Basic sailing terms you need to know

By Kanika from SamBoat - March 9, 2022

Basic sailing terms are essential for safe and appropriate sailing. Knowing how to use these terms are key to good communication which will allow you to better understand what the situation is onboard. Even if using these terms might sound corny, they have been around for centuries and using them confidently will definitely improve communication while sailing. To help you in your sailing journey, we compiled a list of basic terms you need to know before you set sail.

Aft or Stern

If you decide to rent a boat with SamBoat, you might want to know how to call the different parts or directions of the boat. The term “aft” is used to designate the back of the boat. Another common word to describe the back of the vessel is the term “stern”.


On the contrary the bow is the term used to designate the front of the boat. Knowing where the bow of the boat is located will help you use the other nautical terms too.


Knowing what port means is very important. It designates the left side of the boat according to the bow. It’s quite important as orientation can be confusing if you use basic words like “left” and “right”, and some actions require you to be quite reactive while sailing.


Similarly but oppositely, the term “Starboard” designates the right side of the boat when facing the bow. For the same reasons, it’s a useful term to know when you try to communicate in open waters.

Terms for points of sail

There are 8 terms to know if you want to understand your position according to the direction of the wind. These sailing terms are really important to comprehend the situation and to make good decisions for the direction you should take. For instance, being positioned in Irons means that you are in the no go zone (or position).


This term describes the object (wheel or stick) to steer the boat in whichever direction the person operating the boat wants to go. The helm is mechanically attached to the “rudder”, the boat’s fin that makes it possible to change direction.


The keel is a heavy fin located at the bottom sticking vertically to stabilise the boat. It is the main reason that it is difficult to capsize a boat as it keeps the weight in the middle of the boat.

The Jib sail

The jib sail has a smaller sail sheet than the main one and doesn’t have a boom. It’s located closest to the bow. It is used to control the power of the sailboat by tightening the luff and therefore giving more energy, enabling the boat to take speed. 

The main sail

This is the bigger sail of the boat and therefore the most important one. This sail holds the mainsheet that gives a lot of speed when it’s tightened correctly. The main sail has a boom unlike the jib sail.

Windward and Leeward

When the boat is absorbing the wind from one of its sides, it usually leans towards the other side. The leeward side is the lower side, closest to the water. Oppositely, the windward side is the highest one, the one where the wind is coming from.  

If you want to know more about sailing, we strongly recommend picking out a book on sailing by checking our article on the top books every sailor must read.

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