Tips for sailing beginners

Key sailing terms for beginners

If you’re new to sailing it can be overwhelming to get to grips with the rules, techniques and equipment – especially when some of the terminology used is unfamiliar. To help navigate some of the common phrases, we’ve rounded up a few key terms that will come in handy whether you’re the captain of a dinghy or a luxury yacht. 

Boat positions

  • Bow – the front of the boat, which helps define port and starboard. 
  • Stern – back of the boat, anything towards the back can also be referred to as ‘aft’. 
  • Port – when facing the bow of the boat ‘port’ is the left-hand side. 
  • Starboard - when facing the bow of the boat ‘starboard’ is the right-hand side. 
  • Helm – where you steer the boat from, this could be a wheel or a tiller and will control the boat’s direction. 

Boat equipment

  • Keel – the blade or fin attached to the bottom of sailboats to provide stability. 
  • Lines – nautical term used instead of “ropes”. 
  • Mainsail – an obvious one here, the boat’s largest and most important sail.
  • Boom – the thick, horizontal pole which extends from the bottom of the mast. 
  • Jib - smaller sail at the front of the boat, without a boom. 
  • Rudder – located beneath the boat, a flat structure attached to help steer the boat. 
  • Halyard – the rope used to hoist and lower sails.

Sailing positions and movements

  • Point of Sail - the boat’s direction relative to the wind. 
  • Heeling - the term for when a sailboat leans over in the water as it sails. 
  • Tacking – changing the direction of the boat by turning the bow through the wind.
  • Gybing – opposite to tacking, changing direction by turning the stern of the boat through the wind. 
  • Windward - the side of the boat closest to the wind. 
  • Leeward - the side of the boat furthest from the wind. 

Other important sailing terms

  • Draft - the distance between the waterline and the lowest point of the keel – the minimum depth of water needed to float your boat. 
  • Beam - the width of your boat. 

Once you’ve mastered these key sailing terms you’ll find there are many more. The more time you spend on the water, with friends and other sailing aficionados, the more terms and phrases you’ll discover, and the jargon which once seemed alien will become second nature. 
To ensure your newly found lingo doesn’t go to waste, make sure you and your vessel are protected, our team of boat enthusiasts can help make sure you have the insurance you need in place.