Glossary of Sailing Terms
Abaft: A location on the boat but further to the rear of the boat. “The tiller is abaft the mast.”
Abeam: The beam is the widest part of the boat. When another boat is abeam, it is at a right angle off the beam to either the starboard or port side of the boat you are on.
Aft: When on a boat you refer to the stern part of the boat as being aft or to the rear of the boat.
Ahead: A term used to describe the area in front of the boat you are on. “Look ahead.”
Aids to Navigation: This includes all external systems like channel markers, preferred route buoys, danger and safe water buoys, isolated danger and regulatory markers etc. that help determine a boats position or course, the presence of dangers or obstructions and the preferred route to navigate.
Amidships: In the middle of the boat between the stern and the bow.
Apparent Wind: The apparent wind is a combination of the true wind and the wind caused by the boat travelling through the water. On a windex, the apparent wind will cause the windex to show wind direction just in front of the true wind.
Astern: A location off the boat and behind it.
Backing Wind: Refers to the wind shifting direction in a counter-clockwise direction. This usually means that bad weather is approaching.
Backstay: A wire running from the top of the mast to the stern of the boat. The backstay stops the mast from falling forward and also helps to control the degree of mast bend when tuning a boat.
Battens: Wood, fiberglass or plastic strips slid into pockets along the leech of the sail. Battens help to shape and strengthen the sail to increase overall performance.
Beam: The widest part of the boat.
Beam Reaching: One of the points of sail. You are ‘beam reaching’ when sailing directly sideways to the wind on either a port or starboard tack. Think of a clock face – if the wind is blowing from 12 o’clock, sailing at between 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock would be a beam reach.
Bearing Away: Turning away from the wind or turning downwind.
Beating: Sailing on a close haul towards the wind – tacking back and forth across the wind.
Belayed: Secured, tied to, made fast to.
Bend On: To secure one thing to another. Tying two lines together.
Bifurcation: A channel junction (two channels meeting) usually marked by a ‘bifurcation buoy’ indicating the preferred channel to follow.
Bight: A loop or bend in a line.
Bilge: The lowest inner part of a boats hull.
Binnacle: A support or pedestal for the ship’s compass.
Bitter End: The utmost free end of a line. (The other end is referred to as the ‘Standing Line’).
Boat Wind: The wind created by the boat moving through the water. The true wind and the boat wind combine to create the apparent wind direction.
Boat Fall: Rigging used to raise or lower a ship’s boat.
Boat Painter: Rope tied to the front end of a boat used to either tow a boat or to secure it to a dock.
Bollard: Wooden or iron post on a pier to which the boat is secured.
Boom: The boom is the pole running aft from the mast to which (among other things) the foot of the mainsail is attached.
Bowline: A very strong and yet easy to untie knot that creates a non-constricting loop in the end of a line.
Broad Reach: One of the points of sail. Sailing downwind off to the port or starboard side. Think of a clock face – if the wind is blowing from 12 o’clock, sailing between 4-5 o’clock or between 7-8 o’clock would be a broad reach.
By the Lee: Sailing downwind with the mainsail remaining on the same side of the boat that the wind is hitting. If you are sailing downwind on a port tack, typically the mainsail would be off the starboard side of the boat. When sailing ‘by the lee’, the mainsail in the same situation would remain on the port side of the boat out at a 90 degree angle to the boat.
Cabin: The below deck living quarters.
Cable: Measurement of distance equal to 0.1 nautical mile.
Cam cleat: A fitting through which a line is run through. The cam cleat consists of two cams that wedge against the line stopping it from being pulled out.
Camber: When a sail fills with wind it will curve creating a pocket. The curve is call the camber. Drawing a line across a sails deepest point of camber is called the chord. The deepest point of the camber along the chord line is called the draft point.
Cardinal Aids to Navigation: Yellow and black buoys which indicate the location of safe water or deep water by reference to the four cardinal points of a compass (North, South, East, West).(See our section on buoys for a more complete explanation.)
Catboat: A boat with one mast flying no foresail (jib).
Cast Off: To release the lines allowing the boat to leave it’s mooring.
Chainplates: Very strong metal plates affixed to the hull to which the forestay, backstay and shrouds are attached.
Chart Datum: For navigational safety, depths on a chart are shown from a low-water surface or a low-water datum called chart datum. Chart datum is selected so that the water level will seldom fall below it and only rarely will there be less depth available than what is portrayed on the chart
Chock: a metal fitting, either oval or U-shaped, through which mooring lines are passed. Chocks help reduce abrasion saving the lines from excessive wear and tear.
Cleat: A small, metal deck fitting with horns used for securing lines (belaying).
Clew: The lower rear corner of a sail.
Close Reach: Point of sail – sailing against the wind at an angle somewhere between a Beam Reach and Close Hauled. Think of a clock face – if the wind is blowing from 12 o’clock, sailing at 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock would be a close reach.
Close Hauled: Point of sail – sailing as close to the wind (sharp angle to the wind) as possible without the sailings luffing (fluttering).
Cockpit: The open inset area from where the boat is steered.
Companionway: Stairs or ladder on a boat usually leading down to the cabin.
Cringles: Open metal rings inserted into the sail (also called grommets) used as reefing points for a sail but also found at the clew, head and tack of the sail to attach halyards, lines, outhauls etc.
Cunningham: A line used to adjust the forward edge of the mainsail. Usually runs from the tack of the sail to the front area of the boom. Tightening the Cunningham also tightens the leech of the sail and moves the draft point of the sail further forward when sailing on a Close Haul or Close Reach.
Current: The horizontal flow of water. (Tide is the vertical flow of water.)
Cutter: A cutter has one mast but sails with two foresails.
Davit: A crane on board that can be swung out over the side for hoisting or lowering boats.
Draft Point: The deepest point of a sail’s camber along the chord. (see camber)
Dead Reckoning: Navigational term – method used to plot the course already traveled by measuring speed and time to calculate distance.
Deep Six: A slang term meaning to discard something over the side of the boat.
Degree: A distance of measurement on a nautical chart. One degree equals 60 nautical miles. Each degree is broken down into 60 minute intervals. One minute of one degree equals 1 nautical mile.
Deviation: A ship’s magnetic compass reading can be affected by metal objects on the boat (electronic equipment etc). The difference between the correct magnetic reading and the ships compass magnetic reading is called deviation. Deviation will vary depending on the direction of the boat.
Dog: A metal fitting used to secure watertight doors, hatch covers and scuttles.
Downhaul: A line attached to the tack of the sail and used to pull down or tighten the mainsail to increase sale efficiency.
Fairleads: A metal fitting through which lines are run to in order to change the direction of the lines while reducing friction on the lines.
Fairway: Sailing on inland waters, fairway means an open channel or being in mid-channel.
Fast: To make fast. To secure (snugly tie) a line to something.
Fathoms: A unit of measurement. One fathon equals 6 feet.
Fenders: Cylindrical air filled plastic or rubber bumpers hung off the side of a boat or dock to prevent damage to both dock and boat.
Fetch: The distance over open water the wind has blown.
Faked: A line is faked by zig zagging it back and forth so that when it is used it will not tangle on itself.
Flaked: A sail is flaked when lowered. Flaking a sail is the process of folding the sail back and forth upon itself like the blades on a paper fan. Flaking a sail will help prolong the sail life.
Foot (Sail): The foot of a sail is the lower part of the sail. In the case of a mainsail, this is the part of the sail that runs along the boom.
Forestay: The forestay is a wire that runs from the top of the mast (or near the top of the mast) to the bow of the boat. The forestay supports the mast from falling backwards and is also used in shaping the bend in the mast for maximum efficiency. The luff (front) of the foresails (jib, genoa) are also generally attached to the forestay depending on the rigging system.
Forward: When on a boat, forward means towards the bow. “Move forward” – move towards the front of the boat.
Freeboard: The distance from the deck to the water, or the height of the topsides.
Galley: The boat’s kitchen.
Genoa: The Genoa is a foresail that is larger than a jib. The clew (lower corner at the foot of the sail) extends aft of the mast unlike a jib.
Give-way Boat: Navigational rules – the boat not having the right-of-way. The Give-way boat must stay clear of the Stand-on boat. The Give-way boat must make it’s intentions known by making a decisive maneuver to alert the Stand-on boat.
Gooseneck: This is a metal fitting that attaches the boom to the mast.
Gybing: Sailing down wind and turning through the wind causing the sails to move from one side of the boat to the other.
Gybe ho: Term used by the helmsman to let his crew know that he has started to turn the boat into a gybe.
Halyards: Lines used to lower and raise sails.
Hanks: Clips found along the luff (front) of the foresail used to clip the sail onto the forestay (wire running from the bow to the top or near the top of the mast).
Hard over: Turning the wheel or pushing the tiller all the way over.
Head: Generally used to refer to the boat’s toilet. When talking about a sail, the Head is the top of the sail.
Head to Wind: The bow of the boat is pointed directly into the wind.
Heading up: Turning up more into the wind.
Headsail: The foremost sail on a boat.
Heaving to: A way to, in effect, stall a sailboat by backing the jib, easing out the mainsail and turning the rudder hard into the wind. The forward wind pressure on the foresail wants to force the bow downwind. The rudder turned towards the wind wants to force the bow windward. These two counter effects balance each other causing the boat to hold it’s position with little movement. The mainsail is eased out all the way so that it does not catch any wind and therefore has no bearing on the boats position.
Heeling: Leaning or heeling over caused by wind pressure on the sails.
Helm: The Helm is the steering mechanism of the boat (wheel or tiller). The person at the helm is called the helmsman.
Helms Alee: A term used by the helmsman to notify the crew that he has started to tack.
Hypothermia: A dangerous condition where the body core temperature has been lowered causing extreme shivering, loss of co-ordination, in ability to make decisions and in extreme cases, loss of consciousness and even death.
|IIn Irons: This occurs where the boat has been turned directly into the wind and has lost all forward momentum. Without forward momentum the boat loses it’s ability to steer.|
Jacob’s ladder: A light ladder made of rope or chain with metal or wooden rungs used over the side or aloft.
Jib: The jib is a foresail (smaller than a genoa). The jib is about the same size as the triangular area between the forestay, mast and foredeck.
Jiffy reefing: This is a way to make the mainsail smaller by partially lowering it, tying or reefing the lower slack part of the sail onto the boom through grommets (holes in the sail) called reefing points. This is done in high wind conditions to power down the sail.
Jury rig: Makeshift – adapting parts and materials for a use not specifically designed for in order to get by until proper parts or repairs can be obtained.
Kedging: A method used to free a grounded boat by dropping it’s anchor in deeper water and then pulling on the anchor rode to attempt to free the boat.
Keel: The large heavily weighted fin like structure secured to the bottom of the boat. The keel helps to keep the boat upright and also reduces leeway (side slipping across the wind).
Ketch: A two masted boat. The second and smaller mast (mizzen) is positioned just forward of the rudder post.
Knot: Rate of speed. On land it is miles per hour, on the water it is knots (nautical miles) per hours. One knot equals 1.15 land miles – so one knot is just a bit faster than one mph.
Lateral Aids to Navigation: channel buoys (Red & Green), isolated danger buoys (Black & Red), safe water ahead (Red & White), regulatory buoys (Yellow), bifurcation buoys (Black & Yellow) plus channel identification markers and navigation markers are all considered Laterial Aids to Navigation.
Lazarette: A storage compartment, usually under the seats of the cockpit.
Lee Helm: Also called Weather Helm, this is the tendency of the boat to turn into the wind once it has heeled over at a sharp angle.
Lee Shore: Feared by most sailors, this is the downwind shore from the boat.
Leech: The rear edge of the foresail or the mainsail running from the head (top) to the clew (rear corner) of the sail.
Leeway: When a boat sails across the wind, the force of the wind causes the boat to slip sideways. This drifting or sideway motion is known as Leeway.
Lifelines: The lines running around the outside of the deck creating a railing. The lines are attached to stanchions (upright metal posts).
Luff: The forward edge of a sail running from head to tack (front corner of the sail).
Luffing: A sail is luffing when it starts to flutter in the wind. The term Luff is also used to describe the same situation. “The sail is starting to luff.”
Luff Up: To turn into the wind to cause the sails to start luffing.
Made fast: Secured to.
Mast: The upright pole supported by the shrouds, forestay and backstay to which the sails are attached.
Masthead fly: A wind vane attached to the top of the mast to show which direction was wind is coming from.
Monkey fist: A type of knot, heavy in nature and tied to the end of the rope. The weighted knot makes it easier to throw the rope a farther distance.
Mooring ball: An anchored ball to which you can secure your boat. Safer alternative to anchoring provided the mooring ball and lines are in good condition.
Mooring lines: Lines used to secure a boat to a dock or mooring ball.
MSD: Marine sanitation device (toilet).
Nautical mile (NM): International standard for measuring distance on water. One nautical mile equals one minute of latitude. (One nautical mile equals 1.15 land miles.)
Outhaul: The line that tightens or eases the tension of the foot of the mainsail along the boom. The outhaul controls the bottom third of the sail.
Pad eye: A metal eye (ring) through which lines can be passed in order to stop chaffing.
Painter: The bow line of a dinghy.
P-effect (Prop Walk): When a boat is in a standstill position and put into forward or reverse, the resistance of the boat to move and the motion of the propeller creates a paddlewheel effect pulling the stern of the boat to either port or starboard side depending on the spin of the propeller. This paddlewheel effect is known as P-effect or Prop Walk. P-effect is especially noticeable in reverse where there is greater boat resistance to move backwards thus making it easier for the prop to pull the boat sideways.
PFD: Personal Floatation Device – life jacket.
Pintle and gudgeon: The pintle and the gudgeon together form a swinging hinge usually associated with the installation of the rudder on smaller tiller steered boats. The pintle has pins that fit into the holes on the gudgeon thus creating a hinge like fitting.
Points of sail: A reference for the direction the boat is traveling in relation to the wind. (in irons, close hauled, close reach, beam reach, broad reach, running)
Port: When on a boat and facing forward, the left hand side of the boat.
Port tack: Sailing across the wind so that the wind hits the port (left) side of the boat first.
Pulpit: Located at the bow of the boat, this area is enclosed by a metal railing.
Pushpit: Located at the stern of the boat and like the pulpit, this area is enclosed by a metal railing.
Range: The difference in height between height tide and low tide. Can also mean the distance a boat can travel on one tank of gas.
Reaching: Sailing across the wind anywhere between the points of sail of close hauled and running.
Read to come about: Term used by the helmsman to notify the crew to get ready for a tack.
Reefing a sail: Making the mainsail smaller by lowering the sail to specific reef points and then tying off or securing the slack part of the sail to the boom using the reef points.
Reef points: Cringles (metal inset rings in the mainsail) located at specific points. When a sail is reefed, lines are run through the cringles to secure the slack part of the sail to the boom.
Roach: The roach is the curvature of the leech. Furling mainsails tend to have a fairly flat roach to accommodate the furling system.
Rode: The chain, rope or cable attached to the anchor. (anchor line)
Roller furling foresail: A means to take in or let out the foresail by using a roller system similar is some respects to a household blind.
Rudder: Located at the stern, the rudder is a fin-like blade that steers the boat.
Running: Point of sail – sailing directly downwind. (Running with the wind.)
Running rigging: All the lines that control the sheets, halyards, outhaul, Cunningham, boomvang and topping lift. Running refers to rigging that can be adjusted while sailing.
Schooner: A sailboat that has two masts both the same height or on some schooners, the aft mast is higher than the fore mast.
Scope: Expressed in terms of a ratio, it is the length of the anchor rode let out compared to height above the sea bed. Height is measured not from the water line but from the top of the deck to the sea bed. A safe anchoring ratio is 1:7 which translates to 7 feet of anchor rode for every foot of height. Many sailors incorrectly assume that height means water depth and therefore find themselves dragging the anchor for lack of proper scope.
Seaworthy: A boat that is fit to be sailed at sea.
Self-bailing cockpit: A cockpit that allows water to drain automatically from the cockpit to the outside of the boat.
Shackles: Metal fittings (often U shaped) that open and close with a pin across the top of the ‘U’. Lines and halyards often use shackles. The mainsail halyard is secured to the head of the mainsail with the use of a shackle.
Sheave: A roller/wheel to guide a line or wire.
Sheets: Lines that are used to adjust sails by either pulling them in or by letting them out.
Shrouds: Also called sidestays, shrouds are the metal wires found on both sides of the mast running from the deck to the top or near top of the mast. The shrouds support the mast by providing lateral support.
Slack water: The period between the flood (tidal water moving in) and the ebb (tidal water moving out) where the water has in effect stalled – little or no movement.
Slides: The groove in the mast to which the luff (front side) of the mainsail is inserted. The slides hold the sail tight against the mast and allows the sail to be easily raised or lowered.
Sloop: a sailboat that has one mast and sails with the mainsail and one foresail.
Soundings: Water depths.
Spar: A spar can refer to any of the following: mast, boom or a pole.
Spinnaker: A large balloon-like foresail used for sailing downwind (running or broad reach).
Spinnaker pole: The spinnaker pole is boom-like in nature, but smaller and lighter, and attaches to fore part of the mast a few feet up from the deck. The other end of the spinnaker pole attaches to the leeward (down wind) base of the spinnaker.
Spreaders: Bars extending sideways from the mast (gives the mast a cross-like appearance). The spreaders hold out the shrouds so that they do not interfer with the rigging.
Springlines: Springlines are used to secure a boat to a dock. The aft springline runs from a cleat near the back of the boat through a fairlead at midship and then to a point on the dock near the bow of the boat. The fore springline runs from a point near the bow, through a fairlead at midship and then to a point on the dock near the stern of the boat. Springlines cross each other at midship. Springlines stop the boat from moving forward or backwards when moored at a dock.
Squall: A sudden isolated storm associated with potentially high wind gusts.
Stanchions: Upright metal posts running around the outside of the deck supporting the lifelines.
Stand: This refers to the short period of time where the tide is neither rising or falling. (At a stand still.)
Standing rigging: Standing rigging includes the forestay, backstay and the shrouds. Unlike the ‘running rigging’, the standing rigging is generally only adjusted when the boat is not underway.
Stand-on boat: The boat that must retain her current course and rate of speed in order to avoid a potential collision with an approaching give-way boat.
Starboard: As you face towards the bow on a boat, starboard is the right hand side of the boat.
Starboard tack: Sailing across the wind with the wind hitting the starboard (right) side of the boat first.
Steerage: The ability of the boat to be steered. In order for a rudder to be effective in steering a boat, there must be boat movement. A boat not moving cannot be steered.
Stern: The most aft part of a boat (the very back of the boat).
Storm jib: Same as a jib but not as big. The smaller sail is used in high wind conditions.
Tack: The front lower corner of a sail. Also means to sail back and forth across the wind in either a port or starboard tack.
Tacking: Also called “Coming About”. Tacking is when the bow of the boat is turned through the wind onto the opposite tack.
Tail: The bitter end of a sheet tailing out from a winch.
Tang: A metal fitting used to affix the stays to the mast.
Telltails: (Also called Ticklers) These are small strings (wool, plastic) attached to both sides of the luff of the sail. When the telltales on both sides of the sail are blowing straight back, this indicates that the sail has been properly trimmed.
Through hulls: Through hulls are holes that go through the boat. Each through hull will have a shuttle cock (value) to stop the flow of water. An example of a through hull would be the head (bathroom). A through hull value is opened so that water from outside the boat can be pumped into the MSD (toilet). The value is closed and the toilet pumped empty into a holding tank.
Tide: The vertical rise and fall the oceans.
Tide rips: This is an area of rough water where the wind is blowing across the water in the opposite direction from which strong tidal current is flowing.
Tiller: In boats that are not steered by a wheel, a tiller (long handle) is attached to the top of the rudder in order to facilitate steering.
Toe rail: A small metal railing running around the outside of the deck used to support your feet.
Topping lift: A line running from the top of the mast to the end of the boom. The topping lift supports the mast when the sail has been lowered.
Topside: The portion of the hull above the water line.
Transom: The flat area across the stern of the boat.
Trim: To trim or adjust the sail to make it more effective against the wind.
True wind: The actual wind felt wind the boat is not moving.
Turnbuckles: Adjustable fittings usually attached at the end of shrouds and stays. Turning the turnbuckle one way or the other tightens or loosens the wire.
Upstream: Moving from seaward into harbor, moving with the flood of the tide, moving up river toward the headwaters.
Veering: A wind shift in the clockwise direction usually indicating that good weather is approaching.
Wake: The waves created behind a boat as a result of the boat moving through the water.
Way: Movement of the boat.
Weather helm: The tendency of the boat to turn up wind after heeling (leaning over).
Wheel: Controls the rudder. Taking control of the wheel is taking the helm.
Winch: Provides a mechanical advantage. Used to raise the sails, tighten the sheets and other lines.
Windward: Towards the wind.
Wing to wing: Running (sail directly downwind) with the mainsail out one side of the boat and the foresail out the other side of the boat.
Yawl: A sailboat that has two masts. The aft mast (mizzen) is shorter than the foremast. The mizzen mast is located aft the rudder post. (On a Ketch, the mizzen mast is located fore of the rudder post – this is the distinguishing factor between the two.)