Sailing Language


Like all sports or hobbies, sailing has its own language. Most of the words come from times where square rigged ships were battling near Europe’s coasts. So don’t worry if it takes time to learn them.

--- I will be building a dictionary here, if I can with drawings and photos...


Terms related to positions outside of the boat :

Ahead - In front of the boat

Astern - Behind the boat.

Abeam - On the side of the boat at a relative bearing at perpendicular angles to the centerline of the boat

Terms related to positions on the boat :

Aft - Back of the boat, towards stern

Abaft - Behind

Amidships- In the middle of the boat, between bow and stern

Beam - The widest part of the hull

Bow - The forward part of the boat

Cabin - Quarters under the deck.

Terms related to the wind and sailing points:

Apparent wind - The combination of the true wind and boat’s movement. The wind that is felt on the boat

Beam reach- Point of sail. Sailing with the apparent wind on the beam of the boat (perpendicular to the boat’s axis)

Bearing away - Changing course away from the wind.

Beating - Sailing to the wind by doing many tacks.

Boat wind - Wind created by the boat’s movement.

Broad reach - Sailing with the wind coming between stern and beam.

By the lee - Sailing with the wind coming from the side of the boat on which the mainsail is carried.

Close reach - Sailing in a direction between close-hauled and beam reach.

Gybing - Changing tack while sailing downwind. The stern of the boat crosses the wind.

Heading up - Changing course towards the wind.

Heeling - Leaning of the boat with wind.

In Irons - Boat heading to the wind with no speed and steering.

Terms related to navigation:

Aids to navigation - Signs, devices, and systems, outside of the boat that helps to locate the position of the boat, identify the dangers and provide informations to the mariner.

Chart Datum - Reference for depths on a chart.

Current - Horizontal flow of the water.

Fathom - Distance equal to 6 feet. Used in some old charts.

Terms related to boat parts:

Backstay - Wire preventing the mast from falling forward. It is going from the top of the mast to the stern of the boat.

Battens - Wooden or plastic slats of varying lengths in pockets with access at the leech of the sail.

Bilge - The lowest inner part of the hull

Boom - A horizontal spar attached to the mast. It supports the lower edge of the mainsail.

Boomvang - .Block and tackle, leading diagonally from the boom to the base of the mast, controlling the tension of the after edge of the mainsail.

Cleat - Fittings for securing lines.

Cockpit - The open section of the deck from where the boat is steered.

Deck - The surface on the top of the hull.

Fenders - Bumpers hanging over the sides of the boat to protect from impact with a boat or a dock.

Foot - The lower edge of a sail.

Genoa - Large foresail.

Gooseneck - A hinged fitting attaching the boom to the mast.

Foot - The lower edge of a sail.

Halyard - Line or wire for raising or lowering a sail.

Hank - Clip on the luff of a foresail by which it is attached to the forestay.

Head - The top corner of a sail or a marine toilet.

Helm - Steering system of the boat. Also used as short version of helmsman which means the person steering the boat.

Hull - The body of the boat.

Jib - A type of foresail.