‘yawl’ duty at the boat’s stern

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Senior Member
Hello everyone

I have a sentence in the Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, with which I feel lost. I cannot grasp the meaning:

Context: Tom Sawyer leaves the island where he hid with his friend and goes back to earth, now he is getting on a boat the guys had previously

"He crept down the bank, watching with all his eyes, slipped into the water, swam three or four strokes and climbed into the skiff that did ‘yawl’ duty at the boat’s stern. He laid himself down under the thwarts and waited, panting."

Can you please help me understand what is the meaning of the one in red? I know the words, I just do not know why I cannot grasp the meaning...

I am refering many time to this specific glossary Full Glossary for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer but it didn't help much with this case

Thank you very much!
Last edited:
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    English - England
    A yawl is a small boat that is kept on board a ship which is used by the crew for taking messages to land (or other ships) and for other small errands.

    did ‘yawl’ duty - was used to do what a yawl would have done.

    A skiff is a small boat with a sail, usually only capable of carrying one or two people.


    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    The word "yawl" is used more often today to mean a sailboat with two masts, the second of which is traditionally aft of the rudder post but is in any case much shorter than the mainmast. The picture below shows a classic yawl, built over a century ago and beautifully restored.

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