Common Sailing Terms

Amidships - condition of being surrounded by boats.

Anchor - a device designed to bring up mud samples from the bottom at inopportune or unexpected times.

Anchor Light - a small light used to discharge the battery before daylight.

Back stay - A command the captain gives me when a topless woman walks by.

Beam Sea - A situation in which waves strike a boat from the side, causing it to roll unpleasantly. This is one of the four directions from which wave action tends to produce extreme physical discomfort. The other three are 'bow sea' (waves striking from the front), 'following sea' (waves striking from the rear), and 'quarter sea' (waves striking from any other direction).

Berth - a little addition to the crew.

Boat hook - a device that allows your crew to carefully align the pennant in such a manner that it will foul your prop.

Boom - sometimes the result of a surprise jibe. Called boom for the sound that's made when it hits crew in the head on its way across the boat.

Bow – what you do whenever the captain speaks.

Broad reach - what I think of doing when the topless woman walks by.

Calm - Sea condition characterized by the simultaneous disappearance of the wind and the last cold beverage.


A type of map which tells you exactly where you are aground.

A map that confirms to the user that they don't know where they are, while allowing them to convince others that they do.

Charter - the pastime of paying a large fee to take an unknown boat on unknown waters with a strange crew.

Charter agreement - a legal document that allows an owner to collect a large fee to allow unknown persons of questionable abilities to get drunk and sail his boat through unknown waters, while also allowing the other party to agree pay a large fee to get drunk and sail through unknown waters with persons of questionable abilities on a boat of unknown seaworthiness.

Charterer - that person on charter who, upon recognizing the need, locates the chart, folds it carefully as appropriate, and uses it as a placemat.

Clew - an indication from the skipper as to what he might do next.

Close reach - the distance between me and the captain when the topless woman walks by.

Course - The direction in which a skipper wishes to steer his boat and from which the wind is blowing. Also, the language that results by not being able to.

Crew - Heavy, stationary objects used on shipboard to hold down charts, anchor cushions in place and dampen sudden movements of the boom.

Dead Reckoning - a course leading directly to a reef.

Dinghy - the sound of the ship's bell.

Displacement - when you dock your boat and can't find it later.

Downwind - where you don't want to be when someone heaves to.

Estimated Position - a place you have marked on the chart where you are sure you are not.

Flashlight - Tubular metal container used on shipboard for storing dead batteries prior to their disposal.

Gybe - A common way to get unruly guests off your boat.

Head - sometimes a noun, sometimes a verb:

Head into the wind - outdoors, on a windy day

Head off - ouch! or, steer the boat down wind

Pump the head - a manual toilet

Head up - coming to the BVI

Head down - leaving the BVI

Headway - what you are making if you can't get the toilet to work.

Heave to – what happens after going to Bomba's Full Moon Party.

"Is this Virgin Gorda?" - a phrase often heard on Jost van Dyke.

Jack Lines - "Hey baby, want to go sailing?"

Landlubber - anyone on board who wishes he were not.

Latitude - the number of degrees off course allowed a guest.

Life lines - Clever devices that bruise a person as he/she falls overboard.

Luff - a Dutchman reacting to a funny joke, or what sailmakers make alot of.

Main Sheet - Large cloth used to absorb a significant quantity of rain water from leaking hatches.

Main Sheet Traveler - Person or persons who sleep on the Main Sheet.

Man overboard - that person who, while aligning the pennant on the mooring in such a manner that it will foul your prop, dropped the boathook.

Mast - religious ritual used before setting sail.

Mate - sometimes a noun, sometimes a verb:

First mate - when a verb, around 16 years old, and it doesn't last long.

Second mate - usually about thirty, and alot more fun.

Third mate - this is the verb you married, and it's about once a month.

Mizzen - an object you can't find.

Mooring - an expensive ball connected to a cinderblock with a rope long enough to foul your prop.

Motor Sailor - A sailboat that alternates between sail/ rigging problems and engine problems, and with some booze in the cabin.

Pennant - the rope that fouls your prop.

Ready About - A term used when a helmsman tires of hearing a Boom.

Ram - an intricate docking maneuver sometimes used by experienced skippers.

Rope - A sheet, halyard, outhaul or other line once it is removed from a boat and placed ashore. (Purchased for 1/2 price at a hardware store)

Sailing - The fine art of getting wet and becoming ill, while going nowhere slowly at great expense.

Shroud - equipment used in connection with a wake.

Starboard - special board used by skippers for navigation (usually with "Port" on the opposite side.)

Stern - when the captain has this angry look.

Stuffing box – (see - Grind the winch).

Tack - A maneuver the skipper uses when telling the crew what they did wrong without getting them mad.

Topsides - above the waist.

Transom - what alot of captains spend alot of time checking out.

Turning block - that place in town where you turn onto the street that leads to your house everyday on the commute home, and from now on when you do it you'll think of sailing.


Winch - the friendliest girl in the crew.

Halyard winch - as above, but married to a guy named Hal..." Hal, your winch is over here ".

Anchor winch - friendly, but won't let you go sailing as much as you like.

Winch handle - captains are often found holding on to these in the shower.

Grinding the winch.......

Windlass - how you feel after you heave to.