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Glossary

Confuddled about some sailing terms? Check out our glossary below. Some of the items below link through to more detailed articles if one is available.

A - B - C - D - F - G - H - J - L - M - O - P - R - S - T - W

A

Aft - The back of the boat

Astern - Behind the boat

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B

Battens - Thin flexible strips of wood or plastic inserted into slots in the mainsheet to help it form its shape

Beam - The greatest width of the boat

Boat - That thing you sail in

Boom - The spar section running horizontally out from the gooseneck on the mast to which the bottom edge of the mainsail is attached. Also, the noise it makes off your head when you don't duck quick enough.

Boom Vang - Another term for kicking strap, used to hold the boom down, to properly tension and shape the sail.

Bow - The front of the boat

Bowsprit - A spar that extends from the bow of the boat, commonly used to extend the reach of a spinnaker. A bigger version of a spinnaker pole.

Buoy - A float, usually anchored, used for marking a position on the water, or an underwater hazard.

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C

Capsize - To tip the boat in the water until it is on its side

Catamaran - A two or even three-hulled boat (technically a trimaran). Catamarans are typically faster than dinghies.

Centreboard - A pivoted foil that extends underneath the boat to counteract sideways push of the wind and prevent leeway (the boat slipping sideways)

Cleat - A deck fitting which a line or sheet passes through, and can be secured in. There are a number of types, including clam cleats or jammers.

Clew - On a triangular sail (such as a main or jib), the aftmost corner. On a symmetrical spinnaker, there are two clews, left and right.

Course - The direction in which the boat is steered

Cunningham - A rope or rigging system used to pull down the luff (front most edge where it meets the mast) of the mainsail, to flatten the sail. Also called a downhaul.

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D

Daggerboard - Similar function to centreboard, but raised directly up and down rather then on a pivot. The Daggerbaord counteracts sideways push of the wind and prevent leeway

Downhaul - A rope or rigging system used to pull down the luff (front most edge where it meets the mast) of the mainsail, to flatten the sail. Also called a Cunningham.

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F

Fairlead - A deck fitting used to alter the direction of a line (rope), such as a turning block.

Foot - Bottom edge of the sail

Fore - Towards the front of the boat

Forestay - This is the wire at the front of the boat attached to the mast, helping to hold the mast up

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G

Gaff - A spar attached to the top edge of a sail, such as on a mirror, giving rise to the term "gaff-rigged"

Gooseneck - The fitting on the mast onto which the end of the boom slots. It always can move side to side, and sometimes up and down.

Gunwale - The upper edges of the sides of the boat

Gybe - The act of turning the stern of the boat trough the wind, this can be a quick action manoeuvre in strong winds

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H

Halyard - A line used to hoist a sail, usually running up the inside of the mast

Head - The very top corner of the sail

Head - On a triangular sail, the top corner

Header - When the wind moves forward, forcing you to bear away to stay on a beat

Helm - Generally, the person in charge of the direction and steering of the boat

Hiking - After securing your feet in toestraps or similar devices, leaning out of the boat backwards in an attempt to keep it flat.

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J

Jammer - A deck fitting which a line or sheet passes through, and can be secured in. There are a number of types, including clam cleats or jammers.

Jib - Small sail in front of the mast, usually controlled by the crew

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L

Leech - The back edge of the sail

Leeward - The direction away from the wind. On a dinghy, typically the side of the sail the wind is not coming from, opposite to windward.

Leeway - Sideways drift of a boat caused by either wind or current

Lift - When the wind moves backward along the boat, forcing you to luff (turn more into the wind) up to stay on the edge of the wind

Lines - Ropes used for various purposes on a boat. When attached to sails, they are called sheets.

Luff - The forward edge of a triangular sail, on a mainsail or jib typically the side closest to the mast.

Luff Up - To turn the boat more into the wind, or closer to the edge of the wind.

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M

Mainsail - The sail aft of the mast, also attached to the boom. Usually the largest unless a spinnaker is in use.

Mast - Made from metal or wood, the spar the sails are hoisted up

Mast Step - The fitting on which the bottom of the mast sits.

Mechanical Advantage - Using blocks or pulleys and a longer line, a method of increasing a force, for example if sufficient blocks are used to pass the working end of a rope back and forth around and between them 4 times , it is said to be four to one, or 4:1. The person using the line only has to exert the same amount of previous force to now get roughly 4 times that amount of resulting force.

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O

Outhaul - A line or rigging system used to pull the clew (bottom aft corner) of the mainsail towards the end of the boom, tightening the foot of the sail and controlling its shape.

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P

Planing - If a boat is planing, it is moving across the top of the water rather than through it - this causes less friction, but requires speed to start.

Port - The lefthand side of the boat

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R

Rake - The amount the mast is angled forwards or backwards. The rake can be altered by adjusting the position of the shrouds and the tension of the forestay, depending upon wind conditions. It should usually be slightly aft.

Reach - A mode of sailing

Reef / Reefing - Reducing the size of the sail maybe due to strong winds

Rigging - The lines that hold up the masts, such as the forestay and shrouds. Also known as standing rigging.

Roach - The curved part of a sail, or the curve of the sail

Rudder - Attached to the back of the boat, The thing that turns the boat and controls the direction in which the boat is sailing

Run - sailing with the wind behind the boat

Running Rigging - Any lines that control in some way the sails, be it halyards, outhauls, downhauls or sheets. They are not typically fixed.

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S

Sail - A piece of cloth or canvas, used to power a boat.

Sheet - Rope that controls a sail

Shroud - Wires which are attached to the mast from the sides of the boat, helping to hold it up.

Spar - A pole or length, such as a mast, boom or bowsprit.

Spinnaker - A usually large sail, symmetrically or assymmetrically shaped, that is hoisted on the front of the boat when running downwind or almost downwind.

Spinnaker Pole - A less permanent, smaller version of a bowsprit, which the crew uses to set the spinnaker sail.

Spreaders - Horizontal struts extending out from the mast to the sides of the boat, usually supporting the shrouds, changing their direction as they go upwards.

Starboard - (Facing fore/forward) the right side of the boat

Stern - The back of the boat

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T

Tack - The method of turning a boat through the wind from one reach to another

Tack (Sail) - The bottom forward corner on a triangular sail. Not to be confused with tack, turning the boat through the wind.

Tiller - The stick attached to rudder, which in turn steers the boat

Tiller extension - the tiller extension is attached to the tiller which helps steer the boat

Toe straps - Straps to tuck you feet under when you hike or lean out to balance the boat, also come in handy to hold on to when pulling yourself in the boat after a capsize

Transom - The flat or sometimes curved back of the boat

Trapeze - A wire extending out from high up the mast, down the side of the boat, to allow the crew or helm to clip onto using a harness, and lean out, putting more weight outside of the boat than would usually be possible.

Traveller - A fitting on the boat through which usually the main sheet is attached to or passes, to allow it to be moved from side to side to help adjust the sail

Trim - Keeping the boat level fore and aft

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W

Windward - The direction the wind is blowing from

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