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The Safe Boating Guide & Important Things To Know : Parts Of A Boat

Updated on February 26, 2013

Basic Diagram Of A Boat's Parts

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What to call the 'pointy' end of the boat (and other parts).

“A lot of people ask me if I were shipwrecked, and could only have one book, what would it be? I always say 'How to Build a Boat” ~ Stephen Wright

A future captain must know everything there is to know about his vessel.

Firstly, you must memorize the rather interesting (and some of it quite important) lingo that is used by all the boat-folk. Everything in a boat has a different, special name...even the toilet! (If you're rich enough to have one, that is...) :)

These are the terms used to describe the areas of a boat.: (When commanding your crew, these are some of most important words to know and most used for direction.) (Example) : "Captain! Iceberg off the starboard bow! Hard to port!!!!"

Bow : The 'pointy end' of the boat. (In Canoes and Kayaks, both ends are pointy. The front of the vessel is the bow.) (Pronounced like 'ow'.)

Stern : The rear, squared-off end of the boat. Also called the transom.

Fore : The area at the front of the boat.

Amidships : The 'center' area of the boat, between fore and aft.

Aft : The rear area of the boat.

Port : When facing forwards, this would be the left side of the vessel. (The side with the red light if you have running lights.)

Starboard : When facing forwards, this would be the right side of the vessel. (The side with a green light.)

I have found that a good way to remember these is "There's no port left." (Like the liquor.)

Or, "The ship has left port."


Words which are most commonly used when measuring a vessel :

Beam : The measured width of a boat, usually taken at it's widest point.

Bridge Clearance : The tallest point of a vessel that of which may be permitted to pass under a bridge or through a tunnel.

Draft : The measurement from the waterline to the lowest part of the hull. (Including rudders, motor appendages, etc.) The most shallow depth of water in which a boat may float.

Displacement : The tonnage of a vessel; equal to the amount of water which a boat displaces when it is floating.

Freeboard : The measured height from the waterline to the gunnels. (The taller a vessel's freeboard is, the more likely it will be to survive the largest of waves.)

Length Overall (LOA) : The distance from the very tip of the bow to the very end of the stern. (Including a swim grid, if you have one.)

Waterline : Where the surface of the water meets the hull.

Other terms regarding areas of the boat : (And what's inside of it!)

Bilge : The area under the floor of a boat, where the water collects.

Chain Locker : A compartment at the very bow of a vessel which is used to store the anchor and chain for easy access.

Cleat : A piece of hardware to which mooring lines are attached.

Galley : The place in which you make your marine meals!

Gunnel : The point at the top of the hull in which the inner liner of the vessel meet with outer hull. (Sometimes it may be spelled as 'gunwale' but is still pronounced 'gunnel.')

Hatch : A horizontal door, usually covering a small compartment for storage. (A large number of sailboats have a sliding one for an entrance.)

Head : The name for a marine toilet. (Most are usually propelled by a manual or 12-volt electric pump.)

Helm : A large wooden steering wheel. (Such as the ones used on ships and large sailboats.)

Hull : The substructure or entire 'body' of the vessel.

Keel : The point at which the two halves of the boat meet together. In sailboats, the keel is a large fin projecting from that point which improves stability.

Pulpit : The deck and railing structure that extends from the bow of a larger vessel. (On sailboats, this is referred to as the 'bowsprit.')

Rode : A line, chain, cable, or any combination of these things which connects the anchor to the vessel.

Rudder(s) : Large fin-like appendages which are located aft, underneath the waterline and are used to steer the boat.

Running Lights : A combination of lights which lets others know you are there and what you are planning to do. These are required by law, and you must know what they mean and how to use them.

Swim Grid : A wide platform at the base of the stern (usually just at the waterline) which provides easier access to re-board the vessel after a swim.

Trim Tabs : Small 'tabs' usually made of metal which are hydraulically controlled at the base of the stern underneath the waterline. These are used to control the angle of the boat as it skips across the water at high speeds. (If you have these, learn to use them as they are very helpful!)

V-Berth : A v-shaped bed or berth in the bow of a boat. Usually contains two separate beds which are joined by a triangular bed piece.

Wheelhouse : An enclosed room or area in which the steering wheel and other cruising equipment are located. (Also sometimes called a 'pilot house'.)

Windlass : A cylindrical rotating device which can be used to raise and lower your anchor.


A Beautiful Wooden Helm

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There are many more boat-related terms, these are some of the more well-used ones, such as :

Bailer : Anything that can be used to scoop water out of a boat in time of need. Always make sure to have one aboard. (A milk jug with the top cut off works wonderfully.)

Ballast : Weight that has been added to the vessel in order to improve it's stability.

Fender : The plastic air-filled 'bumpers' which are used to protect your hull from needing a new paint job.

Heading : The direction in which a boat is going. (Example: Captain : What is our heading? Navigator : We are due 90 degrees east.)

Knot : The term used for nautical miles per hour. (1 knot is equal to 1.1508 statute miles per hour.)

Moored : When a boat is secured to a dock, pier, or anchored.

Trolling : To slowly cruise along whilst dragging fishing lines behind you. (The even lazier way to fish!) :)

Underway : The term which is used to describe a boat in motion.

Wake : The waves that a moving boat creates.

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What to call the different parts of a sailboat :

Boom : The horizontal beam or pole which is attached at the base of mast and used to extend the bottom of the mainsail.

Halyards : The lines which are used to haul sails up the mast(s).

Keel : The large fin-like appendage which projects from the bottom of a boat. (And one of a sailor's secret weapons!) With the help of the rudder, these prevent you from getting blown sideways in strong winds, and provides for much better forward movement.

Mast : A tall vertical pole which extends from the middle (Or, sometimes, multiple poles from a number and arrangement of spots) of the boat and supports the sails and rigging.

Rudder : Another large fin protruding from the stern which is attached to either a tiller or a helm, and is used for steering the vessel.

Shrouds and Stays : Structural wires that help to hold the mast in place. (The one in front is called the forestay, the one at the stern, the backstay.)

Tiller : A long usually wooden lever at the stern which is attached to the rudder and is used in steering the boat.

I will go more in depth with sailboats in my next article.. Stay tuned! :)

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