Boating Vocabulary: Words Boaters Should Know

Boating Vocabulary: Words Boaters Should Know

Boating has a long history and has played, and still does play, a crucial role in exploration, transportation, and recreation. With that kind of legacy comes a vast vocabulary developed to help people work and play in the marine environment. While there are entire dictionaries dedicated to boating terminology, here we will highlight some of the most important and common terms that most modern boaters should know.

Boating Terms

boatus terms diagram
Illustration: BoatUS

Abeam

At a right angle to the centerline or keel of the boat, alongside the boat

Aft

A position closer to the stern or back of the boat

Amidships (Midships)

The center or central area of the boat

Beam

The widest part of the boat, the greatest width

Bow

The front or forward end of the boat, as opposed to the stern (mnemonic: “B” comes before “S” in the alphabet, just like the Bow of the boat comes before the Stern)

Bulkhead

A partition, usually structural, that separates compartments of a boat

Cabin

A main compartment, enclosed area, or living space for crew and passengers

Companionway

The set of steps or walkway that provides access from the deck to the below-decks areas of the boat

Console

A station to stand or sit at located on the deck which often contains the helm, an operator’s console

Deck

Usually the exterior flat surfaces of a boat that passengers and crew walk on, but can also refer to the levels of a vessel, as in “Deck 4”, which could be an interior or exterior level

Draft

The minimum depth of water a boat can float in, or the distance between the waterline and the bottom of the keel

Flybridge

A raised helm or navigation console, often above the cabin, from which the boat can be operated. It usually includes an area for entertaining or sitting as well

Freeboard

The vertical distance from the waterline to the lowest point at which water could enter the boat over the edge

Galley

The name for a boat’s kitchen

Gangway

A passage or ramp used to board or disembark a boat

Gunwale

The top edge of a boat’s sides

Hatch

A watertight cover or doorway in a boat deck or cabin top

Head

The name for a boat’s toilet

Heeling

The leaning of a sailboat as the wind pushes against the sails

Helm

A boat’s operating console, containing the wheel and engine controls

Hull

The body or shell of a boat that physically touches the water

Jib

The sail set forward of a sailboat’s masts and mainsail

Jibe

Steering a sailboat’s stern through the wind (as opposed to a tack)

Keel

The center ridge running bow to stern under a boat’s hull. In a sailboat the keel can run very deep to provide stability

Leeward

The same direction the wind is blowing (as opposed to windward)

Length Overall (LOA)

The length of a vessel from its farthest extent aft to its farthest extend forward including all attached tackle

Lifelines

Cables or lines running around a boat to prevent crew, passengers, or equipment from falling overboard

Locker

Any small compartment on a boat used for storage

Mainsail

The largest, main working sail of a boat attached to the main mast and controlled by a horizontal boom

Mast

A vertical pole that supports the sails of a sailboat

Point of Sail

The boat’s direction relative to the wind

Port

The left side of a boat when standing onboard, facing the bow (as opposed to starboard). Mnemonic:  port has fewer letters than starboard just like left has fewer letters than right

Rudder

The vertical fin or plate at the back of a boat that extends into the water used for steering

Saloon

The main room for entertaining on a boat

Scuppers

Holes in the hull that allow water on the deck to drain overboard

Stanchion

Upright poles around a boat’s edge that support lifelines

Starboard

The right side of a boat when standing onboard, facing the bow (as opposed to port). Mnemonic:  starboard has more letters than port just like right has more letters than left

Stem

The forward most part of the bow

Stern

The back, or aft area of the boat

Swim Platform

A water-level platform at the stern of the boat used to enter and exit the water easily

Tack

Steering a sailboat’s bow through the wind (as opposed to a jibe)

Tiller

The handle connected to the rudder or an outboard motor used for steering

Transom

The flat surface forming a boat’s stern

Trim Tabs

Plates on the stern bottom of a boat’s hull that can be adjusted to change the vessel’s attitude, pitch, and roll while underway

Waterline

The point up to which water rises on a boat’s hull

Windward

The direction from which the wind is blowing (as opposed to leeward)

Anchor Terms

Anchor diagram

Bill

The tip of an anchor’s fluke

Crown

The bottom of an anchor (as opposed to the head)

Eye

The hole in the shank where the anchor rode is connected

Fluke

The fins or scoops of an anchor that dig into the bottom and hold material

Head

The top of an anchor (as opposed to the crown)

Shank

The long bar running from head to crown that is the main appendage of an anchor

Stock

A bar that runs perpendicular to the shank

Tripping Ring

A hole or ring located near the crown of an anchor used to connect a tripping line for easier hauling

Windlass Terms

windlass diagram

Capstan

The cylinder or drum on a windlass for winding rope

Clutch Lever

A handle used to tighten the clutch in such cases as the windlass is slipping when trying to haul the anchor

Gipsy

The cylinder or drum on a windlass for winding chain. Some gypsies can accept both chain and rope

Horizontal Windlass

A windlass that features a gypsy or capstan with a horizontal axis and the motor on the deck.

Vertical Windlass

A windlass that features a gypsy or capstan with a vertical axis and the motor under the deck.

Rope Terms

rope types

8-Plait

Also known as “square braid”, consists of eight individual strands that are woven in four pairs. Makes great anchor line and works well in most windlasses

Bow Line

A line tied from a boat’s bow to a point on the dock forward of the bow

Cleat

A T-shaped attachment point for boat lines

Double Braided

A braided rope core that is enclosed by a braided rope sleeve. Makes excellent dock and anchor line

Ground Tackle

The anchor, rope, chain, and accessories that make up a boat’s anchoring system

Halyards

A rope used for raising and lowering a sail on a sailboat

Mooring

Refers to a permanent anchorage with a buoy where a boat can tie up. It can also refer to a dock or pier where a boat ties up

Rode

A combination of rope spliced to chain generally used in windlasses for anchoring

Sheets

Control lines for operating sails on a sailboat

Splice

A woven connection between rope and chain in an anchor rode made so that the rode can feed through a windlass

Spring Lines

Dock lines secured such that a boat cannot shift forward and aft

Stern Line

A line tied from a boat’s stern to a point on the dock aft of the stern

3-Strand

Also known as twisted rope, a rope constructed of three individual strands twisted together. It is standard, inexpensive, anchor line or general-purpose rope

Fender Terms

fender types

Buoy

A spherical float or boat bumper

Center-Hole

Also known as HTM fenders, boat fenders with a hole through the middle lengthwise for securing the fender to a boat or dock

Dock Fender

A bumper, inflated or foam-filled, hung alongside a boat to prevent impact or abrasion against another vessel or dock

Double-Eye

A boat fender that has an eye or hole at each end with which it may be tied to a boat or dock

Flat

A foam-filled boat fender that is rectangular and flat, used most often to prevent impact or abrasion when rafting two boats together

Hole Through the Middle (HTM)

Also known as center-hole fenders, boat fenders with a hole through the middle lengthwise for securing the fender to a boat or dock

Ribbed

A boat fender that employs vertical ribbing for reinforcement

Wheel

An inflated or foam-filled boat fender constructed as a rotating wheel to fend a boat off dock or slip corners and walls while guiding it into its berth

Bimini Terms

bimini top diagram

Boot

A cover placed over a folded bimini top to protect it

Bow

A rib that supports the canvas on a bimini top

Deck Hinge

A connector that attaches bimini poles to the deck of a boat

Jaw Slide

A connector that attaches bimini poles to other bimini poles

Outside End

A connector that fits into a jaw slide or deck hinge

Support Pole

Also known as a rear support pole, attaches to the aft end of a bimini down to a boat’s deck or gunwales in order to keep a folded bimini raised and out of the way

Bimini Top

The canvas of a bimini

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