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Terminology

A glossary of sailing terminology

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Learn the terminology used for sailing.

Aft Inside the boat towards the stern
AHead In front of the boat
AStern Behind the boat
Backstay Performs the same job as the Forestay but is attached to the stern of the boat as opposed to the bow
Battens Long thins strips of usually either fibreglass or wood used to support the sail
Beam Reach This is a precise point of sail and is exactly perpendicular (or 90°) to the direction of the wind, from the direction of the wind. Here the sails are let out half way and the centreboard on sailing dinghies is set to ½ down. Generally for most boats this is an efficient point of sail and can provide for the fastest speeds
Bearing Away The boat turns away from the wind
Boom A horizontal spar attached to the aft of the mast just below the sail. The boom is attached to the sail and keeps the sail flatter when at an angle from the centerline of the boat
Bow The front of the boat
Broad Reach A broad reach is not a precise point of sail and can be any angle to the wind from a beam reach to running downwind. The sails should be let out and for dinghy boats the centreboard is only ¼ of the way down. Even though you are starting to sail down wind a little bit, you actually lose efficiency from a beam reach and will generally see slower speeds
Burgee A flag identifying the recreational organisation of a boat
Clew Bottom aft corner of a sail
Close Hauled Sailing as close to the No Sail Zone as possible without entering it. The sails of the boat will need to be in tight, and if sailing a dinghy, the centreboard should be fully down
Close Reach Includes any angle to the wind between close hauled and a beam reach. Sails are let out more than close hauled and on a sailing dinghy the centreboard should be about ¾ down
Foot Bottom edge of a sail
Fore (For'ard) Inside the boat towards the bow
Forestay Most commonly a stainless steel wire, the forestay is a piece of standing rigging which helps keep the mast upright. It is attached at the bow of the boat, to the top of the mast
Genoa Sail at the foremast of the vessel, slightly longer than a jib and overlaps the main sail
Head The top of a sail
Head To Wind Head to wind is when the boat is facing directly into the wind. While on a Head to Wind point of sail the boat will in the No Sail Zone, the sails will start to flap, and the boat will slow down, eventually starting to drift backwards
Hull Watertight body of the boat
Jib Triangular sail at the foremast of the vessel
Keel Generates lift using the forward motion of the boat, counteracting the leeward force of the wind. It also provides ballast to the boat
Kicking Strap A line that connects the boom to the lower of the mast to provide down force on the boom
Leech Aft edge of a sail
Leeward Away from the wind
Luff Front leading edge of a sail
Luffing Up The boat turns into the wind
Main Sail Sail located behind the main mast of the vessel
Mast A tall vertical spar that supports the sails
No Sail Zone The no sail zone is not a point of sail, but an angle, approximately 40° to 45°, either side of the direction of true wind. This zone is where a boats' sails cannot generate any lift and therefore cannot sail. For boats to head up wind they will need to sail a zigzag course using close hauled/reach points of sail
Port The left side of the boat
Roach Sails are not usually a perfect triangle and include an additional curved area on the leech of a sail, called a roach. A roach provides extra power to a sail
Rudder Used to steer the boat through the water
Run A Run, or sometimes just referred to as “Running Downwind”, is a precise point of sail and is when a boat is sailing directly downwind. The sails need to be eased out fully to be at their most efficient. This point of sail will feel the most relaxed out of the all the points of sail as you're travelling with the wind instead of against it
Starboard The right side of the boat
Stern The back of the boat
Tack An act of changing course by turning a boat's head into and through the wind, so as to bring the wind on the opposite side
Tell Tales Light strips of material attached to the sail to indicate whether the air stream on the sail surface is smooth or turbulent
Topping Lift A line used to hold the boom up while the sail is lowered. Most commonly attached to the aft of the boom to the top of the mast. It is loosened or removed once the sail is raised
Windward Towards the wind