Posted by: Dawna Bate | February 23, 2013

Talking Like a Sailor – Level 1

Unlike what some people will think, this is not about the swear words that some associate with sailors. After we bought our first sailboat, I quickly learned that there are a lot of terms used in boating that make no sense to landlubbers. Here’s an introductory list.


Landlubber – a person unfamiliar with the sea or seamanship.
Captain – the person lawfully in charge of the vessel. I’m very happy to let David be the captain, as he has more knowledge than me.
First mate – the second in command. On the boat, that is me. At home, that is my husband because the dog thinks she is the captain there.
Crew – the workers on a boat. On our boat, I’m the first mate and crew as I will do what the captain asks.


Boat DiagramEast, West, North and South are the same on a boat as on land. That’s not what I meant by directions. Those don’t change. The sun will always rise in the east and set in the west.
Bow – the front of the boat. It is pronounced to rhyme with cow.
Stern – the rear of the boat. It doesn’t rhyme with cow. It does rhyme with turn.
Port – the left side of the boat, when facing the bow. I remember this because port has 4 letters and so does left. Thank goodness I can spell!
Starboard – the right side of the boat, when facing the bow. Right has 5 letters; starboard doesn’t. It is easier to remember port = left.
Fore – towards to bow of the ship.
Aft – towards the stern of the ship.

Parts of the Boat

Boat Side ViewMast The tall pole that supports the sails. Our mast is 55′ tall. There are lines (see below) and electrical wiring that goes up the mast, so if there is ever a problem with them, someone will have to go up 55′ to fix things. Apparently, that’s going to be me. (As a comparison, an average tall telephone pole is approximately 60′. I’m feeling a little dizzy, now.)
Main sail – The large sail attached to the mainmast (the tallest mast, if the boat has more than one). Some sailboats have only one sail; ours has two.
Jib – The smaller second sail.
Boom – The horizontal bar that holds the main sail out to catch the wind. When turning the boat, the boom can come across the deck quickly and if you aren’t careful, you’ll get hit in the head. Boom!
Hull – The floatation part of the boat, or the outer covering of a seed. Think about sunflower seeds. Those float, too.
Rudder – The moveable piece at the back (oops – stern) that is in the water and controls the direction of the boat. If the rudder is moved towards the port side of the boat, the boat will move aport.
Keel – The centre part of the hull, under water, that provides balast and stability to the boat. The depth of the keel will determine the shallowest water you can sail in.
Lines – The ropes used to control the sails – to raise and lower them and move them around. Lines have different names, depending on their purpose. We’ll wait for an intermediate or advanced course for those terms. (Yes, I know what you are thinking and you are right. I’ll wait for another time because I have to learn them first.)
Deck – The top part of the boat, where one would sunbathe or walk.
Cockpit – The seating area of the boat, where one would control the steering. Unlike an airplane’s cockpit, a sailboat’s cockpit is at the stern of the boat.

Inside the Boat

This is the part that confuses me the most. Why can’t these rooms be called the same thing as in a house?
Galley – The kitchen. We’re fortunate to have a full galley – with a sink, a small fridge, a small freezer, range with oven and two elements and, when in dock, a microwave.
Salon – The seating area, which could also include the eating area.
Head – The toilet. I know why they call it this but I just can’t bring myself to use the term. (It is because on old sailing ships, it was located at the front of the boat – overhanging the bow – at the head of the boat.) I’m so thankful that I don’t have to hang over the bow when I need to use the head.
Berth The sleeping area. Our boat has two berths that sleep two people in each. We can also fold down the galley table to sleep two more. And another salon seat could sleep a seventh, although that person would need to be pretty slender and not move much while sleeping. Ideally, if you come to stay with us, you’ll want the fore cabin, which has a door and some privacy. The aft cabin has a door and privacy as well, but you can’t use it because it is ours.

I’ve been practicing these terms so I can sound like a sailor. I still feel like a landlubber at times. For those of you wondering – yes – this feels just like learning a second language. Except that I am still living in my birth country and these words (so people claim) are in English.



  1. Reblogged this on Journey of a Creative Playful Explorer.

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