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Sailing Terminology: All You Need to Know

Sailing Terminology: All You Need to Know

Excited to book your first yacht charter, but feeling a little intimidated about all the new sailing terminology? While sailing is a great getaway for friends, family, or even a solo trip, not everyone comes on board with a total understanding of all sailing terms—and that’s A-okay! 

Whether you’re getting ready for your first trip or just want an overview of basic sailing terms, we’re here to help with a little crash course in sailing terminology. From different nautical terms to sailing phrases, sailboat terms, and even yacht terminology, we’ll help you get well on your way to truly talking like a sailor. 

Let's get started!

Getting to know the basics of sailing terminology

Boom, starboard, aft… Even if you don’t know much about sailing, you’ve likely heard these sailing terms before. We promise: Words associated with sailing are not as difficult as they may seem! Here are the basics.

  • Aft: Simply, the back of the boat. 
  • Boom: The large, metal pole extending from the mainsail which is used to control the shape and angle of the sail in order to harness wind power. 
  • Bow: The front of the boat. 
  • Jib: A sail at the front of the sailboat. (Note: Unlike the mainsail, there’s no boom on the jib.)
  • Keel: A flat blade affixed to the bottom of the boat that helps stabilize the boat in the water.
  • Mainsail: The largest and most important sail on the boat (this is where the boom is!).
  • Mast: The large pole that supports all of the sails on the boat.
  • Port: When facing the “front” of the ship (the bow), port is the “left.”
  • Starboard: When facing the “front” of the ship (the bow), starboard is the “right.”
  • Stern: The back of the boat.

Understanding your yacht charter

Already picturing yourself chartering your first yacht? Now that you’ve got the basics covered, it’s time to move on to some more yacht terminology that will help you feel like a pro when it’s time to set sail. 

Preparing to set sail

Starting to get the hang of it? We know we’ve mentioned some pretty fun sailing terms already, but there’s more! As you get ready to set sail, don’t forget these key yachting terms. 

  • Draft: The minimum amount of water needed to sail (basically, so your boat can float and not touch the bottom of the ocean).
  • Heeling: This describes when wind pushes the boat to lean over the water. 
  • Jibe: A sailing maneuver to change direction by turning the stern of the boat through the wind. (The opposite of tack.)
  • Knot: Another way of expressing one nautical mile per hour. 
  • Leeward: The direction opposite from which the wind is blowing. (The opposite of windward.)
  • Mooring: The act of anchoring your boat; or a location where your boat may be anchored. 
  • Reefing: To reduce the area of the sail by rolling or folding one corner of the canvas. This helps make the boat easier to control in windy conditions. 
  • Tack: A sailing maneuver to change direction by turning the bow of the boat through the wind in a zig-zag fashion. (The opposite of jibe.)
  • Windward: The direction in which the wind is blowing. (The opposite of leeward.)

Learning about the wind

Of course, it should go without saying that you’ll never get very far in sailing unless you familiarise yourself with one very important variable: the wind. 

First, it’s important to understand the points of sailing, which explain in which direction your boat is sailing. Next, before you take to the seas for your sailing getaway, it’s a good idea to check out some of the local wind names. Here are some of the basics: 

Local winds

  • Alisio: An easterly wind in the Caribbean blowing towards the equator.
  • Alize: A northeasterly wind in the Caribbean, as well as central Africa.
  • Helm: A northeasterly wind in Cumbria, England. 
  • Maistros: A northwesterly wind blowing in the Mediterranean, more so during July and August. 
  • Marin: A southeasterly wind blowing from France to the Mediterranean.
  • Sirocco: A southeasterly, Mediterannean wind blowing from North Africa to Southern Europe. 

The points of sailing

  • Beam Reaching: A course in which the boat sails across the direction of the wind (i.e., perpendicular to the wind). 
  • Broad Reaching: A course in which the boat sails far off wind but is not quite downwind sailing. 
  • Close-Hauled: A course in which the boat is angled as close against the wind as possible.
  • Close Reaching: A course in which the boat is angled between close-hauled and reach. 
  • Downwind Sailing: To sail with the wind (i.e., in the same direction the wind is blowing). 
  • Upwind Sailing: To sail against the wind (i.e., opposite the direction the wind is blowing).
  • Reach: Describes in what way the wind is approaching the boat.



Feel like you’ve got this new sailing terminology under your belt? It’s time to put your knowledge to the test! Then, check your answers at the end.

  1. What do you call the toilet on the boat? 
    1. Hold
    2. Helm
    3. Head
  2. What is another term for the back of the boat? 
    1. Port
    2. Aft
    3. Starboard
  3. Where do you anchor the boat? 
    1. Mooring
    2. Jibe
    3. Port
  4. What is another way to express one nautical mile per hour? 
    1. Keel
    2. Boom
    3. Knot


Booking your first yacht charter is easy with Yacht4less, but it certainly helps to have a little sailing terminology under your belt. Now that you’re up to speed with some of the basics, it’s time for the fun part—picking your dream sailing holiday destination and choosing which type of yacht you’d like to charter

To get started, head to our Sailing Hub for detailed sailing destination guides, inspiring itineraries, yacht model reviews, sailing tips, and more. 

Looking for the perfect yacht and deal? Contact us today and get a free quote!

(Quiz answers: A:C; B:B; C:A; D:C)


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