Sailing Trivia – Fathom

by Tradewinds Instructor Ian Joseph

Although a fathom is now a nautical unit of length equal to six feet, it was once defined by an act of the British Parliament as “the length of a man’s arms around the object of his affections.” The word derives from the Old English Faethm, which means “embracing arms.” A fathom (abbreviation: ftm) = 1.8288 meters, is a unit of length in the imperial and the U.S. customary systems, used especially for measuring the depth of water. There are two yards (6 feet) in an imperial or U.S. fathom. [1] Originally based on the distance between the man’s outstretched arms, the size of a fathom has varied slightly depending on whether it was defined as a thousandth of an (Admiralty) nautical mile or as a multiple of the imperial yard. Formerly, the term was used for any of several units of length varying around 5–51â�„2 feet (1.5–1.7 m).

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