty bag (n.)

"small bag used by sailors for needles, thread, scissors, thimble, etc.," 1828, nautical slang, of uncertain origin, perhaps from the alleged British naval phrase commodity bag. Hence also ditty-box (1841).

Every true man-of-war's man knows how to cut out clothing with as much ease, and producing as correct a fit, as the best tailor. This is a necessity on board ship, for the ready-made clothing procured of the purser is never known to fit, being generally manufactured several sizes larger than necessary, in order that it may be re-cut and made in good style. [Charles Nordhoff, "The Young Man-of-War's Man," 1866]
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loose cannon (n.)

in the figurative sense "wildly irresponsible person, potent person or thing freed from usual restraint," by 1896; in the literal sense an object of dread on old warships; the figurative use probably arose from a celebrated scene in a popular late novel by Victor Hugo:

You can reason with a bull dog, astonish a bull, fascinate a boa, frighten a tiger, soften a lion; no resource with such a monster as a loose cannon. You cannot kill it, it is dead; and at the same time it lives. It lives with a sinister life which comes from the infinite. It is moved by the ship, which is moved by the sea, which is moved by the wind. This exterminator is a plaything. [Victor Hugo, "Ninety Three," 1874]
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lame duck (n.)

1761, "any disabled person or thing;" especially Stock Exchange slang for "defaulter."

A lame duck is a man who cannot pay his differences, and is said to waddle off. [Thomas Love Peacock, "Gryll Grange," 1861]

Sometimes also in naval use for "an old, slow ship." Modern sense of "public official serving out term after an election" is recorded by 1863, American English. The quote attributed to President Lincoln ("[A] senator or representative out of business is a sort of lame duck. He has to be provided for") is from an anecdote of 1878.

It is well known to everybody who knows anything of its history, that this court [Court of Claims] was made a sort of retreat for lame duck politicians that got wounded and had to retreat before the face of popular condemnation. That is just exactly what it was for, a safe retreat for lame ducks; and it was so filled up; (etc.) [Sen. John P. Hale, New Hampshire, Congressional Globe, Jan. 12, 1863, p.271]
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