The gunwales (pronounced "gunnels") is the upper edge of the ships sides; on a modern yacht could also be known as the toe-rail. It probably comes from a man-o-war "gun walls" where the cannon stick out from the side of the ship. Wherever it is on a ship, it means its full up and cannot take any more.
By SailingQuiz September 2019 Category: Nautical Saying
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What does Full to the gunwales mean?
What is the nautical origin of the phrase "Full to the gunwales"?
Definition of the nautical phrase "Full to the gunwales".