Basic Maritime Terminology

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Chances are everyone finds themselves on a boat at least once in a lifetime.  Whether it’s a sailboat, a rowboat, or mega luxury yacht, the…

Chances are everyone finds themselves on a boat at least once in a lifetime.  Whether it’s a sailboat, a rowboat, or mega luxury yacht, the experience of sailing the ocean (or even a lake) may well be in your future.  With that in mind, it never hurts to board with at least a rudimentary knowledge of some basic maritime terms as they relate to boats.  Even if you don’t have your sea legs yet, you can impress your ‘captain’ (or ‘skipper’) with interesting maritime facts by knowing what the rear of the boat is called versus the front, and some other basic terms.

All boats have a front and back – just like a car – and which is which is usually obvious. These terms are essential in utilizing marine electronics for safety.  In maritime terms, the front of the boat is referred to as the ‘bow’ and the back (or rear) is the ‘stern.’  The term ‘aft’ refers to the stern.  If something is referred to being ‘astern’ it means it’s behind the boat (or 180 degrees from ahead).  When referring to the left or right side of the vessel, use the term ‘port’ for the left side and ‘starboard’ for the right.

If you’re sailing and the captain needs some help, you may hear the phrase: ‘bear a hand’ which means to assist or help.  If you’re coming up on another vessel, you’ll hear ‘bear down’ to alert that your ship is going to overtake or come up to it.

Commit these few – but important –terms to memory and you’ll fit right in once you set sail, notes John Rosatti.  But keep your ears tuned to learn new terminology as you sail and make sure to ask questions if you’re unsure what something is called or what a term might mean.  It’s all part of the sailing experience.

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