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 with a few from Polynesia (read: Multi-hulls).

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 and organized by their associated ASA course. More illustrations will follow.


Basic Keelboat (ASA 101)


Parts of a sailboat:

backstay. A stay (usually cable or rod) that runs from near or at the top
of the mast to the stern of the boat; as in: Your backstay seems to be tensioned properly.
boom. A spar that supports the foot of the mainsail; as in: The reef lines and
outhaul may be fed through the boom. See figure #1.
bow. The forward part of a boat also called 'the pointy end'; as in: Go to the bow
to drop the anchor.
bow pulpit. Guardrail and support at the bow for the lifelines; as in: The lifelines
attach to the bow pulpit with special fittings.
cabin. A room in a boat; as in: Time to go down to my cabin.
deck. The surface covering the hull of a boat; as in: Standing on deck is a good
way to catch some sun.

Figure #1

Illustration showing gooseneck, mainsail, tack, mast, and boom.gooseneck. The fitting that attaches the boom to the mast; as in: The bottom forward corner of the mainsail (known as the 'tack') is attached close to the gooseneck. Also illustrated are the mast and the boom.




headstay. Also called forestay, a cable that runs from the bow to the upper part
of the mast; as in: Our headsail attaches to the headstay. See figure #5.
hull. The underbody of a boat; as in: This hull is solid fiberglass. See figure #5.
jib. A foresail (headsail) that fits inside the foretriangle (the clew does not extend
beyond the mast); as in: As we approach our anchorage we will furl the jib. 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.
lifeline. A wire or cable that runs along the outside of the deck supported by
stanchions to help restrain passengers; as in: All lifelines should be checked frequently for corrosion, loose fittings, and fish hooks (metal barbs).
mainsail. The main sail of a boat, often the largest sail and raised on the mainmast;
as in: Leaving the anchorage the first sail we set is the mainsail. See figures #1 and #5.
mast. A pole made from wood, aluminum, or carbon fiber from which a sail is set;
as in: The mast on most boats have stays to hold them upright. See figures #1 and #5.
shroud. A wire or cable holding up the mast athwartships (side to side); as in:
Each shroud on this boat is made from stainless cable.
spreader. A horizontal support for the stays that sticks out from the mast; as in:
The spreader holds the shroud out which increases the strength of the rig.
stern. The aftermost part of a vessel; as in: While underway we may tow the
dinghy from the stern. See figure #5.
traveler. An athwartships (side to side) track upon which is mounted a block for the mainsheet thus allowing side to side adjustment; as in: Dropping the traveler to leeward is one way to reduce weather helm.

Functions of items on a sailboat:

(boom) topping lift. A line that runs from the end of the boom to the mast in order to
hold it up when the sail is not set; as in: If the boom is too low after we furl the main we'll need to raise the topping lift.

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; as in: He ran
the dock line from a cleat on the boat to a piling. See figure #3.
cockpit. An area inset in the deck where the boat is steered; as in: We gathered in
the cockpit and took turns at the helm.
cunningham. A line used to put tension in the luff of a sail; as in: Tighten the
cunningham to bring the draft forward in the mainsail.
downhaul. Used to place tension in the luff of a sail; as in: Applying tension to the
downhaul changes the shape of the mainsail.
fairlead. A lead with a minimum of friction to reduce chafe; as in: The line is led
from the block to the winch through a fairlead.
fender. Bumper placed outside the hull to prevent damage at a dock; as in: We
tied the fender to the lifeline using a clove hitch. See figure #3.
halyard. A line that raises a sail; as in: We get under sail by raising the main
jib sheet. A line that controls the jib with one end tied to the clew of the jib; as
in: Trim the jib sheet according to the telltales.
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.
padeye. A metal or plastic eye fastened on deck through which a line runs; as in:
That padeye provides a convenient means to help guide the reef line.
roller furling. Furling a sail by rolling it up; as in: Many boats have a roller furling
rudder. An underwater appendage that controls the direction of the boat; as in:
When the helmsperson turns the wheel to starboard the rudder turns to starboard followed by the boat's bow turning to starboard. See figure #5.

Figure #2

Shackles.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.


spring line. A dock line, usually used in combination, to prevent fore and aft
motion of the boat; as in: We can secure the forward running spring line to the stern cleat. See below:


Figure #3

Boat at dock showing docking lines.

stay. A wire or cable supporting the mast, also see: "headstay" and "backstay"; as
in: A yearly inspection of each stay is a very good idea. 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; as in: Reading the telltale on the starboard shroud it looks like we're on a beam reach. See Basic Sail Trim
tiller. An appendage increasing leverage on the rudder to steer the boat; as in: You
must push the tiller the opposite way you want the bow to move.
wheel. A circular device, often with spokes, used to steer the boat; as in: Grab
the wheel while I go below to make lunch.


Figure #4

Modern self-tailing winch with handle.winch. A mechanical device to increase the tension in a line consisting of a geared drum and handle; as in: A winch is essential for providing enough tension in sheets and halyards on most larger boats. It is important to go clockwise when wrapping lines onto the drum. Usually, 3 times around the drum, then lead the line up across the guide, and into the self-tailer on top of the drum.



Sailboat terms:

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; as in: The boat's length is 50 feet and her
beam is 14 feet.
crew. All who participate in the handling of the boat; as in: The crew did a great
job bringing the boat to the dock.
draft. 1, The depth of the boat underwater; as in: This boat has a 6 foot draft. 2,
The amount of curve or fullness in a sail; as in: Moving the draft forward will reduce our weather helm.
forward. Toward the bow; as in: Go forward to throw the bow line.
freeboard. The height of the deck above the water; as in: A boat with a lot of
freeboard is a dry boat.
heel. The angle the boat sails at; as in: Stronger wind creates more heel.
helmsman or helmsperson, steerer. The person who is steering the boat; as in: As
we got to the channel the helmsman guided us into the marina.
jibe. To turn the stern of the boat through the eye of the wind; as in: To jibe
under control we first trim the mainsheet. See Tacking & Jibing.
lee and leeward (pronounced "lee" and "loo-ward"). Downwind; as in: That boat is
in our lee or, that boat is leeward of us.
port. 1, left side when looking forward; 2, a window in the side of the boat; 3,
where ships come in to dock; as in: When navigating into a port take caution in the channels.
running rigging. All the lines that control any part of the sails including sheets,
halyards, and outhaul; as in: We check our running rigging for wear on a regular basis.
skipper. The one who is in charge; as in: The skipper may or may not be the one
who steers the boat.
standing rigging. All wires or cables that hold up the mast; as in: Most standing
rigging is strong enough to take very large forces produced by the sails in heavy winds.
starboard. The right side facing forward; as in: Leave the red buoys to starboard
when returning.
tack(ing). 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. See Tacking & Jibing.
weather helm. The tendency of a boat to turn into the wind, to head up; as in:
There are many ways to reduce weather helm.
windward. Towards the wind, upwind; as in: If our destination is to windward we
may have to tack to get there.

Sails and parts of a sail:

Figure #5

Sailboat showing names of sails, hull, keel, rudder, bow, stern, forestay, backstay, battens, head, tack, clew, foot, luff, and leech.

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.
bolt rope. The rope that is in the luff of a sail to strengthen it; as in: To put on
the mainsail guide the bolt rope through the slot in the mast.
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.
genoa. A large foresail whose clew extends beyond the foretriangle (mast); as in:
In lighter air we always use our genoa.
hank. A fitting used to attach the foresail to forestay; as in: We hank on the
foresail before raising it.
head. 1, the top corner of a triangular sail; as in: We attach the halyard to the
head of the sail. 2, The bathroom on a boat; as in: Many boats have more than one head. 3, The front of the boat, the bow area, the stem; as in: Going to the head of the boat provides an excellent view.
jib. A foresail (headsail) that fits inside the foretriangle (not extending beyond the
mast); as in: As we approach our anchorage we will furl the jib.
leech. The back edge of a sail; as in: If the leech is flopping tighten the leech line
just until it stops.
luff. 1, 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.
mainsail. The main sail of a boat often the largest sail and raised on the mainmast;
as in: Leaving the anchorage the first sail we set is the mainsail.
spinnaker. A large colorful balloon shaped sail; as in: When the racing boats
rounded the windward mark they set their spinnakers to the delight of all spectators.
storm jib. A jib that is smaller and stronger than the working jib; as in: Before the
heavy weather hits we'll set the storm jib.
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.

Points of sail: See Points of Sail or the Glossary for definitions of the following:

Basic Cruising (ASA 103)


Parts of a sailboat:

auxiliary engine. A small engine (outboard or inboard, gasoline or diesel) used to
power a sailing vessel when not under sail; as in: when we come into the anchorage we'll start the auxiliary engine, head into the wind, furl our sails, then proceed to anchor.
binnacle. A support for a compass; as in: If you place metal objects close to the
binnacle you may cause deviation in the compass.
chain plate. Metal strap or fitting on the hull where stays are attached; as in: Our chain
plate is bolted to the hull.


cockpit locker. typically the largest locker on deck usually located under cockpit seating; as in: We store the life jackets in our cockpit locker along with the flares.

companionway. The entryway that leads from the cockpit to the cabin; as in: He
went down the companionway to go to the galley.
compass. A device containing a magnet that will align itself with the magnetic field
of the earth indicating direction; as in: Read the compass carefully to determine your heading.
emergency tiller. A small tiller that fits into the top of the rudder post which can be used to steer the boat if main equipment fails.

galley. The kitchen on a boat; as in: We do most of our cooking in the galley.
ground tackle. The anchor and anchor rode; as in: For ground tackle my boat uses
a plow anchor with all chain rode.
hatch. An operable opening in the deck; as in: Once we anchor we can open the
rudder post. A round shaft leading from the rudder and connected to the helm; as
in: Turning the wheel turns the rudder post thus turning the rudder.
saloon. The large social gathering area below deck on a boat; as in: We'll
have dinner in the saloon tonight due to the inclimate weather in the cockpit.

seacock. A valve to shut off flow from a through-hull fitting; as in: It is good to
exercise the seacocks once in a while to prevent seizing.
self-bailing cockpit. A cockpit that drains by itself; as in: Larger boats have self-
bailing cockpits.
stem fitting. The fitting at the bow upon which is fastened the headstay; as in:
The stem fitting does for the headstay what the chainplates do for the shrouds.
tang. A metal fitting on the mast to which shrouds are attached; as in: We give
our rig, including each tang, a thorough yearly inspection.
through-hull fitting. A metal or plastic device providing a secure hole in the boat
through which fluids can flow; as in: Inside of every below waterline through-hull fitting is a seacock to shut off the flow of water if needed.
transom. The athwartships surface located at the very stern; as in: The outboard
engine mounts on the dinghy's transom.
turnbuckle. A fitting used in standing rigging to adjust its tension; as in: The rigger tuned our mast by adjusting the tension at the turnbuckle.
v-berth. the most forward cabin in a monohull, so called because the bow forms a V. windlass. Winch for the anchor rode; as in: Many modern boats have an electric windlass with a remote control.


Cruising Catamaran (ASA 114)

Catamaran parts and terms:

bridgedeck. The deck that joins the hulls on a catamaran; as in: Standing on the
bridgedeck gives a great view.
bridle. A line used to distribute the load from a tow or an anchor to two points on
the boat; as in: When we anchor a catamaran we always set up a bridle.
cabin. A room in a boat; as in: Time to go down to my cabin.
catamaran. A multihull having two hulls; as in: Her catamaran sailed fast and
cross beam (arm). Any of the beams that join the two hulls of a catamaran; as
in: The cross beam creates structural strength and is often made from extruded, anodized aluminum.
dolphin striker. Cables underneath a multihull that help support the structure; as
in: The dolphin striker is often hidden away on catamarans.
float. Generic name for a multi-hull's ama or hull; as in: A trimaran has 3 floats; 2
amas and a hull.
full wing deck. A solid deck joining the ama and hull on a trimaran; as in: That
trimaran has a full wing deck.
galley down. Term used to describe the layout on a catamaran where the galley is
placed on the lower level along with the cabins; as in: They preferred to have the galley down because it allowed for a larger salon on the upper level.
galley up. Term used to describe the layout on a catamaran where the galley is
placed on the upper level along with the salon; as in: She wanted to have the galley up because it allows for more communication when meals are prepared.
hull. The underbody of a boat; as in: A catamaran has two hulls whereas a
trimaran has one hull and two amas.
main hull. The main hull (or center) hull on a trimaran; as in: The main hull is
where we live and the outer hulls or amas are for storage.
multihull. A boat with two or three hulls; as in: The multihull is becoming more
open wing deck. Having the deck on a trimaran completely open; as in: Smaller
trimarans with folding amas often have an open wing deck arrangement.
partial wing deck. A deck on a trimaran, joining the ama and hull, that has an
open area; as in: Many trimarans have a partial wing deck.
safety net. The net in the bow area of a catamaran sometimes called the
trampoline; as in: The safety net provides a secure area for sunbathers.
seagull striker. On a catamaran, the reinforcing structure above the beam at the
bow; as in: The seagull striker adds considerable strength to the boat.
stability. Not heeling; as in: This catamaran has greater stability than a monohull
of the same length.
stability curve. A graph showing the stability of a boat at various angles; as in:
The stability curve for a catamaran is very different than that for a monohull.
trimaran. A boat with three hulls; as in: The outer hulls on a trimaran are called
wing deck. The deck on a trimaran that joins the ama to the hull; as in: The wing
deck may often be a wet place.

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