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Sailing Terms For Beginners - What Words You Should Know Before You Go Sailing - Extended Post!

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

If you're new to sailing, chances are you've been feeling a little bit lost when trying to follow conversations about sailing. It seems like everyone is speaking a different language!

Don't worry, we're here to help. In this blog post, we'll introduce you to some of the most common sailing terms so that you can hit the ground running (or, should we say, sailing?) on your next adventure.

Make sure to check the end of this post for some helpful resources for beginner sailors.

Aft: Towards the back/stern of the boat. Example: "Can you pass me that rope that's aft of the mast?"

Bow: The front/pointy end of the boat. Not to be confused with stern (the back/rounded end of the boat), or port (left side) and starboard (right side). Example: "I'm going to tie this rope to the bow so we can tow the dinghy."

Port: The left hand side of the boat (when you are facing the bow).

Starboard: The right hand side of the boat when facing the bow.

Tack: To turn a boat's bow through the wind to change direction.

Jibe/gybe: To turn the boat so that the wind goes over the aft (back) of the boat instead of the bow.

Bulkhead: A wall inside the boat that helps to divide up space and add structural support. Example: "Mind your head when you go below deck—there's a low bulkhead just ahead."

Clew: The bottom corner of a sail, typically where you'll find ropes attached for trimming the sail. Example: "Can you grab that clew line and pull it in?"

Deck: The surface of the boat that you walk on. Not to be confused with hull (the body of the boat). Example: "Can somebody please wipe down the deck? We've got company coming and it looks like a shipwreck in here!"

Dinghy: A small boat that is often used as a tenders (a vessel used for carrying supplies or passengers) to and from larger vessels. Example: "Looks like we're going to have to take the dinghy into shore since there's no dock here."

Hull: The body of the boat. Typically made of fiberglass, wood, or metal. Not to be confused with deck (the surface you walk on). Example: "We need to patch up this hole in the hull before we set sail again."

Keel: A long, heavy beam located along the centerline at the bottom of the hull. Helps provide stability and prevents rolling. Example: "I think we hit a submerged log—I can feel us listing to one side. Better check the keel."

Rendezvous point: A predetermined location where vessels will meet up. Can be used in cases of emergency or simply for planning purposes.Example: "We're going to set a rendezvous point in case anyone gets lost overboard."

Sail plan: A diagram showing all sails and their positions on a vessel. Used for reference when setting sails.Example: "Let's take a look at the sail plan and see what needs to be set before we get underway."

Starboard tack: When sailing with the wind coming over your right shoulder. To switch from starboard tack to port tack (or vice versa), you must perform a tack maneuver.

Example 1: "We're on starboard tack right now, so I'll need you to go aft while I come about."
Example 2:: "Ok everyone, on my count—1, 2, 3—tack!"

Sheets : Ropes used for trimming sails. Usually attached at either clew (bottom corner) or tack (bottom forward corner).Example:"Can you grab those sheets and ease them out?"

Windward : Towards the direction from which the wind is blowing .

Example 1: "We'll have an easier time docking if we approach from windward."

Leeward: Away from the direction from which the wind is blowing. E.g - if the wind is blowing over your starboard side, then starboard is windward, and port side is leeward.

Yaw : When a vessel turns off its heading , typically due to another vessel passing close by or strong currents .

Example: "Watch out! We're going yaw!"

Now that you know some common sailing jargon, you're one step closer to being an old salt! Happy sailing!

With this glossary of common sailing terms, you will be able join in on conversations with more confidence and feel more prepared for your next sailing adventure!

Do you have any favorite sailing terms? Let us know in the comments below!


  • This book is free if you happen to have a Kindle subscription.

  • This book takes you step by step through some very essential sailing knots.

  • One book to rule them all -this contains a lot of technical info that helps to improve sailing skills, along with some very clear illustrations. I recommend getting the hardcover over the kindle - lots of useful pages and illustrations that you'll want to bookmark,

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