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[reef] /rif/ Nautical
a part of a sail that is rolled and tied down to reduce the area exposed to the wind.
verb (used with object)
to shorten (sail) by tying in one or more reefs.
to reduce the length of (a topmast, a bowsprit, etc.), as by lowering, sliding inboard, or the like.
to pull (old oakum) out of seams, as with a rave hook (often followed by out).
Origin of reef2
1350-1400; Middle English refe (noun) < Dutch reef
Related forms
unreefed, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for reefed
Historical Examples
  • Sails were furled, others were reefed, and all was made fairly snug.

    The Last Voyage Lady (Annie Allnutt) Brassey
  • He was reefed close and was making for the inlet, up Bay End way.

    Janet of the Dunes

    Harriet T. Comstock
  • The sails were not reefed, for it was not known when they might be required.

    Frank Merriwell's Cruise Burt L. Standish
  • Perfectly cool, he stood waiting till the sails were reefed.

    The Three Midshipmen W.H.G. Kingston
  • We had been under lower-topsails and a reefed foresail all night.

  • It blew so hard that the topsails had to be reefed at first, and then taken in.

  • I shouted, and had the sense to hoist the reefed foresail at once.

    The Riddle of the Sands Erskine Childers
  • The sail had been reefed, but it was as much as we could carry.

    Peter Trawl W. H. G. Kingston
  • The helm was put down and the topsails lowered and reefed in stays.

    Mr. Midshipman Easy Captain Frederick Marryat
  • If there is a stiff breeze, set topsails alone, whole or reefed.

    The Seaman's Friend Richard Henry Dana
British Dictionary definitions for reefed


a ridge of rock, sand, coral, etc, the top of which lies close to the surface of the sea
a ridge- or mound-like structure built by sedentary calcareous organisms (esp corals) and consisting mainly of their remains
a vein of ore, esp one of gold-bearing quartz
Word Origin
C16: from Middle Dutch ref, from Old Norse rifrib1, reef²


the part gathered in when sail area is reduced, as in a high wind
to reduce the area of (sail) by taking in a reef
(transitive) to shorten or bring inboard (a spar)
Word Origin
C14: from Middle Dutch rif; related to Old Norse rif reef, rib1, German reffen to reef; see reef1


noun the Reef
another name for the Great Barrier Reef
another name for the Witwatersrand
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for reefed



1660s, "take in, roll up" (as a sail on a ship), from reef (n.2). Related: Reefed; reefing.



"rock ridge underwater," 1580s, riffe, probably via Dutch riffe, from a Scandinavian source, cf. Old Norse rif "ridge in the sea; reef in a sail," literally "rib" (see rib (n.)).



"horizontal section of sail," late 14c. (mid-14c. in rif-rope), from a Scandinavian source, cf. Old Norse rif "reef of a sail," probably a transferred use of rif "ridge under the sea; rib" (see rib (n.) and cf. reef (n.1)). German reff, Swedish ref, Norwegian riv, Danish reb likely all are from the Old Norse word.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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reefed in Science
A strip or ridge of rocks, sand, or coral that rises to or near the surface of a body of water. See more at coral reef.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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