The A-Z of Sailing Jargon and Other Seafaring Words

Are you OK with sailing jargon, or does it leave you adrift in a  sea of confusion? Perhaps you're a rugged old seadog who is fluent in seafaring-speak.

But if not this glossary should de-mystify most of it...

From Port to Running Rigging...

Port ~ The left hand side of a vessel when facing the bow. Also a safe haven as in 'any port in a storm'.

Port Tack ~ A boat is on the port tack when the wind strikes the port side first and the boom is over to the starboard side.

Port Side to ~ Placing the port side of the vessel against a quay or pontoon.

Position Line ~ A line drawn on a chart as a result of having taken a bearing, along which a boat's position must lie. Two postion lines fix the boat's location at the point at which they intersect.

Pounding ~ The action of the seas 'pounding' on the underside of the hull or bridgedeck. Also known as 'slamming'.

Pre-bend ~ A bend in the mast set by tensioning the standing rigging for the purpose of flattening the mainsail. Read more about masts...

A jibe preventer should always be set on the boom when goose-winging the mainsail

Preventer ~ A line rigged forward to secure the boom in position, thereby preventing a highly dangerous accidental gybe.

With the jib poled out and the mainsail set on the otherside as shown in the sketch - 'goose-winging' - a jibe preventer should always be used.

Privileged Vessel ~ The boat that has right of way, the other boat being the burdened vessel.

Prodder ~ Another piece of sailing jargon, an alternative word for bowsprit.

Pulpit ~ The tubular steel structure at the bow.

Pushpit  ~ A pulpit at the stern.


Quarter ~ The section of a boat, either port or starboard, that is between midships and the stern.


Rake ~ The angle by which the mast is off-vertical in the fore-and-aft plane.

Range ~ (1) Distance from a fixed point. (2) The rise of tide. (3) The distance at which a light may be seen.

Rating ~ A category resulting from the measurement of a sailboat which enables it to take part in handicap races.

Reach ~ See 'close reach', 'beam reach' and 'broad reach'.

Ready About ~ Sailing jargon given as the order to ready the boat for tacking.

How mainsail roller reefing systems work. Highly convenient in priciple, but the problems start when they jam...

Reef ~ To reduce sail area. There are several approaches to this, including:~

  • Slab or jiffy reefing the mainsail, or
  • Roller reefing a headsail around a foil, or
  • Roller reefing the mainsail, either around a spa inside the boom or inside the mast as shown here.

See 'roller reefing' below...

Reeve ~ To pass a line through a block.

Rhumb Line ~ A straight line drawn on a chart between two points. This is only the shortest distance if it runs along the equator or a meridian.

RIB (or RHIB) ~ A Rigid Inflatable Boat - or Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat. Usually a small powerboat.

Riding Light ~ Another name for the anchor light, which is an all-round white light normally shown at the masthead on a sailboat to indicate that is less than 50 feet over all and is at anchor.

Riding Sail ~ A small sail hoisted to enable a boat to maintain steerage way in heavy weather. Read more about storm sails...

Rig ~ The boat’s arragement of sails and spars.

Righting Moment ~ The force opposing a boat's tendency to heel due to the pressure of the wind on the sails. Read more about sailboat stability and righting moment...

Rigging ~ The wire and rope stays that supports the rig. Read more about sailbaot rigging...

Roach ~ The sail area on a main or mizzen sail that extends behind the straight line between the head and clew. Requires sail battens to support it. Read more about sails...

Rode ~ The rope or chain (or a combination of both) that connects a vessel to its anchor.

Roller Reefing ~ A mechanism to reduce sail by winding it up around a small diameter spar – usually of aluminium.

Read more about headsail roller reefing and mainsail roller reefing...

Rudder post ~ The rudder shaft or stock.

Rules of the Road ~ International rules and regulations regarding conduct and priorities of boats in close proximity to each other.

Runabout ~ A small, open motorboat.

Running ~ Sailing downwind – i.e. with the wind coming from astern.

Running Lights ~ Fixed lights on boats to be shown during the hours of darkness.

Running Backstay ~ A backstay that can be slackened or tautened, as required, and can be done with tackles, winches or with a Highfield lever.

Running Rigging ~ Lines usually lead to winches to hoist, control and trim the sails. Read more about running and standing rigging...

Next: Sailing Jargon from Sailmaker's Palm to Spreader...

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