Like many sports or professions sailing has its own terminology. Developed over the last several hundred years with all the richness that comes along with that. At first glance many of our sailing terms may seem to have been assigned in a haphazard manner but, they have all developed out of nautical traditions, mostly from Europe.
For instance, the terms for right and left come from a time when ships used a steering board slung over one side of the boat. With sheer man-power or block and tackle they would apply leverage to the steering board to make their turns. Imagine coming into port and docking; you wouldn’t want to dock on the side the steering board is on so the other side of the boat, facing the port, came to be called ‘port’ and the side of the boat the steering board was on became known as ‘starboard’.
The entries below are copied from the Glossary.
Parts of a sailboat
- backstay. A stay (line) that runs from near or at the top
- of the mast to the stern of the boat.
- boom. A spar that supports the foot of the mainsailSee figure #1.
- bow. The forward part of a boat also called ‘the pointy end’.
- Figure #1
gooseneck. The fitting that attaches the boom to the mast.
- headstay. Also called forestay, a cable /line that runs from the bow to the upper part of the mast. figure #5.
- hull. The underbody of a boat. See figure #5.
- jib. A foresail (headsail) that fits inside the foretriangle. See figure #5.
- keel. An extension of the hull that goes deeper into the water and provides stability from heel and sideways resistance to wind; as in: A well designed keel can provide lift to windward. See figure #5.
- mainsail. The main sail of a boat, often the largest sail and raised on the
- mainmast. See figures #1 and #5.
- mast. A pole made from wood, aluminum, or carbon fiber on which a sail is set;. See figures #1 and #5.
- shroud. A wire or cable holding up the mast athwartships (side to side)
- spreader. A horizontal support for the stays that sticks out from the mast.
- stern. The aftermost part of a vessel See figure #5.
Functions of items on a sailboat
(boom) topping lift. A line that runs from the end of the main boom to the mast in order to hold it up when the sail is not set.
- boom vang. A device to hold the boom down; as in: Use the boom vang to
- prevent the boom from rising up while on a run.
- block. A device used to change the angle of a line, a pulley; as in: Lead the line
- through the block.
- breast line. A dock line that runs at a right angle to the centerline of the boat; as
- in: We’ll bring the boat closer to the dock with a breast line for easier boarding.
- cleat. A metal (usually) object around which a line can be fastened. See figure #3.
- cockpit. An area inset in the deck where the boat is steered.
- cunningham. A line used to put tension in the luff of a sail.
- downhaul. Used to place tension in the luff of a sail.
- halyard. A line that raises a sail.
- jib sheet. A line that controls the jib with one end tied to the clew of the jib.
- mainsheet. A single line used to control the main; as in: Trim the mainsheet as we
- head up into the wind.
- outhaul. A sail control that attaches to the clew and allows tensioning of the foot;
- as in: In light air we ease the outhaul.
- rudder. An underwater appendage that controls the direction of the boat. See figure #5.
- shackle. A metal device that secures a line to another object; as in: The outhaul is attached to the clew of the mainsail with a shackle.
- Figure #3
- stay. A wire or cable supporting the mast, also see: “headstay” and “backstay”. See figure #5.
- telltale. A fine string or ribbon which may be located on a sail or in the rigging to help determine wind direction and proper sail trim. See the Sail Trim post.
- Figure #4
- abeam. At a right angle to the boat; as in: That buoy lies abeam of us.
- aft and after. Direction; as in: Go aft to the stern of the boat.
- ahead. In front of the boat; as in: Our destination lies ahead.
- astern. Behind the stern of the boat; as in: The competition has fallen astern.
- beam. The widest part of the boat.
- draft. The depth of the boat underwater
- forward. Toward the bow.
- heel. The angle the boat sails at.
- jibe. To turn the stern of the boat through the eye of the wind. See Tacking and Jibing post.
- lee and leeward (pronounced “lee” and “loo-ward”).
- port. 1, left side when looking forward.
- running rigging. All the lines that control any part of the sails including sheets, halyards, and outhaul.
- standing rigging. All wires or cables that hold up the mast.
- starboard. The right side facing forward.
- tack(ing). To change tacks by putting the bow through the eye of the wind.
- weather helm. The tendency of a boat to turn into the wind.
- windward. Towards the wind, upwind.
Sails and parts of a sail
- batten. A rod or strip used to stiffen the leech of a sail; as in: Some mainsails have
- at least one batten that runs from leech to luff.
- batten pocket. The opening into which the batten fits; as in: A batten pocket will
- have some means of closure at its leech end.
- clew. The after lower corner of a sail; as in: The outhaul is attached to the clew of
- the mainsail.
- foot. 1, the bottom edge of a sail; as in: We can tension the foot of the
- mainsail with the outhaul. 2, to sail slightly lower than close hauled; as in: If we foot after tacking we will build up good boat speed.
- head. the top corner of a triangular sail.
- jib. A foresail (headsail) that fits inside the foretriangle (not extending beyond the
- leech. The back edge of a sail; as in: If the leech is flopping tighten the leech line just until it stops.
- luff. the leading edge of a sail; as in: We have telltales just behind the luff of our headsail. 2, the flapping of a sail; as in: We can prevent luff in the sail by properly reading the telltales and adjusting course.
- tack. 1, To change tacks by putting the bow through the eye of the wind; as in:
- We tack the boat with enough speed to carry us through. 2, The side of the boat opposite the side the boom is on; as in: Since the boom is on the starboard side then we are on port tack. 3, The forward lower corner of a sail; as in: We fasten the tack of the jib near the bow.
Rights of Way
- give-way vessel. The vessel that must keep out of the way of another vessel; as
- in: The port tack boat is the give way vessel when meeting a starboard tack boat.
- stand-on vessel. The vessel that has the right of way according to the rules of the road; as in: A starboard tack boat is the stand on vessel when crossing the path of a port tack boat.
Note: Most of the content of this post is from the “School of Sailing” website. You can use the link to pursue building your sailing knowledge at that site.
This post has been edited to remove all, at least most, of the information that is not relevant to our models.