Go Out and Get Wet Sailing

Basic Sailing Terms

You may already know about the Jib, the Spinnaker, the boom, port and starboard. You know you never say “ropes” on board, and that a jibe is often more dangerous than a tack. But here is a list of terms that you may not recognize. We even learned a little while reading through these

Keep in Mind, this isn’t a complete list, just a few terms that we found interesting and useful.

Aast: Command to stop the current actions
Abaft: The direction towards the stern of the boat; back.
Abeam: In an angle of 90 degrees to the keel of the boat.
Aft: The direction towards the stern of the boat; backwards.
Alee: Facing away from the wind
Aloft: Above the deck of the boat, not “above deck”
Anchor Cable or Anchor Warp: Chain or rope that connects the anchor with the vessel
Anchor windlass: A mechanism that is used in yachts to raise an anchor through the warp around a drum
Anemometer: Navigational instrument that measures the speed of the apparent wind
Antifouling Paint: Paint with toxic chemicals that is applied to the hull to reduce or prevent marine growth
Apparent wind: The subjective wind that results from true wind and the wind produced by motion
Astern: in backward direction; back; abaft the stern
Athwartships: in a 90 degree angle to the centerline of the vessel


Ballast Weight: A Weight normally of metal and placed deep in the hull to balance the boat
Barber Hauler: A line connected with the jib sail to control its adjustments
Bareboating: Renting a boat with no crew, generally for vacations
Barograph: A device that measures air pressure
Beam: Maximum width of a boat
Bearing: The direction of any object from your vessel
Bearing away: To turn a vessel away from the wind
Beaufort Scale: A table that ranks wind strengths and describes accompanying features
Belay: Securing a line in a cleat fitting; order to ignore the previous order
Bermuda sloop: The most “classic” rig with a triangular mainsail and a jib
Bight: The part of a rope that is used for making knots
Binnacle: Device holding and stabilizing a compass
Bitter End: The “end” of a rope, to part that stays on board, for example of the anchor rode
Boom Crutch: Supporting structure for the boom, stabilizes it when the boat is anchored
Boot top: Mark to indicate the waterline
Bottlescrew: A fitting to control the tension on the forestay
Bow fitting: Fitting to which the jib is attached
Bower anchor: Main anchor of a boat
Breast rope: The mooring rope or anchor warp that is used on yachts and cruisers
Bridge Deck: Mostly used to describe the intermediate deck between cabin and cockpit in small to medium-sized cruisers
Brightwork: Polished and shiny wood or brass on a boat
Bulkhead: Structure that divides the hull and is often constructed in a way to stabilize the boat
Buoyancy tanks: Sealed tanks in the hull of dinghies that contain buoyancy to support the boat in case it capsizes
Burgee: A little flag on the top of a mast that indicates the direction of the wind


Capsize: When the boat turns over to 90 (bad) or 180 (worse) degrees, normally due to high wind-exposure
Capstan: Device to wind rope, for example to lift the anchor
Chine: The edge between the side of the boat and the bottom; it is called a chine only in boats in which the angle between the two actually forms an angle
Chock: Normally round fitting in the boat to hold the anchor- or mooring rope.
Clew: The lower aft corner of a sail
Clove Hitch: Common knot; often used to bind a rope to a piling
Close reach: Steering off a close-hauled course by approximately 20 degrees
Close-hauled: To sail a boat as close to the wind as possible
Coaming: A wall-like extension above the deck to protect the cockpit from wind and water
Col regs: International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea
Communication system: Radio or satellite systems used on yachts for communication
Companionway: Stairway, ladder or entrance to the cabin
Counter: The part of the hull that lies above the water at the stern.
Course: Direction into that a boat sails or otherwise moves
Coxswain: Sailor commanding or navigating a small boat


Danbuoy: A marker that is attached to a lifebuoy
Danger Zone: The area between your dead ahead of a boat to abaft of its starboard beam.
Davit: Minicrane fitted to a vessel to lift heavy pieces of equipment
Dead Ahead: Straight forwards direction.
Dead Astern: Straight aft direction.
Deadlight: Fixed light in a cabin’s roof.
Depression: Low-pressure area in meteorology
Dew point: The point of temperature and air pressure at which water vapor forms mist or fog
Displacement: The amount of water that is displaced by a boat and thereof – according to Archimedes – as heavy as the boat
Ditty Bag: Bag used for storing and carrying small items of passengers or crew
Dodger: A simple, protective screen that protects the cockpit from wind and water; also used for cloth that is used for weather protection of boats or accessories
Draft: The depth of water that a boat draws
Dry Sailing: The storage of boats onshore to reduce the deterioration of the material


Ebb: A receding current, from German “Ebbe”.
EP: Estimated Position, a value plotted on a map or chart in temporal intervals
EPIRB: Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacon. Radio signaling aid that allows the transmission of emergency position calls


Fairlead: A fitting that is used to direct or re-direct lines and ropes.
Fathom: Six feet
Fender: A cushion-like thing that is placed along the hull to protect it from collision with other boats, pier walls or cliffs to prevent damage normally when mooring
Fiddles: A kind of framing around tables under deck to keep objects from rolling off the surface
Fin Keel: A single keel that is centrally located and ballasted
Flare: An emergency signal.
Flood: A current moving towards land
Fluke: The barbs or hooks of anchors
Foils: Underwater parts of a boat
Foremast: The mast that is most forward on a boat
Foresail: The lowest square sail on the most forward mast
Forestay: The wiring that supports the mast and keeps it from falling backwards. Leads from masthead to bowsprit or foredeck.
Foretriangle: The triangle that is formed by the forestay, mast and deck.
Freer: A change in the wind direction to the aft of a boat


Gangway: The part of a ship or large yacht where passengers and crew board or disembark
Gennaker: A sail that is a hybrid between a spinnaker and a genoa
Genoa: A large headsail, which overlaps the mast and often meets the deck with its foot.
Gimbals: A fitting that moves in a way that keeps delicate or potentially dangerous objects in an upright position even in the case of the boat heeling
GMDDS: Global Maritime Distress and Safety System
Gooseneck: A universal joint fitting that links the boom with the mast
Goosewinging: Sailing downwind with a mainsail set on one side and the foresail on the other
Ground Tackle: Anchor and all related anchoring equipment such as warp or capstan
GRP: Glass-reinforced plastic, the most common material in boat manufacturing these days
Gunwale: Upper edge of the side of the hull
Guy: A wire or line controlling the spinnaker pole


Hanks: The metal clips that attach a sail to a forestay
Head: The top-corner of a sail; in larger yachts also the toilet or bathroom and washing facility
Headaway: Forward motion of a boat
Header: Change in the wind direction to forward of the boat
Heading: The direction into which a boat is steered, the intended course
Headknocker: A fitting with a block and a jam cleat that attached to the boom to control the main lines and wires on small to medium-sized boats
Heads: Toilet facility on a boat
Headsails: All sails that are used forward of the foremast
Heel: The tilting of a boat into an angle whilst it sails
Heeling force: Force that results from the sum of the sideways force and resistance from the keel
Helmsman: The Sailor that steers the vessel
Hitch: A common knot that is often used to secure a rope to another one – or an object


IALA: International Association of Lighthouse Authorities
Impeller pump: A type of pump commonly used on large sailing vessels
Isobars: Bars or lines on meteorological maps to show pressure areas


Jacob’s Ladder: A rope ladder that leads off the deck to allow passengers and crew to disembark or board
Jackstays: Ropes or wires that run along the sidedecks to allow the crew to attach harnesses for self-protection in case of foul weather
Jumper Stay: A short stay that supports the mast
Jumbo: The largest headsail in use on a boat


Kedge Anchor: A secondary, lighter anchor
Kick-up: A rudder or centerboard that is able to kick-up when it hits a solid obstacle
Knockabout: A type of schooner


Lapper: A foresail that extends backwards beyond the mast and thereby, overlapping it
Latitude: The north-south distance of the equator measured in degrees
Lazarette: The storage space in the front part of the hull
Lazyjacks: Lines or wires that are rigged from the mast to the boom to retain the sail when it is lowered
Leech: Aft edge of a sail
Leech line: The rope or wire that runs through the leech of the sail and controls its tightness
Lee: The side facing away from the wind
Luff or luffing or to luff up: The forward edge of a sail; the verbs describe the action that brings the boat’s front closer to the wind


Marline Selling: Tool to open the strands of a line or rope when splicing
Mast gate: The point at which the mast enters the foredeck of a boat
Mast spanner: A device that allows the control of a rotating mast on catamarans
Mizzen: A fore and aft sail on the mizzen mast
Mooring: Action that secures a boat to a pier, anchorage or buoy


Nautical Mile: One minute of latitude, 1852 meters


Pan Pan: The second-highest (after “Mayday”) priority signal that expresses distress
Pinching: Entering the no-sail-zone or sailing just on the boarder to it
Planking: In wooden boats, the boards that cover – sometimes form – the hull and that are attached to the keel and frame
Planing: A boat racing that fast, that hardly any part of the hull is under water; gliding
Planing Hull: A hull built in a way to support gliding at high speeds
Pulpit: Metal railing or frame around the bow of a boat, mostly for safety reasons
Pushpit: A pulpit around the stern of a boat


Queen topsail: Small sail between foremast and mainmast


Rake: The angle of a mast
Roach: The curved part of a sail that goes beyond a straight line between head and clew
Rocker: The curve from stern to keel to bow
Run: A not-fixed line that is allowed to move


Schooner: A sailing boat or ship with at least two masts. Generally used for ships of larger size.
Schooning: To move forward quickly; historic nautical term
Screw: The propeller of a boat, in sailing especially for yachts
Sea Cock: A valve in the hull that protects the plumbing pipes of a yacht to water from outside the vessel
Sheer Strake: In wooden ships, the top planking that is normally thicker and more prominent than the other planks
Ship: Tricky one – since this is a term widely applied; any bigger vessel that is seaworthy; a vessel that can carry a boat on board
Spreaders: Synonym for crosstrees, horizontal structures that branch off the mast towards the sides of a vessel to control the angle of the shrouds
Springtides: Tides with the maximum difference between highest and lowest water level
Spritsail: An aft sail that is supported by a spar from the mast
Stay: A line or wire that supports the mast in a direct line from the mast to the bow of a boat
Staysail: A sail that is set on a stay instead of a mast
Stem: The upright structure at the bow


Tabernacle: A hinged mast step
Taffrail: Rail at the stern of a vessel
Thwart: A fixed seat or board in the hull of a dinghy
Tail: To pull on the tail of a sheet when winching
Tell-tales: Strips of some kind of fabric that are attached to sails to indicate the wind and right trim
Tender: Small boat that is used to transport passengers to bigger vessels
Topmast: An additional spar mounted on top of the main mast
Topping lift: A line or wire that supports the boom when a vessel is moored
Transom: The surface that makes the stern of a boat

Transom flaps: Flaps in the transom that allow water to run off the boat

True Wind: The wind that is felt by somebody stationary


Uphaul: A line or wire used to control the height of a spinnaker pole


Vacation: The ultimate opportunity to start you own sailing adventure


Weather shore: The shore if wind blows strongly offshore


Zail: Misspelling of sail, very uncommon

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1 Comment
  1. You really hit hit the spot there with a terrific post
    with a lot of excellent information

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