Sailing Terminology List: 300+ Sailing Terms

Introduction of Sailing

Sailing - virginislandssailingschool

Welcome to the Sailing Terminology List. Here you will find a comprehensive list of sailing terms and their meanings, including A-Z. This list is very useful if you are new to the sport of sailing, or just want to brush up on your skills as an experienced sailor.


  • A: (n) The prefix for any word that starts with the letter A
  • aft: (adj) The opposite of forward, located toward or at the back or rear of a boat.
  • after hatch: (n) The section of flooring in the hull just below deck level. It is used to store gear and provide access to bilge pumps and drains.
  • afterguards: (n)* Aft cabin bulkhead for an aft cabin, usually made from wood.* The area around your rudder post.* A compartment built into the transom on some boats as an alternative to using a centerboard trunk.* An internal structure separating two compartments within a boat’s hull; it may be solid, have openings covered by doors or curtains, or be completely open depending on design considerations such as its purpose.* An area directly behind where you sit when navigating your vessel through rough waves caused by strong winds blowing in one direction only – fore-and-aft motion.* Any fixed structure mounted along shipboard edges designed for securing lines such as mooring lines/ground tackle attached thereto thus reducing chances of being washed overboard during heavy seas; also called railings/rails


  • Backing wind: When the wind is moving in the same direction as your boat.
  • Backstay: A cord or wire that is used to support a mast, usually on one side only.
  • Bailer: A bucket or other device used to bale out water from inside a boat.
  • Balsa: The lightest type of wood known, which floats and makes excellent core for building boats with high strength-to-weight ratios (e.g., catamarans). Also known as “balsa wood” or “balsawood” depending on region and dialect preferences; can be both singular and plural depending on context (i.e., “a balsa” vs “some balsa”).


  • CABIN: The cabin is the room on a boat where you live. There may be only one cabin or many cabins, depending on the size of the boat.
  • CABIN BUNK: A bed located in a cabin. Bunks are usually made of wood and have mattresses on them to sleep on.
  • CABIN DECK: The flooring that covers your bunk (the bed). It’s also called “flooring” or “decking.”
  • CABIN SOLING: A cork layer under a flooring which prevents moisture from getting into your boat’s walls and supports it well against any pressure applied by people walking over it without feeling like they’re stepping onto a sponge!


  • Drogue: A drag device used to slow and stabilize the boat in heavy seas.
  • Drogue Chute: A drogue that has a chute attached to it, providing additional drag and stability for larger boats.
  • Drogue Parachute: A type of drogue that uses an inflatable chute for added stability and control. This is often used on sailboats as an alternative to traditional drogues because it provides greater stability and control than other types of drags.
  • Dropping The Chute: Deploying a parachute-style drogue from your boat so you can escape bad weather or find shelter (like when you’re trying to get back into port).
  • Drop Keel: An attachment attached underneath the hull of your boat that allows water to flow under it while sailing without having any effect on its performance or speed through waves or chop—it also helps prevent rollover during rough weather conditions by reducing heeling angles below what they would normally be if there wasn’t one installed on board…


Eddy: a circular current of water in the sea, or in a river. Also an eddystone lighthouse.

The original name for the rocks was Eddystone Rocks, but it was later changed to Eddystone Lighthouse when they were used as an aid to navigation by placing a light there.


Furl is a verb meaning to roll up and secure a sail, leaving only the head of the sail exposed. It can be used in reference to any type of furling system.

Furling is a general term for systems that allow you to quickly roll up your sails—either one at a time or both together—and secure them so that they don’t take up much space on board.

Furling Main Sail: A sail that has been pre-rolled into its storage package and stored on deck until it needs to be deployed again.

Furling Jib: A jib (sail) which has been pre-rolled into its storage package on deck until it needs to be deployed again. Jibs are always handled differently from mains because they are smaller than mainsails and easier to store while sailing downwind in light air conditions where there is no need for maximum power from the sails.


Gaff: A spar used to extend the foot of a fore-and-aft sail. Gaff-rigged boats have two or more masts, with a single upper mast that is stepped inside the lower mast(s). The trampoline is often made of wood and can be rectangular or triangular in shape (similar to the gaff itself), but it may also be made from other materials.

Gaff topsail: A square sail set above the gaff on some type of ship.

Galley: A kitchen aboard ship; usually located below deck in modern vessels and above deck in smaller craft such as dinghies and catamarans.

Gangway: An opening at the side of a ship’s deck which allows access between decks or between ships moored together; also called a “gangplank” when used ashore (see photo).


Halyard: A rope or wire used for hoisting and lowering sails.

Hank: A bundle of threads, usually in a cylindrical shape.

Hardware: An item that is used to secure hardware items together, such as a bolt or screw.

Heading: The direction the bow of your boat is pointing at while sailing on the water surface.

Headline (also known as Luff): The topmost edge of your mainsail that goes up against the mast when furled.

Headway (also known as Forward Motion): The forward motion given to your boat via its sails’ wind power; also sometimes refers to how fast you are moving through water without any propulsion devices like an engine being involved (e.g., “The boat made good headway into shore”). This can be measured using speedometers on boats equipped with them, but this doesn’t always work well so it’s usually just a general impression based on how much effort was required from crew members controlling sails during certain conditions like weather patterns and wind speeds at different altitudes above sea level where no instruments exist yet anyway—so if someone says “I want more headway!” don’t automatically assume they’re referring directly towards their own personal physical body weight since sometimes people get confused about what “weight” means exactly…it could mean something else entirely! You may need more time when interpreting what others mean by words which have multiple meanings depending upon context usage contexts.”


  • I am a sailboat.
  • I am a boat.
  • I am a ship.
  • I am a vessel.
  • I am a seagoing vessel


Jib: A triangular sail attached to a boom that hangs in front of the mast

Jibe: To tack a boat from one side to the other

Jibstay: A wire rope or chain running from the top of the jib’s forestay, down through pulleys and back up again; used for adjusting how much tension is on it. Also called a “headstay.”

Jibsheet: Equipment used for controlling when your jib is released from its stay (the line going from the top of your jib to its point on deck), i.e., sheeting in and sheeting out (see below). It controls how much wind gets into your sails. You pull it when you want more force and let go if things start getting too tight or dangerous; most boats have two sheets—one for each side of their boat—and these sheets are usually made with polyester line material instead of canvas material like most other ropes used on board ship because they’re lighter weight yet equally durable when properly installed correctly onto ships’ masts columns bases frames spars beams etcetera points where needed there’s always some type o pressure applied against them especially when sailing fast across open waters at high speeds during bad weather conditions near heavy winds gusts rain clouds thunderstorms lightning bolts/flashes too close too fast without proper safety precautions taken beforehand which can lead us towards another word related topic concerning safety procedures during times such as this one . . . . . . .”


Knots and nautical miles per hour

Knots are used to measure speed in a boat. A knot is equal to 1 nautical mile per hour, so if you’re going at 5 knots, you’ll cover 5 miles every hour.


  • Lazy Jacks. These are lines that pull in the sail, usually to a position lower than the boom so that it doesn’t catch in the wind when you’re sailing downwind.
  • Leach Line. A line that ties the leech of your sail to an eye on the mast or boom.
  • Leech (noun). The trailing edge of a boat’s sail, which is attached to an eye on a stay and then passed through blocks aloft and cleated at its upper end below decks when not being used as an outhaul during tacking or gybing; also called “luff”.
  • Leech Line Pin (or Leachline Pin). A pin placed into one end of each leechline stave to keep them from falling off their moorings when not in use for keeping sails furled.
  • Leechline Terminal (or Leachline Terminals). Two eyes connected by webbing which forms part of a block-and-tackle system used for raising sails on boats with slanted yards like schooners and ketches; also called “foretopmast” because it sits above topmast just forward enough not interfere with any shrouds running from foremast back toward centerboard box but still able to reach over deck railing without obstructing anyone walking along railings–as long as they stay slightly away from centerline axis line where yard will be passing over them while raising/lowering sail!


Mainsail: The sail at the very front of the boat. It’s called a mainsail because it’s used to help you move forward, or “main” a boat.

Main sheet: The rope that controls tension in your main sail and helps you steer your boat.

Mainstay: A rope that holds up the mast from underneath it and helps keep it strong and straight. The mainstay is what people were talking about when we mentioned staying in line with our parents or friends!

Main halyard: A halyard is an adjustable rope used to raise or lower sails on boats (and other objects), so this is another word for main halyard!

Man overboard!: If someone falls off their boat while they’re sailing, this is what everyone yells out to let other sailors know there’s been an emergency! In case someone falls overboard, every sailor should be prepared with safety gear like lifejackets—and if one has fallen into water too deep for them to swim back up on their own, someone should throw something buoyant toward them so they can grab onto it until help arrives or swims over themselves if possible without getting into trouble themselves (this kind of thing requires training).


Nautical Miles

A nautical mile is a unit of length used in navigation, equal to one minute of arc at the latitude of the location being sailed. For example, at the equator (latitude 0), a nautical mile is equivalent to 6,076 feet; whereas on the coast of California (latitude 32°06′38″N) a nautical mile would be only 5,814 feet.


  • Outhaul: This is the line that pulls down on the boom and keeps it from pulling up.
  • Overall length: The overall length is measured from bow to stern.
  • Overtake: When a boat passes another boat heading the same direction, it overtakes them.
  • Overturning moment: When looking at a boat’s design and stability, this is how much force it takes to make it flip over backwards.


  • Paddle: A long, flat piece of wood or plastic that you use to move through water.
  • Paddle board: A board on which you stand and paddle with your hands like a surfboard. It’s much smaller than a surfboard.
  • Paddle boat: A small sailing boat with one sail usually made of canvas or synthetic material. It has one hull and is propelled by oars (or paddles).
  • Paddle wheeler: An old name for steam ship; also used as a general term for riverboat


Q-flag: A warning flag flown from a ship to indicate that it is going to be engaged in some hazardous operation (such as firing or launching a helicopter).

Q-signal: A letter or series of letters used by radio operators to represent different messages.

QAR: Quarantine Anchorage (also called Anchorage B).

QD: Quit date. The date that you quit your job and leave the company. If this is not specified, then it can be assumed that you leave when your contract expires or when your visa expires if you are on an employee visa.

Quaalude: A pharmaceutical drug found in pill form and containing methaqualone which has been used as a recreational drug since its debut in 1965 but became illegal in 1983 due to its high abuse potential; also known as “ludes” due to their tendency towards making users feel like they’re floating on air while they’re under the influence — “you got luded!”


  • Racing – a sport or recreational activity involving boats or ships.
  • Radar – an acronym for radio detection and ranging, which is a system that uses reflected radio waves to detect the presence, distance, direction, speed and height of objects such as aircraft, ships and weather formations.
  • Radio – transmitted radio wave signals; either voice or data mediums that can be received by various devices such as radios and Wi-Fi devices.
  • Radome – a protective cover over an antenna’s feedhorn to prevent damage from weathering effects like rain erosion or snow accumulation (also known as a “weather dome”). It may also protect against lightning strikes on top of tall antennas that reach above local tree lines/buildings).
  • Radiotelephone – International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recommendation ITU-R M.[8]


Sail: The large canvas canopy that provides a boat with power.

Sailboat: Any vessel that uses sails to drive it through the water.

Sailing: Using wind power to propel a boat in order to travel from one place to another.

Seamanship: The art of sailing an unpowered craft (e.g., canoeing or kayaking) or powered craft (e.g., motorboats).

Sea anchor: A device used by sailors at night who are unable to tack into the wind, allowing them to ride out storms in relative safety using less energy than they would otherwise need by constantly tacking back and forth across the wind direction. There are two types, named after their shapes: “parachute” and “spinnaker” sea anchors. Parachute style sea anchors act like parachutes in that they fall straight down when deployed and spin before opening up; spinnaker style sea anchors open up into a cone shape as they fall, making them easier to deploy with only one person on board but requiring longer lengths of rode (the line attaching it at its bow). Both styles require tension on the rode so that they don’t just pop up like an umbrella when released from their deployment point on deck; this tension keeps them open until needed so as not lose any time deploying during rough weather conditions—which can mean life or death for those aboard!


Tack: To change the direction of a boat by turning it through the wind.

Tacking: The process of maneuvering a sailing vessel so that its bow will be pointed in the opposite direction from which it was before tacking.

Tactics: A plan or system of maneuvers used to outwit an opponent on water or in war; stratagem.

Tactical Sailing: Any type of sailing that involves tactical decisions being made based off events occurring during the race (e.g., what to do when another boat gets close).

Tanker: A cargo ship designed for transporting oil and refined products between ports and terminals, as well as along inland waterways, coastal areas, offshore islands, etc.; also called liquid tanker; may also carry dry-bulk cargoes such as grain or coal if equipped with cargo tanks in addition to its ballast water tanks; note that some large tankers are used exclusively for carrying crude oil from one refinery facility to another without ever stopping at any port (e.g., tanker truck).

Teak Decking Definition – A durable planking made from teak wood used for decking ships’ decks throughout history until synthetic materials replaced natural plank due their strength & resistance over time while still retaining its beauty despite wear & tear exposure over years/decades of use aboard ship which could result in damage if left untreated properly—not unlike any other material component exposed repeatedly under harsh conditions without adequate protection against humidity fluctuations over time causing eventual breakdowns due exposure accumulation within cracks/crevices where moisture can collect causing rot thus needing periodic maintenance measures taken carefully by an experienced repair person who knows how much pressure they should apply while working on repairing these areas


  • U Turn: A maneuver in which a vessel turns 180 degrees and then back again, resulting in its having covered the same distance.
  • Ullage: The amount of fuel or water remaining in a tank. Also called “residual.”
  • Unballasted: Without ballast, such as when a boat is unloaded or carrying no cargo.
  • Unbend: To straighten (a rope) by hand instead of using a tool like a marlinspike.
  • Uncleated: Not having been untied from one’s mooring or dock line; also called “moored.”
  • Under Way: When a boat is moving through the water under its own power; sailing with no sails up and no land anchors out; also known as being “under sail,” although this may differ depending on where you are sailing from and/or where you are sailing to (see below).

There are several different ways to indicate whether something is underway or not underway—some more common than others! We’ll go over each one here so that you can understand exactly what your buddy means when they say they’re going “under way” when heading out on their boat tomorrow morning…


VHF Radio

VHF is an acronym for very high frequency. A VHF radio can be used to communicate between boats and with shore stations, including coast guards. It’s a great tool for navigation because it allows you to find out about weather conditions, marine traffic and other important information that could affect your journey.


  • Wake: The turbulence created by a vessel’s movement through the water.
  • Wash: A wave and trough pattern left in the wake of a boat as it moves forward through the water.
  • Waypoint: A navigational point on a chart or map that serves as an aiming point for navigators when sailing, flying or driving along a route. It may also refer to any specific location identified on a map before setting out to sea or during voyages at sea—in which case it is often called an “Anchor Watch Position” or simply “anchor watch” (AWP).


  • X-Boat: Short for “crossboat”, this is the term for a sailboat that has been designed to be sailed with the wind coming from the side (i.e., running downwind), rather than across it.
  • X-Bow: The area of a boat where the bow meets the hull, typically made out of fiberglass or some other non-wood material. In older boats this is typically where you’ll find your anchor locker and/or sump tank.
  • X-Chine: A term used to describe how a boat curves along its keel line at each end of its beam (width). Most modern designs tend to have chines that are rounded at an angle so as not to interfere with movement through water. Older designs often had more angular chines which were stronger but would catch on waves more easily when making turns at high speeds during races or other activities involving quick changes in direction such as surfing conditions like those found on beaches near breakwaters or jetties where strong currents can form due to wave action against these structures which act as barriers blocking high tides from flooding low lying areas behind them such as marinas surrounded by land containing homes built below sea level so they need protection from flooding when tides rise too high causing severe weather events such as hurricanes hitting land areas nearby causing large swells


Yacht: When you’re on a boat with a lot of people, they may call you “yachty.”

Yaw: When your boat turns and leans to one side. A boat that yaws is difficult to control.

Yawl Boat: A type of sailboat that has two masts (the mainmast and foremast) and uses lines called staysails attached to the stay, which is a rope or wire running from the masthead down through all three masts. The yawlsail is set on the port side of the mainmast in order to balance out its force with that of other sails on starboard sides. Yawls are also known as ketch-rigged boats because their rigs resemble those of ketches which often use both masts for carrying sails like jibs, staysails etc., whereas only one mast holds them in yawls — but unlike ketches these vessels have two headsails instead!

Yardarm Tie: This term refers to an old method used when tying up at dock or anchoring near shore where you would tie off your lines so they wouldn’t drag under water (as this could cause damage). Today there are better ways than using yardsarms–but still sometimes necessary depending upon conditions–but make sure if doing so always use nylon rope/lines only since metal ones can rust quickly under water causing corrosion issues later on down road…you don’t want any surprises after paying good money for something new


Z-drag: A form of drag caused by the windward side surface of a sail, causing it to create extra resistance. Zephyr: A light breeze. Zodiac: Short for “zodiacal light,” a faint band of light that appears near the Sun or Moon when they are low in the sky and at certain times of year due to reflection from dust particles in space passing between us and them. Zoomie: A solar flare that originates on the sun’s surface and is visible with telescopes on Earth as well as satellites orbiting around our planet. It can be seen as a bright flash that lasts only seconds or minutes depending upon their intensity; these are known as CMEs (coronal mass ejections). Zoomies appear red because they’re emitting at longer wavelengths than most other solar emissions—around 510 nanometers instead of around 400 nanometers (blue), 610-630nm (green), above 700nm (purple/violet). Zulu time: Universal Time Coordinated or UTC


If you’re planning on going sailing for the first time and want to know what all the terms mean, then this list is for you. We’ve compiled all 300+ of them here so that when someone asks, “What do they call that thing?” You’ll be able to answer them with confidence.


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