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Learn to Sail for Newbies - Sailing Terms 101

Updated on September 6, 2010

Three Steps to Sailing Terms Mastery!

To learn to sail well, you will need to learn a few nautical terms before you step aboard.

Think of sailing as a second language--or lingo. Once you understand some of this sailing lingo, you will be able to:

* Understand the parts of a sailboat.
* Learn the parts of a sail and how they attach to a boat.
* Shape your sails for speed and power (like using a gear shift).

Let's build on your sailing language skills in groups of 10. Right now, you will learn the first ten parts you will need to know on any sailboat in the world. Here we go--enjoy!

Areas of a Sailboat


The widest part of a sailboat hull. Imagine you are a seagull flying above a boat and look straight down. You would see the top of your boat--the deck. Find the widest part of the deck, and you will find your beam.

Any part of the sailboat forward of (in front of) the beam. When you go to the bow, you move forward. When you move from the bow toward the stern, you move aft.

Any part of the sailboat aft of (in back of) the beam. When you move from the stern toward the bow, you move forward. When you move toward the stern, you move aft.

What's Located in Each Area

At the bow, you use one of a group of sails, referred to as "headsails". These have names like jib, Genoa, or spinnaker. Sailboats also keep their anchor and anchor line (rope) or chain near the bow.

Near the beam, you will find the sailboat mast and sailboat boom. Way back in the days of the square riggers, the sailboat mast was called the "mainmast". Today, you call the sail attached to the mast and boom the mainsail. Your mainsail gives you the most power of all sails aboard. We will discuss later how the mast attaches to the boat to keep it upright.

Near the stern, you will find the cockpit, a large square or roundish bowl shaped area where you steer the boat, do most of the sail trimming (pull on lines to shape the sails), and where your crew can sit and relax.

Directions on a Sailboat

Forward of the Bow
Straight ahead of the bow. For example, someone might say that they see something floating in the water just "forward of the bow". So, you would look straight ahead.

To one side of the beam of the boat. Also might be stated "off the beam". For example, someone might say that they see a buoy abeam. This means they see a floating aid to navigation (buoy) off one side of the boat. If it's off the left side (port side) they would say "abeam to port". If it's off the right side (starboard side) they would say "abeam to starboard".

Behind the boat. Of, aft of the boat. For example, someone might say that they see a large powerboat overtaking you from "astern". You would need to glance astern to make sure that their boat will clear your boat.

New Sailing Term-of-the-Day!

Every day, learn one new term related to sailing, sails, or a saiboat. Today's new term...

You steer your sailboat with a wheel or a tiller. The wheel looks similar to your automobile wheel. Tillers have been around for thousands of years. The tiller looks like a horizontal wooden handle and attaches to the rudder.

So, if the skipper asks you to "take the helm", he or she wants you to steer the boat. Or, if he or she says "who's got the helm right now?", you can tell them which of the crew are steering the boat.


Now you can see just how easy and fun these learn to sail tips and terms can be. In no time, you will be a savvy salt ready to sail the seven seas like a sailors!

Next time, you will learn all about how the mast attaches to the boat, how to raise or lower a sail, and how the sailboat boom helps you sail your boat with awesome speed and power!


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