When you are learning to sail, the first thing you will notice is that it is full of confusing terminology. For the beginner it can be quite overwhelming, but everyone has to start somewhere. So if you don’t know your sheets from your booms, or your port from your starboard, here are some definitions of some of the most common sailing terms. You should also consider learning the basics of nautical charts so you understand marine navigation.
The Bow and the Aft
The bow is the name given to the forward part of the boat, and the aft is the name given to the back half. However, the aft is slightly more problematic because it is also known as the stern. The bow is important to know because its location directly relates to two of the most important terms in sailing: port and starboard.
Port and Starboard
Port refers to the left-hand side of the boat when you are looking forward towards the bow. Starboard is the opposite, referring to the right-hand side of the boat. Beginner sailors often think that it would be easier to use ‘left’ and ‘right’, but these could refer to something else while out on the water and become confusing. It is important to know these two terms because many boating rules regarding the rights of way that oncoming boats have refer to them. Taking a boating safety course is a great way to learn about life on the water. One common way to remember them is that ‘port’ has the same amount of letters as ‘left’, but they will soon roll off the tongue easily.
Windward and Leeward
As you will already know, learning to sail is intricately linked to the wind and what direction it is coming from. It therefore comes as no surprise that we have our own names to refer to these directions. Windward therefore refers to the direction in which the wind is blowing, and leeward the direction opposite the way the wind is blowing. People tend to confuse these quite a bit to start with, so don’t worry if it takes a while to remember when and where the wind is coming from.
The Boom, the Rudder and Sheets
These are all objects found within a sailing boat, when you are learning to sail. The boom refers to the horizontal pole that connects to the foot of the sail. It moves from side to side to harness the power of the wind, and can be quite dangerous if the sailor is not paying attention to it. The rudder is the flat piece of plastic or wood that is positioned under the boat, and is responsible for steering. It is controlled with a sheet, which is the name given to any rope that is used to control either the boom, the sail or the rudder. Sheets also have different names according to their role, but we won’t go into that here.
Tacking and Jibing
These are two of the most common maneuvers in sailing. Tacking is accomplished by turning the bow through the wind, allowing the wind to change from one side of the boat to the other, and the boat moves towards an upwind location in a zig-zag manner. Jibing is essentially the opposite of this, and involves turning the stern of the boat through the wind in order to travel downwind. However, the maneuver is often a lot quicker and less controlled than tacking, and the quick-moving boom can make it more dangerous.