Proper Boating Terminology

There’s no faster way to identify yourself as a newbie boater than to lack the proper vocabulary. Boating requires a mastery of insider lingo and you need to know that boats don’t have a front and back, or a kitchen and a bathroom. Let’s look at some key nautical terminology that will make you sound salty.

Parts of a Boat

1. Bilge – The lowest part of a boat hull that sometimes collects water.
2. Bulkhead – An upright wall/partition within the hull.
3. Bow – The front of the boat.
4. Stern – The back part of a boat.
5. Transom – The very back structure of a boat.
6. Galley – A boat kitchen.
7. Saloon/salon – The living room.
8. Dinette- The dining room.
9. Cabin – A room or bedroom inside the boat.
10. Berth – A bed or bunk.
11. Head – A bathroom with or without a shower.
12. Cockpit – A protected, somewhat enclosed space on deck, from where a boat
is controlled or steered.
13. Flybridge – Also “flying bridge” which is a social area on top of a boat
cabinhouse often with a helm station.
14. Helm – The steering station.
15. Keel – An appendage below the waterline that provides stability to the hull.
16. Rudder – An appendage below the waterline that steers the boat.
17. Line – Once a rope is on a boat is ceases to be rope and becomes a line.
18. Tiller – A steering mechanism in lieu of a wheel.
19. Rode – Line or chain laid out when anchoring.
20. Running lights – Lights required to be shown at night or in poor visibility.

Sailing Essentials

1. Point of sail – A sailboat’s direction of travel as relative to the true wind –
these include a close, beam, or broad reach, and running or “in irons”.
2. Rigging – The wires, cables or lines, which support a mast.
3. Halyard – line used to raise a sail.
4. Sheet – A line used to control a sail by letting it in or out.
5. Jib or genoa – The sail ahead of the mast also known as the headsail.
6. Mainsail – the sail that is raised up the main mast.

7. Furler – A mechanism that rolls up a headsail or mainsail.
8. Easing – Loosening of the sheets or lines that control a sail.
9. Trimming – tightening the sheets to bring sail in.
10. Helms alee – Turning the wheel or tiller so the boat changes direction.
11. Luff – The forward end of a sail.
12. Leech – The aft end of a sail.
13. Tacking – Changing direction of a boat by pushing the bow of the boat
through the eye of the wind.
14. Gybing/jibing – Changing direction of a boat by pushing the stern through the
eye of the wind.
15. Sloop – A single masted sailboat.

Other Helpful Terms

1. Port – The left side of the boat when facing the bow.
2. Starboard – The right side of the boat when facing the bow.
3. Rules of the Road – Nautical traffic rules that help avoid a collision at sea.
4. Stand on vessel – The boat which has the right of way.
5. Give-way vessel – The boat which must yield to another.
6. Abeam – When something (like another boat) is at a right angle to the boat you’re on.
7. Forward – Going toward or being in the front part of a boat.
8. Aft – Going toward or being in the back part of a boat.
9. Bearing – The direction of something as relative to the boat you’re on.
10. Boat hook – A long handle or stick with a hook on one end to help catch a mooring, put lines on pilings or reach object in the water.
11. Brightwork – Varnished wood and polished metal.

Boat Cast Off

12. Cast off – To let go of as in lines from the dock.
13. Fathom – A unit of measurement of depth equaling six feet.
14. Fender – A cushion or bumper used keep from damaging a boat hull.
15. Gunwale – The top of the hull sides.
16. Knot – Either a tie in a line or a unit of measurement equaling one nautical mile per hour.
17. Nautical mile – Unit of measure equaling 1.2 x a statute mile.
18. Squall – Sudden and possibly violent wind and rain.
19. Stow – To put away gear or provisions.
20. Provisions – Foodstuffs brought along on a voyage.

These are just 45 common terms used in on the water that are useful to learn. In boating, you can’t walk the walk if you can’t talk the talk so the next time you’re invited along on a boat outing, brush up on your nautical knowledge and sprinkle in some salty words. The captain will appreciate your knowledge and you’ll look like a pro in no time.

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Author Zuzana Prochazka

Zuzana is a freelance writer and photographer with regular contributions to over a dozen sailing and power boating publications. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana is the founder of a flotilla charter company called Zescapes that takes guests adventure sailing at destinations around the world. Zuzana serves as an international presenter on charter destinations, safety issues and technical topics. She’s also the Chair of the NMMA Innovation Awards, a member of the American Society of Authors and Journalists, and the Executive Director of the Board of Boating Writers International.

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