top of page





If you haven’t grown up on the water, listening to longtime boaters swap stories can make you feel as if they’re part of an insider’s club — and you’re definitely not inside. The truth is, the boating community really is a warm and welcoming one, and boaters are always willing to broaden their social circles for dock talk, one-that-got-away stories and tall tales.

It’s natural, however, to feel more comfortable once you have a handle on some of the basic terminology. Once you pick up a few of these words and phrases, you’ll be fluent in “Boatspeak,” before you know it.

Here’s a glossary of boating terms


A Aft — Toward the back of the boat.

Aground — Touching the bottom, or stuck on it.

Aids to navigation — Artificial objects that mark safe and unsafe waters.

Amidships — The center of the boat, or toward it.

Anchorage — A suitable place to drop the hook based on wind, sea and bottom conditions.

Astern — In back of the boat (opposite of ahead).

Aweigh — The position of the anchor as it’s raised clear of the bottom, as in “anchors aweigh!”


Batten down — Secure loose objects.

Beam — The greatest width of the boat.

Boat hook — A pole with a fitting on one end that can be used to put a line over a piling, retrieve something from the water or fending off a dock or another boat.

Bow — The forward part of the boat.

Buoy — An anchored float used to mark a hazard, shoal waters or a position on the water; it also can be used for mooring.


Cast off — To let go (as in “casting off the docklines”).

Cleat — A fitting to which the boat’s lines are secured. The most common one is shaped like an anvil.

Course — The direction in which the boat is steered.

Current — The horizontal movement of water.


Displacement — A boat’s weight.

Draft — The depth of water a boat “draws” (in other words, how deep does it go?).


Ebb current / tide — A receding current or tide.


Fender — A cushion placed between boats or the boat and a dock to prevent damage. (Note: They’re not called bumpers!)

Flood current / tide — An incoming current or tide

Fouled — Something that is dirty, jammed or entangled.

Freeboard — The distance from the surface of the water to the gunwale (upper edge of the boat’s sides).


Gunwale — Upper edge of the boat’s sides, pronounced (and sometimes called) “gunnel.”


Heading — The direction in which the boat is pointing.

Helm — The control station of the boat (being “at the helm” is being at the wheel).

Hull — The main body of the boat.


Leeward — The direction away from the wind.

Leeway — A boat’s sideways motion due to wind and/or current.

Line — Ropes used aboard a boat. (Note: Never call them “ropes!” They’re ropes in the store; once they’re on the boat, they’re lines.)


Mooring — Securing a boat to a mooring buoy or to a dock.


Piloting — Navigation through use of visual references.

Planing — Moving on top of the water rather than through the water.

Planing hull — A hull shaped to glide smoothly over the water (a “displacement hull” moves through the water).

Port — The left side of a boat, looking forward. Also another word for harbor, as in “returning to port.”

Port of call — A stopping-over spot during a cruise, as in “we made the village our next port of call.”


Rode — The anchor line and/or chain.

Rudder — The vertical plate/board at the stern that steers the boat.

Running lights — The lights that must be shown on a boat if it’s operating on the water between sunset and sunrise.


Set — Direction the current is flowing.

Slack — Not fastened; loose.

Slack tide — Occurs at the moment the current reverses.

Sounding — A measure of water depth.

Starboard — The right side of the boat, looking forward.

Stern — The aft part of the boat.

Stow — To put an item away in a secure place.


Transom — The boat’s stern cross section.

Trim — The fore and aft balance of the boat.


Waterline — The point to which a boat sinks in the water when it’s trimmed correctly.

Windward — The direction from which the wind is coming.

Of all of these terms, perhaps the most important ones for a new boater to learn are Port and Starboard. To help you remember, in most boats the captain sits on the right or Starboard and he or she is the ‘star.’Now you know a little of the lingo, it’s time to get out there and make some stories for sharing with the rest of the gang back at the dock! Next up, how to tie a proper knot!

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
bottom of page