What Does That Mean on a Boat?

Confusing Boat Vocabulary

Inevitably you will have a non-sailor on your boat and you’ll ask them for something or you will refer to something else and they will stare at you with bewildered eyes. That is why boat terminology is so fun because it is meant to confuse the non-sailor and make the sailor appear to be all-knowing. Well, that’s not technically true but the vocabulary of a sailor tends to utilize words from the English language that already have meaning and give them another definition.

Take a look at these boat terms and see if you have mastered your boat terminology.

Line
Definition: a mark or stroke long in proportion to its breadth, made with a pen, pencil, tool, etc., on a surface or a long, narrow mark or band.
To a Sailor: A length of rope that has a specific purpose on a boat.

Pinch
Definition: grip (something, typically someone’s flesh) tightly and sharply between finger and thumb. Or move one’s finger and thumb apart or bring them together on (a touchscreen) in order to zoom into or out of an image, activate a function, etc.
To a Sailor: To sail too close to the wind, so that the sails luff.

Draft
Definition: a preliminary version of a piece of writing. Or a procedure whereby new or existing sports players are made available for selection or reselection by the teams in a league.
To a Sailor: The depth of a boat below the water. Or, the curvature of a sail.

Lift
Definition: Raise to a higher position or level. Or, perform cosmetic surgery on (especially the face) to reduce sagging.
To a Sailor: A wind shift in which the wind shifts aft.

Fetch
Definition: Go for and then bring back (someone or something). Or, achieve (a particular price) when sold.
To a Sailor: The distance over which a wind has blown uninterrupted.

Beam
Definition: A long, sturdy piece of squared timber or metal spanning an opening or part of a building, usually to support the roof or floor above. Or, a ray or shaft of light.
To a Sailor: The width of a boat at its widest point. Or, the region of the boat’s sides halfway between bow and stern.

Boom
Definition: A loud, deep, resonant sound.
To a Sailor: The spar that supports the foot of the mainsail

Foot
Definition: The lower extremity of the leg below the ankle, on which a person stands or walks
To a Sailor: The bottom edge of a sail

Block
Definition: A large solid piece of hard material, especially rock, stone, or wood, typically with flat surfaces on each side. Or, the main body of an internal combustion engine, containing the pistons.
To a Sailor: A pulley

Pendant
Definition: A piece of jewelry that hangs from a chain worn around the neck.
To a Sailor: A short length of rope or wire used as a connector, eg. mooring pendant (pronounced pennant)

Painter
Definition: A person who paints buildings, walls, ceilings, and woodwork, especially as a job.
To a Sailor: A line tied to the bow of a dinghy used to moor it or (sometimes) tow it

Scope
Definition: The extent of the area or subject matter that something deals with or to which it is relevant.
To a Sailor: The ratio of the length of anchor rode deployed to the vertical distance from the boat’s bow to the bottom.

Rode
Definition: The past tense of ride.
To a Sailor: The line and/or chain that connects an anchor to the boat.

Sheet
Definition: A large rectangular piece of cotton or other fabric, used on a bed to cover the mattress and as a layer beneath blankets when these are used.
To a Sailor: A line used to control the alignment of a sail relative to the boat and the wind.

Slip
Definition: (of a person or animal) slide unintentionally for a short distance, typically losing one’s balance or footing. Or, woman’s loose-fitting, dress- or skirt-length undergarment, suspended by shoulder straps ( full slip ) or by an elasticized waistband ( half slip ).
To a Sailor: A berth where a boat docks between piers, pontoons, or pilings.

Shroud
Definition: A length of cloth or an enveloping garment in which a dead person is wrapped for burial. Or a thing that envelops or obscures something.
To a Sailor: A wire that provides athwartships (across the boat from side to side) support to the mast

Stay
Definition: Remain in a specified state or position.
To a Sailor: A piece of standing rigging that supports a mast in the fore and aft direction.

Tack
Definition: Small, sharp, broad-headed nail.
To a Sailor: The forward lower corner of a sail. Or, to change course by turning the bow through the wind. Or, a course designation according to the side of the boat onto which the wind is blowing (port or starboard)

Traveler
Definition: A person who is traveling or who often travels.
To a Sailor: A car and track system that allows the mainsheet’s attachment point to the deck to be moved athwartship. (across the boat from side to side)

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Bruce
Bruce

Regarding your definition of tack. The definition given above does not cover when the vessel is sailing downwind or sailing by the lee.

The Collisions regulations state: Rule 12 (b)
“For the purposes of this Rule, the windward side shall be deemed to be the side opposite to that on which the mainsail is carried or, in the case of a square-rigged vessel, the side opposite to that on which the largest fore-and-aft sail is carried.”

We must always refer to the official publications for definitions.