The A-Z of Sailing Terms and Other Boating Jargon

Are you confused by sailing terms? Do they leave you 'all at sea'?

Can’t tell your boom from your bumkin or your tumblehome from your baggywrinkle?

This glossary sets out to enlighten your darkness...

From Beam to Bridgedeck...

Beam ~ (1)The widest part of the boat.(2) A transverse member that supports the deck.

Beam Ends ~ A boat on its beam ends is heeled over so far that its deck beams are almost vertical.

Beam Reach ~ Sailing with the wind 'abeam' - i.e. coming directly from one side.

Bear Away ~ To steer a boat away from the wind.

Bear Down ~ A boat approaching from an upwind direction is said to be ‘bearing down’.

Bear Off ~ To steer away from an obstruction or other danger.

Bearing ~ A direction from the boat, usually stated in degrees or alternatively in relation to a part of the boat, as in ‘fine on the port bow’.

Beat ~ To sail as close to the wind's direction as possible. Also called  'close hauled'.

Beating ~ Going towards the wind, by a zig-zag course (or tacking).

Beafort Scale ~ A system developed by Sir Francis Beaufort for estimating wind strengths through observation of the sea state, ranging through Force 0 (a flat calm sea) to Force 12 (a full hurricane).

Becalmed ~ A windless condition for a sailboat, either through a dropping of the wind or being in the lee of a land mass or larger vessel.

Before the Wind ~ A sailing term meaning that the wind is coming from astern.

Beds ~ The bearers that support the engine.

Belay ~ To make fast. Usually meant for sheets and halyards.

Below ~ Not on deck; inside the boat.

Belaying Pin ~ Vertical pin to which halyards and other parts of the running rigging are fastened – i.e. 'belayed'.

Bend ~ (1) A type of knot such as a sheet bend for joining two lines together. (2) To secure a sail to a spar before hoisting.

Bend On ~ To tie onto or fasten.

Different types of sailboat rigs - sloops, cutters, schooners, ketches and yawls.

Bermuda (or Bermudan) Rig ~ A two sail rig - mainsail and foresail, both triangular - more commonly known as sloop.

Also known as a Marconi Rig, it's widely regarded as the most efficient rig when sailing to windward - but cutters, ketches and yawls may be quicker when sailing off the wind.

Read more about the various types of sailboat rigs...

Berth ~ A place to moor, or aboard a boat a bunk or a bed.

Bight ~ A bend or loop in a rope.

Bilge ~ The space below the cabin sole.

A twin keeled, or bilge-keeled sailboat. Bilge-keelers are slower than fin-keeled yachts but have the advantage of drying out upright on a tidal mooring.

Bilge keel ~ Instead of a single keel on the centreline, a bilge keel yacht like the one shown here has a keel fitted either side of the centreline to enable it to dry out upright. Each of these is known as a bilge keel.

The increased wetted area means that in sailing terms, bilge-keelers are slower than fin keeled yachts - a price some sailors are willing to pay for a boat that can be kept on a drying mooring.

Read more about different keel types...

Binnacle ~ A container which supports and protects the compass

Bitter end ~ The last link of a chain or the end of a line.

Bitts ~ Pairs of stout posts on the foredeck for securing mooring lines.

Block ~ A pulley.

Bobstay ~ A stay which braces the 'bowsprit' to the hull just above the waterline or some point low on the stem.

Bollard ~ A strong point to secure a mooring warp, either on the dock or the boat.

Boltrope ~ A line sewn into the edge of a sail.

Boom ~ The long spar which extends from the mast along the foot of a fore-and-aft sail. Read more about masts and spars...

Boom Vang ~ A line, usually a tackle for holding down the forward part of the boom.

Boot Topping ~ A painted band along a boat’s waterline.

Going aloft in a bosun's chair

Bosun’s Chair ~ A seat, usually made of wood or canvas, attached to a halyard and used to haul someone up the mast. Unlike the character shown here, an additional safety line should always be worn - just in case...

But there are other means of getting aloft, and you can read about them here.

Artwork by Andrew Simpson

Boomkin (or Bumkin) ~ A spar extending aft of the stern, to support a permanent backstay or for sheeting a mizzen sail.

Boom Vang ~ A line, or more usually a tackle, used for holding the forward part of the boom down.

Bottlescrew ~ Double ended screws, also known as a rigging screws or turnbuckles which tension the standing rigging that supports the mast. Read more about mast rigging...

Bow ~ The forward or pointed end of the boat.

Bow Roller ~ A fairlead for the anchor warp, attached to the vessel.

Bower Anchor ~ A vessel's main anchor.

Bowsprit ~ A pole extending forward of the bow, from which to attach a headsail's 'tack'.

Boxing the Compass ~ A sailing term referring to the naming of the 32 points of a compass.

Bridgedeck ~ The platform connecting the two hulls of a catamaran.

Next: Sailing Terms from Bridle to Clevis Pin...

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