The A-Z of Sailboat Terms and Other Nautical Jargon

Ever been confused by sailboat terms?

Do sailing expressions and nautical phrases leave you all at sea?

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

You'd better read on then...

From Downhaul to Foresail...

Downhaul ~ A line used to pull down the tack of a sail or the forward part of a spinnaker pole.

Downtide, Downstream ~ To run in the same direction as the tide or stream.

Downwind ~ Sailing in the same general direction of the wind.

Drag ~ Resistance caused by turbulence.

Draught ~ The vertical distance from the waterline to the lowest point of a boat’s keel or hull, equivalent to the shallowest depth of water in which it can travel.

DSC ~ An acronym for ‘Digital Selective Calling’ which is a system whereby a VHF radio transmitter can make an automatic digitized call to another selected VHF station. 

Read more about Marine VHF Radios...

Drogue ~ A device - often fabricated with heavy duty canvas and webbing straps - which is towed astern to create drag, thereby slowing down and assisting the control of a boat in heavy weather.

Towed from the stern, a drogue will slow down a boat and keep her stern on to the wind.

Unlike a parachute sea anchor which is rigged from the bow, a drogue does not stop the boat dead in the water.

Read more about sea anchors and drogues...


Echo-Sounder ~ An electronic instrument that measures and displays the depth of water beneath the boat or - more accurately - the depth beneath its transponder. Read more about electronic instruments...

An EPIRB Rescue Beacon is a component part of the GMDSS network

EPIRB ~ An acronym for an ‘Electronic Position Indicating Rescue Beacon’.

This device is part of a system which, once activated, automatically alerts rescue services to your position.

Read more about the EPIRB System...

Artwork by Andrew Simpson

Escape Hatch ~ A watertight hatch fitted into the side of a multihull's hull, that allows exit and entry after capsize.

Even Keel ~ The position a boat sits in when the actual waterline and the design waterline coincide or are parallel.

Eye Splice ~ An eye formed in a rope's end by weaving the strands through one another.


Fairlead ~ A deck fitting used to lead a rope towards a winch or cleat to minimise chafe.

Fairway ~ The main channel into the harbour. That part of an approach channel lying outside of a harbour entrance.

Fall Off ~ A sailboat term meaning to steer a boat away from the wind.

Fast ~ To secure, as in ‘to make fast a line’.

Feathering propeller ~ A sailboat propeller where the blades turn to align with the water flow when they’re not being driven by the engine, thereby reducing drag. Read more about sailboat propellers...

Fiddle block ~ A block with two different sized blocks in line.

Fiddle ~ A rail to contain items that would otherwise slide off when the boat heels. Often seen on the saloon table.

Fend Off ~ To clear another boat or a dock be pushing off it.

Fenders ~ Soft (often air-filled) pads hung over a boat's sides to protect it from anything alongside.

Fetch ~ To reach a destination.

Fix ~ To determine the boats position.

Flare ~ (1) A hull’s upward and outward curves, particularly in the bow section. (2) A pyrotechnic fired aloft, usually to signal an emergency.

Flopper Stopper ~ A device intended to steady a boat in a rolly anchorage. Also known as a roll stabilizer.

The Rocna anchor is widely regarded as being one of the best of the new breed of modern anchors

Fluke ~ The pointed part of an anchor which grabs the sea bed.

The model shown here is the highly regarded Rocna anchor.

Read about the different types of anchors...

Flush deck ~ Where the deck-line from the bow to abaft the mast is not broken by a cabin.

Folding propeller ~ A sailboat propeller where the blades fold around each other to align with the water flow when they’re not being driven by the engine, thereby reducing drag.

Following Sea ~ Waves coming from astern.

Foot ~ The bottom edge of a sail.

Foot block ~ A hollowed-out cheek containing a sheave, with one side flattened so that it can be permanently fitted to a mast or to the deck. Also known as a cheek block.

Forefoot ~ The point where the forward lower part of the keel meets the hull.

Foremast ~ A sailboat term referring to the mast closest to the bow of the boat.

Forepeak ~ The stowage compartment in the forward part of a boat’s hull.

Foresail ~ A sail set on the 'forestay' (see below). Usually smaller than a 'genoa' and often called a 'jib'. Read more about sails...

Next: Sailboat Terms from Forestay to Hove-To

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