Terms You May Hear or Use During Your Sailing Vacation.
How many to you know?

A . B . C . D . E . F . G . H . I . J . K . L . M . N . O . P . Q . R . S . T . U . V . W . X . Y . Z


About: To pass from one tack to the opposite one.
Adrift: Broken loose, as a boat from her moorings.
Aft: To the rear or stern of the vessel.
Amidships: In or toward the middle of a ship in regard to length or breadth.
Astern: The bearing of an object 180 degrees from ahead.


Beam: The width of a boat at its widest point.
Becalmed: Having no wind to fill the sails.
Belay: To secure a line to a cleat or pin.
Bend: To make fast; also, a kind of knot.

Berth: A bed or bunk, usually built in. Also, a slip or docking space for a vessel.
Sketch of Bunk by Bob Nilson

Bight: The noose or slack part of a rope between the ends.
Bilge: Lowest part of the boat's interior.

Bitts: Upright pieces of timber to which lines are belayed.

Blocks: Contrivances with sheaves, or pulleys, used to lead lines more advantageously.




Bobstay: A chain or line from the waterline to the bowsprit end to sustain it.
Boom: The spar extending from a mast to hold or extend the foot of a sail.
Bow: The front, or "pointy end" of the vessel.
Bowsprit: A spar extending forward from the stem of a vessel, usually for the purpose of carrying sail farther forward.
Bulkhead: Partitions dividing ship into various compartments.
Buoy: A floating beacon.


Cabin: Sleeping quarters, usually with a door.
Can: A black buoy with a cylindrical top found on the port side when entering a channel.
Capsize: To turn over.
Carry away: A spar is carried away when it is broken or disabled.
Cast off: To untie; to allow to go free.
Cat's paw: A light current of air seen upon the water.
Caulk: To fill in the seams with cotton or oakum.
Centerboard: An adjustable keel that drops through a slot in the bottom of a boat to provide ballast and sailing stability.
Cleat: A piece of wood or metal, with two horns, upon which lines are belayed.






Close hauled: Sailing as near as possible to the wind.
Coil: To gather a rope into circular rings one about another.
Companionway: The entryway to a cabin or compartment.
Course: The point of the compass on which a vessel sails; the direction she is going.




Davits: Bent iron stanchions extending over the side or stern, to which boats are hoisted.
Draft (Draught): The depth of a vessel below the water line. Also: a pleasurable libation frequently responsible for the necessity of a wardrobe "refit".


Ease off: To slacken.


Fall off: To move away from the wind.
Fathom: A measure of six feet.
Fiddle: An edging on tables, counter tops, and other furniture to hold items in place.
Forward: Toward the bow of the boat.
Foul: To come into collision; also, an entangled line or sail.
Furl: To gather up and secure a sail or an awning.


Gaff: The spar that supports the head of a fore-and-aft sail.
Gasket: A lashing of line or canvas used to secure furled sails, etc.
Galley: The nautical term for kitchen.
Gam: Vessels tied together for a visit and friendly get-together.
Gear: The general name of ropes, blocks, and tackles, etc.
Gimbaled: Pivoted or suspended to remain in an upright position, as a "gimbaled compass," a "gimbaled lamp," etc.
Go about: To tack.
Gybe: To pass the mainsail from one quarter to the other when running.

Halyards: The lines used to hoist sails.
Hard Alee: This command brings the vessel through the wind onto the opposite tack.

Hatch: An opening in the deck, leading below or providing ventilation.

Head: The nautical term for bathroom. So called because on early sailing ships it was located at the bow or head of the vessel.
Heave-to: To stop a vessel's way by so arranging the sails that she will lie nearly head to the wind, and have no tendency to forge ahead.
Heeling: Inclining to one side.
Helm: The steering wheel or tiller of the boat.




Hoist away: An order to haul up.
Hull: The body of the vessel.


Jib: A triangular sail set on the bowsprit.


Keel: That part of the vessel lowest in the water and upon which all the rest is erected.
Knot: One nautical mile per hour. Originally measured with a fourteen second "sand glass" while counting the number of knots on a trailing line that slipped by the rail of the vessel.


LOA: "Length over all" or the overall length of the vessel.
Lazaret: A storeroom.
Lee: The side sheltered from the wind.
Leeward: The direction toward which the wind is blowing.
Leeway: The drift of a vessel to leeward caused by the wind or tide.
Line: A rope with a specific purpose aboard a vessel.
Locker: Cupboard for storage.
Log: The record of a vessel's performance.

M Mainsheet: A line by which the main sail is hauled in or eased off.

Mainsail: A sail with its luff (forward edge) attached to the mainmast by means of hoops.

Mast: A vertical spar supporting the booms, gaffs, and sails.
Mooring buoy: A buoy fitted with a ring and used for mooring a boat.
Moorings: The place where a vessel is generally kept when at anchor.

Monkey fist: A knot worked into the end of a heaving line.

Sketch by Lorinda Moholt






Nun buoy: A red buoy with a conical top found on the starboard hand on entering a channel.


Painter: A line attached to the bows of a boat, by which she may be secured.
Pay-off: To recede from the wind, as a boat when the jib is hauled to windward and the main-boom eased off.
Peak-up: To elevate the aft end of a sail or gaff.
Port side: Left hand side of the boat, looking forward from the stern.

Pullman: A single bunk with no door, curtained off.

Sketch by Anthony "Tony" R. Guarino





Reef: To reduce sail by means of reef-points.
Refit: The nautical equivalent of renovation of a vessel.
Rig: The combination of masts, booms, standing and running rigging, and sails that propel a sailing craft.
Rudder: The flat blade that swings from side to side underwater and used to steer the boat.
Rules of the road: Regulations enacted for safety.
Running rigging: Those lines that reeve or work through blocks and fair leads. Includes halyards, sheets, downhauls, etc.


Saloon: The central cabin in the vessel, where the dining occurs.
Schooner: Vessel with two or more masts, with the after mast as tall as or taller than the other(s).
Scud: Run before the wind.
Sea Anchor: A drag (drogue) thrown over the bow to keep a boat to the wind and sea.
Settee: Built-in bench, usually with cushions, for dining, either on deck or below.
Sheet: The line attached to the after clew of a fore-and-aft sail by which it is held and worked.
Shrouds: Wire line used to support the mast on port and starboard.
Skipper: The captain or operator of a vessel.
Slack: The part of a line that hangs loose; allow to ease off. Also, the state of the tide when there is no horizontal motion.
Spill: To throw the wind out of a sail by easing the sheet or otherwise.
Splice: To join two ropes together by tucking ends.
Standing rigging: Those lines that are stationary or seldom require alteration, such as shrouds, and stays.
Starboard: The side to the right, looking forward.
Stay: Any line to support masts forward and aft.
Stem: The timber at the extreme forward part of a boat secured to the forward end of the keel and supporting the bow planks.
Stern: The after or rear section of the ship.


Tack: The lower forward corner of a fore-and-aft sail. Close-hauled on the wind. To change from one tack to another by putting the helm down.
Tacking: Advancing by a series of zigzag courses toward the wind's eye.
Tackle: An arrangement of ropes and blocks to give a mechanical advantage.
Tiller: A (usually) curved and tapered stick that connects to the rudderstock that is used for steering the boat.
Topsail: A three-sided sail that sets above a gaff; a four-sided sail whose head (upper edge) attaches to the yard of a topsail schooner.


Under way: A boat is under way when moving ahead.


Wake: The track left by a vessel on the water.
Waterline: The line painted on the side of a boat at the water's edge to indicate the proper trim.
Weigh the Anchor: To raise from the bottom and get it on board.
Windjammer: a sailing ship; also, one of its crew.
Windward: Toward or closer to the wind, as one boat may be to windward of another; also, the side of a boat that the wind hits first.


Yawl boat: A small, open, engine-driven boat that services an unpowered sailing vessel.