Essential Nautical Terms You Need To Know

Nautical Terms

People have been using boats to travel across water for 5,000 years—a tradition that created a rich and complicated vocabulary. Here are some essential nautical terms, boat terminology, and parts of a boat that can help to turn you into an expert seaman.

Adrift — Freely floating without power

Aft — Towards the stern (rear) of the boat.

Aground — When you’ve “run aground,” the boat is touching land or completely stuck

Ahead Forward of the bow.

Ahoy — A humorous way to get the attention of other fishers

Aid to Navigation (ATON) — Devices not part of the boat that help with navigation, e.g. buoys, markers, lighthouses.

Alongside — By the side of a boat or pier

Anchorage — a good place for the boat to anchor, without it being shifted by the wind, sea, or land. Is also used to refer to a port or harbour, where the boat can remain stationary for long periods.

Anchor ball — a round floating ball attached to the anchor’s line, to signal that the boat is anchored.

Astern — Behind the stern (opposite of “ahead”).

Awash — When the boat is so low that water is washing across its surface.

Bailer — A receptacle for removing water from the boat

Bank — A large area of elevated seafloor.

Bar — A natural ridge or bank of sand, often found at the entrance of larger rivers, making navigation dangerous.

Batten down the hatches — To secure the hatches and other objects on deck, to prepare for bad weather

Bearing — Direction, either as shown on a compass, or relative to the heading of the boat.

Bilge — A compartment at the bottom of the boat’s hull that collects water, which must be pumped out.

Bow The forward section of the boat’s hull.

Bulkhead — Partitions within the hull of a boat to create compartments.

Echo sounding — A way to measure the water’s depth using a sonar device.

Fenders — Cylindrical air or foam-filled bumpers that hang from the side of the boat, protecting it from damage.

Gangplank — A walkway used to board and exit a boat.

Heave — A boat’s up-and-down motion.

Hull — The boat’s body.

Keel — The central structural part of the hull.

Knot — A unit of speed, roughly 1.8km per hour.

Latitude — Distance north or south from the equator.

Longitude — Distance east or west of the Greenwich prime meridian line.

Man overboard! — What you shout when someone has fallen from the boat into the water, drunk or otherwise.

Nautical mile — A distance of 1.852 kilometres.

Obstruction — An object that the boat cannot pass without changing course drastically.

Personal Flotation Device (PFD) — A device that allows you to remain above water, such as a lifejacket.

Planing — Skimming over the water instead of pushing through it.

Port — The left-hand side of the boat when facing forwards (or towards the bow).

Port vs starboardPort is the left hand side of the boat, and starboard the right.

Quayside — The dock or platform that a boat is fastened to.

Roll — A boat’s side by side motion.

Rudder — A plate used to steer the boat. Usually sits at the stern.

Screw — The boat’s propeller.

Scuppers — Openings in the walls of the boat, the toe rail, or the bulwarks that allow water to drain.

Squall — A sudden and sharp wind that lasts for minutes, often during rain or storms.

Starboard — The right-hand side of the boat when facing forwards (or towards the bow).

Stem — The forward most part of the bow.

Stern — The rear section of the boat.

Stern line – A line used for docking that leads from the stern.

Stow – To place an item in a suitable place on the boat, for example under a seat.

Tiller — The steering handle of an outboard motor.

Transom — The vertical section at the rear of a boat, which houses an outboard motor.

Underway — Moving, with the boat under control.

Wake — Displaced water (e.g. waves) created behind the boat.

Wash — Waves created by the boat, either behind or at its sides.

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