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

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