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Glossary Of Sailing Terms

Sailing terms can get quite confusing to a novice sailor. Even long time sailors can get confused with the terms. So here is a incomplete list of the terms used by sailors, to help you understand the words you may hear on your next sailing trip.

If you hear a new term that is not on the list, feel free to e-mail me and I'll add it to the list.


Aft - Short for After. Opposite of fore.


Beam - The width of a boat. If unspecified, it usually refers to overall width

Boom Vang - The boom vang is used to adjust the mainsail's twist while sailing downwind.

Bow - The forward end of the boat.


Clew - The aft corner of the sail where the sheets are attached.

Cunningham - The cunningham is used to apply tension to the mainsail's luff when halyard tension may no longer be applied.


Depth - Depth refers to the height from the bottom of the canoe body to the deck. Depth is distinctly different from draft

Draft - Refers to the distance from the water's free surface to the bottom of the keel. It may also reference the canoe body, but is usually noted as such.



Foot - The sail's foot is the bottom.

Fore - Short for forward. Opposite of aft.

Foreguy - Counter acts the topping lift so the spinnaker pole remains a fixed point in space.



Halyard - Line used to hoist a sail to the top of a mast.

Head - 1)The top corner of the sail where the halyard is attached. 2) The toilet.



Jib - The forward most sail on a fore/aft rigged boat.

Jib sheet - The jib sheet has the same function as the mainsheet.



Leech - The back end of the sail, between head and clew, where the battens are located.

Line - A rope on a sailboat. The word rope is never used on a sailboat.

Luff - 1) The forward edge of the sail. 2) To stall or flap the sail beginning along it's forward edge and progressively moving aft until the entire sail is stalled.


Mainsail - The main sail on a boat.

Mainsheet - Control line used to adjust the mainsail's angle of attack and twist, and control leech tension.

Mast - A vertical spar used to hold up the sails.



Outhaul - The outhaul is used to control the tension in the foot of the mainsail


Port - The LEFT side of boat when looking towards the bow. Easily remembered because LEFT has four letters and less letters than RIGHT, and PORT has four letters and less letters than STARBOARD.



Reach - Point of sail when the apparent wind is on the vessel's beam.

Run - Point of sail when the apparent wind is aft of the vessel's beam.


Sail - An area of fabric material that transmits the force of the wind to the hull to create a driving force.

Sheet - A line that pulls in, or lets out, the sail.

Spar - A pole used to support the sail.

Spinnaker - A downwind sail.

Spinnaker Sheet - Same as mainsheet and jibsheet.

Spinnaker Guy - Properly called the After Guy, although seldomly used. The guy adjusts the fore/aft location of the spinnaker pole.

Spinnaker Pole -

Starboard - The RIGHT side of the boat when looking towards the bow. Easily remembered because RIGHT has more letters than LEFT, and STARBOARD has more letter than PORT.

Stern - The after end of the boat.


Tack - 1) To turn the boat so the bow crosses through the wind. 2) The side of the boat from which the wind is blowing (ie Starboard/Port tack). 3) The forward lower corner of the sail.

Topping Lift - The topping lift is used to lift the spinnaker pole tip. It is used in combination with the forguy to maintain the spinnaker pole tip at a fixed point in space.

Traveler - The traveler is used to adjust the mainsail's angle of attack while sailing upwind. Used in conjunction with the mainsheet.



Vang - See Boom Vang.






  • Walker, Stuart H.; A Manual of Sail Trim; W. W. Norton & Company; New York, N.Y.; 1985;
  • U.S. Sailing; Start Sailing Right; United States Sailing Association, Portsmouth, R.I.; 1997;
  • Smith, Lawrie; Tuning Yachts and Small Keelboats; Fernhurst Books; Arundel, West Sussex, England; 1988;

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