A short list of the boating terms used on this web site. In most browsers you can press <Ctrl><F> to search this page.
abeam – at right angles to the centerline of the boat.
aft – towards the stern (rear) of the boat.
apparent wind – the wind speed and direction as measured on the deck of a boat. It is the wind that the sailor feels on a moving vessel.
autopilot – keeps the boat on a set course. Modern devices have a built-in compass.
backstay – part of the standing rigging, a wire support from the mast to the stern of the boat.
bare poles – with all sails down.
beam – the width of the boat at it’s widest point.
beam reach – sailing with the wind directly abeam.
beat – to sail to windward, also known as sailing close-hauled.
belay – to make secure, as in winding a line around a pin or rod. Also, to ignore a command.
binnacle – a pedestal near the helm where the ship’s compass is mounted.
boom – the spar (stout pole) to which the foot of the mainsail is attached.
boom vang – or sometimes just called the vang, a line close to the mast which exerts a downward force on the boom and controls the shape of the mainsail.
bolt rope – a line sewn into the luff or foot of a sail which allows the sail to be secured in a groove along a spar (e.g. used on furling jibs).
bow – forward part of the boat.
bowsprit – a spar or small platform extending forward from the bow.
breast line – a docking line running roughly at right angles to the boat’s sides.
broach – generally means that the sailboat has been overpowered and the wind has literally blown her over. The boat is out of control and steering has been lost. She has capsized or come close to capsizing.
broad reach – sailing with the wind from aft of abeam (close to the stern).
chainplate – metal plate used to fasten shrouds or stays to the hull of the boat.
chock – fairlead used to direct anchor or mooring lines.
cleat – a fitting used to secure a line under strain, such as a dock line or a jib sheet.
clew – the outer corner of a sail.
close-hauled – the most windward point of sail, on which the wind is around 45 degrees to the centerline of the boat.
close reach – sailing with the wind from forward of abeam.
coffee grinder – a large, two handled winch crank.
coaming – the raised protection around the cockpit.
cunningham – a type of downhaul used to optimize the shape of the mainsail, a block and tackle system used to exert tension on the luff.
downhaul – a line which applies downward force to a spar or sail.
draught (or draft) – the depth of a loaded vessel in the water, taken from the level of the waterline to the lowest point of the keel.
ease – to let out a sheet or line.
fairlead – a fitting used to guide a line in a particular direction.
fathom – a nautical measurement of depth; one fathom equals six feet.
fetch – a windward course by which a sailboat can make her destination without having to tack; an open body of water where waves are being generated by the wind.
flake – 1) to lay a line out in coils so that it can run without fouling. 2) folding a sail in layers.
foredeck – the forward part of the deck! Usually from the mast forward.
forestay – part of the standing rigging, a wire support from the mast to the bow of the boat.
foot – the bottom length of a sail.
freeboard – the distance from the top of the hull to the water.
genoa – a large foresail that overlaps the mast and mainsail, also called a genoa jib.
gooseneck – a swivelling device that secures the boom to the mast and allows it to move side to side and up & down.
ground tackle – used to secure a boat in an anchorage or mooring field: anchor, chain, rode, etc.
halyard – a line (rope) that is used to hoist (pull up) a sail, a flag or a yard.
headsail – any sail used forward of the mast, a foresail.
helm – the tiller or wheel mechanism by which the boat is steered.
gudgeon – a fitting attached to the hull into which the rudder’s pintles are inserted.
gunwale – the rail of the boat at deck level.
gybe – or jibe. To change tack on a downwind course. The boat begins to gybe when the foot of her mainsail crosses her centerline. The boat completes the gybe when the mainsail fills on the new tack.
hawser – a line or cable used for towing.
headfoil – a metal extrusion fitted on a forestay and used to secure the luff of a sail by holding its bolt rope in place.
headway – motion forward.
heave to – to stop a boat by turning the bow into the wind and adjusting the sails and rudder to hold her there. A boat stopped this way is “hove to”.
helms alee – the command used when coming about to inform the crew that the helm is being pushed hard to leeward, turning the boat into the wind. Also called “hard alee”.
jack lines – webbing or lines running along the deck between the bow and stern, used to attach a tether from a safety harness.
jib – a triangular sail set forward of the mast.
keel – heavy fin filled with lead ballast under the hull. It prevents the boat from slipping sideways by resisting the lateral force of the wind. It gives the boat stability.
knot – one nautical mile per hour.
lazarette – compartment in the stern of a boat used for storage.
lead line – a calibrated line and weight lowered into the water to determine depth.
leech – the aft edge of the sail.
leeward – away from the wind (also lee).
LOA – length over all.
lubber line – a line on the compass that is aligned with the centerline of the boat and indicates the boat’s heading.
luff – the forward vertical edge of the sail. Also the flapping of a sail caused by the boat being head to windward.
LWL – length at waterline.
mainsail – the largest regular sail on a modern sailboat.
mainsheet – the line for controlling the main & boom.
mizzen – a sail located on a smaller, aft-mounted mast on a ketch or yawl.
mooring – a heavy anchor or weight permanently in position.
nautical mile – (nm) equal to 1.8 kilometres or 1.15 statute miles
off the wind – sailing downwind or before the wind.
on the wind – sailing close hauled.
outhaul – a control line that exerts force along the foot of a sail pulling the clew away from the tack. It tightens the foot of the sail along the boom.
pad eye – a loop-shaped fitting used to secure a line to some part of the boat.
painter – a line secured to the bow of a small boat and used for making her fast to the dock.
pennant – a three sided flag.
pinch – to sail so close to the wind as to allow the sails to luff.
point – to head close to the wind.
port – the left side of the boat as one faces forward.
port tack – a course with the wind coming from the port side of the boat and the sails trimmed on the starboard side.
preventer – a line used to hold the boom in place while reaching or running, preventing an accidental gybe (uncontrolled boom swing).
ready about – the command that notifies the crew to prepare for coming about.
reach/reaching – the fastest point of sail; subdivided into close reach, beam reach and broad reach.
reef – to reduce the area of a sail.
rhumb line – the straight compass-line course between two points. It crosses all lines of longitude at the same angle.
rigging – divided into two parts; Standing rigging which is permanently secured and not movable (ie. secures the mast); and Running rigging which pulls up the sails and adjusts the sails’ shape.
roach – the curve of the edge of a sail.
rode – can refer to both the line and chain that secures a boat to her anchor.
running – sailing downwind.
sea room – distance away from shore, a sea wall, or other obstruction.
seacock – a valve operated on the hull of the boat the permits water to flow in and out of the vessel, e.g. for engine cooling or sink drain. Also called a “though-hull”.
shackle – a U-shaped piece of stainless steel with eyes in the ends, closed by a shackle pin.
shake out – to let out a reef.
sheave – the grooved part of a block pulley through which a line runs.
sheet – a line (rope) used to control the moveable corner(s) of a sail.
shroud – vertical wire which holds the mast upright from side to side.
sloop – a sailboat with one mast; usually with two sails hoisted, a mainsail and a headsail.
spinnaker – a balloon-like sail used on a downwind course.
starboard – the right side of the boat as one faces forward.
starboard tack – a course with the wind coming from the starboard and the sails trimmed on the port side.
stay – a wire used for supporting the mast fore and aft.
staysail – a small triangular sail used forward of the mast on a reaching course.
stow – to put away.
strainer – filtering device used to remove debris from cooling water.
stuffing box – a fitting that seals and lubricates the propeller shaft in the area where it protrudes through the hull.
tender – a boat used to transport supplies & passengers to and from a larger vessel, also called a dinghy.
tack – 1. the forward lower corner of a sail (where the luff and foot meet). 2. any course on which the wind comes from either side of the boat (e.g. starboard tack, port tack). 3. to change course by passing the bow through the wind.
tackle – an arrangement of ropes and blocks to give a mechanical advantage.
telltales – yarn attached to parts of the sails and/or boat, used to determine sail trim and wind direction.
topping lift – a line or wire that holds the boom off the deck when the mainsail is not in use.
topside – on deck.
traveler – a sliding fitting to which the mainsheet is attached.
trim – 1. to adjust the sails. 2. the position of the sails relative to the wind.
trip line – a line attached to the crown of the anchor, used to help free the anchor if it becomes fouled.
turnbuckles – threaded adjusters used to tension stays and shrouds.
turning blocks – horizontally mounted blocks used to re-direct a line on deck.
weather helm – the tendency of a sailboat to turn into the wind (round up).
whip – to bind the strands of a line’s end with yarn or cord. Keeps it from unravelling.
whisker pole – a pole used to hold the clew of a jib away from the mast.
winch – a mechanical device to aid in trimming a halyard or sheet.
windward – toward the wind.
wing on wing – also called wing and wing, running before the wind with the sails set on both sides.
yard – a long spar (pole), often supported at its center, to which the head of a square sail is set.