Boating Terms & Terminology
A Glossary of Yachting Lingo
Whether you’ve got a solid pair of sea legs or are brand new to the boating life, you probably know that yachting and boating comes with its own language.
Boating terms go back centuries and a lot of sailing vocabulary has been adopted as commonly used idioms in our everyday life. Many of us use them as second nature without even realizing their true origins. Just for fun, we’ve matched up a few of the most popular boating phrases with their everyday definition and use.
Expand your yachting vocabulary and have fun impressing your landlubber friends with your newfound knowledge. You’re about to get to know the meanings of phrases like “Anchors aweigh!”, “Move to the cathead” and “Crank the windlass.”
Need a Refresher Course on Boat Parts and Basic Lingo? Take a Look at Our Past Posts Before Casting Off
List of Boating Terminology
Abreast- boats sailing side by side at the same speed and position.
Everyday Use: we often use the term “abreast” to mean stay informed or updated. “Please keep me abreast of any changes in the plan.”
Aft- towards the stern (back) of the boat.
Belay- secure a line by winding on a cleat or pin.
Bitter End – the last part of a line or chain.
Everyday Use: When all other possibilities are exhausted and someone reaches the very end.
“They fought to the bitter end”
Cast Off – to remove the line from the dock or mooring. To move out.
Cathead – where the anchor is secured near the bow.
Charts – charts on the water are the same as maps on land. Charting can be done on paper or electronically using ENC (Electronic Navigational Chart).
Come Around – turn into the wind.
Everyday Use: When referring to someone potentially changing their mind or opinion. “They’ll come around, you’ll see.”
Course – steering towards your destination.
Draft – the vertical depth of a yacht below the waterline. Knowing the draft helps to navigate through shallow water.
Dolphin – A group of pilings bound together by cables.
Fathom – a fathom is a unit of measurement for 6 feet or 1.8288 metres. A fathom is typically the length of rope that a grown man or woman can extend with outstretched arms. Before modern technology, depth was measured by counting fathoms and lowering the line into the sea.
Everyday Use: When trying to figure something out, you are trying to get to the bottom of it. “I can’t fathom why she would do something like that.”
Gunwale – the top edge on the side of a boat.
Heeling – When you’re heeling, your sails are filled and your boat is leaning over, being pushed by the wind. To reach top speed, you want to be heeling.
Iron Wind – a nickname for the engine of the yacht.
Jibe – a jibe is a more complex way of changing direction that requires moving the stern into and through the wind and moving the mainsail to the other side of the boat. After a jibe, the wind direction will have changed from one side of the boat to the other. Whether you choose to tack or jibe entirely depends on the situation, what’s around you and the direction of the wind.
Everyday Use: To complement or match with something.
“Your story doesn’t jibe with his story.”
Chicken Jibe – tacking more than 180° to avoid a jibe is sometimes called a chicken jibe.
Kedge – A small anchor used to change the direction or pivot point. Can also be used as an additional anchor in bad weather.
Lazy Jack – A bag attached to the boom for the mainsail to fall into.
Lines – on a yacht or any type of boat, ropes become known as lines.
Mainstay – the main line that is used to support a mast.
Everyday Use: An essential part of something.
“A good quality engine is the mainstay of a yacht.”
Payout – to add slack to the line.
Reefing – reining in the sails during periods of strong wind.
Tack – tack is used as both a verb and a noun.
Verb: to change direction by turning the bow through the wind.
Noun: the course you are on, relative to the location of the wind. You are either on a starboard tack or a port tack, depending on which side the wind is blowing.
Three Sheets to the Wind – sailing with all of your sails (sheets) unsecured.
Everyday Use: Used to describe someone who is thoroughly drunk.
“I heard Bob was three sheets to the wind last night.”
True Wind – Wind as measured on land, as opposed to how wind appears on a moving yacht (known as apparent wind).
Weigh – Raise the anchor.
Everyday Use: Getting something underway.
Contrary to popular belief, the phrase is “anchors aweigh”, rather than “anchors away”
Windlass – the winch used to raise the anchor
To round out your boating knowledge, you might also want to read up on old boating superstitions. Learn about good and bad luck omens that tie into the history of yachting and never be pressed for an icebreaker again.
Ready to start up the engine of a beautiful yacht? Whether you’re brand new to yachting or have years of experience at the helm, we offer a wide variety of new and pre-loved boats. Our experienced brokers are happy to help you choose the perfect yacht for your lifestyle. Come visit us in Sidney, BC near Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal!