Sailing Jargon


There are so many new terms on a boat that I am building a resource of sailing jargon.

This is not comprehensive but when I use a new term I will update it here. This page includes definitions, links to where I have used the terms on the site, and, where possible, origins of the words or phrases. If I use a word in any of my posts and you want to know what it means, let me know and I will add the definition here.

Ready, mateys?

Aft: Back of the boat.

AIS: Automatic Identification System. Through the use of transponders on boats, each boat is assigned a different number and can be identified and seen on other vessels. This is a great way for boaters to spot their fellow cruisers, and to avoid collisions with other vessels, especially at night. We have been receiving transmissions all along, but only started sending them in Tortola.

Anchorage: A spot where boats can drop anchor for the night or many nights. Hopefully you drop in a protected anchorage, which means protected from winds and waves.

Marathon Florida anchorage
The crowded anchorage in Marathon, Florida

Autopilot: Self-steering as in a car.

Blue Water: Sailing out of sight of land. All you see around you is blue water.

Bow: The front of the boat on the outside of the boat.

Catamaran: Also known as a “cat” but not to be confused with Domino. These are sailboats with two equal sized hulls. Advantages to cats are lots of living space and stability of movement.

Courtesy Flags: If the boat is in a foreign country, it must fly the flag of the current country. It’s a gesture of respect, or “courtesy.” There is a lot of etiquette around this, such as when to put up the flag (only after clearing customs. Until then you fly the yellow “quarantine” flag), and where to fly the flag (on the starboard side). I’ve done a lot of reading on this subject because I do not want to insult any host countries! Since our boat is registered in Fort Lauderdale, we have a U.S. flag at the stern, the current country’s flag on the starboard halyard, and Brian also put up a Canadian flag on the port side since there are Canadians on board.

Cruisers: Sailors who live on their boats and sail from place to place. Us!

Fore: Front of the boat.

Galley: The kitchen.

Head: The bathroom on board. This term comes from the days when the toilet areas on sailing ships were in the front of the boat adjacent to the figurehead at the bow.

Headwind: Wind in front of you, blocking forward motion.  Those of you who ride bikes know about this.

Hull: The body of the boat

Jib Sail: Also known as the genoa or genny.  This is the sail at the foremost part of the boat, in front of the main sail. Attached somehow to the bow, if it’s working right.

Our improved jib sail

Knot: Also known as NM or nautical mile. A nautical mile = 1,852 meters and is 1.151 of a mile.

Lazy Jacks: Rigging attached to the sail to assist in furling and reefing the sail

Monohull: Sailboat with one hull. Considered not as comfortable as cats, but preferred by sailors because they point better. Discussed on the blog when introducing Sava

Mooring: Attaching your boat to something, a rope, ball, chain, that is anchored. 

On the Hard: When the boat is out of the water, usually because work is being done on it, or because it is (or its owners are) taking a break for the season.

Sava on the hard
On the hard

Port: The left side of the boat. I remember this from somewhere (don’t know where) where they said left is 4 letters like port.

Porthole: Window on a boat

Power Sail: Using a combination of the engine and the sails to move forward. Sometimes there isn’t enough wind to just use the sails, or sometimes you just want more speed.

Salon: The big room on the boat for socializing. Much like “the den” in a house. Talked about here

Starboard: The right side of the boat. Right has more letters than left and starboard has more than port. Weird memory thing that I don’t even remember where I learned but it worked for me!

Stern: The back of the boat.

Sundowners: A drink to accompany the sunset, enjoyed on the back of a boat, preferably with company. We like beer, wine and rum drinks – the dark and stormy and rumenade (rum and lemonade) being consistent favorites. There are so many options!

Tack: Changing course by turning the sails into and through the wind. Sometimes you are lucky and can stay on the same tack for hours and do other things while occasionally checking for other boats

Windlass: The device that lifts and drops the anchor.

Sailing Jargo pin


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