100 Sailing Terms Demystified
As enjoyable as sailing can be, understanding and speaking the jargon can be a bit of a headache, especially for those of the non-nautical persuasion. Often sailing terms can seem strange and confusing. For example, a simple rope can have multiple names, such as halyard, sheet, hawser, mooring line, topping lift, etc.
To help simplify things, we have compiled an A to Z list of 100 sailing terms to give you a head start!
Sailing Terms A to Z
- Abaft: Towards the rear of the boat.
- Abeam: Perpendicular to the boat’s centerline.
- Admiral: The highest-ranking officer on a boat.
- Aft: Towards the back of the boat.
- Anchor: A heavyweight used to keep the boat in place.
- Astern: Behind the boat.
- Ballast: Weight added to the boat to improve stability.
- Batten: A thin strip of wood or plastic stiffening sails.
- Beam: The widest part of the boat.
- Berth: A place to sleep on a boat.
- Bilge: The lowest part of the boat where water collects.
- Block: A pulley used to change the direction of a line.
- Boom: A horizontal spar used to hold the foot of the sail.
- Bow: The front of the boat.
- Bowline: A knot used to create a fixed loop at the end of a line.
- Bulkhead: A vertical partition in the boat’s interior.
- Buoy: A floating marker indicates navigational hazards or channel markers.
- Capsize: To turn a boat over.
- Catamaran: A boat with two parallel hulls.
- Centerboard: A retractable fin used to prevent sideways movement of the boat.
- Cleat: A fitting used to secure a line.
- Compass: An instrument used to determine direction.
- Course: The direction in which a boat is sailing.
- Crew: The people on board a boat.
- Current: The movement of water in a particular direction.
- Daggerboard: A vertical board used to prevent sideways movement of the boat.
- Davit: A device used to hoist and lower objects.
- Dead reckoning: Navigation by estimating the boat’s position based on course and speed.
- Deck: The top surface of the boat.
- Deadhead: A log or other floating debris that poses a hazard to navigation.
- Draft: The amount of water a boat displaces when afloat.
- Draft: The depth of the boat below the waterline.
- Fathom: A unit of measurement for water depth.
- Fairlead: A device used to guide lines in the desired direction.
- Fender: A cushion used to prevent damage to the boat when docking.
- Fluke: The part of an anchor that digs into the bottom.
- Foot: The lower edge of a sail.
- Forestay: A wire or cable that supports the mast from the boat’s bow.
- Galley: The kitchen area on a boat.
- Gybe: To change direction with the wind behind the boat.
- Halyard: A line used to hoist or lower a sail.
- Hatch: An opening in the deck or hull of a boat.
- Head: The toilet on a boat.
- Headway: The forward motion of a boat.
- Heel: The angle at which a boat leans over.
- Helm: The steering mechanism on a boat.
- Hull: The main body of a boat.
- Jib: A triangular sail at the front of the boat.
- Keel: A fin or blade extending from the boat’s bottom to provide stability.
- Knot: A unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour.
- Lanyard: A short line used to attach things.
- Latitude: A measure of a boat’s position north or south of the equator.
- Lee: The side of the boat away from the wind.
- Leeward: The side of the boat away from the wind.
- Lifeline: A cable or line used to prevent falling overboard.
- Log: A device used to measure the boat’s speed through the water.
- Mainmast: The tallest mast on a sailing ship.
- Mainsail: The largest sail on a boat.
- Mast: A vertical spar used to support sails.
- Mainsheet: The line used to control the angle of the mainsail.
- Marlinespike: A tool used to work with rope or wire.
- Mooring: A place where a boat can be tied up.
- Nautical mile: A distance equal to one minute of arc along the Earth’s meridian.
- Navigation: The process of determining a boat’s position and course.
- Oar: A long, narrow paddle used for rowing.
- Onshore: Towards the shore.
- Outboard: A motor attached to a boat’s outside.
- Overboard: Over the side of the boat.
- PFD: Personal flotation device, a lifejacket.
- Port: The left side of the boat when facing forward.
- Rudder: A flat plate used to steer the boat.
- Running rigging: The lines used to control the sails while sailing.
- Sailing: The act of propelling a boat using wind power.
- Sailing dinghy: A small sailboat typically used for racing or leisure sailing.
- Scuttle: A small opening in the deck or hull of a boat.
- Sheet: A line used to control the angle of a sail.
- Shroud: A wire or cable supports the mast from the boat’s sides.
- Skipper: The person in charge of a boat.
- Spinnaker: A large, light sail used for downwind sailing.
- Starboard: The right side of the boat when facing forward.
- Stern: The back of the boat.
- Tack: Change direction with the wind crossing the boat’s bow.
- Tiller: A handle used to steer the boat.
- Topside: The upper part of the boat.
- Transom: The flat, vertical surface at the back of the boat.
- Trim: To adjust the sails to optimize performance.
- True wind: The wind direction and speed without any effect from the boat’s motion.
- Underway: When a boat is moving through the water.
- Vang: A line used to control the horizontal position of the boom.
- Wake: The disturbance in the water caused by a moving boat.
- Waterline: The line where the hull meets the water.
- Waypoint: A specific location used for navigation.
- Weather helm: The tendency of a boat to turn into the wind.
- Windward: The side of the boat facing into the wind.
- Winch: A mechanical device used to control lines under tension.
- Yacht: A large, luxurious sailboat for leisure sailing or racing.
- Zephyr: A light, gentle wind.