Glossary of Sailing Terms (Nautical, Yachting)

If you haven’t been around boats you’ll no doubt think that many words used by sailors are strange and complicated. But you’ll soon find that these sailing terms and words passed down through the centuries are very helpful. They allow you to communicate exactly what you mean quickly and precisely. Once these sailing terms become part of your vocabulary you are no longer a landlubber!

You might also be interested in Sailing Quotes.

Words that Sailors Use

Anemometer — an instrument that tells you the speed of the wind

Barometer — an instrument that tells what the weather will be

Battens — thin slats which give support to the leech of the sail

Batten pockets — pockets into which battens fit

Beam reach — you are sailing on a beam reach when you are sailing so the wind comes across the side of your boat

Beat, beating — you are on a beat or beating when you are sailing as close as possible toward the direction from which the wind is coming. This is also called sailing close hauled.

Block — a pulley

Boat — a hole in the water that you pour money into. Choose carefully.

Boom — a pole attached to the mast to which the lower edge of the sail is fastened (the boom goes ‘BOOM’ when it hits you on the head!)

“Boom Over” — an expression used to indicate the boat is about to gybe

Bow — the front of the boat Broad reach — you are on a broad reach when you are sailing with the wind almost pushing your boat

Buoy — a floating marker

Buoyancy — every boat must have enough material within it to keep it afloat when it is filled with water and crew

Capsize — tipping your boat over in the water so that the mast is submerged

Centreboard  — See Daggerboard

Clew — the bottom back corner of sail

Close hauled — you are sailing close hauled when you are sailing as close to the direction from which the wind is coming as possible. This is also called beating, or sailing on a beat.

Cockpit — the area of a boat where crew and passengers sit

Coming about — turning the boat into the direction from which the wind is coming so the wind blows on the opposite side of the boat. The sail passes from one side of the boat to the other.

Craft — a sailor’s word for a boat

Crew — the assistants to the captain of a boat

Daggerboard — a board that goes down through the center of the bottom of the boat. The daggerboard gives your boat stability and helps to prevent it from being pushed sideways in the water by the wind.

Daggerboard case / trunk — holds the daggerboard in place

Dinghy — a small boat sometimes rigged with a sail

Ease, easing — to redirect a boat away from the direction from which the wind is coming. This is also known as bearing off.

Easing the sheet — letting out the sheet (rope) that controls the sail. The opposite of sheeting in.

Freeboard — the distance from the waterline to the gunwale

Foot — the bottom edge of the sail

Gear — a sailor’s word for sailing equipment

Gunwale (pronounced gunnel) — the upper edge of the sides of a boat

Gybing (sometimes called jibing), to gybe – turning a boat away from the wind so that the wind direction passes across the stern (back) of the boat. The sail passes from one side of the boat to the other.

“Gybe Ho” — a sailor’s expression used to indicate that the boat is about to gybe

Halyard — a line used to raise the sail Head — top corner of sail

Heel, heeling — to tip a boat to one side or the other Helm — another name for the tiller or steering wheel

Helmsman — the one who steers the boat Hiking — leaning out of a boat to keep it sailing flat on the water

Hiking straps — you hook your feet under them to keep from falling out of your boat when you are hiking

In irons — a boat is in irons when the bow is pointed in the direction from which the wind is coming. The sail flaps like a flag. Jib — a triangular sail at the bow of a boat

Jib sheet — the rope that controls the jib

Keel — the lowest permanent part of a sailboat. It has the same function as a daggerboard, but also has a large amount of lead, which counter-balances the force of the wind, to keep the boat upright.

Keel boat — a craft with a fixed keel that extends below the hull

Ketch — a two-masted boat with the small mast in front of the tiller Landlubber — what a sailor calls a person who does not go to sea

Leeward — on the sheltered side of something away from the wind.

Luff, luffing — the shaking or flapping of a sail when it is not filled with wind. Also the forward edge of a sail.

Luff up — to steer a boat so the bow points more towards the direction from which the wind is coming. Also called heading up or pointing up.

Mainsail — the main sail of a boat. Sometimes called “the main”.

Mainsheet — the rope that controls the mainsail

Mast — a pole which supports a sail Mast step — the place in the bottom of the boat where the base of the mast rests

Mast thwart — support for the mast at the level of the gunwales

Masthead — the top of the mast

Outhaul — line at the end of the boom used to put tension on the foot of the sail

Painter — a piece of rope tied to the bow of a boat. Used for towing or securing the boat to a dock

Pinching — sailing too close to the wind. The boat moves forward slowly.

Pointing — to make the boat sail closer to the direction from which the wind is coming

Port — the left side of a boat (when you are facing the bow)

Reach — all the points of sail between sailing close hauled and running

“Ready About” — a sailor’s expression used to indicate that the boat is ready to come about

Regatta — a meeting for boat races

Rigging — a general term for all ropes and wires necessary for the mast and sails. Also the word for putting the mast, etc. in place to get the boat ready for sailing.

Rudder — a movable, flat board at the stern of a boat used as a means of steering. It is controlled by a tiller, or on large boats, a wheel.

Run, running — you are on a run or running when you are sailing in the same direction as the wind is blowing

Sheet — a rope that controls the sail

Ship’s log — a set of pages or a book where a ship’s activities can be recorded

Shipshape — neat, seamanlike

Sprit — a pole attached to the mast on an Optimist dinghy which keeps the sail high

Starboard — the right side of a boat (when you are facing the bow)

Stays — the wires on some boats that support the mast Stern — the back of a boat

Tack — the word used to describe the side of the boat which receives the wind first. For example, you are on a starboard tack when the wind blows over the starboard side of your boat.

Tacking —  turning a boat towards the wind so that the wind direction passes across the bow of the boat. The sail passes from one side of the boat to the other.

Tiller — a bar used to turn the rudder

Trimming the sail — making sure that the sail is full of wind so that the boat moves as quickly as possible over the water

Transom — the piece across the back of a boat

Underway — word used to describe a boat moving through the water — “The boat is underway.”

Wind indicator — tells the direction from which the wind is coming. Is usually mounted on the top of the mast

Windward — the side of a boat closest to the wind

Yawl — a two-masted boat. The small mast is nearer the stern than the tiller and rudder.

Anything missing? As sailing is such and old sport which is enjoyed throughout the world, the sailing terms used in different countries often vary. For example, USA sailors refer to their Daggerboard, whereas UK sailors call it a Centreboard. If you think I’ve missed a sailing/yachting word, please let me know and I’ll add it in.