The frequent use of boating terminology can cause a frustrating barrier to communication on a boat, especially between experienced skippers, crew and newbies. With that in mind, we’ve created this quick and easy guide to the basic nautical lingo, helping you to become a competent member of any boat crew.


Ballast: Weight added to a boat to enhance stability.
Berth: This one has two meanings, either a sleeping area/bedroom on a boat or a place where a boat is tied up to.
Bilge: The lowest section of a boat where water typically collects.
Bimini: A type of folding canvas top used to shield occupants from rain and sun.
Bow: The forward end of any boat.
Cabin: An enclosed and protected area on a boat.
Cleat: A metal or plastic fitting used to securely attach a line/rope.
Coaming: Raised edges, or sides, designed to help keep waves and water from entering a certain area of a boat.
Cockpit: Any semi-enclosed, recessed area that is lower than the surrounding decks.
Companionway: An entryway that provides access to the below-decks spaces on a boat.
Deck: The exposed and flat exterior surface on a boat that people stand on.
Foredeck: The forward-most deck on a boat.
Galley: An area on a boat where food is prepared.
Hatch: A cover or door that closes over any opening on a boat’s deck, found at the top of the companionway.
Head: The bathroom on a boat.
Helm: The area of a boat where the steering and engine controls are located.
Hull: The hull is the watertight body of a boat that sits in the water.
Inboard Engine: An engine that is mounted inside the hull of a boat.
Jib: Generally the smaller of two or more sails on a sailboat, flown forward of the mast.
Lifelines: Cables or lines used to prevent people or gear from falling overboard.
Locker: An area on a boat where gear is stowed.
Mainsail: Generally the largest sail on a sailboat.
Mast: A vertical structure, usually made of aluminum, which supports sails on a sailboat.
Keel: The lowest part of a boat’s hull and structure that sits under the water and improves stability.
Outboard Engine: An engine that is generally mounted to the transom of a boat.

Propeller: Also referred to as a prop. A rotating bladed device, connected to the engine to propel a boat through the water.
Rigging: The lines and wires that support and help control the mast, incorporating the backstay, forestay, and side stays.
Rubrail: A protective outer stripe of protective material, on the hull sides that helps protect the hull from damage.
Rudder: A rudder is the primary control surface used to steer a boat, located at the bottom of the boat, at the back, steered by either a wheel of a tiller.
Saloon: The lounge. A room in the cabin on a boat that’s usually the primary entertaining area.
Stern: The stern is the back or aft-most part of a boat.
Swim Platform: An area on the back of a boat, to help getting in and out of the water easier. Sometimes fitted with a swim ladder.
Tiller: A handle that is connected to the rudder or a small outboard and used to steer a boat.
Toerail: A rail located around the outside edge of a boat’s deck, usually situated near where the hull sides meet the deck.
Topsides: The portion of a boat’s hull that is above the waterline.
Transom: The back section of a boat that connects the side sections of the hull.
Waterline: The line around a boat where the hull connects with the water.

Beam: The measurement of a boat’s width at its widest point.
Displacement: The weight of water displaced by a boat’s hull.
Draft: The measurement of a boat from the waterline to the bottom of the keel. Total depth under the boat.
Length Overall: The total length of a boat, measurement to include all additional items.
Waterline Length: The length of the hull where it intersects the water, from bow to stern.

Aloft: Above the deck, generally in the rigging.
Aft: Toward the stern of the boat.
Amidships: The central portion of the boat.
Forward: Toward the bow of the boat.
Knots: Term used to describe the speed at which a vessel is travelling in nautical miles per hour. One nautical mile is equal to 1.15 statute miles.
Port: The left side of a boat when facing forward, symbolised by the colour red.
Starboard: The right side of a boat when facing forward, symbolised by the colour green.


Bow Line: Mooring lines secured to the bow of a boat to secure the boat.
Dock: A flat walkway usually secured to pilings that boats tie up to. Docks can either be fixed or floating.
Fender: An inflatable cushion used to protect a boat from contact, which might damage them, with docks, pontoons, piers, or other boats.
Finger Mooring: A flat slender walkway that branches out from a dock.
Mooring: A place where a boat is moored.
Piling: A long cylindrical piece of wood or metal driven into the bottom that is used to secure docks in place or to which boats can be tied.
Spring Line: Dock lines used to prevent a boat from moving forward and aft.

Stern Line: Mooring lines secured to the stern of a boat to secure the boat.

Don’t worry if you don’t remember them all, you’ll learn them on our sailing courses such as our RYA Powerboat Level 2 course.