Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Nautical The upper edge of the side of a vessel.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The top edge of the hull of a nautical vessel, where it meets the deck.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. The upper edge of a vessel's or boat's side; the uppermost wale of a ship (not including the bulwarks); or that piece of timber which reaches on either side from the quarter-deck to the forecastle, being the uppermost bend, which finishes the upper works of the hull.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Nautical, the upper edge of a ship's side; the uppermost wale of a ship, or that piece of timber which reaches on either side from the quarterdeck to the forecastle, being the uppermost bend which finishes the upper works of the hull.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. wale at the top of the side of boat; topmost planking of a wooden vessel

Etymologies

So called because guns were mounted on it.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English gonnewalle, itself from gonne 'gun' + wale, as it used to support the ship's guns (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • For the upper edges of the sides, called the gunwale (B, B), similar stringers were provided, but they extended farther fore and aft, and amidships were fully six and a half feet apart, whereas the lower stringers amidships were four and a half feet apart.

    The Wonder Island Boys: The Mysteries of the Caverns

  • This rod forms the gunwale, which is secured by strings to the ribs.

    The Prairie Traveler A Hand-book for Overland Expeditions

  • For example, "gunwale" (the small walkway along the side of a boat) is pronounced "gunnel".

    Maggie's Farm

  • Alvaro was placed precariously on the truck's gunwale, where he angrily insisted that the driver turn the truck around and go back for his hat.

    The Captain's Hat

  • It is at its best when he is describing natural phenomena, from the insect trill which is "like some great tinnitus", through the "black fists" of bats, swooping and darting, to the beetle which runs along the gunwale of a pirogue, "dense, heavy armoured, a brutal tank on tiny legs".

    The Devil's Garden by Edward Docx – review

  • When her front legs are over the gunwale, apply a bit of downward pressure to give her enough leverage to hop in.

    How To Turn Your Pup Into a Boat Dog

  • I remember being so enthralled by one scene, where the sailors were trying to capture a seabird that had landed on the gunwale, that I almost shouted at my sister, who came into the room just then, Shut up!

    Iain Lawrence Talks About Himself

  • But on this night, waiting for the dew, a little of it, to become more, on the surfaces that were mine, I heard the noises of a dew-lapper moving aft along the port - gunwale -- which was my property aft of the stroke-thwart clear to the stern.

    CHAPTER X

  • One fair-haired invader lay across the gunwale of a boat, the manner of his death told by the arrow that transfixed his breast.

    CHAPTER XII

  • Again he got the helpless man's head and shoulders on the gunwale.

    Chapter VIII

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