I am reading an entry in a French dictionary and translating it into English. This entry is “sauvegarde.” In a general context, this term is translated as “safeguard,” “protection,” or even “conservation.” However, in the context of the navy, the definition essentially says, “Rope for holding something.”

Now, my knowledge of the navy is sorely lacking, but I am reasonably confident that “safeguard” is not the word that goes with that definition. My research indicates that there are a dozen terms for the different types of rope used on a ship, such as “line,” “rigging,” and so on.

The dictionary does provide a few examples, which are “Sauvegarde de gouvernail” and “Sauvegarde d’aviron.” I am not entirely sure about this, but I think that the two examples translate to “Rudder line” and “Oar line,” respectively. I have seen pictures showing ropes or chains attached to the rudder for steering purposes, but the only thing that I can find for ropes and oars is a reference to wrapping ropes around oars.

What is the word that matches the above definition?

  • 1
    I'd think "safety line" or "tether", since in this context they seem to not be actual control or working lines, but backup lines to prevent accidentally losing the item.
    – Dave X
    Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 1:26
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    When was that dictionary published? Is it from the "age of sails" or more modern?
    – PMF
    Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 15:16
  • @PMF: That is a good question. This dictionary is the Digitized Treasury of the French Language, which was first uploaded in the early 90s. The definition that it gives essentially says, “Large rope used to hold an item that could come loose and be blown away.” The link to that is cnrtl.fr/definition/sauvegarde. The definition is a little different, but the idea is still the same, isn't it? I hope that helps! Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 17:44
  • A rope that holds something in its place could be a "stay", or as earlier noted, a "tether". If it's to stop something being blown away, I'd consider a "tie-down", but I don't think that's what Navy mariners would say. Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 16:22

2 Answers 2


What exactly is meant is difficult to say. The dictionary gives this example:

C'était une plaie par où entrait le naufrage. Le contre-coup avait été si violent qu'il avait brisé à l'arrière les sauvegardes du gouvernail, descellé et battant.

This is, as indicated, a quote from a 1866 book named Les Travailleurs de la mer by the famous french writer Victor Hugo. Now you could of course find an english translation of that work, but still that would only give an approximate translation. From the context, it means a piece that holds the rudder in place. But I doubt there's an exact translation possible, for several reasons:

  • The language, also the language of mariners, has changed a lot in almost two centuries.
  • Whether this thing (whatever it exactly was) is used the same in a recent boat is unclear.
  • The words in the marine language of french, english (and also german) have often quite different origins, not least because during the great times of sail and expeditions, they developed quite independently, as the seafaring nations where more at war with each other than not.
  • Victor Hugo was a writer, not a seaman, so whether that word usage was correct even at his time, is uncertain.

Due to the above points, I think there can only be an approximate translation, particularly because we don't really know what "thing" was meant there.

  • 1
    To tell you the truth, I had never heard of “The Toilers of the Sea” until I started looking into the meanings of “sauvegarde.” I think the example essentially says, “It was an open wound through which he would enter the shipwreck. The aftermath had been so violent that it had broken the safety line of the rudder at the back, unsealed and flapping.” Personally, I think that one commentator has the right idea with “safety line” or “tether.” Even so, I did learn quite a lot from your answer! Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 19:29

I have heard the term "rudder lock" used for "the thing/piece that holds the rudder in place".

I think a rope used to lock the rudder position deserves a specific name (e.g., rudder lock), as opposed to using a word like "tether" or "tie-down", both of which have a different meaning in English. I don't think "rudder line" works either, because I have heard that term (along with "rudder cable"), used to describe rudder control ropes that actively position the rudder (like from a ship's wheel), as opposed to locking it in place.

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