The A-Z of Seafaring Words and Other Nautical Jargon

Are you confused by seafaring words, or is it like a foreign language?

For instance, would you know if your baggywrinkle was up to scratch or your bobstay needed a dolphin striker?

No? Then you'd better take a look at this glossary of nautical terms...

From Topsides to Yawl...

Topsides ~ Sides of the boat between the waterline and the deck.

Track ~ (1) The course a boat has made good. (2) A fitting (or integral slot) on the mast or boom into which the slides on a sail fit. (3) A fitting along which a traveller runs, used to control and tension the sheets.

Trampoline ~ The netting or fabric spanning the gap between the beams and/or hulls on the forward part of a multihull.

Transit ~ two fixed objects seen in line give a transit. Two transits give a position fix.

Transom ~ The transverse flat section that forms the stern-most part of a boat’s hull.

Traveller ~ (1) A fitting which slides in a track and is used to alter the lead of a sheet to the clew of a sail.

Triatic Stay ~ A back stay lead from one masthead to another, often fitted with insulators and used as a long-range radio antenna.

Trim, to ~ To adjust the angle of the sails to the wind by means of the sheets to optimise their efficiency.

Trimaran ~ A sailboat or any vessel with three hulls.

With no accommodation in the outside hulls, they're not as spacious below as a catamaran. 

But these light displacement sailboats are quick - very quick!

Trim Tabs ~ Adjustable horizontal plates on the stern of a power boat which help control trim.

Trolling Line ~ A fishing handline streamed astern.

True Wind ~ The direction of the wind as felt at anchor or stationary.

Tumblehome ~ A unique seafaring word used to describe the section of a boat’s hull that curves upwards and inwards towards the centreline.

Turnbuckle ~ A rigging screw for adjusting the tension in standing rigging.


Under Way ~ A boat is underway when she is not tied up ashore, on a mooring, at anchor or aground.

Uphaul ~ A line used to raise something vertically – the spinnaker pole for example.


Vang ~ A tackle or other device between the mast and boom intended to hold the boom down, thereby controlling mainsail leech tension. See also 'kicking strap' or 'kicker'.

Veer ~ (1) To pay out anchor cable. (2) When the wind backs, it has changed its direction anti-clockwise.


Wake ~ The trail of disturbed water left astern of a moving boat.

Warp ~ A rope used for anchoring or mooring.

Washboards ~ The boards that slot into place at the end of the companionway protecting the boat’s interior from a flooded cockpit and uninvited guests.

They're usually made from plywood, solid teak or fibreglass.

Waterline ~ The line along the hull at which a boat floats.

Waterline Length ~ Often abbreviated to WL, the length of a boat from stem to stern at the waterline; a key factor in the the maximum hull speed that the boat can achieve in displacement mode.

Wear Ship, or Wearing Ship ~ An alternative to tacking, in which a vessel is gybed right the way around until the wind is on the other side of the bow. It was a necessary technique for old sailing vessels that were unable to tack through the wind, and was so called because of the 'wear and tear'often caused during the manouvre.

Weather (side) ~ The side onto which the wind blows.

Weather Helm ~ The tendency of a sailboat to come up head to wind.

Weigh Anchor ~ To raise the anchor, as in ‘Anchor’s aweigh!’

Wetted Surface Area ~ The area of the immersed portion of the hull.  

Whisker Pole ~ A pole use to hold the clew of a headsail outboard when running downwind.

Widdershins ~ An old seafaring word which means to travel in a direction contrary to that of the sun.

Winch ~ A mechanical device - a geared drum – around which a rope (usually a sail or spar control line) is wound which then may be tensioned with a winch handle.

Windage ~ The amount by which a vessel is affected by wind. Also those parts of a boat that contribute to air drag, e.g. rigging, spars, superstructure etc.

Windlass ~ A mechanical device for hauling up the anchor. Can be electrical, hydraulic or manual.

Windward ~ Towards the direction from which the wind blows.

Windward Berth ~ A berth that a boat tends to be blown away from.

Wing and Wing ~ Sailing downwind with the foresail and mainsail set on opposite sides of the boat.

Also known as sailing 'goose winged', 'gull winged' or 'butterflying'.

Sailing wing-and-wing. or goose-winged.The jibe preventer is an essential safety measure in this rig configuration.

Wing Mast ~ A mast elongated in the fore-and-aft direction forming a vertical rigid aerofoil, and which is capable of rotation.


Sorry, no X's...


Yaw ~ To veer continually from one side of the course to the other.

Yawl ~ A two-masted sailing vessel whose mizzen is stepped abaft the sternpost.


and no Z's either.

Which is a shame, as we've now run out of Seafaring Words.

Unless you know differently, of course?

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