More Sailing Terms You Need to Know

Perhaps more so than any other profession or hobby in the world, sailing has a specialized language that is essential to understanding its particulars. Some of sailing language is cultural, with different names given to universally recognized objects or events, but much of it has to do with sailing technologies that exist in no other context. 

This glossary covers the basic parts of a sailboat and some sailing maneuvers. Before you step on board your boat, it is always a good idea to know what is around you. Without knowing the parts of a boat, it is difficult to work with a crew or maneuver properly. Read on, and get ready to get out on the water!

Basic Boating Terms: Directional

Fore and Aft — We have covered bow and stern before, but fore and aft are also important directional terms that every sailor should know. An easy way to remember them is to think of “fore” as similar to “forward” and “aft” as similar to “back.”

Port and Starboard — While on the helm of the boat looking forward, port is the left side and starboard is the right side. Just as you would never say rope when you mean line, or back when you mean stern, never say left or right when you mean port or starboard. If you are having trouble remembering which is which, just remember that “left” and “port” both have four letters.

Windward and Leeward — The terms windward and leeward can continually change; they are relative to the boat’s forward motion through the wind. The side that the wind hits first or from which the wind is coming is the windward side. The wind leaves, or blows to, the leeward side. When you are “heeling,” the high side of the boat is the windward side.

Basic Sailing Terms

Tacking — Tacking is one of the means of changing direction on a sailboat. When you tack, you move your boat’s bow through the wind, so the sail luffs and then fills as the wind switches sides. If you spend too much time on your tack, you will lose much of your speed, so it is best to move through the wind as quickly as possible.

Jibing — A jibe is the counterpart to a tack. Instead of moving the bow through the wind, you move the stern through the wind. Jibing is done downwind, and because the wind is directly behind you, be aware of the boom: it will switch sides very quickly.

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