The Boat – Nautical Terminology

I have to say that I never thought of this blog as a general one. It is not. It is a blog dedicated to yachtsmen all over the world, even if they own or not their boat, but it can be visited and enjoyed by any other person. For them this time, there is the need for a series of posts explaining some nautical terminology. When sailing, it is essential to know the terminology used to describe the boat fittings as well as the precise terms used to define the various manoeuvrings. This is available for writers, for curious people and for smart people as well. The terminology has been used for a long time in sailing and its advantage is that it permits orders given to be clearly understood and executed precisely.

Let’s start with the boat itself. I remember explaining nautical terms in a previous post, but never thought to write about the simple ones, the defining terms.

nautical terms

Nautical Terms


The hull allows the boat to float. Because of its long, narrow and symmetrical shape, it moves most easily in a forward direction. The center board is a sort of vertical wing in the middle of the hull which improves this tendency towards forward motion and reduces sideways movement to a minimum.

The rigging comprises the support and control cables, wires and ropes, meaning all the cordage that is needed to keep up the mast and regulate the sails.

The vertical mast supports a horizontal boom which can swivel from one side of the boat to the other. The main sail is held between these two. In order to control the direction of the main sail, a rope called the main sheet is attached to the end of the boom. You have to remember that a sheet is always a rope, never a sail.

The jib is a triangular sail which is stretched along a wire running from the top of the mast to the front of the boat. Jib sheets at the free angle of the triangle control this sail.

The helm or the tiller is the device which makes it possible to steer the boat. It is attached to a streamlined vertical board plunged in the water, called a rudder which swivels on a vertical axis. By pushing the tiller to the left, the boat will steer to the right and by pushing it to the left, the boat will steer to the right. The rudder loses its effect at angles greater than 45° with the sea level.

I forgot some very important terms, the nautical orientation terms. When sailing with a ship or a yacht, due to certain rules from the origins (in English we don’t use the Greek original terms), we never refer to the left side of the ship as “left side”, we say port. We call the “right side” starboard side. At night, it is marked with a green light, port side having a red one. The front is called fore. The back is called aft.

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Copyright © 2012 The Yacht Owner – Nautical Terminology on a Boat

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