Sailing is a sport that has a lot of terms that may sound like a foreign language. Port, Starboard, beam, stern, bow, etc. Some of these terms, you might have heard of before, but many of them will be new to you.
Below are some of the most basic parts of a sailboat.
Port side – This is the left side of the boat, when viewed from the back of the boat looking forward.
Starboard side – This is the right side of the boat, when viewed from the back of the boat looking forward.
Stern – This is the rear of the boat.
Bow – This is the front of the boat.
Beam – This is the widest point of the boat.
LOA – Length Overall – Length of the boat at its longest point. Most of the time, the boat is longer above the water than it is at the waterline and below.
Cockpit – This is the part of the boat where the crew sits when riding in the boat. This is usually in the rear of the boat but could be in the center, depending on the style of boat.
Rudder – Located below the waterline and connected to the stern of the boat, this is used to make the boat turn. It is connected to either a steering wheel or a tiller. When the rudder is turned from side to side, it changes the angle that the water flows under the boat. This change in the direction of the water flow is what makes the boat turn.
Tiller – This is usually a wooden lever or arm that is connected to the rudder and allows you to turn the boat.
Helm – This is the area of the boat that the person who is piloting the boat is either sitting or standing.
Helmsman – The person that is piloting the boat and at the helm.
Steering wheel – This is connected to the rudder via cables or pulleys and is used in place of a tiller to steer the boat.
Hull – This is the entire body of the boat.
Deck – This is the flat surface on the top of the boat.
Keel – This is a fin connected to the bottom of the sailboat. The keel is weighted and provides a counter-balance to the sail and the wind blowing against the sail. Without this keel, the boat would tip over when wind blew against it. The keel comes in many shapes and sizes and does several other important things to allow you to sail better, these will be covered in other posts.
Bow Pulpit – This is the metal tubing that surrounds the bow (front) of the boat.
Stern Pulpit – The metal tubing that surrounds the stern (rear) of the boat.
Lifeline – A wire cable running from the bow pulpit to the stern pulpit and connected to the deck in several different locations. This is a safety feature designed to keep people from falling off the deck of a sailboat.
Stanchions – Two foot tall metal tubing the is used to connect the lifeline to the deck.
Even more parts of a sailboat
For this next part, I am going to talk about what is above the deck, the rigging. The rig includes the sails, the supporting cables, and everything that controls all of this. These are the parts of a sailboat that make it a sailboat and not just a mere boat.
Everything we went over, prior to this, had fairly normal, easy to remember names. Now we are going to learn about some more complicated sounding parts of a sailboat. Even though the names are complicated, it is stuff that you will use every time you sail, so it will be easy to remember. Ready? Great, let’s learn more!
Mast – This is the main part of the sailboat that makes it look like a sailboat and also pretty much everything else is attached to it.
Boom – The horizontal beam that extends out from the mast towards the stern (rear) of the boat.
Standing Rigging – In order for the mast and the boom to remain upright, something has to hold it up. This is what the standing rigging does. Many of the cables that you see on a sailboat are only there to help hold the mast up.
Shrouds – These are the cables that run down the port (left) and starboard (right) side of the mast. These keep the mast from falling to the left or right. They are attached to the deck on the sides of the boat. Sometimes there are upper and lower shrouds, depending on the height of the mast.
Spreaders – These are attached to the mast about halfway down and push the shrouds out further than they would be if they were attached straight down to the deck. This provides a more effective angle of support for the shroud.
Chainplates – These are plates on the deck that provide a great anchor for the shrouds, and stays, to attach too. Without these, it would be hard to attach a cable to the deck and it not get ripped out.
Backstay – This is a wire cable that runs from the top of the mast to the stern (rear) of the boat. This keeps the mast from falling forward.
Forestay (aka: Headstay) – This is a wire cable that runs from the top of the mast to the bow (front) of the boat. This keeps the mast from falling backwards.
Mainsail – This is the large sail that is attached to the mast and the boom. This sail is usually the first sail raised and does the majority of the work when sailing.
Batten – These are either plastic, wood or possibly fiberglass. They are inserted into pockets on the mainsail and are used to help shape the sail. We will discuss why the shape of the sail is important in another post.
Jib – This is a sail that is attached to the forestay (headstay). There are many different sizes of sails that can go on this forestay, depending on the type of sailing being done or the weather. This sail is a very important sail and used almost as much as the mainsail.
Roller Furling Drum – This is a tube that fits over the forestay and one end of the jib is inserted inside it. This gives the sailor the ability roll up the jib and wrap it around the forestay for storage. This is the easiest way to store the job when not in use. Some newer masts are actually using a similar system for the mainsail, but that is only the newer boats.
Gooseneck – This is a turnbuckle that attaches the boom to the mast. The boom is not attached in a fixed manner, it uses this buckle to allow it to move around and be somewhat flexible. The problem with this is that it also allows the boom to be pulled up when the sail is full.
Boom Vang – This is a series of pulleys and ropes that are used to hold the boom down when the sail is full. This helps the gooseneck be flexible without allowing the boom to just fold up.
Boom Topping Lift – This is a wire cable that runs from the top of the mast all the way down the mainsail to the boom. It attaches on the end of the boom and keeps the boom from falling down. So the Boom Vang keeps the boom from going up and the Topping Lift keeps the boom from falling down.
Now you know a lot more about the rigging used on a sailboat. You can see that these terms are strange for a novice sailor to learn, but trust me, you get used to them, it just takes practice. There are more parts, but I want to go over those parts in more detail in other posts. I know I was overloaded when I first went to training and wished I had spent more time learning these terms. Sailing class is much more fun when you can learn to sail and not have to worry about what they are talking about!
Do you have more to add about the parts of a sailboat or do you have a question about this post? Please leave a comment and make this post even better and more educational.