Is it “Fake” or “Flake”? – by Capt. Craig Walker

It’s funny how these two terms came up so much over the last two days.

Right on the heels of a lengthy instructor meeting discussion on encouraging our students and members on the proper method for “flaking” sails, the question came up in my Advanced Anchoring class:  “Which is correct, ‘faking’ or ‘flaking’ an anchor rode on deck” in preparation for anchoring. I’ve heard this question before and my answer has always been, “I believe the two words are interchangeable”. I promised to get more proof before the end of the class and stated: “my preference is to say that we ‘flake’ a sail and ‘fake’ a coil of line on deck.

Anyway, here is the definitive (sort of) word on the subject:

As a noun, one definition of fake is: a coil of rope ready for running. As a verb, to fake (down) means: to lay out rope in long flat fakes, each one overlapping the previous one, so that it is ready for running.[1]

Okay, now let’s look at the word flake: as a noun, one definition of flake is a single turn or several turns of rope in a coil, more properly called a fake. The term is controversial. In his standard work on knots, Clifford Ashely states that “the dictionary form of fake is unknown at sea… that a flake is a single turn in a coil, and that flaking is coiling in various ways.” On the other hand, reliable references declare that flake is a mispronunciation of fake. Rear Admiral Austin M. Knight, author of Knight’s Modern Seamanship, 1941, uses only fake, which seems to be the choice for most 20th century sailors. As a verb, flake is a variant of fake which usually means coiling by forming a series of loose figure eights.[2]

Figure 8 Flake

[1] Reference: The Sailor’s Illustrated Dictionary, Thompson Lenfestey, Pg. 159.[2]Reference: The Sailor’s Illustrated Dictionary, Thompson Lenfestey, Pg. 169.

Note from Matt: Flake it or Fake it, your choice – but please take the time to stow our sails properly and help us make them last longer!

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8 Responses to Is it “Fake” or “Flake”? – by Capt. Craig Walker

  1. Jeff says:

    Thanks for a more definative answer. I used to correct seaman by saying “flaking out is what your hippie mother did, you’re faking out this line.” Always said it more for the laugh than caring about the actual definition

  2. Freeman L. Moore says:

    I have read different accounts of Fake or Flake. One of them, one is left the other right handed coil. I was taught by a BMC Navy guy who knew it all, just ask him. He said it was Fake to the right. FLM, YNCS Ritired.

  3. Tony Johnson says:

    Guess I have to butt in here. Is one winding of a coil of line a “fake” or “flake”? Do you “fake it out” or “flake it out?” The historical sources, like Falconer and Smyth, commonly prefer “fake.” But Clifford Ashley (The Ashley Book of Knots) and John Harland (Seamanship In The Age Of Sail)—neither lightly dismissed—say they’ve never heard anyone use “fake.” The best policy with this is, as always, to follow the captain’s lead. But what if you’re the captain? Ahh, the burden of command.

  4. John says:

    Ther is the figure eight Fake and then the long Fake, You only showed the figure eight fake, 30 year usn retired.

  5. Hmm says:

    Ashley says he hasn’t heard to word “fake” used among sailors, but you didn’t mention that he also quotes the word “flake” being used as early as 1634 in Nathaniel Boteler’s Dialogues, which seems pretty convincing that “flake” is the original word.

  6. Capt. James Cook says:

    My understanding of the USCG guidelines is that “faking” a line is laying it out in bights that DO NOT cross or overlap each other. If you lay it out in loops that overcross, that is “flaking”. I teach students to remember that the “l” in the spelling stands for “Loops”.
    Capt. James Cook
    3rd Coast Captains
    (A mariner school)

  7. Shaun says:

    Capt. Cook’s explanation makes sense in my world. I’d always heard that we fake lines and flake sails. So if we make layers of line as we do sails, we must be flaking those to.

  8. Cleaver says:

    There are coils, fakes, and flemishes, as far as the Navy and Coast Guard documentation is concerned. Pretty much any word can get bastardized, just like when people call any head sail a jibsail.


    Use CTRL+F to search for coil, or fake, or flemish. There are images to show the various types.

    Here is the text: “Coiling down a line” means laying it up in circles, roughly one on top of the other.
    Faking down a line is laying it up in the same manner as for coiling down, except that it is laid out in long, flat bights, one alongside the other, instead of in round coils. The main advantage of working with line that is faked down is that it runs off more easily.
    To flemish down a line, start with the bitter end, and lay on deck successive circles of line in the manner of a clock spring with the bitter end in the center. Right-laid line is laid down clockwise; left-laid line is laid down counterclockwise.

    Coast Guard:

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