How might I describe washed up stuff in a word or phrase?

Asking for my granddaughter. She knows about "jetsam" but that's for things deliberately jettisoned:

unwanted material or goods that have been thrown overboard from a ship and washed ashore, especially material that has been discarded to lighten the vessel - OD

so does not fit in her story.

Neither does "flotsam", which is wreckage, though not deliberately discarded. And the "flot" says it's floating, not washed up.

the part of the wreckage of a ship and its cargo found floating on the water. - dictionary.com

  • 2
    flotsam washes ashore. – Lambie Feb 3 '18 at 20:56
  • @Lambie Thanks - but see my edit in response. – Ethan Bolker Feb 3 '18 at 21:02
  • This contradicts my understanding, which is flotsam is stuff finding its way into the sea which floats, and jetsam ditto but sinks. The former may be washed ashore, the latter might sink to the sea bed - all subject to tides and currents. – Weather Vane Feb 3 '18 at 21:04
  • 1
    Flotsam floats on the water and then washes ashore. I mean you could say many things here: trash, debris, garbage, detritus. Nothing says that flotsam has to sink. But flotsam works for me. Bottles float on water, can't they wash up onto the shore?? The fact flotsam floats and that it may wash ashore does not mean you can't couple it with washing ashore. – Lambie Feb 3 '18 at 21:05
  • Interesting question that improved my knowledge. – Weather Vane Feb 3 '18 at 21:19

Jetsam has an extended use outside of maritime law and it can be used for anything washed up on the shore.

In extended use. Something washed up or discarded; refuse, detritus. - OED

However, the news articles usually use the phrase flotsam and jetsam for the debris washed up on the shore.

The foul-smelling haul of flotsam and jetsam included plastic containers, bin liners stuffed to bursting and even a pile of cattle bones reached 30m inland. - telegraph.co.uk

A recent stroll along a Bay of Islands beach included the ugly sight of plastic bag remnants tangled all through the tide line flotsam and jetsam. - stuff.co.nz

Wikipedia offers the terms beach litter and tidewrack in the marine debris article:

Floating oceanic debris tends to accumulate at the center of gyres and on coastlines, frequently washing aground, when it is known as beach litter or tidewrack.

Tidewrack is not that common and it is not defined in big dictionaries; but it has this definition in Wiktionary:

seaweed and similar marine vegetation and rubbish deposited along a shore by a receding tide

The more common term is simply wrack but it is mainly used for the biological debris.


a. Marine vegetation, seaweed or the like, cast ashore by the waves or growing on the tidal seashore. (Cf. wreck n.1 2, varec n. 1)
       Also cart-wrack, grass-wrack, kelp-wrack, lady-wrack, sea-wrack.

b. Weeds, rubbish, waste, etc., floating on, or washed down or ashore by, a river, pond, or the like; = wreck n.1 2b.


enter image description here Image source: www.beachapedia.org

Another similar term is wrack line.

In the marine sense, the wrack line is the line of debris left on the beach by high tide. The wrack is usually made up of eel grass, kelp, crustacean shells, feathers, bits of plastic, and all kinds of litter.


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