or gun·nel

noun Nautical.
  1. the upper edge of the side or bulwark of a vessel.
  2. the sheer strake of a wooden vessel; the uppermost strake beneath the plank-sheer.

Origin of gunwale

1325–75; Middle English. See gun1, wale1; a plank so called because guns were set upon it Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for gunwale

Historical Examples of gunwale

  • I made a grab at the gunwale, and caught it in the stern-sheets.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • Others of the head hunters were scrambling over the gunwale.

    The Monster Men

    Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • The drift of the boat had brought us so close that he could have grasped the gunwale had he been so minded.

    Micah Clarke

    Arthur Conan Doyle

  • Madden seized it, whispered his own name and scuttled in over the gunwale.

  • Two had been sitting on the gunwale of it, and now lay down.

    A Spirit in Prison

    Robert Hichens

British Dictionary definitions for gunwale



  1. nautical the top of the side of a boat or the topmost plank of a wooden vessel
  2. full to the gunwales completely full; full to overflowing
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

Word Origin and History for gunwale

mid-15c., gonne walle, from gun (n.) + wale "plank" (see wale). Originally a platform on the deck of a ship to support the mounted guns.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper