Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Flotsam is the stuff that is seen floating after a ship sinks.

Jetsam is floating stuff purposely thrown overboard, for whatever reason.



  1. I propose slipsam: The stuff you wanted to throw overboard, but where doing so slipped your mind.

    As in: "Honey, what is the meaning of this rose-scented letter by 'Yours hot-and-bothered, Jess' on your desk?"
    "Oh, that 's just some slipsam, neveryoumind."

  2. Flotsam, is imply "that which floats".
    It can come from many sources, and is not solely from sinking ships.

    Jetsam is that which is jettisoned.

    The difference is legal, the items can be identical.

    If, for instance, your cargo ship, in heavy seas, is struck by a freak wave, which breaks loose some containers on deck and washes them overboard, they are flotsam...
    However, the loss of these, from one side of the ship, causes your vessel to list to the more heavily laden side. So Captain Max decides, that in order to save the ship from capsize, that the container stack on the heavier side must be sacrificed, and craned overside, to be set loose.

    I hope in all the frenzied excitement you remember which is which.
    Because the containers washed overboard by the wave are flotsam, legally, and the ones you craned overboard, because you jettisoned them voluntarily, are Jetsam.
    Even though they may be identical.

    Do we need to discuss lagan?

  3. If you're interested in flotsam, and the fate of rubber ducks cast adrift in the north pacific in 1992, you might find an old post of mine to be of interest....

    Curtis Ebbesmeyer, google him.

  4. Well, I can't find a dictionary that doesn't mention a ship in either word's definition. But I like your broader context definitions, and you are much smarter than any dictionary writer I have ever met (true!) so I will accept your words as gospel.

    Lagan? Something that lays? Hmmmmm. Sounds like something a marine insurance company would say.

    Don't make me read your old posts. Heh. Ok, I will.

  5. Ok, I read it. I don't personally think they are either flotsam or jetsam. So maybe I don't honor your definitions after all. I will look for some other dictionaries. :)

  6. Here's what the Oxford English dictionary has to say:

    1. Law. Such part of the wreckage of a ship or its cargo as is found floating on the surface of the sea. Usually associated with JETSAM.

    b. transf. and fig. Sometimes used jocularly for ‘odds and ends’.

    2. dial. (See quot. 1804).

    3. Newly ejected oyster-spawn.

    1. The throwing of goods overboard; = JETTISON n. Obs.

    2. Goods thrown overboard from a ship in distress in order to lighten the vessel (and afterwards washed ashore).
    The last clause is no part of the etymological meaning, but is found as early as 1570, having apparently originated from taking the word as ‘that which is thrown or cast ashore by the sea’. This is directly opposed to the quot. from Coke in sense 1, and its transl. in Les Termes de la Ley. But it is the sense given in recent Law-books. Spelman and Blackstone took the meaning as ‘merchandise thrown overboard and sunk in the sea’. Both explanations evidently arose in the attempt to distinguish jetsam from flotsam, in the phrase flotsam and jetsam. Etymologically flotsam should mean that which is afloat in consequence of a wreck or from the action of the wind or sea itself, jetsam that which has been thrown overboard to save the ship, without reference to whether it floats or sinks.
    (In quot. 1570 the word appears to be used as adj. or adv.)

    b. transf. and fig.

  7. @Boris - Slipsam. I love it!

    @Boris 2 - Jesus! Screw Oxford. Get a Webster. :) Newly-ejected oysters? Really? Oysters are ejected? Like sprayed out? Jesus!

    That has the makings of a good Country song: " Like a baby oyster, newly-ejected from your love, and adrift on the choppy seas of my lonely life."

    Not "adrift." Let's see... "aflot."

  8. "And just layganin' on my back in despair..."

  9. "that which is afloat in consequence of a wreck OR from the action of the wind or sea itself"
    'Or' is the operative word here, making clear that not all flotsam is in consequence of a wreck.

    Ebbesmayer's ducks and other bathtoys were the contents of a container lost overboard in bad weather. Many of them are floating still and they are very definitely flotsam. Some went through the arctic, around Greenland, down the coast of Norway, down the north sea, through the English channel, into the bay of Biscay..

    Ligan (or lagan) designates goods that are floating or sunk in the sea & have a buoy or floating object attached to them as a mark of ownership or in order that they may be found again. Such goods found by other persons must be returned to the owner, while flotsam and jetsam must be returned only if the owner makes a proper claim.

  10. Actually, this argument is circular since I would consider a "marker buoy" as simply more jetsam and disregard it.

    Here you speak of "must" on the open high seas. Well, you may be sure I would try to find the owner as best I could before spending the treasure. I'm just that kind of guy.

  11. Incidentally, I have blogs called Flotsam and Jetsam, but now I am unsure of how to proceed. I thought the words were ships stuff. A quandry.

  12. I wouldn't worry too much about it, unless you become a mariner. All these terms relate to maritime law.

    Any wreckage found on the shore around Britain has, officially, to be reported to the Receiver of Wrecks, whose job it is to take possession in the name of the crown, and then determine who is the rightful owner. The coastguard and the local police want to know too. It is generally ignored by beachcombers, and only becomes important when things of big value come ashore, as happened a couple of years ago at Branscombe, Devon, when the container ship MS Napoli went aground, spilling containers.


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