Sailing Basics: 10 Sailing Terms Every Guy Should Know

Think you have large enough cajones to take the helm? Better learn the lingo first. Otherwise, it'll be mutiny on the bounty. Learning basic boating terms help you find your way around any basic sailing vessel with relative ease. You instantly become useful to the captain and help out when you get in tight spots out at sea.

Below is a list of ten entry-level sailing terms to help sharpen your boating jargon. No, these won't promote you to captain. But, if you know how to jibe and tack, you're more likely to keep your boat from tipping over. Let's get started!


Aft - The inside rear of the ship

Like most of the verbiage on this list, the definition of aft is concise. Its actual meaning is 'toward the stern.' But be careful to distinguish the two terms. Aft is referring to the inside of the boat, not the outside. So if you tell someone to go to the stern, they're likely to jump overboard. Not good.


Bow - The front part of the ship

The bow is the forward part of the hull of a ship or boat. It's the pointed area that is out in front when the vessel has left port. Bows on most ships come to a point to reduce water resistance and prohibit water from splashing onto the front.


Port - The left of a boat facing forward

You've heard the term 'port-side,' but often wondered, "Where do I go? Although no one knows why the left side was given the name, the best guess is that old merchant ships would dock on that side of the boat to load and unload goods at the mainland port. While the ship’s port was on the left side, the rowing side of the boat was often on the right side.


Amidships - In the middle of the ship

With an emphasis on the 'MID,' if you tell someone to go amidships, then you can expect him or her to walk to the center. It's safe to say that is halfway between the bow and the stern. This term applies to both inside the ship and outside. In the days of the Jolly Roger, it was the area where the enemy's cannons were all pointed. 


Starboard - The right side of the ship

The starboard is opposite the port bow on the right side of the boat facing forward. It inherited its name from the steering side of a large schooner, which was used to row the boat. Interesting fact: A green light shines on the starboard side to avoid collision with other boats. A red light is on the port side.


Leeward - The direction downwind from the point of reference

Let's say the wind is coming in from the back of the boat (the point of reference). If I'm at the front of the boat 'downwind' from you, that means I'm on the Leeward side. You catch the wind before I do.


Windward - The direction upwind from the point of reference

Now think backward. You're still at the back of the boat. I'm still at the front, and the wind is still going in the same direction (at your back). You are now standing on the Windward side. It's prime real estate for flagellation. You know why.


Rudder - The primary control used to steer a sea vessel

Ancient writings often laud the rudder for being one of the smallest components of a ship yet tells the floating behemoth where to go. The rudder, usually made of wood or heavy metal, is controlled at the helm and guided on a vertical pivot.


Tacking - A method in which the bow is turned into the wind so that it will blow on either side of the boat

Tacking is a move that sailors use to navigate a boat upwind effectively. It is a highly strategic move in sailing competition. The common term for tacking is 'coming about.' You've probably heard it before.


Jibing - Turning the bow of a boat directly into the wind

The main difference between jibing and tacking is that jibing is turning the bow directly into the wind. This allows the wind to blow on both sides of the ship. When the boom (the horizontal swiveling bar attached to the bottom of the sail) is properly utilized, the ship can sail into the wind to reach its course.



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