Basic Boating Terminology

Boating Terminology

Boating has a unique language. This page is here to help people understand the basic terms. Common items on land take on a whole new identity when you get them on a boat. There is not a single rope on ANY boat. The instant a rope leaves land to be put to use on board a boat, it becomes a line. Even saying “dock rope” just sounds wrong.  *Click on each image to enlarge to full screen.

Basic Haul Terms

The above image points out structures common to both sail and power boats. The front part of the boat is called the “BOW” and the back is the “STERN”. A “DECK” is a permanent covering over a compartment or a hull. When moving around on a boat, you go “FOREward to the bow,” and “AFT toward the stern.” OK, so “FORE” is more of a prefix than an actual term.

Basic Sailing Terminology

Sailboats use the power of the wind to move forward. Rarely, however, does the wind blow in exactly the deisred direction. It’s always coming from one side or the other. To prevent the boat from slipping sideways too much, many sailboats use a centerboard, keel, or both.

The sails are hung from the mast and can exert great force upon it. To keep the mast from failing several lines are used. Fore and aft are stays; forestay and backstay. Port and starboard are shrouds. Since these lines are not moved once installed it is called the “Standing” Rigging.


Running rigging is the term used to describe the lines that move when you are sailing. Halyards run to a block (pulley) near or at the top of the mast and back down to the deck. The saills are raised and lowered using halyards.

The wind can come from any direction (and sometimes seems to come from them all at once), so the angle of the sails to the wind must be adjustable. The lines which allow this are referred to as sheets.




Sailing Terms II

A whole glossary of terms refer to the sails themselves. The behavior of the sails needs accurate description so they can be adjusted for maximum performance. Each corner and edge of a sail has a name. It sounds so much more nautical (and accurate) to say “Tighten up on the mainsail luff with the downhaul.” than to say “Pull that rope over there to make that front part of the sail less floppy.”