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Hit the Deck! A Comprehensive Glossary of 101 Essential Boating Terms

Welcome aboard! As a new boater, you’ll quickly be awash in an alphabet soup of nautical terms and lingo. To help familiarize you with the language of the seas, we’ve compiled this glossary of common boating words and phrases. Here you’ll find succinct definitions for essential boat parts, sailing concepts, navigational markers, types of vessels, and more. Whether you’re puzzling over port and starboard or wondering what in the world a dinghy is, our quick reference guide provides the key terms and descriptions to get even the greenest landlubber shipshape. Study this glossary to pick up the vocabulary you need to safely operate, communicate and troubleshoot aboard all types of recreational boats. Soon you’ll be talking like an old salt as you embark on exciting new adventures on the water. So batten down the hatches and shove off on this journey into the expansive lexicon of boating terminology!

Here is a glossary of 101 common boating terms numbered:

  1. Aft – Towards the rear or stern of a boat.
  2. Aground – A boat stuck on the lake/sea bed.
  3. Amidships – In the middle portion of a boat.
  4. Anchor – Heavy object lowered to hold a boat in place.
  5. Assemble – To fit together the parts of an object.
  6. Astern – Behind a boat, opposite of ahead.
  7. Bail – To remove water from a boat using a bailer or bucket.
  8. Ballast – Extra weight placed low in a boat for stability.
  9. Beam – Width of a boat at its widest point.
  10. Bearing – The direction from your boat to a destination.
  11. Berth – Sheltered space for mooring a boat.
  12. Bilge – Lowest interior section of a boat hull.
  13. Bilge Pump – Pump for removing water from the bilge.
  14. Boarding Ladder – Ladder on boat used for entering from water.
  15. Boat Hook – Pole with hook to grab lines and objects.
  16. Boom – Horizontal pole along foot of mainsail.
  17. Bow – Front of the boat.
  18. Bow Line – Rope tied at the bow for docking.
  19. Broach – When a boat suddenly turns perpendicular to wind/waves.
  20. Bulkhead – Vertical partition wall in a boat interior.
  21. Buoy – Floating object marking a channel, hazard, etc.
  22. Cabin – Enclosed superstructure of a boat interior.
  23. Capsize – To overturn a boat.
  24. Carrying Capacity – Maximum weight a boat can safely carry.
  25. Centerboard – Retractable keel which pivots up.
  26. Chafe – Wear on a line or sail from friction.
  27. Chine – Sharp change in angle in hull plating.
  28. Cleat – Fitting on deck for securing lines.
  29. Cockpit – Open space towards aft where crew sit.
  30. Companionway – Stairs between decks.
  31. Crew – People who help operate a sailboat.
  32. Current – Horizontal flow of water.
  33. Deck – Top-level surface of a boat.
  34. Displacement – Weight of water displaced by a boat.
  35. Draft – Depth of water a boat draws when loaded.
  36. Dinghy – Small open boat for transport to shore.
  37. Dock – Structure for mooring boats.
  38. Dolly – Wheeled cart for moving boats on land.
  39. Dory – Small shallow-draft fishing boat.
  40. Downwind – Sailing in the same direction as the wind.
  41. Draft – Depth of water needed to float a boat.
  42. Electrical System – Wires, batteries, and switches for electricity.
  43. Fender – Bumper used to prevent hull damage at docks.
  44. Furling – Rolling up and enclosing a sail.
  45. Galley – The kitchen of a boat.
  46. Gelcoat – Protective outer finish of boat hull.
  47. Gunwale – Upper edge of a boat’s side.
  48. Halyard – Rope used to hoist and lower sails.
  49. Hatch – Opening in deck providing access below.
  50. Head – Toilet or bathroom on a boat.
  51. Headsail – Fore sail in front of the mast.
  52. Heaving To – Stopping boat temporarily.
  53. Helm – Steering mechanism of the boat.
  54. Hull – The main structural body of a boat.
  55. Inflatable Boat – A boat that gets structure from air chambers.
  56. Jet Drive – Propulsion system with an inboard engine.
  57. Keel – Structure at boat bottom for stability.
  58. Knot – Unit of boat speed, 1 nautical mile per hour.
  59. Launch – To put a boat in the water.
  60. Leeward – direction away from the wind.
  61. Length Overall (LOA) – Length including all structure.
  62. Life Jacket – Personal flotation device for safety.
  63. Line – Rope used on boats.
  64. Locker – Storage compartment on a boat.
  65. Marina – Facility with docks and services for boats.
  66. Marlinspike – Pointed tool for separating rope strands.
  67. Mooring – Permanent structure to tie up boats.
  68. Nautical Mile – One minute of latitude, 1.15 miles.
  69. Nun Buoy – Cone-shaped buoy with a pointed top.
  70. Oar – Pole with flat end used for rowing.
  71. Oarlock – U-shaped mount for securing oars.
  72. Outboard – Engine mounted externally on a boat’s stern.
  73. Painter – Rope attached to the bow of a boat.
  74. PFD – Personal flotation device for safety.
  75. Pitch – Rotation of a boat around its beam.
  76. Pitching – Rocking up and down motion at bow and stern.
  77. Port – Left side of a boat looking forward.
  78. Rake – Inclination of mast from perpendicular.
  79. Rigging – System of masts, sails, and booms on a boat.
  80. Roll – Rotation of a boat around its keel.
  81. Rudder – Vertical plate used for steering.
  82. Running Lights – Navigation lights used underway.
  83. Sampson Post – Strong vertical post on deck.
  84. Scupper – Drain hole on deck edge.
  85. Scuttle – Small opening in the deck or hull.
  86. Sea cock – Valve on through-hull fittings.
  87. Sheer – Curve of the deck from bow to stern.
  88. Spar – General term for mast, boom, gaff.
  89. Spring Line – Docking rope oriented fore/aft.
  90. Starboard – Right side of the boat facing forward.
  91. Stern – Back end of a boat.
  92. Stringer – Internal structural member giving shape.
  93. Tackle – Combination of rope and blocks.
  94. Tender – Small vessel used to transport crew.
  95. Tiller – Lever used to steer, attached to the rudder.
  96. Transom – Surface at the stern of the hull.
  97. Trim – Fore to aft balance of a boat.
  98. Trough – Low point between two waves.
  99. Underway – Vessel in operation, not moored.
  100. Wake – Turbulence pushed behind a boat.
  101. Yardarm – The outer end of a yard, which supports a sail.

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