Sailing Terms You Need to Know

Sailing terms you need to know are easy to learn when you practice this activity regularly. However, if you can only indulge in your hobby during the summer months, it might take a while before you’ll master the language of sailing. Therefore, we decided to provide you a short glossary of essential sailing terms you should know. Check them out.

Sailing terms

First and foremost, you have to get acquainted with the basic technical terms describing the parts of the boat. For anyone out there who is passionate about sailing, these are easy-peasy. But let’s not ignore the fact that other aspiring sailors literally need to start from zero.

  • Bow: if you are standing on the frontal part of your boat, you are located at the bow.
  • Stern: on the other hand, if you’re at the back of the boat, you’re standing at the stern.
  • Aft: every language has its synonyms and sailing terminology is not devoid of them. Another word for ‘stern’ is ‘aft’. It also means facing the stern of a vessel.
  • Keel or hull: this is practically the boat’s main body.
  • Deck: the floorlike surface of the vessel.
  • Stem: this is the foremost part of the hull.
  • Mast: the main vertical spar of the boat.
  • Boom: this is the pole that will help you leverage the force of the wind as you’re sailing. The boom is positioned horizontally, and it is located at the bottom of the mast
  • Helm: it describes the part of your vessel that enables you to steer it. Traditionally, it has the shape of a large wheel. Nonetheless, some vessels use a tiller instead, which has the shape of a stick.
  • Cabin: this is the covered area of the boat where the passengers can sleep.
  • Rudder: the rudder is basically the element that allows you to sail, it is maneuvered through the wheel. The rudder can be positioned outside the keel or integrated within.
  • Sails: the pieces of fabric which are attached to the boat and allow you to harness the force of the wind while sailing.
  • Mainsail: the largest and most important sail of the vessel. It has triangular shape and it is connected to the boom.
  • Rigging: this is the system of lines, wires and other components that sustain the masts and enables you to maneuver the sails
  • Spars: these are the pools that serve as a support for the sails and the rigging
  • Downhaul: the item used for pulling down the sails and spars.
  • Bilges: the area situated beneath the cabin, inside the hull. This is the place where bilge water is collected.
  • Jib: triangular headsail positioned in the frontal part of the vessel.
  • Hatch: an access point that allows you to enter the accommodation in the deck.

Parts of the ship

  • Heeling: when your boat’s sails are leaning due to the wind, they are heeling.
  • Tacking: by tacking, we refer to two distinct actions. On the one hand, it means changing the boat’s direction by turning the bow while the wind is blowing, so that its direction shifts from one side of the vessel to the other. On the other hand, tack also refers to the course of your boat, relative to the winds. Thus, you can be on a port tack or on a starboard tack depending on the part of the vessel that’s affected by the wind’s direction.
  • Jibbing: this is simply described as the opposite maneuver of tacking. When you are jibbing, you basically turn the vessel’s stern through the wind, so that it shifts direction from one side to the other.
  • Heaving to: refers to slowing the vessel’s speed or stopping it by positioning the helm contrary to the direction of the sails so that the boat moves leeward.
  • Headway: sailing ahead, stem first.
  • Drift: the boat is drifting when it is subject to the force of the tidal stream.
  • Hauling in: synonym for pulling in.

Other useful sailing terms

  • Starboard: the starboard is the right-hand side of the vessel, as you are looking forward toward the bow
  • Port: when you are standing at the stern of the boat, you will call the left-hand side of the vessel ‘port’.
  • Leeward: this sailing term defines the direction that is contrary to the one in which the wind blows.
  • Windward: if you are sailing in the direction of the wind, then you’re sailing ‘windward’.
  • Berth: also called mooring, is the place located in a harbor where you moor your boat. There’s a difference between berths and moorings.
  • Course: the direction in which you are steering the vessel.
  • Adrift: not touching the seafloor.
  • Afloat: literally, floating.
  • Draught: the distance between the bottom of the vessel’s hull and the waterline.
  • Breakwater: a structure that blocks the waters of the sea, in order to make them less strong, in the proximity of a beach or port, thereby making it safer to swim or sail.
  • Helmsman: the person steering the vessel.
  • Knot: the unit used in measuring the speed of a vessel. Lear more about how to tie a know.
  • Point of sail: the way in which your boat is heading based on the direction of the wind. You might be sailing directly facing the wind, which is known as ‘in irons’. You might let the wind push you from one side, which is a ‘beam reach’ etc.
  • Quai: Also called a ‘wharf’, this is a structure located in water, made of stone or concrete that serves as a point where vessels can load or unload.

Starting from this basic sailing glossary, you’ll be able to go deeper and broaden your knowledge of sailing terms and sailing phrases used in everyday language.

We hope you’ll use them and don’t forget we’re always here to help you book a berth for your next sailing holiday.

We also recommend taking a look at the Dictionary of Nautical Language.