Newcomers to the world of sailing might be overwhelmed by the many names for parts of a sailboat and the nautical jargon used by sailors.
Besides expensive houses, the sailboat is a luxurious property and hobby by the riches. This guide breaks down the parts of a sailboat into sections that are easy to understand so you can learn all the technical terms used in sailing and what each part of the boat is for. Familiarizing yourself with sailboat terminology will give you a headstart on getting to grips with this rewarding and enjoyable hobby.
In This Article
The hull is the main part of the boat which floats on the water and which carries people. Most sailboats utilize displacement hulls, which are shaped to disperse the water as they sail to provide a smooth journey. There are many different parts of the hull, which include:
The bow is the pointed section at the front of the hull, which cuts through the water. Essentially the word ‘bow’ is the nautical term for ‘front,’ as this is the front of the boat.
The keel helps to prevent a sailboat from capsizing by supplying a counterbalance with a large fin.
The stern is the back part of the hull, with the term ‘stern’ quite simply being the nautical term for ‘back.’ The stern on a sailboat is quite rounded compared to other types of boats as this helps to increase buoyancy.
Starboard refers to the right side of the hull.
Port refers to the left side of the hull.
Helm or Tiller
A sailboat will have either a helm or a tiller to steer it. Helm is the nautical word for a steering wheel, while tiller is the nautical word for a steering stick.
The waterline is the level on the hull where the water comes up to. Many sailboats will be painted a different color below the waterline, usually with specialized paint to help protect the part of the hull, which will be underwater and susceptible to marine growth.
The bilge is the area on the hull where the bottom of the boat meets the sides. On sailboats, this area is usually quite rounded as this helps with buoyancy, but on other types of boats, such as speedboats, the bilge can be quite angular.
The rudder helps to point a boat in a direction as selected by the helm or tiller. The rudder is a horizontal plate that goes at the back of the hull and can be partially or fully submerged in the water. It will be attached to the helm or tiller and is part of the steering system.
This is the back wall of the boat, and traditionally where the name of the boat will be displayed.
The deck is the upper surface of the hull where people can stand or sit, and it provides the base for the rigging.
The cabin is the undercover area in a sailboat which is usually accessed by going down a staircase. In larger boats, a cabin might include a galley kitchen, a seating area, a bathroom, and space for sleeping. Even on smaller sailboats, a cabin provides a much-needed space to remain dry in the event of rain.
The cockpit is the part of a sailboat that contains all of the navigation systems, and this is where the helmsman will steer and operate the boat.
The mast is in part what makes a sailboat a sailboat, as, without it, there would be no sails. The mast is the vertical pole that supports the sails and sits slightly off-center on the hull. Sailboats generally have one or two masts.
This is the horizontally placed bar on a mast, and it supports the mainsail.
Most sailboats have two sails to create the iconic sailboat shape, but they can have a different number of sails which will dictate the size and shape.
The mainsail is easy to recognize because it will be the largest of all the sails on a sailboat and fitted to the largest mast.
The battens help to reinforce the sails by holding them tight and creating a firmer, stiffer sail. They are fixed horizontally onto the sails.
- Foot: refers to the lowest side of the sail
- Leech: The back of the sail and runs the whole height of the sail.
- Luff: The front of the sail, running the full height of the sail.
- Clew: The lowest back corner of the mainsail, and it attaches to the boom.
- Tack: The lowest front corner of the mainsail.
- Head: The uppermost corner at the top of the mainsail.
Rigging refers to ropes and lines which are used to attach the mast and sails to the hull.
- Standing Rigging: Standing rigging refers to the ropes which support the sail and mast. This includes:
- Backstay: This is a strong cable often made from steel. It attaches to the stern and supports the mast.
- Forestay: This cable is commonly made from steel and supports the mast by attaching to the bow of the boat.
- Sidestay: Most sailboats have two side stays. They support the mast from each side of the boat.
- Spreader: These are used to distance the sidestays and ensure they stay out of the way of the mast.
Running rigging refers to the ropes which are used to operate the sails. This includes:
- Boom Topping Lift: This line is a support for taking down the mainsail and runs from the top of the mast to the back of the boom.
- Boom Vang: This line pulls down from the boom to create tension.
- Halyards: The ropes that are used to haul the mainsail up and down.
- Mainsheet: The rope or sheet which sets the angle of the mainsail. Ropes that set the angle of other sails will be referred to as simply ‘sheets.’