Modern Sailing Terminology

The first word listed is the correct English term
for the part of the ship, or maneuver, etc.


 Sailing Term



Abeam At right angles to , or beside, the boat
Aboard     On or in the boat
Aft     Toward the stern
Aground     When the hull or keel is against the ground
Aloft     overhead, above
Amidships     the middle of the boat
Anchor     An object designed to grip the ground, under a body of water, to hold the boat in a selected area
Apparent Wind     the direction of the wind as is relative to the speed and direction of the boat
Astern     behind the boat
Backstay     a support wire that runs from the top of the mast to the stern
Bail     to remove water from the boat
Ballast     weight in the lower portion of a boat, used to add stability
Battens     thin, stiff strips of plastic or wood, placed in pockets in the leech of a sail, to assist in keeping its form
Beam     the width of the boat at its widest
Beam reach     a point of sail where the boat is sailing at a right angle to the wind
Bearing     a compass direction from one point to another
Belay     to make secure, but can also mean to halt or cease, as in "Belay that, sailor!"
Bight     a loop of line or rope
Bilge     the lowest part of a boat, designed to collect water that enters the boat
Block     a pulley
Boat Hook     a device designed to catch a line when coming alongside a pier or mooring
Bolt Rope     a rope sewn into the luff of a sail for use in attaching to the standing rigging
Boom     the horizontal spar which the foot of a sail is attached to
Boom Vang     a line that adjusts downward tension on the boom
Bow     the front of the boat
Bowspirt     a spar extending forward from the bow
Breast line     a docking line going at approximately a right angle from the boat to the dock
Broach     to spin out of control, either causing or nearly causing a capsize.
Broad reach     a point of sail where the boat is sailing away from the wind, but not directly downwind
Buoy     an anchored float marking a position or for use as a mooring
By the Lee     sailing with the wind coming from behind, and slightly to the side, that the sails are on
Can     a kind of navigation buoy
Capsize     to turn a boat over
Cast Off     to release lines holding boat to shore or mooring, to release sheets
Catboat     a one sail sailboat
Centerboard     a fin shaped, often removable, board that extends from the bottom of the boat as a keel
Chafe     damage to a line caused by rubbing against another object
Chainplates     metal plates bolted to the boat which standing rigging is attached to
Chock     a guide for an anchor, mooring or docking line, attached to the deck
Cleat     a fitting used to secure a line to
Clew     the lower aft corner of a sail
Close hauled     a point of sail where the boat is sailing as close to the wind as possible
Close reach     a point of sail where the boat is sailing towards the wind but is not close hauled
Cockpit     the area, below deck level, that is somewhat more protected than the open deck, from which the tiller or wheel is handled
Displacement     the weight of the water displaced by the boat
Dock     the area a boat rests in when attached to a pier, also the act of taking the boat to the pier to secure it
Downhaul     a line, attached to the tack, that adjusts tension in the sail
Draft     the depth of the boat at its lowest point, also the depth or fullness of the sail
Drift     the leeway, or movement of the boat, when not under power, or when being pushed sideways while under power
Ease     to loosen or let out
Fairlead     a fitting used to change the direction of a line without chafing
Fathom     a measurement relating to the depth of water, one fathom is 6 feet
Foot     the bottom part of a sail
Forward     toward the bow to the boat
Foremast     the forward mast of a boat with more that one mast
Foresail     the jib
Fouled     entangled or clogged
Freeboard     the distance from the highest point of the hull to the water
Furl     to fold or roll a sail and secure it to its main support
Genoa     a large foresail that overlaps the mainsail
Gimball     a device that suspends a compass so that it remains level
Gooseneck     a device that connects the boom to the mast
Ground Tackle     the anchor, chain and rode
Gunwale     the railing of the boat at deck level
Halyard     the line used to raise and lower the sail
Hard Alee     the command given to inform the crew that the helm is being turned quickly to leeward, turning the boat windward
Head     top of the sail
Head to Wind     the bow turned into the wind, sails luffing
Headsail     a sail forward of the mast, a foresail
Headstay     a wire support line from the mast to the bow
Headway     forward motion
Heave To     to stop a boat and maintain position (with some leeway) by balancing rudder and sail to prevent forward movement, a boat stopped this way is "hove to"
Helm     the tiller or wheel, and surrounding area
Helmsman     the member of the crew responsible for steering
Heel     the leeward lean of the boat caused by the winds action on the sails
Hike     leaning out over the side of the boat to balance it
Hoist     to raise aloft
In Irons     having turned onto the wind or lost the wind, stuck and unable to make headway
Jib     a foresail, a triangle shaped sail forward of the mast
Jibe     a change of tack while going downwind
Keel     a fin down the centerline of the bottom of the hull
Ketch     a two-masted ship with a small mast mounted forward of the rudder post
Knot     a unit of speed, one knot=6,076 feet per hour
Lanyard     a line attached to any small object for the purpose of securing the object
Lazarette     spaces below the deck that are designed for storage
Leech     the back edge of a sail
Leeward     downwind
Lifeline     a cable fence that surrounds the deck to assist in the prevention of crew falling overboard
Line     rope or cordage
List     the leaning of a boat to the side because of excess weight on that side
Luff     the front edge of a sail, and the flapping in the wind of the front of the sail (luffing)
Mainsheet     the line that controls the boom
Mizzen     the shorter mast behind the main mast on a ketch or yawl
Mooring     an anchor or weight, permanently attached to the sea floor, with a buoy going to the surface, used to hold the boat in a certain area
Nun     a kind of navigational buoy
Outhaul     the line that adjust tension along the foot of the sail along the boom
Painter     a line tied to the bow of a small boat for the purpose of securing it to a dock or to the shore
Pennant     a triangular flag
Pinch     to sail as close as possible towards the wind
Point     to turn closer towards the wind (point up)
Port     the left side of the boat
Port tack     sailing with the wind coming from the port side, with the boom on the starboard side
Privileged vessel     the ship with the right of way
Reach     sailing with a beam wind
Ready about     prepare to come about
Reef     to reduce the size of a sail
Rhumb line     a straight line compass course between two points
Rigging     the standing rigging is the mast and support lines, running rigging is the lines with which you adjust the sails
Rode     the line and chain that connect the anchor to the boat
Rudder     a fin under the stern of the boat used in steering
Running     a point of sail, going directly downwind
Scull     moving the rudder back and forth in an attempt to move the boat forward
Shake out     to release a reefed sail and hoist the sail aloft
Sheave     the wheel of a block pulley
Sheet     a line used to control the sail
Shrouds     support wires for the mast
Spinnaker     a large, light sail used in downwind sailing
Spreaders     struts used to hold the shrouds away from the mast
Spring line     docking lines that keep the boat from drifting forward and back
Starboard     the right side of the boat
Starboard tack     a course with the wind coming from starboard and the boom on the port side
Step     the frame that the bottom of the mast ends into
Stern     the back of the boat
Stow     to put away
Tack     the front, lower corner of the sail, also course with the wind coming from the side of the boat, also to change course by turning into the wind so that the wind comes from the other side of the boat
Tender     a small boat used to transport crew and equipment from shore to a larger boat
Tiller     controls the rudder and is used for steering
Topping lift     a line that holds up the boom when it is not being used, also the line that controls the height of a spinnaker pole
Transom     the back, outer part of the stern
Traveler     a device that the mainsheet may be attached to which allows its position to be adjusted
Trim     to adjust the sails, also the position of the sails
Tuning     the adjustment of the standing rigging, the sails and the hull to balance the boat for optimum performance
Wake     the swell caused by a boat passing through water
Whisker pole     a light spar which holds the jib out when sailing downwind
Winch     a metal drum shaped device used to assist in trimming sails
Windward     upwind

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