Sailing race

Learn to Race: Sailing Racing Terms

By: Learn To Sail

Understanding sailing terms is vital to effective communication on a sailboat, and American Sailing has plenty of resources for the new sailor to expand their vocabulary. When you begin to crew or even skipper a race boat, it’s even more critical that everyone speaks the same language because naturally, in a race everything happens more quickly.

Ranging from phrases used in everyday language couched in nautical history, to specific terms important to learn for a beginner sailor, learning to speak the language can be a daunting task, but doing so will make for much smoother sailing when you start to learn to race.

Sailors who race have an even more specific language vital to understanding what is going on when attempting to become the local yacht club champion. As you get immersed in the sailing racing culture, you will understand the commonly used terms on board during a yacht race, but your skipper will appreciate a crew who has done their homework. 

If you want to expand on your sailing racing vocabulary and rules knowledge, take a look at the World Sailing Rules, and you’ll round out your sailing language skills. 

For a condensed primer, here are some of the standard sailing race terms you should be familiar with as you venture into the racing scene:

  • Beat – sailing upwind towards the windward mark
  • Reach – sailing perpendicular to the wind, at an angle between a beat and a run
  • Run – sailing downwind away from the windward mark
  • Start line – the line across which boats start a race
  • Starting gun – the signal that starts the race
  • OCS – “on course side,” meaning a boat crossed the start line too early and must restart
  • Layline – the imaginary line that a boat must sail to in order to round a mark without tacking or jibing
  • Mark – An object the sailing instructions require a boat to leave on a specified side, and a race committee vessel surrounded by navigable water from which the starting or finishing line extends. An anchor line or an object attached accidentally to a mark is not part of it.
  • Mark rounding – sailing around a buoy or other fixed object on the course
  • Finish line – the line across which boats finish the race
  • Protest – An allegation made under rule 61.2 by a boat, a race committee, a technical committee or a protest committee that a boat has broken a rule.
  • Penalty – a penalty imposed on a boat for breaking a racing rule, typically a time penalty or a penalty turn.
  • Zone – The area around a mark within a distance of three hull lengths of the boat nearer to it. A boat is in the zone when any part of her hull is in the zone.