For those who are new to boating, we've put together a short glossary containing some of the most commonly used nautical terms. A nodding acquaintance with boating nomenclature will help you operate your boat more efficiently and effectively. You may even be able to hold a brief yet memorable conversation with the "old salt" you meet in a small cafe near the marina.
Abaft - Behind you when you are facing forward.
ABYC - American Boat and Yacht Council, Inc.
Adrift - Floating free without propulsion; not fastened.
Admiralty law - The law of the sea; maritime law according to the British Admiralty, which administers naval affairs (only those involving Admirals, of course).
Aft - Near or at the stern.
Amidships - In the center portion of the vessel. When you occupy the midships stateroom, your berth is located amidships.
Anchor - A heavy metal device, fastened to a chain or line, that holds a vessel in place.
Anti-fouling - A type of paint used on the bottoms of boats that repels barnacles, marine grass and many other undesirable adhesions.
Astern - The direction toward the stern, or the back end, of the vessel.
Athwart - Anything running across the boat from side to side. An aft bench seat across the stern is athwartships.
Aweigh - What an anchor is when it is off the bottom.
Ballast - Heavy weight placed low in the hull to improve stability.
Bar - A shoal of sand or mud on which you can run aground.
Beam - The width of a boat.
Bearing - The horizontal direction of an object with respect to an observer or the compass; a determination of position.
Bilge - The lowest part of a vessel's interior hull. You will, of course, employ a bilge pump to rid the bilge of water. Occasionally, you might hear someone described as being full of bilge. It is not a compliment.
Bimini - A rectangular canopy, usually of canvas, on a light frame that protects the bridge and/or control console from sun and rain.
Bridge - The control station from which a large boat is navigated.
Burdened vessel - The vessel which must give way to another vessel in a crossing or overtaking situation.
Buoy - A floating object showing navigation channels or marking prohibited areas on the water.
Capsize - To turn over, bottom side up.
Cast off - To undo all mooring lines in preparation for departure.
Cleat - A metal fitting to which mooring lines are attached.
Chop - Short, steep waves in an abrupt motion.
Cockpit - An open space aft of a decked area from which a small vessel is steered.
Cockpit sole - The floor of the cockpit.
Companionway - A hatch or entrance from the deck to the cabin.
Current - The horizontal movement of water.
Davit - A crane that projects over the side or stern of a ship and is used as a joist; a pair of davits is used to carry a dinghy.
Dead ahead - In a direction exactly ahead.
Dinghy - A small boat used as a tender.
Downwind - A direction to leeward, with the wind.
Draft - The vertical distance from the waterline to the lowest point of the hull or attachments, such as the tip of a propeller, which determines the minimum depth of water in which a vessel will float.
Ebb - The receding tide that is flowing toward the sea.
Fathom - A nautical linear measurement equal to 6 feet, used for measuring water depth.
Fender - A cushioning device hung between the boat and pier.
Following sea - Waves from astern.
Fore - Located at the front of the vessel; fore and aft means front and back; forecabin is toward the bow, the opposite of aft cabin; foredeck is the forward part of the main deck; forehead is the part of the face above the eyes.
Founder - To sink below the surface of the water.
Freeboard - The vertical distance between the waterline and the top of the deck.
Gaff - A handled hook used to boat a large fish.
Galley - The kitchen on a boat.
Gel coat - The standard finish of a fiberglass boat.
Give-way vessel - The vessel that does not have the right of way in a crossing or overtaking situation; the vessel that is burdened.
Gunwale - The upper edge of the side of the boat. It is pronounced "gunnel".
Hail - A call to another vessel.
Harbor - A safe, protected anchorage for docking and loading.
Hatch - An opening in the deck, providing access to the space below.
Head - This word is used in many ways in boating, the most important to those on board being "toilet."
Heading - The compass direction in which a vessel is pointed at any given moment.
Head sea - Waves coming from the direction in which a vessel is heading.
Helm - Where the steering wheel is located. The helmsman is the person (male or female) who is steering the boat. You should always have a designated helmsman on board.
High tide - High water, the highest normal level reached.
Hull - The main structural body of a vessel, excluding superstructure, masts, sails or rigging.
Inboard - Powerboat having an engine inside the hull.
Jetty - A structure projecting out from the shore to influence the current or tide or protect a harbor.
Keel - The main structural member of a vessel extendingalong the center of the bottom; the lateral area beneath the hull.
Knot - Unit of speed; one nautical mile per hour.
Latitude - Geographic distance north or south of the equator.
Launch - To move a boat into the water from land.
Line - A rope used aboard a ship.
List - A continuous leaning to one side, usually caused by an uneven distribution of weight in the hull.
Locker - A compartment for onboard stowage of articles.
Longitude - Geographic distance east or west of the prime meridian.
Marina - A place providing secure moorings for pleasure boats and usually offering service facilities, such as fuel docks and showers.
Mayday - An international distress call, from French, m'aidez (help me); SOS or ...---... in Morse code.
Midships - The center of the boat.
Moored - Anchored or made fast to a pier or wharf.
Mooring - A place where vessels are kept at anchor, or moored.
Navigation - The science of guiding a vessel from one place to another safely and efficiently.
Navigation Rules - The U.S. "Rules of the Road" governing navigation lights, vessels meeting or passing, sound signals, distress signals and practical boating etiquette.
Offshore - Out of sight of land.
Outboard - Powerboat having an engine outside the hull.
PFD - Personal Flotation Device; a life preserver.
Pier - A structure extending into navigable water, used as a landing place or promenade. A pier is not a dock.
Port - The left side of a boat, as well as a direction to the left; openings in the side of the boat to admit light and/or ventilation; the area of a shore establishment such as a marina.
Privileged vessel - The vessel having the right of way in a crossing or overtaking situation.
Pulpit - The forward railing structure at the bow.
No terms in this section
Relative bearing - A direction in relation to the fore-and-aft line of a vessel.
Scupper - A drain hole that allows water falling on deck to flow overboard.
Seakindly - Comfortable in rough seas.
Seaworthy - Fit or safe for a sea voyage.
Slip - A berth for a boat, usually between two piers.
Stand-on vessel - The boat that has the right of way in a crossing or overtaking situation; the privileged vessel.
Starboard - The right side of the boat; a direction to the right. It is said that when navigation was guided by the stars, the constellations were displayed on "star boards" which were always placed on the right side of the pilothouse.
Stern - The back of the boat.
Stow - To put in the proper place.
Swamp - To fill with water coming in over the deck and gunwales.
Tender - A dinghy or other small boat which accompanies or attends a larger vessel, such as a yacht, and is used to transport persons and provisions.
Thwart - Crossways seat in a rowboat.
Transom - The transverse (crossways) piece forming the stern of a square-ended boat. Some boats have a transom door that allows you to walk through, instead of climbing over the transom.
Trim tabs - Adjustable rectangular control flaps that project along the water's surface at the transom when the hull is planing.
USCG - United States Coast Guard.
No terms in this section
Wake - This is the track in the water made by the hull of a moving vessel. The size and disturbance of the resulting waves increase with the speed of the boat. If you see a sign that says "No Wake Zone," it's telling you to proceed very slowly so as not to create a large wake.
Wash - The broken water left behind a carelessly speeding vessel. The surging action of the waves in the wash of a large boat can be very powerful. Keep that in mind when you are sharing the water with smaller crafts.
Weigh - To raise the anchor in preparation for departure.
Yaw - To swing erratically off course.
No terms in this section