Learn the Parts of a Sailboat and How to Communicate Them

Essential Words You Need to Know

A catamaran sailboat.

Pierre-Yves Babelon/Getty Images

The following are terms related to sailboats and their equipment, including the parts of the boat and how to communicate on one. Enjoy our list of all things nautical.

A to E

  • Auxiliary - A sailboat's engine, or a sailboat with an engine
  • Backstay - The cable, usually made of wire, running from the stern to the masthead that helps support the mast
  • Ballast - The weight in a sailboat's keel (sometimes in a centerboard) that helps keep the boat from leaning too much
  • Batten - A slat, typically made of plastic, placed in a pocket in the mainsail to help it maintain good shape
  • Beam - The width of the boat at its widest point
  • Bitter end - The free end of a line
  • Block - A pulley-like device used on a boat, with a sheave around which a line runs
  • Boom - The spar, which is usually horizontal, back from the mast to which the foot of a sail is attached
  • Boom vang - A device that prevents the boom from rising and, in some types, lowering
  • Bow - The front section of the boat
  • Cat rig - A sailboat designed for using a mainsail only, with the mast usually located more forward than in a sloop
  • Centerboard - A thin, keel-like structure that can be raised (usually rotated on a hinge up into a centerboard trunk in the hull) that's present on many sailboats without a fixed keel to prevent the boat from being blown sideways
  • Chock - A type of fairlead fitting through which an anchor rode or dock line passes to reduce chafing
  • Cleat - A fitting around which a line is secured
  • Companionway - The entrance area and steps from the cockpit into a sailboat's cabin
  • Clew - The lower rear corner of a sail
  • Daggerboard - Like a centerboard, but raised and lowered vertically instead of rotating on a hinge
  • Daysailer - Generally a small sailboat without a cabin large enough for comfortable overnight cruising
  • Dinghy - A type of small sailboat or a small row or powered craft typically taken along when cruising in a larger sailboat
  • Displacement - The weight of a boat, equal to the weight of water the boat displaces
  • Dodger - A spray shield often made of foldable or removable fabric at the front of the cockpit
  • Draft - The distance from a boat's waterline to the lowest part of its keel

F to J

  • Fender - A bumper generally made of rubber hung alongside the boat to prevent the hull from rubbing against a dock or other structure
  • Foot - The bottom edge of a sail (compare to leach and luff, below)
  • Forestay - A cable usually made of wire running from the bow to the masthead that helps support the mast
  • Forward - Toward the bow
  • Freeboard - The height of the deck above the water (the topsides section of the hull)
  • Gate - An opening in the lifelines for boarding the boat, also called gangway
  • Genoa - A large jib sail (the clew extends aft of the mast)
  • Gooseneck - The fitting that attaches the boom to the mast
  • Ground tackle - The collective term for a boat's anchor and anchor rode
  • Gunwale (sometimes gunnel) - The outer edge of the boat's deck and cockpit, also called the rail
  • Halyard - Line or wire used to hoist a sail
  • Hank on - To attach a jib sail to the forestay with small snap hooks called hanks
  • Head - The bathroom of a boat and also the top corner of a sail
  • Helm - The means by which the sailboat is steered: the tiller or wheel
  • Jackline - A line, strap, or wire secured over the deck as an attachment point for the tether of a safety harness
  • Jib - The triangular sail attached to the forestay

K to O

  • Keel - The lower section of a sailboat's hull that's usually permanent and counteracts sideways movement and typically contains ballast
  • Ketch - A type of sailboat with two masts
  • Lanyard - A short cord or line, often used to secure a piece of gear (knife, whistle, etc.) that might be dropped
  • Leech - The back edge of a jib or mainsail (compare to foot and luff, above and below)
  • Lifeline - A line or wire (often vinyl coated) all around the boat that's held up with stanchions to prevent falling overboard
  • Line - Any piece of rope used on a boat
  • Luff - The leading edge of a jib or mainsail (compare to foot and leech, above)
  • Mainmast - The mast, or the tallest mast of a sailboat with multiple masts
  • Mainsail - The sail affixed to and behind the mainmast
  • Mast - A tall vertical pole on a sailboat to support sails and rigging
  • Mast step - The support structure for the bottom of the mast
  • Mizzen - The smaller aft mast on a ketch or yawl; the mizzensail is affixed to and behind the mizzenmast
  • Multihull - A catamaran (two hulls) or trimaran (three hulls)
  • Outhaul - A fitting to adjust the tension of the foot of the mainsail on the boom

P to T

  • Padeye - A fitting usually made of metal with a loop or hoop to which other gear is attached
  • Pendant (sometimes pennant) - A short line attaching the bow of a boat to a mooring, or a short wire attached to a sail or halyard as an extension
  • PFD - A personal flotation device such as a lifejacket or an inflatable PFD
  • Port - The left side of the boat when facing forward; the opposite of starboard
  • Preventer - A-Line or other device used to prevent the boom from accidentally swinging from one side to the other
  • Pulpit - A rail generally made of stainless steel around the bow or stern typically at the height of the lifelines
  • Rail - the outer edge of the boat's deck and cockpit; also called the gunwale
  • Rig (or rigging) - The mast, boom, and associated equipment including stays, shrouds, sheets, and halyards
  • Rode - The line or chain between an anchor and the boat
  • Roller furler - A device by which a sail is rolled up, such as the jib rolling around a rotating forestay fitting
  • Rudder - An appendage below or on the boat's stern that is rotated by moving the tiller or wheel to steer the boat
  • Safety harness - Personal gear, either a separate harness or one built into a PFD, that attaches to a tether to keep the person on board
  • Sail ties - Short straps or pieces of line used to tie a lowered mainsail to the boom or secure a sail on deck
  • Schooner - A type of sailboat with two or more masts, the forward one being shorter than the main mast
  • Seacock - A valve fitting for closing an opening through the boat's hull (drains, water pipes, etc.)
  • Shackle - A fitting typically made of metal that secures two things together, such as a halyard shackle connecting to a sail
  • Sheet - The line used to let out or trim in a sail; on a sloop, a mainsheet and two jib sheets
  • Shroud - Wire or line stay from the deck or hull supporting the mast on each side
  • Sloop - A type of sailboat with one mast and two triangular sails (main and jib)
  • Sole - The floor of the cockpit or cabin
  • Spinnaker - A lightweight sail used downwind, often ballooning in front of the boat
  • Spreaders - Metal struts on the mast that hold the shrouds out from the mast for a better support angle
  • Stanchions - Short metal poles around the boat's perimeter that support the lifelines
  • Starboard - The right side of the boat (when facing forward); opposite of port
  • Stay - Wire or line from the deck or hull to support the mast; stays include the forestay, backstay, and shrouds (on the sides)
  • Tack - The bottom front corner of a sail
  • Telltales - Pieces of yarn or ribbons on the luff of a sail to help with trimming, or fastened to shrouds to show the wind direction
  • Tether - A short line or strap that runs between a safety harness and a point of attachment on the boat to prevent going overboard
  • Tiller - A long handle connected to the rudder or rudder post on many sailboats for steering
  • Topping lift - A wire or line from the masthead that holds up the boom when the sail is lowered
  • Topsides - The area of outer hull above the waterline
  • Traveler - A fitting allowing the mainsheet attachment to the boat to be adjusted side to side

U to Z

  • Vang - See Boom vang
  • Whisker pole - A pole used to hold out the jib when sailing off the wind
  • Winch - A drum-like device used to pull in lines under strain (halyards, sheets)
  • Windless - A heavy winch used with the anchor rode
  • Yawl - A type of sailboat with two masts, the aft one (mizzen) being behind the rudder post