General Sailing

20 nautical terms you need to know

22 August 2019

20 nautical terms you need to know

Before you go on your first sailing trip, it’s important to know some essential nautical terms. Without knowing these common terms, you might find yourself feeling lost when the captain starts throwing around orders. To make life easier for you before renting your sailboat, learn these nautical terms and be the best co-captain you can be.

On board a sailboat, a sailor explains the nautical terms and shows the sails.

Here are 20 nautical terms you must know.

  • Aboveboard

In plain view above or on the deck, and not hiding anything.

  • Abandon ship

This is used to signal people on board to immediately leave the vessel, mostly when there’s danger looming.

  • Ahoy

This is a cry for drawing attention and for hailing a ship or boat.

  • All hands

This refers to the entire company on the ship, including enlisted personnel and officers.

  • GPS

A Global Positioning System is a satellite-based system that uses radio-navigation to provide worldwide coverage. It sends timing, position, and navigation information to land, marine, and air users.

  • Beacon

This is a fixed aid to navigation that is directly attached to the surface of the earth. It can be both unlighted and lighted.

  • First Mate

This is the second in command of the ship.

  • Binnacle

The stand that is used for mounting the compass of the ship.

  • Buoy

A floating object with a defined color and shape that is anchored at pre-determined positions. Buoys serve as navigational aids.

  • Bridge

This is a structure that’s present over the weather deck. It extends the vessel’s full width and houses the command center too.

  • By the board

This refers to anything gone overboard.

  • Decks

These are the structures that form the horizontal surfaces of the ship. These are also a structural part of your ship.

  • Capsize

This is a term used to describe when a boat lists way too far and rolls over such that it exposes the keel. On large ships, capsizing often causes the ship to sink.

  • Careening

Careening is when the ship is tilted on the side to repair or clean the hull below the waterline.

  • Catamaran

A catamaran is a vessel that has two hulls.

  • Clean bill of health

This is a certificate that’s issued by a part that indicates the ship doesn’t carry any infectious disease.

  • Compass

As you might know, this is a navigational instrument used for directions.

  • Harbor

A harbor is a place where ships are docked either to protect them from the weather or just to store them. Harbors are both natural and man-made.

  • Know the ropes

This is a common phrase and a sailor that knows the ropes is essentially familiar with the miles of ropes and cordage involved in navigating a ship.

  • As the crow flies

This is an expression used to define a direct line in between two points. It got its name because this is the way crows travel instead of ships that have to go around the land.

Other important nautical terms

Apart from these twenty terms, there are a few more important ones. These are:

  • Daybeacon

This is a fixed structure which is unlighted and has a dayboard for the identification of the time of day.

  • Deckhand

This refers to the person whose job is to aid the deck supervisor in various tasks such as maintenance, anchoring, mooring, and other activities happening on deck.

  • Flank

This is the maximum speed of the vessel. It is even faster than the vessel’s full speed.

  • Davy Jones

This is a common idiom that refers to the sea’s bottom.

  • Azimuth compass

This is an instrument used for ascertaining the sun’s position in accordance to the magnetic north.

We’re certain that with these essential nautical terms, you’ll feel more comfortable and confident hitting the waters for the first time. Memorise these terms and you’ll have nothing to worry about except taking in the magical views and the perfect breeze.