Glossary of Sailing Terms
Abeam – positioned in the centre of the boat.
Aft – a part of the boat at or near the stern.
Apparent wind – the mean between real and created wind.
Astern – positioned behind the boat.
Backwinding – when caught in irons, pushing mainsail out in order to catch the wind and move back into a point of sailing.
Battens – thin strips of wood or fiberglass that fit in to help stiffen and give shape to sails.
Beam – the widest part of the boat, usually in about the centre.
Bearing – the point a sailor chooses to sail toward.
Bearing away – the action of steering the boat’s bow away from the direction of the wind. Also known as ‘coming down’.
Beating – sailing upwind, using the action of ‘Tacking’.
Boom – pole at the bottom of the mainsail, attached to the mast.
Boom vang – the control rope that runs from the underside of the boom down to the bottom of the mast. The boom vang is used to keep the boom down and under control.
Bow – the front of the boat (the ‘pointy end’).
Bowline – a common sailing knot that doesn’t slip.
Broad reach – a direction or point-of-sail 135-degrees from the wind source.
Catamaran – a boat with two or more hulls.
Cat – catamaran.
Capsize – to overturn a boat.
Caught in irons – then the bow is pointed upwind and the boat cannot move or turn.
Centreboard – a stabilizing board located underneath the hull.
Cleat – a fitting used to secure lines.
Cleat knot – the knot used to secure lines to cleats.
Clew – the back corner of a sail.
Close-hauled – describes the direction or point of sail 45-degrees from the wind source.
Cockpit – the area indented into the deck where the crew sit and from which they sail the boat.
Created wind – the wind created from forward movement.
Cunningham – the control rope that runs from the tack of the mainsail down to the deck or in the cockpit; used to adjust the tension of the luff of the mainsail.
Daggerboard – cf. ‘Centreboard’.
Deck – the flat area that covers the top surface of the boat.
Downhaul – the line that adjusts vertical tension in the mainsail.
Downwind – a direction with the wind, facing away from the wind source; Sailing with the wind coming from behind the boat.
Figure of Eight knot - useful for preventing a rope end from slipping through a block.
Foot – the bottom of a sail.
Fore – a part of a boat at or near the bow.
Forestay – the wire mast support attached to the bow.
Forward – towards the front (bow) of the boat, pronounced “for’ard”.
Gooseneck – a flexible fitting connecting the mast and boom, which allows the boom to swing.
Gunwales – the top edges of the boat, at the upper outside edge of the topsides. Pronounced “gunnels”.
Gybing – changing direction when sailing downwind, so that the stern passes through the eye of the wind. Cf. ‘Jibing’.
Halyard – the line that hauls up the sail and holds it there.
Head – the top corner of a sail.
Headsail – cf. ‘Jib’.
Jib – the smaller triangular sail attached to the bow.
Jibing – turning with the wind on a downwind course by pulling the tiller in or away from the sail(s). cf. ‘Gybing’.
Kicker – cf. ‘Boom vang’.
Knot – a nautical unit of speed equaling 1.15 mph.
Laser – make of a small, single-sail dinghy known for its maneuverability.
Leach – the trailing edge of a sail.
Leeward – The direction away from which the wind is blowing. Pronounced ‘loo-erd’.
Luff – leading edge of a sail. Also a verb – the flapping of untrimmed sails.
Luffing up – the action of steering the boat’s bow up into or towards the direction of the wind to bring the boat onto an upwind course, or beyond it. Also known as ‘coming up’.
Mainsail – the larger sail attached to the boom, flown aft of the mast.
Mast – the big pole holding up the sails.
Monohull – a boat with a single hull.
Off the wind – cf. ‘Downwind’.
On the wind – cf. ‘Upwind’.
Outhaul – the line that adjusts the horizontal tension along the foot or bottom of the mainsail.
Point of sail – the angle to the wind at which a boat is sailing; a sailing direction with specific trimming requirements.
Port tack – when the wind blows over the port (left) side of the boat.
Port – on the left as a sailor faces forward toward the bow.
Reach – the direction or point of sail 90-degrees from the wind source.
Real wind – the true, natural wind direction as opposed to created or apparent wind.
Rigging – setting up a boat, making ready for sailing.
Roll Tacking - a form of tacking in light winds.
Rudder – the turning blade in the water, at the stern (rear), attached to the tiller.
Rules - there are some basic rules that apply whilst underway on the water.
Run; Running – the direction or point of sail 180-degrees from the wind source (ie. from behind).
Sheet – the line used to control the sail.
Shrouds – the wire mast supports attached to the sides of the boat. Also known as ‘Stays’.
Sloop – a sailboat with a jib and a mainsail.
Spinnaker – a symmetrical, curved downwind sail, flown off its own boom, forward of the mast.
Starboard – on the right as a sailor faces forward towards the bow.
Starboard tack – when the wind blows over the starboard (right) side.
Stays – see ‘Shrouds’.
Stern – the back of the boat (the ‘blunt end’).
Tack – the forward corner of a sail.
Tacking – turning into the wind by zigzagging on an upwind course, by pushing the tiller away or towards the sail(s); changing direction when sailing upwind, so that the bow of the boat passes through the eye of the wind.
Telltails – small pieces of material attached to sails or shrouds indicating wind direction.
Tiller – the steering handle attached to the rudder.
Tiller extension – swiveling small length of pole attached to the tiller.
Transom – the flat, vertical area at the stern (back) of the boat, to which the rudder is attached. Also know as the “Tuck”.
Trimming – adjusting sail tension by pulling in or letting out the sheets.
Upwind – a direction against the wind, facing towards the wind source; Sailing as close to the wind direction as possible.
Vang – cf. ‘Boom vang’.
White horses – foaming crests of waves that are about to break. Caused by winds stronger than Force 3.
Wind circle – the circular diagram universally used to explain the points of sail.
Windward – situated or moving towards the wind source; the direction from which the wind is blowing.
Ell, S., Dinghy Sailing, New Holland, London, 2001.
Werner, D., Sailor’s Start-Up: A Beginner’s Guide to Sailing, 2nd edn, Tracks, California, 2001.