Boating Vocabulary

Words Boaters Should Know

Boating has a long history and has played, and still does play, a crucial role in exploration, transportation, and recreation. With that kind of legacy comes a vast vocabulary developed to help people work and play in the marine environment. While there are entire dictionaries dedicated to boating terminology, here we will highlight some of the most important and common terms that most modern boaters should know.

Boating Terms -

Illustration: BoatUS Original:


At a right angle to the centerline or keel of the boat, alongside the boat


A position closer to the stern or back of the boat

Amidships (Midships)

The center or central area of the boat


The widest part of the boat, the greatest width


The front or forward end of the boat, as opposed to the stern (mnemonic: “B” comes before “S” in the alphabet, just like the Bow of the boat comes before the Stern)


A partition, usually structural, that separates compartments of a boat


A main compartment, enclosed area, or living space for crew and passengers


The set of steps or walkway that provides access from the deck to the below-decks areas of the boat


A station to stand or sit at located on the deck which often contains the helm, an operator’s console


Usually the exterior flat surfaces of a boat that passengers and crew walk on, but can also refer to the levels of a vessel, as in “Deck 4”, which could be an interior or exterior level


The minimum depth of water a boat can float in, or the distance between the waterline and the bottom of the keel


A raised helm or navigation console, often above the cabin, from which the boat can be operated. It usually includes an area for entertaining or sitting as well


The vertical distance from the waterline to the lowest point at which water could enter the boat over the edge


The name for a boat’s kitchen


A passage or ramp used to board or disembark a boat


The top edge of a boat’s sides


A watertight cover or doorway in a boat deck or cabin top


The name for a boat’s toilet


The leaning of a sailboat as the wind pushes against the sails


A boat’s operating console, containing the wheel and engine controls


The body or shell of a boat that physically touches the water


The sail set forward of a sailboat’s masts and mainsail


Steering a sailboat’s stern through the wind (as opposed to a tack)


The center ridge running bow to stern under a boat’s hull. In a sailboat the keel can run very deep to provide stability


The same direction the wind is blowing (as opposed to windward)

Length Overall (LOA)

The length of a vessel from its farthest extent aft to its farthest extend forward including all attached tackle


Cables or lines running around a boat to prevent crew, passengers, or equipment from falling overboard


Any small compartment on a boat used for storage


The largest, main working sail of a boat attached to the main mast and controlled by a horizontal boom


A vertical pole that supports the sails of a sailboat

Point of Sail

The boat’s direction relative to the wind


The left side of a boat when standing onboard, facing the bow (as opposed to starboard). Mnemonic: port has fewer letters than starboard just like left has fewer letters than right


The vertical fin or plate at the back of a boat that extends into the water used for steering


The main room for entertaining on a boat


Holes in the hull that allow water on the deck to drain overboard


Upright poles around a boat’s edge that support lifelines


The right side of a boat when standing onboard, facing the bow (as opposed to port). Mnemonic: starboard has more letters than port just like right has more letters than left


The forward most part of the bow


The back, or aft area of the boat

Swim Platform

A water-level platform at the stern of the boat used to enter and exit the water easily


Steering a sailboat’s bow through the wind (as opposed to a jibe)


The handle connected to the rudder or an outboard motor used for steering


The flat surface forming a boat’s stern

Trim Tabs

Plates on the stern bottom of a boat’s hull that can be adjusted to change the vessel’s attitude, pitch, and roll while underway


The point up to which water rises on a boat’s hull


The direction from which the wind is blowing (as opposed to leeward)

Anchor Terms


The tip of an anchor’s fluke


The bottom of an anchor (as opposed to the head)


The hole in the shank where the anchor rode is connected


The fins or scoops of an anchor that dig into the bottom and hold material


The top of an anchor (as opposed to the crown)


The long bar running from head to crown that is the main appendage of an anchor


A bar that runs perpendicular to the shank

Tripping Ring

A hole or ring located near the crown of an anchor used to connect a tripping line for easier hauling

Windlass Terms


The cylinder or drum on a windlass for winding rope

Clutch Lever

A handle used to tighten the clutch in such cases as the windlass is slipping when trying to haul the anchor


The cylinder or drum on a windlass for winding chain. Some gypsies can accept both chain and rope

Horizontal Windlass

A windlass that features a gypsy or capstan with a horizontal axis and the motor on the deck.

Vertical Windlass

A windlass that features a gypsy or capstan with a vertical axis and the motor under the deck.

Rope Terms


Also known as “square braid”, consists of eight individual strands that are woven in four pairs. Makes great anchor line and works well in most windlasses

Bow Line

A line tied from a boat’s bow to a point on the dock forward of the bow


A T-shaped attachment point for boat lines

Double Braided

A braided rope core that is enclosed by a braided rope sleeve. Makes excellent dock and anchor line

Ground Tackle

The anchor, rope, chain, and accessories that make up a boat’s anchoring system


A rope used for raising and lowering a sail on a sailboat


Refers to a permanent anchorage with a buoy where a boat can tie up. It can also refer to a dock or pier where a boat ties up


A combination of rope spliced to chain generally used in windlasses for anchoring


Control lines for operating sails on a sailboat


A woven connection between rope and chain in an anchor rode made so that the rode can feed through a windlass

Spring Lines

Dock lines secured such that a boat cannot shift forward and aft

Stern Line

A line tied from a boat’s stern to a point on the dock aft of the stern


Also known as twisted rope, a rope constructed of three individual strands twisted together. It is standard, inexpensive, anchor line or general-purpose rope