Boating Terminology 101: A Captains Guide To Ship Lingo

April 24th, 2019 by

The boating industry is a billion-dollar industry, with over 141 million Americans going boating in the year 2016 alone. The boating industry is on a steady incline in Canada as well, with approximately 12 million Canadians hitting the shores in 2018.

This might be because Canada makes it even easier today to apply for your pleasure craft license online, but it could be due to the multiple health benefits of boating as well.

Regardless of your reason, if you have a vessel and your license and are ready to hit the water, you’re going to need this captain’s guide to boating terminology.


Basic Boating Terminology

No matter the size of your vessel, there are some basics to boating that every captain should know. You need to know the terms for the front and the rear of the boat. You also need to know what standard things like “starboard” mean.

These little terms are the most basic terms in boating terminology and used in almost every captain’s conversation with their deck crew or guests.

The “hull” of the boat is the part that sits in the water on the bow end of the boat.

The “bow” and the “stern” of the boat are the front and the rear of the boat respectively.

The word “bow” rhymes with the word “cow” that you would hear on a farm, and that is how it is always pronounced. The bow is the part of the boat that points forward when you are sailing. The stern is the rear of the boat and the part that is at the back of the vessel when you are sailing.

An easy way to remember this difference is that when you take a bow, to say, royalty, for example, you lean forward. Bow and stern lines can also help you to remember this.

The bow and stern lines are the ropes you use to tie to your boat to a dock. Bigger vessels may require being tied at two different ends to the dock. Or a smaller vessel may have only a bowline or a stern line. And the hull may take up most of the boat.

Even if you are only looking to buy a small pontoon or motorboat, you still need to know these terms.


Boat Direction Basics

Speaking of forward, when you are moving in a forward direction on a boat, the term is “going forward.”

But items located in a forward direction, say in the direction of the bow, use the term “facing forward.”


Port and Starboard

You may hear a term such as “starboard forward” for example. That is a location on the right front of the boat towards the bow.

We don’t say left or right on a boat, we say starboard or port. Port is on the left, and starboard is on the right. Those are the terms for when you are facing frontward on the boat. 

You can remember that by remembering that “P” comes before “S” in the alphabet, just like “L” for left comes before “R” for the right.

But boats moving forward are called going “ahead.” When you are moving in the other direction, it is known as “aft.” You may hear of an expression called the “aft deck” for example.

This is the deck located on the stern.


Feeling Knotty?

Another common boat term is “knots” and that means two different things. Of course, there are multiple boating naval knots you will make during your boating career, to tie up the bowline or the stern line, or just enjoy on a smaller vessel.

But the term “knots” also refers to nautical miles. It can refer to how fast your boat is moving, or the speed of winds on the water.

One nautical knot is equal to 1.15 statute miles. So if your boat is moving at 20 knots, it will be moving at approximately 23 miles per hour. The speed of wind knots occurs at the same rate.


Measurements of Boats

If the directions of and on a boat aren’t confusing enough, the measurements may befuddle you. Every part of a measurement of a boat has a different term that will be important if you’re buying or leasing, or attending a charter.

The “beam” of a boat is the width of the boat at its widest point. So you may hear that a boat has a “10-foot-beam” for example. The bigger the beam, the bigger the boat.

Boats are also measured in “feet” and the “feet” length of a boat is its overall length. The overall length of a boat is also abbreviated as “LOA” meaning, “length of the overall boat.”

The “deadrise” of a boat is often cited in the details or specs of a boat you are leasing, buying, or chartering. This is the degree of the angle of a power boat’s V-shape on the hull of the boat. You might hear someone say or write for example that a boat is very good in rough waters because it has a 24-degree deadrise.


What’s in a Waterline?

The waterline on a boat is something that is also measured because captains need to know how much of the boat is in the water, and how much isn’t. Deckhands that form the crew of larger vessels know this term well. It’s often the dirtiest part of the boat that is cleaned more often than the swabbing of the deck is.

The waterline is the part of the boat that notes how much of the boat is in the water when sailing. The length of the waterline is noted by the point where the hull meets the water and is measured from bow to stern. A 120-foot superyacht, for example, may have a waterline at approximately 102 feet.

That size of a boat may cost over 5 million, or millions more even, but you can still invest in excellence without managing an extreme superyacht.


Invest in Excellence

From your aft deck to your deadrise and all of the knotty things in between, boating terminology may seem like a different language. But it’s very easy to get the hang of it once you start.

Boating quickly becomes an addiction, and a motivated captain will learn these words quickly. And it’s healthy for you too, according to Dr. Nichols, a marine biologist and best selling author of “Blue Mind” that found a scientific connection between happiness and water.

Now that you know your boating terminology, apply for boat financing today and become part of this healthy addiction revolution.