Boating Safety: Part 1 of 16 – Nautical Terms

Going over terms used in boating may seem like a trivial exercise but clear communication between captain and crew, captain and other vessels, and captain and dockhands can make situations flow smoothly. Here are a few nautical terms for this website but there are plenty of others not listed. We recommend referring to Chapman’s Piloting for those not listed. Of course you can always contact your local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadron, or Sea Grant Agent.


  1. Hull – the main structure of the vessel
  2. Deck – area of boat that lies atop the hull
  3. Keel – main support structure of the hull
  4. Keelson – a separate support beam attached to the keel
  5. Stem – the vertical support structure for the bow
  6. Stern – the rear (end) of the vessel
  7. Bow – the front of the vessel
  8. Forward – facing the bow
  9. Aft – facing the stern
  10. Port – the left side of the vessel if facing forward (red light)
  11. Starboard – the right side of the vessel if facing forward (green light)
  12. Transom – flat planking across the stern
  13. Rudder – flat service at, or beneath, the stern used for steerage
  14. Rudderpost – vertical shaft extending from the rudder to the helm
  15. Helm – device for steerage
  16. Wheel – circular steering device
  17. Tiller – steering device that is a post or shaft of wood
  18. Lifeline – plastic covered wire stretching stem to stern above deck used to hold on to during weather
  19. Stanchions – vertical post extending from the deck that supports the lifeline.
  20. Hatch – openings through deck down below
  21. Galley – where you cook and eat
  22. Head – where you go to the restroom
  23. Locker – stowage area
  24. Berth/Bunk – area where you sleep
  25. Cockpit – low area of deck where the helm is located
  26. Toe rail – raised area along the edge where decks meet hull
  27. Companionway – opening from deck to below decks
  28. Scuppers – opening( holes) where water can drain from the decks or cockpit
  29. Port (porthole) opening within the deck to allow light or air in
  30. Overall length (l.o.a.) – length of vessel from stem to stern
  31. Waterline (l.w.l.) – length of hull that touches the water
  32. Beam – width of decks at its widest section
  33. Draft – the amount of water required to float the vessel
  34. Freeboard – the height of hull between the waterline and deck
  35. Bilge – the lowest point within the hull; where waste tends to collect and requires bilge pump
  36. Dock – is the water in which the boat lies when she is “made fast” to shore or pier
  37. Drydock – no water beneath vessel
  38. Wharf – wooden/concrete structure that runs parallel with the shoreline
  39. Pier – wooden/concrete structure that runs perpendicular to shore
  40. Piles – wooden/concrete structures driven into the sediment to which a vessel is made fast
  41. Dolphin – group of pilings grouped together and bound with wire cables to form single structure
  42. Slip – area formed by pilings where vessels are berthed
  43. Finger pier / catwalk – small piers that extend 90° from the main pier
  44. Jetty – dike or embankment that is connected to shore and run parallel to shore
  45. Groin – dike or embankment that is connected to shore and runs perpendicular to shore
  46. Breakwater – dike or embankment that runs parallel to shore but is not connected to it
  47. Line – term used for rope on a vessel
  48. Bow line – makes fast the bow
  49. Stern line – makes fast the stern
  50. Spring line – lines to lead from the bow aft or the from the stern forward
  51. Painter – line that attaches the dingy to the vessel
  52. Rode – term for anchor line
  53. Ground tackle – the rode, chain, and anchor system
  54. Scope – the amount of rode used to anchor vessel (depends on depth of water)
  55. Kedge – an anchor used to get vessel off when aground (stuck on bottom)
  56. Chock – deck fittings with inward facing horns used to hold lines when made fast or anchored
  57. Cleat – deck fittings with outward facing horns used to tie off line “cleat off”
  58. Bitts – wooden or metal blocks used to tie off line when holding a heavy load
  59. Fenders – rubber or plastic air filled objects used to keep vessel off a pier or catwalk

Posted: January 24, 2014

Category: Recreation, Water
Tags: Boat Safety, Boating, Boating Safety, Nautical Terms

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