Sailing Terminology That You Need to Learn

We’ve compiled this short list of sailing terminology for beginners that everyone should know. If you’re learning how to sail, these handy terms can provide a helpful overview of sailing basics you need to become familiar with.

Here are the ten sailing terms that would surely help you!

#1. Aft

It is the back of a ship. If you hear someone say something is located aft, then you can most certainly find it there. The term is also closely associated with another sailing term called “Stern.” The practically mean the same thing but the difference between the two is aft can be used to describe something that is near or toward the back of the boat, while stern will almost always mean the end of the backend of a boat.  

#2. Bow

If there’s an aft, then there’s a bow– which, if you haven’t already guessed it, means the front of the vessel. And that’s all there is to that I’m afraid. On to the next!

#3. Boom

Hilariously named by the sound it makes when it hits the heads of sailors, the boom is the horizontal spar or pole attached to the foot of the sail that sticks out from the mast. When you adjust the boom towards the direction of the wind, the sailboat can harness wind power to move forward or backward. A spar used to lengthen the foot of a fore-and-aft sail.

#4. Rudder

Located below the boat, the rudder is a flat piece of wood, fiberglass, or metal that is used to steer the ship. Larger sailboats control the rudder via a wheel, while smaller sailboats will have a steering mechanism directly aft.


Approaching the left-hand side of the ship facing forward (formerly Larboard). Denoted with a red light at night. Because “right” and “left” can become confusing sailing terms when used out in the open waters, the port is used to define the left-hand side of the boat as it relates to the bow or front.

#6. Starboard

This is the opposite of port. It is towards the right-hand side of a vessel facing forward. Denoted with a green light at night. Derived from the old steering oar or ‘steerboard’ which preceded the invention of the rudder.

#7. Jibe

A basic sailing maneuver is used to change a vessel’s direction. This involves turning the back of the boat through the wind to make it come across from the other side of the boat. But like movies are called films in the UK, this term also is called– well, in this case, spelled– different too. Across the pond, they spell this term as “gybe.”

#8. Tacking

Jibing but using the bow of the boat instead. And the main thing about tacking is how this is done by having the vessel follow a zig-zagging path to sail directly towards the wind.

The boom of a boat will always change from one side to the other when performing a tack or a jibe. Jibing is a less conventional technique than tacking since it involves turning a boat directly into the wind.

#9. Leeward

Pronounced as loo-ward, leeward means the opposite direction where the wind is currently blowing. The side of the boat furthest from the wind. When heeling over, this will always be the low side.

#10. Windward

The opposite of leeward. It is where the wind is currently blowing. Naturally, it is the direction that the wind is coming from.

These are necessary boat terminologies that you need to before you hit the waters. Knowing the right sailing terms to use on board is not JUST a way of impressing your friends. It’s actually very useful, and sometimes essential in communicating while you’re sailing. So, bear these terms in mind for a grand sailing!

And if you wanna read up on more about sailing, we wrote an article on how the heck this whole thing got started. Read all about The History of Sailing here.

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