The A-Z Glossary of Nautical Terms and Other Boating Jargon

Do you need a glossary of nautical terms, or are you a rugged old seadog to whom they're second nature?

Do you know your boom from your bumkin, or your tumblehome from your baggywrinkle?

If not, then this glossary of seafaring terms should cast some light on your darkness...

From Clew to Double Ender...

Clew ~ The aft lower corner of a sail, where the sheet is bent on, if the sail is not set on a boom.

Clinker Build ~ A hull built with overlapping planks, as opposed to a carvel build.

Clipper Bow ~ The reversed ‘S’ shaped bow, reminiscent of tea clippers.

Close Hauled ~ See 'beat'.

Close Reach ~ A point of sail somewhere between a beat and a beam reach.

Close Reefed ~ A sailboat term indicating that all reefs have been pulled in.

Close Winded ~ A sailboat capable of sailing well to windward. A desirable feature indeed.

Coachroof ~ The part of the deck structure that’s raised to provide for headroom in the accommodation below.

Coaming ~ A raised edge usually found around deck hatches and cockpits intended to keep water out.

Cockpit ~ A small area in or towards the stern of a boat where the helm is located. Read about cockpit locations and layouts...

Colregs ~ Abbreviated form referring to the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea, or IRPCS.

Come About ~ Changing tack by bringing the bows through the wind. Also called ‘tacking’ or ‘going about’.

Companionway ~ The stairway between the cockpit and the accommodation below decks.

Counter ~ The aft section of a boat from the waterline to the overhang of the stern.

Course ~ The direction or path along which a boat is moving.

Cracking off ~ A colloquialism meaning 'bearing away from the wind'.

Cringle ~ An eye in the edge of a sail through which a reefing line can be reeved.

Cross Sea ~ A rough sea caused by opposing wind and waves.

Crosstree ~ A strut fitted on the mast athwartship, opposing the inward thrust of the shrouds.

The cruising chute - or genikker, or assymetric spinnaker as they're alternatively known - can be used off the wind but not dead downwind like a conventional spinnaker.

Cruising Chute ~ A sail, a spinnaker/genoa compromise, that is tacked at the bow but without a pole to support the clew.

Also known as a ginnaker, this sail needs only a sheet and a tackline to control it along with a snuffer when you want to drop it.

Cruising chutes can't be sailed dead downwind as can a conventional poled-out spinnaker, but many cruising sailors are prepared to forego this price for the benefit have not having a pole, a pole uphaul and downhaul and a pair of guys to worry about.

Read more about spinnakers...

Artwork by Andrew Simpson

Cutter ~ A sailboat rig in which a pair of headsails are set forward of the mast, one behind the other. Read more about the cutter rig...

Can't find what you're looking for in this glossary of nautical terms? Try typing it in the Search Box at the foot of the page...


Daggerboard ~ A flat, non-pivoting board that's raised and lowered as required through a slot in a hull. Its purpose is to resist leeway.

Davits ~ Supports fitted to the stern of a boat for carrying a tender.

Day Sailer ~ A small open sailboat with no accommodation for overnighting. Read about sailing small boats...

Dead Reckoning ~ The type of navigational computation which attempts to establish a position by the course steered and distance run through the water.

Dead Run ~ Running with the wind blowing from exactly aft, in line with the centreline of the boat.

Deck ~ A boats working platform.

Deck Head ~ The underside of the deck

Deviation ~ The effect of stray magnetic forces on the compass needle.

Displacement ~ The weight of the water displaced by the hull of a floating boat. Read about heavy and light displacement cruising boats...

Displacement Mode ~ When a vessel is underway and not planning it is operating in displacement mode.

Ditty Bag ~ A small canvas bag to hold personal belongings.

Dockage ~ The fee paid for the use of a dock

Dog Watch ~ Traditionally there are five four-hour watch periods and two two-hour watch periods (from 1600hrs to 1800hrs and 1800hrs to 2000hrs. These shorter watches are known as dog watches.

Dolphin Striker ~ A short spar supporting a boat’s bowsprit, also known as a martingale.

Double-ender ~ A hull form with a stem-like stern.

The Erin Stephens designed Dorade vent first appeared in 1929 on his yawl 'Dorade'.

Dorade ~ A self-draining deck ventilator which can be left open during periods of rain or heavy weather.

Cleverly designed to allow fresh air to pass below decks while diverting the water back on deck.

Artwork by Andrew Simpson

Next: Glossary of Nautical Terms from Downhaul to Foresail...

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