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Top 10 Sailing Terms for Beginners

A Guide to the Most Important Sailing Terms


Setting sail on a journey into the world of boating is an exciting time, but it often comes with a unique set of language and terminology challenges. As a beginner, mastering basic sailing terminology is your compass to understanding the unique language sailors use. In this article, 'Top 10 Sailing Terms for Beginners: A Guide to the Most Important Sailing Terminology,' we'll run through the top 10 terms every novice sailor needs to know. Whether you're setting sail for the first time or simply looking to expand your nautical knowledge, this guide should help in communicating with your crew, friends, and family while enjoying a day out on the water.


Port: When facing forward, this is the left side of the boat.


Starboard: When facing forward, this is the right side of the boat.


Bow: The front of the boat.


Stern: The back of the boat.


Point of Sail: This is the boat's direction relative to the wind direction. For example, if the wind is directly behind the boat (and blowing the same direction the boat is pointed) you would be on a "Run" point of sail. If the wind is directly on your bow (and blowing at you in the opposite direction the boat is pointed) you would be in "Irons", also sometimes referred to as the "No Go Zone".


Tack: This term has a few definitions. Changing direction of the boat via the bow crossing through the direction of the wind is called "tacking" (a verb). Your "tack" is essentially another term for indicating the course you are sailing relative to the wind. For example, if the wind is coming across the starboard side of the boat you would be on a "starboard tack" and if it's coming across the port side of the boat you would be on a "port tack" (a noun). As if that's not confusing enough, a tack is also the corner on a sail where the luff (the forward-facing edge) and foot (the bottom-facing edge) come together. The tack of a sail is also on the opposite end of where the foot meets the leach (the aft-facing sail edge) which is known as the clew.


Jibe: Changing direction of the boat via the stern crossing through the the wind. A jibe is the opposite of a tack, where the bow would cross through the wind.


Lines: Commonly referred to by beginners as ropes, which is not the right terminology to use (and one that experienced sailors enjoy correcting beginners on). A rope is a rope, until it has a specific use, at which point it becomes a line. For example, a "rope" that is used to tie a boat to the dock is called a dock line.


Windward: This is the side of the boat nearest to the direction the wind is coming from. The windward side of a boat can be either the port or starboard side as it only applies to where the wind is coming from, not which side of the boat it crosses. For example, if you are on a port tack, then the port side of the boat would be the windward side.


Leeward: The opposite of windward, this is the side of the boat furthest from the wind. For example, if you are on a port tack then the starboard side of the boat would be the leeward side. Also, the nautical pronunciation of this word is "loo · erd".


In the world of sailing, understanding the language sailors use sets the foundation for your sailing journey. To deepen your understanding of sailing we invite you to join our FREE NauticEd sailing community, starting with two online sailing courses and an eLogbook at no charge through our education partner, NauticEd. Expand your horizons, enhance your skills, and embrace the beauty of sailing. Fill out the form below for your free NauticEd membership and online sailing courses!



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