common sailing terms

A Beginner’s Guide to Common Sailing Terms

Sailing is a vast and complex sport. It can be sometimes difficult to access where and how to make a start. One goes Sailing either for sports or for recreation activity.  

ISAF (International Sailing Federation) is the International body that regulates sailing sports. Where the recreation side is less regulated but there are training programs organized by ISAF for sailors who want to do sailing for fun.

In both cases, it is essential to learn the basics of sailing starting from learning common sailing terms to identifying the different parts of a sailboat. 

So to make a start to learn how to sail, you can adopt these methods,

  • Take a beginners course in a local club for Saling and Boating
  • Read books, magazines, online blogs, and websites
  • Join a club to see what others are doing

We have compiled a list of terms which you will hear most of the time and you don’t have any idea about. After going through this article you will learn the basic languages and terms used by sailors or boaters.

Also Read, How a Sailboat Sails

glossary of sailing terms

Here is a Glossary of the Common Sailing Terms:

Buoyancy Aids:

Buoyancy aids or Life Jackets are Closed-cell foams in a vest jacket form. They help a person stay afloat with minimal efforts and they are designed to keep unconscious persons in an upright position.

Sailing Knife:

A sailing knife is a stainless steel knife with a retractable blade and a shackle key to cut the rope and fasten or undo shackles.


A Burgee is a small triangular shape flag that is flown a top of the mast to indicate apparent wind.

The Hull:

The Hull is the main body of the boat, kayak, or cruise. It provides buoyancy to float by itself. The Hull is made up of Glass Reinforced Plastic or FibreGlass, wood, molded plastic, aluminum, and steel.


To reduce the boat from shifting away to the sides, a fixed foil is attached to the hull which is called a Keel.


Sidedecks are covered areas on the sides of a boat for seating.


The back of the boat or ship is known as Stern.


The transom is the flat end at the stern(back of the boat).

The Rudder:

The rudder is a movable foil attached under the hull to steer the boat. It is maneuvered by a handle made of aluminum or wood.


Tiller is a wooden or aluminum extension used to control the angle of the rudder in order to steer the boat.


The left-hand side of the boat(when looking forward) is called the Port.


The Right-Hand Side of the boat( when looking forward) is called the Starboard.

Bow Tank:

A bow tank is a sealed tank at the bow area of the boat. There are sealed tanks at different parts of a boat like Starboard tank, Port Tank, and Bow tank, these are also called Buoyancy tanks because they help the boat keep afloat.


The bow is the forward end of the boat and it is the opposite of Stern.


The stem is the pointed or upright sloping part at the front end of the boat(bow).

Stowage Compartment:

A stowage compartment is a water-tight locker for storing different small Items.


The Gunwale is the outside top edge of the deck or haul.


A centerboard is a plate that turns around a pin inside the centerboard casing.


A mainsail is a first and important large and triangular sail set behind the mast.


The jib is the second sail of a boat that is attached to the bow and is at the front of the mast.


This is a vertical aluminum or wooden pole(earlier) which holds the mainsail and is generally rooted to the deck/hull of the boat.


Paddles are wooden sticks with flat bottoms at both ends and are used to move the boat when there is no wind.


Oars are like paddles but are extensively used in rowing. Unlike paddles, they have one flat bottom end and you hold them with just one hand.


Anchor is a piece of equipment that is used to stop the boat at one place when you want to rest or dock for some time. It is a heavyweight attached to a rope that drops to the seabed and doesn’t allow the boat to drift away.


Bailors are devices or ways to remove water from the boat.


An anchor warp is used when you need to tow your boat. 

True Wind:

True wind is the wind we feel when we are stationary or immobile. It is the speed and direction of the wind when we are not moving.

Apparent Wind:

The Apparent wind is the combination of True wind the wind generated by the motion of our boat.

Nautical Mile:

A nautical mile is used to measure the distance traveled in the sea. One nautical mile is 1 minute of latitude.

1 Nautical Mile = 1852 Meters

1 Nautical Mile = 1 Minute of Latitude

1 Second of Latitude = 101 feet

1 Minute of Latitude = 6076 feet

1 Degree of Latitude = 364000 feet 

ValueCorresponding Value
1 Nautical Mile1852 meters
1 Nautical Mile1.852 KM
1 Nautical Mile6076 ft
1 Nautical Mile1.15 Miles
1 Nautical Mile2025 Yards

Also Read, Parts of a Sailboat: The Definitive Guide

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