Sailing Glossary

Aft Toward the rear or stern. For example, to “go aft” on a boat is to move toward the stern. “Forward” is toward the front or bow.
Anemometer An instrument to measure wind speed, usually mounted on the top of the mast.
Autopilot A mechanical device that steers the boat on a set course.
Backstay The stainless steel cable stretching from the top of the mast to the stern of boat to help support the mast. Also see forestay, shrouds, and spreaders. Model of a Sailboat.
Bare poled Having up no sails.
Batten A flexible strip of wood or fiberglass sewn into a pocket on the leech of a sail to support the leech.
Beam reach To sail with the wind at a 90 degree angle to sailboat’s course. Points of Sail.
Bilge The area under the cabin sole into which water drans.
Bilge pump An electric or manual pump that removes water from the bilge.
Bimini A canvas awning rigged across the cockpit and below the boom to provide shade.
Boat hook A pole with a hook at the end to retrieve lines or other items dropped in the water
Boom An aluminum tube attached at a right angle to the mast to provide support to the bottom (foot) of the mainsail. Model of a Sailboat.
Bottom paint Paint applied to the bottom of the hull to protect against growth of marine organisms such as barnacles.
Bow The front end of the boat. The stern is the back end.
Bow pulpit A stainless steel railing on the bow that provides a hand hold and prevent falls overboard when working on the foredeck. Model of a Sailboat
Braces The “ribs” that support the hull on the inside of the boat.
Cabin sole The floor of the cabin.
Cleat A small metal fixture on the deck or mast to which lines are tied.
Clew The aft corner of a sail to which the sheets are attached. Diagram of a Sail.
Close-hauled To sail at a 40 or 45 degree angle to the wind—the closest a sailboat can go into the wind—with the sails pulled in tight. Points of Sail.
Cockpit The seating area of the boat where the tiller or wheel is located as well as the working end of the sheets that control the sails. Model of a Sailboat.
Companionway The opening or passageway from the cockpit to the cabin. Model of a Sailboat.
Deck The working surface of the boat.
Dividers A navigation tool used to plot courses and measure distances on a nautical chart.
Dorade vents Small rubber scoops on the deck or cabin that provide ventilation to the cabin but do not allow the entry of spray or rain.
Draft The depth of the hull below the waterline.
Emergency pack A bag that contains a first aid kit, emergency flares, water, canned food, etc., to provide survival essentials in case a crew must abandon the sailboat.
EPIRB Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. When immersed in water, it sends a signal indicating its location.
Fenders Rubber “bumpers” shaped like cylinders and having lines tied to each end. They can be hung from the lifelines to provide a cushion between the hull of the boat and a dock or another boat.
Finger pier A smaller pier that juts out from a larger pier just as the fingers jut out from the hand.
Foredeck The working deck area at the front of the boat, usually forward of the mast.
Forestay The stainless steel cable stretching from the top of mast to the bow of boat that helps support the mast. Also see backstay, spreaders, and shrouds. Model of a Sailboat.
Foward Toward the front or bow of the boat. Aft is toward the rear or stern.
Foul weather gear A waterproof suit usually consisting of a slicker, loose trousers, and a hat or hood. Foul weather gear is often bright yellow.
Genoa A triangular forward sail that extends aft of the mast when raised. Different sizes of genoas reach farther and farther aft. See also jib and working jib. Different Types of Sails.
GPS Global Positioning System.
Grommet A metal ring that provides reinforcement of a hole in the sail through which a sheet or halyard is attached.
Gulf Stream A huge “river” or current that moves north and northeast between Florida and the Bahamas toward Bermuda and beyond.
Gunwale (Pronounced gunnel) the upper edge of the side of a boat.
Halyard (Pronounced HAL – yrd) the line on the mast that pulls up and holds up a sail. This is different from the sheet, which is the line that tightens a sail.
Hanging locker A small closet in the cabin of a boat. Diagram of the Interior of Chrysalis.
Hank on To use the shackles on a jib or genoa to attach the sail to the forestay.
Hanks The shackles sewn into the luff or front of a jib or genoa. Model of a Sailboat.
Hatch The cover of an opening in the deck.
Hatch boards Boards that slide into slots in the companionway to close off the opening and secure the cabin.
Head The toilet on a boat. Also the top of a sail. Diagram of the Interior of Chrysalis and Diagram of a Sail.
Heeled over When the boat is tilted at an angle because sufficient wind is propelling the boat.
Helm The wheel or tiller of a sailboat.
Housing of rudder The structure in the stern of a sailboat through which the rudder shaft runs vertically.
Hull The main body of a boat. Model of a Sailboat.
Jib The smaller triangular sail at the front of the sailboat. In contrast to the genoa, the jib does not extend aft of the mast. Different Types of Sails.
Knots The measure of speed on a boat. One knot is equal to 1.15 miles per hour.
Leading edge The front edge of the sail presented to the wind. Diagram of a Sail.
Leech The trailing edge of the sail. Diagram of a Sail.
Leeward (Pronounced loo-rd) the side of the boat away from the direction of the wind. Windward is the side toward the wind.
Life ring A flotation device thrown to a person overboard. Sailors are required to attach a life ring to the stern rail aft of the cockpit.
Lifelines The plastic-encased, stainless steel wires that run about two feet above the deck along each edge of a sailboat to provide a handhold and protection from falling overboard. Model of a Sailboat.
Line The generic term for rope on a boat. A boat carries many different types of line—halyards, sheets, towlines, anchor lines, docking lines, etc. Each of these is a specific type of line named to indicate its specific use.
Luff The front part of any sail. Diagram of a Sail. Also, when a sail needs to be trimmed in, it ripples or “luffs” in the front instead of being taut, and when the entire sail is flapping so that it loses wind, it is said to be “luffing.”
Main cabin The cooking, eating, and sleeping area on a boat.
Mainsheet The line that controls the mainsail. It is attached to the boom.
Man-overboard pole A long pole connected to a flotation device that is immediately thrown into the water when a person falls overboard. The rescue crew can see the tall pole floating whereas the waves can often obscure the person.
Mast The tall pole on a sailboat that supports the sails. Model of a Sailboat.
Parallel rule A navigation tool used to plot courses on a nautical chart.
Point To steer the sailboat as close to the direction of the wind as it can be trimmed; close-hauled. Sailing Into the Wind.
Point of sail The general term for the direction of the sailboat in relation to the wind. Points of Sail.
Port The left side of a boat as you look forward. Starboard is the right side. Model of a Sailboat.
Quarter berth A bunk on either side of the main cabin partially under the cockpit. Diagram of the Interior of Chrysalis.
Rail The metal track along the gunwales of a sailboat to which the jib/genoa sheet blocks (pulleys) are attached.
Ratchet block A specialized pulley that ratchets and thus provides mechanical assistance to the sail trimmer. The mainsheet, used to trim the mainsail, runs through a ratchet block attached to the boom.
Reach A point of sail at which the wind crosses the side of the sailboat. A reach can be a close reach, a beam reach, or a broad reach. Points of Sail.
Reef the main To shorten the mainsail in height and thus reduce the sail area presented to the wind.
Rigging The general term for the lines, sheets, halyards, and stays on a sailboat.
RPM Revolutions per minute; the speed at which an engine is operating.
Rudder The control surface used to steer the boat and located at the stern below the waterline. Model of a Sailboat.
Running A point of sail with the wind from aft or behind. Points of Sail.
Safety harness A harness with a tether line that snaps onto secure fixtures on the deck to prevent a sailor from falling overboard.
Sailors palm A leather, glove-like hand protection used when repairing a sail with a big sailor’s needle.
Scupper holes Holes in the cockpit to allow spray and rain to drain back out to the ocean.
Set of the sail The general term for how the sails (main and jib or genoa) are trimmed. If the set is correct, the sails are properly curved and working efficiently. Basic Principle of Sailing.
Settee A berth or couch in the main cabin. Diagram of the Interior of Chrysalis.
Sextant A navigation instrument that measures the angle of the sun or a star in relation to the horizon.
Sheet A line that trims a sail in or out.
Shrouds Stainless steel cables from the top of the mast to the sides of a boat that help support the mast. Also see forestay, backstay, and spreaders. Model of a Sailboat.
Spinnaker A large, usually colorful sail that is neither hanked onto the forestay nor supported on one side by the mast and that provides speed when running or broad reaching. Different Types of Sails.
Spinnaker pole A pole that supports the spinnaker. It attaches to the mast and to one corner (clew) of the spinnaker.
Spreaders Two short, horizontal poles near the top of the mast that reach from the mast to the shrouds and adjust the angle of the shrouds relative to the mast so that the shrouds provide better support to the mast. Also see backstay, forestay, and shrouds. Model of a Sailboat.
Starboard The right side of a boat as you look forward. Port is the left side. Model of a Sailboat.
Steering high To be steering into the wind too much so that the sails are not operating efficiently.
Stern The back end of a boat. The bow is the front end.
Stern rail Stainless steel rail structure on the stern of a boat to provide a hand hold and prevent falls overboard when working in the stern area.
Sun shot The use of a sextant to measure the angle of the sun at noon relative to the horizon.
Tack To turn a sailboat’s bow through the wind and re-trim the sails on the opposite side of the boat. This is the way a sailboat makes progress in the direction of the wind. Sailing Into the Wind.
Tack of a sail The corner of the sail that attaches to the bow in the case of the jib or to the mast-boom junction in the case of the mainsail. Diagram of a Sail.
Teak A type of weather resistant, tough wood used for trim in boats.
Tiller A straight, usually teak pole connected to the rudder and used to steer the boat. Model of a Sailboat.
Topsides The deck and cockpit of a sailboat.
Towline A line used to tow the dinghy. This line is also often called a painter.
True a compass The adjustment of a compass to compensate for metal on the boat that interferes with the compass readings.
V-berth Bunks in the forward cabin shaped like a “V”. Diagram of the Interior of Chrysalis.
Waterline The horizontal line on the boat’s hull that marks where the boat floats in the water. Model of a Sailboat.
Winch A mechanical device with gears that allows a sailor to raise or trim a sail by wrapping the sail’s sheet around the winch and then turning the winch with a winch handle.
Winch handle The handle the sailor places in the winch to crank it clockwise or counterclockwise. For more explanation see this website:
Working jib A triangular forward sail; differs from a genoa as it is smaller and does not extend past the mast. Different Types of Sails.