Gunwale and gunnel

Photo of author


A gunwale is the upper side of a ship or boat or the uppermost planks of a wooden vessel. Originally, the gunwale of a ship was the part of the deck where the guns were mounted and the term was spelled gonne wale, meaning gun plank. Gunwale is pronounced GUNnull.

Gunnel is an alternative spelling of gunwale; the definition of gunnel is also the upper side of a ship or boat or the uppermost planks of a wooden vessel. This spelling is gaining momentum as it is closer to how the word is pronounced, though many editors still frown upon the simplified spelling. Gunnel is also a small ocean fish.


Luckily, I found it within a couple of hours floating full with water and only a bit of the gunwale and the front of the bow could be seen on the surface. (World Fishing & Aquaculture Magazine)

Time for a snack, I braced my rod against the gunwale with just enough forethought to tuck it under a cleat. (Field & Stream Magazine)

I jumped in the water then grabbed the gunwale of the boat as the residual current from the wind tried to sweep me away. (The Fiji Times)

He also explained that it was not practical to construct safety rails on the gunwale or side deck of the boat as this would be constantly damaged due to the boat-to-boat contact. (The Borneo Post)

Penny Gough, the medical co-ordinator for the Volvo Ocean Race, said the most common illnesses were skin infections and sores with 67 incidents, followed by 54 cases of “gunwale bum” – apparently a painful, pimply condition caused by spending too much time in damp gear. (The New Zealand Herald)

The gunnel height is perfect for keeping you securely in the boat but not so high that you can’t land a fish over the side. (Florida Sportsman Magazine)

The boat pulled up to a mooring ball; the divers sat on the gunnel (upper side of the boat) and one by one rolled backward into the water. (The Miami Herald)