Common Sailing Terms

Published on September 20th, 2021

Sailing terms would make for an excellent Jeopardy category, and could be taught in school to fulfil additional language requirements. Here’s a list to share with your next newbie crew:


Amidships: Condition of being surrounded by boats.

Anchor: A device designed to bring up mud samples from the bottom at inopportune or unexpected times.

Anchor Light: A small light used to discharge the battery before daylight.

Beam Sea: A situation in which waves strike a boat from the side, causing it to roll unpleasantly. This is one of the four directions from which wave action tends to produce extreme physical discomfort. The other three are ‘bow sea’ (waves striking from the front), ‘following sea’ (waves striking from the rear), and ‘quarter sea’ (waves striking from any other direction).

Berth: A little addition to the crew.

Boat ownership: Standing fully-clothed under a cold shower, tearing up 100-dollar bills.

Boom: Sometimes the result of a surprise jibe. Called boom for the sound that’s made when it hits crew in the head on its way across the boat.

Calm: Sea condition characterized by the simultaneous disappearance of the wind and the last cold beverage.

Chart: A type of map that tells you exactly where you are aground.

Clew: An indication from the skipper as to what he might do next.

Course: The direction in which a skipper wishes to steer his boat and from which the wind is blowing. Also, the language that results by not being able to.

Crew: Heavy, stationary objects used on shipboard to hold down charts, anchor cushions in place and dampen sudden movements of the boom.

Dead Reckoning: A course leading directly to a reef.

Dinghy: The sound of the ship’s bell.

Displacement: When you dock your boat and can’t find it later.

Estimated Position: A place you have marked on the chart where you are sure you are not.

Flashlight: Tubular metal container used on shipboard for storing dead batteries prior to their disposal.

Gybe: A common way to get unruly guests off your boat.

Headway: What you are making if you can’t get the toilet to work.

Jack Lines: “Hey baby, want to go sailing?”

Landlubber: Anyone on board who wishes he were not.

Latitude: The number of degrees off course allowed a guest.

Mast: Religious ritual used before setting sail.

Mizzen: An object you can’t find.

Motor Sailor: A sailboat that alternates between sail/ rigging problems and engine problems, and with some booze in the cabin.

Ram: An intricate docking maneuver sometimes used by experienced skippers.

Sailing: The fine art of getting wet and becoming ill, while going nowhere slowly at great expense.

Shroud: Equipment used in connection with a wake.

Starboard: Special board used by skippers for navigation (usually with “Port” on the opposite side.)

Tack: A maneuver the skipper uses when telling the crew what they did wrong without getting them mad.

Yawl: A sailboat from Texas, with some good bourbon stored down yonder in the cabin.

Zephyr: Warm, pleasant breeze. Named after the mythical Greek god of wishful thinking, false hopes, and unreliable forecasts.

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