Boat Parts and Terms: A Sailor’s Diary


It’s time to forget words like left and right, front and back, kitchen and bathroom. As a boater, you’ll want to understand the basic vocabulary that comes along with life on the water, including being able to identify different parts of a boat. On our list, we’ll go from A to Z

Learning sailing is like learning a language often represents a more significant challenge. Learning the terms and parts of the boat is fundamental to establishing a foundation and a logical place to start.

Some terms are self-explanatory, like cabin or deck but some are not and require some explanation.

Important terms:  

When you’re facing the bow, the left side of the boat is known as the port, and the right side of the boat, when you’re facing the bow, is starboard.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

The front of the boat is the bow and the back of the stern.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=183s

The widest part of the boat is called a beam, whereas the front of the boat is ahead and behind the boat is Astern.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

Right angles to the boat are called a beam, while forward and aft are turns relative to the boat. 

Much of sailing is about the wind. Upwind is called windward, while downwind is leeward.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

Coming about or tacking means to turn the boat with the bow passing through the eye of the wind while sailing. 

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

Jibing is turning the boat with the stern passing through the eye of the wind while under sail.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

Sailboats carry center boards or keels to create lateral resistance. The pressure in the sails forces the boat to go sideways whenever a boat is sailing upwind. All boats will drift sideways to varying degrees depending on many factors. This sideways drift while sailing upwind is referred to as leeway.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

Sailing directly before the wind is called run or running. But, unfortunately, we can’t do that in sailing.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

Sailing wing on wing is called sails set on the opposite sides of the boat. 

Trying to reach an upwind destination by beating or running downwind, we can essentially sail across the wind at various angles called reaching.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

Tips and Safety points:

Since the sailboat cannot sail straight into the wind, we have to sail at an angle to it while coming about or tacking at intervals to gain ground upwind; this is called a beat or beating to weather.

Finally, we have undoubtedly heard horror stories of the boom crashing across the boat. Indeed, people have been seriously injured, so it’s essential to understand how this happens,

As the boat sails downwind, the only thing holding the mainsail forward is the wind pressure. Therefore, should the wind shift or the boat change direction so that the wind gets in behind the mainsail, it will come crashing in an accidental or flying jibe. Likewise, when the wind shifts to the same side of the boat the mainsail is on, we run the risk of an accidental jibe, often referred to as sailing by the lee.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

Parts of the Boat  

The deck and cabin are self-explanatory. 

The deck refers to the boat’s exterior flat surface, basically the floor you move around on.

Cabin can be found on the interior of the boat. It can be just one room, take up the entire interior, and be used for sleeping. 

The cockpit is a protected, somewhat enclosed area on deck, usually where the boat is controlled or steered.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

berth can either mean a bed, a bunk, or a slip for a boat to dock in.

bimini or a bimini top is a canvas or composite top added to a boat to help protect from the rain or give you a little shade.

casting deck or casting platform is a flat service at a boat’s elevated bow or transom, making it perfect for casting and giving you the best water view.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

cleat is a wood, plastic, or metal fitting used to tie off a line on a boat or a dock.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

console is a raised structure on the deck of a boat that usually holds the helm or steering station and may include ahead or storage space in the compartment below. There are both single console boats called center consoles and dual console boats. 

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

Dinette is usually an area on a boat with a table and seating that you can use for dining.

flybridge or flying bridge is the area on top of a boat cabin that usually holds a steering station and sometimes a seating area.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

The galley is the kitchen on board a boat which may be on the exterior or interior of the boat.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

hardtop is just what it sounds like a top or roof added to a boat cabin or console, which helps protect the driver and sometimes even passengers from the elements.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

hatch is an opening on deck or in the cabin that serves as a window or door.

live well, also called a bait well, is 

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

a tank designed to keep caught fish or bait alive during fishing. 

propeller is a rotating device that propels a boat forward or backward through the water.

The salon is an interior room on board used as a social space, just like a living room in a house.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

swim platform is a structure located on the stern or transom designed to make the boat onboard easier.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

 A t-top is a metal or composite structure designed to hold a canvas or hardtop to protect the boat driver from the Sun.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

The transom refers to the back of the boat that comes up from the hull bottom and connects the two hull sides.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

The companionway is the main staircase down into the cabin. 

The main hatch covers the companionway while the secondary midships and forward hatches provide ventilation and emergency exits. 

The helm is the steering station and can be a traditional tiller, including engine controls and a wheel or joystick.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

The traveler is connected to the mainsheet, which is a line controlling the mainsail.

Fairleads direct jib or Genoa sheets; these are lines to the cockpit clutches, or jammers are line managing tools that usually lead to a winch.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

Cleats are used to make lines fast. They can be found on the mast or the boom as well as on deck.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

The hull is the body or shell of the vessel. You’ll find various hull shapes and sizes; the hull includes the keel, which provides lateral resistance, allowing the boat to sail upwind. In addition, a keelboat also provides ballast, which helps keep the boat upright.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2ibVN8kc44&t=185s

The rudder steers the boat.

 The mast holds the sails up while the boom works at the mainsheet to control the shape and angle of the mainsail,

the boom is connected to the mast through an articulating joint called the gooseneck

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

The standing rigging consists of the fore stay, the backstay, and the shrouds that hold the mast up.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

The stays and shrouds are connected to the mast by Tangs and the hull on deck by chain plates.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s
image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

The standing rigging is tensioned with turnbuckles.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

The running rigging comprises all the working lines on the boat. The main sheet is the main line that controls the angle and shape of the mainsail. The boom vang and the traveler helps fine-tune the sail’s shape. The topping lift holds the end of the boom up when the mainsail is not in use.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

Winches manage the heavy loads on keelboats.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

The windlass is an electrical anchor winch found on larger boats.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

The pushpit is the safety railing at the stern of the boat, while the pulpit is at the bow.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

They are connected by lifelines supported along their length by steel posts called stanchions.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

Spreaders redirect the load of the shrouds to the top of the mast.

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

The transom is the very back of the boat, and traditionally, rudders were hung here.

The gudgeon is a tube that receives the pintle to create a hinge. Shackles in their various configurations connect lines to hardware and sails. 

image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s
image source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67e5N2BsQfE&t=162s

Here we covered basic terms and parts. You need practical knowledge of boats for a clear understanding.

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