The "donkey" refers to a small steam engine known as a "donkey engine" which was commonly used as a winch, pump or saw on later sailing ships. If the donkey engine was broken or not available then the sailors would need to do the donkey work instead.
By SailingQuiz October 2019 Category: Nautical Saying
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What does Donkey work mean?
What is the nautical origin of the phrase "Donkey work"?
Definition of the nautical phrase "Donkey work".