Definition of gunwale in English:


(also gunnel)


  • The upper edge or planking of the side of a boat or ship.

    • ‘Installation was neat and tidy, cables and steering being run down each side of the boat under respective gunwales and thence into the centre console.’
    • ‘Your ship will immediately be surrounded by frantic rowboats, young men standing at the gunwales shouting Halloo!’
    • ‘Seats were screwed onto the frames, and hoops of ash fixed on as gunwales.’
    • ‘You never know what quite to expect at boat show product demonstrations, but when someone swings a baseball bat repeatedly into a boat's gunwale, they quickly get everyone's attention.’
    • ‘In consequence, he was entirely too occupied with his own difficulties to notice the gossamer shape poking its head above the gunwales of the ersatz pirate ship suspended above the gambling floor to the left of the pinball arcade.’
    • ‘For their own safety, the two rescuers should lift together, and bring the swimmer into the canoe in stages - arms over gunwale, torso over gunwale, one leg over, etc.’
    • ‘Thick tarps, stretched gunwale to gunwale, deck three-quarters of the Brendan, but where the helmsman must stand there is a gaping hole.’
    • ‘After a taxing turtle-wrestling session the next day, I drag myself over the boat's gunwale and sit on a bare metal seat.’
    • ‘But when the houseboats line up gunwale to gunwale in a cove thick with blue exhaust, the river becomes a student paradise and every parent's worst nightmare.’
    • ‘Plank roads at intervals are pushed far into the swamp, but the banquettes [sidewalks] cease and wooden gunwales and planks take their place.’
    • ‘There was seating facing inboard along the gunwales of the boat.’
    • ‘It's one thing to board the Titanic as it leaves port, but quite another to come on board when the water is coming over the gunwales.’
    • ‘Broken windows and rotted gunwales allow plenty of light inside.’
    • ‘While working around a wing dam on the Missouri, a fish suddenly went ballistic alongside, bounced into his lap, slammed into the opposite side, ricocheted off the gunwale and went back in the water.’
    • ‘I'm perched on the gunwale of a boat rocketing along at breakneck speed, getting ready to jump into the emerald waters of Australia's Moreton Bay.’
    • ‘In fact before we knew it we were about to pass right beneath said tree, although this wasn't going to be easy as we were heading for a large overhanging bough which was only about a foot above the level of the gunwales.’
    • ‘We had to hoist the fish in and out of the holding tank and then onto the sling before lifting them gently over the gunwales to release them.’
    • ‘Wherever possible, he writes with a seaman's lingo of seaways, gunwales, swells and whitecaps.’
    • ‘Miri gripped the gunwales and held on for dear life as the boat careened from wave to wave, bouncing from rock to hidden rock.’
    • ‘The stats are so one-sided, that if this was a rowboat there would be no-one on the bear side… which means that water will soon be pouring over the gunwales.’


  • to the gunwales

    • informal So as to be almost overflowing.

      ‘the car is stuffed to the gunwales with camera equipment’
      • ‘With the place already stuffed to the gunnels with faceless drones, it will certainly be less interesting without him.’
      • ‘The houses are never squalid; what they are is crammed to the gunwales with stuff - stuff that's been packed into drawers and cupboards and closets, no rhyme or reason to it, and not an inch of space to spare.’
      • ‘Once, during a seasonal visit to the store, I watched as a little man struggled with a leviathan of a trolley, stuffed to the gunnels with drink, box after box of it.’
      • ‘Mine was stuffed to the gunnels with everything I could lay my hands on before we split.’
      • ‘And where are the food and wines from around the globe that stuff our British supermarkets to the gunnels?’
      • ‘Nevertheless, it explains the huge number of ferries and hydrofoils that regularly ply the waters between Helsinki and Tallinn full to the gunwales with thirsty Finns.’
      • ‘Across Europe, gigantic music stores stuffed to the gunwales with American pop, rock and urban do a sideline in hipster books.’
      • ‘As we danced and drank firewater away from the crush, thug after thug was hauled out of the crowd, some spattered with blood, others merely loaded to the gunwales with stolen booty.’
      • ‘I see the double-segment busses trundle past at rush hour, filled to the gunwales, and I'm glad: congestion would be worse without the busses.’
      • ‘It was a bit of a comedown in that we had to pack up everything and then spend 48 hours homeless - living in other people's spare rooms, our car packed to the gunnels with all our worldly possessions.’


Late Middle English: from gun + wale (because it was formerly used to support guns).