Sailing might appear as a frightening sport for the selected few, a bewildering world of technical terms and confusing jargon. Honestly, we cannot express how far from the truth this is. Get on board with us and learn the sailing terminology, you might be surprised how accessible it actually can be.

Are you interested in learning the sailing terminology, but have zero experience on the water? Better hush that discouraging inner voice. Just remember that chance favors the prepared mind. Become familiar with some of the basic nautical terms and let our professional crew show you the ropes.

To help you master the basics, here is our ultimate guide to the most important bits you need to know.

Charter basics

First, familiarize yourself with highly practical sailing terminology that you will definitely bring to use when chartering a boat.

Bareboat: a vessel you charter and steer on your own, without a professional crew

Beam: width at the widest point of a vessel

Coordinates: degrees of longitude and latitude

Course: the direction towards which a boat is steered

Crew: a team that takes care of operating the boat and well-being of passengers, including a skipper, stewardess, and chef; but may also be referred to all the passengers on board a vessel

Dinghy: a small boat that a yacht carries to transfer passengers to and from the shore. Also known as tender or annex

Draft: the distance between the waterline and the deepest point of the boat, which equals the minimum amount of water a vessel can enter without touching the sea bottom e.g. major damage. This is very important when selecting an anchorage for the day or night

Itinerary: a planned route of travel on the sea

Knot: a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile an hour (1 nautical mile/hour = 1.852 km/h)

Marina: a place where yachts dock and stay overnight, as well as receive services such as provisioning, sanitary facilities, water, electricity and fuel. Should be distinguished from a harbor or port that might not have all that a marina has.

Skipper: a captain

Living spaces

Now that you know the basics, let’s move on to the proper names for living spaces on board. Some of them are pretty self-explanatory, while others might be a bit confusing.

Berth: a place to sleep on board

Cabin: the enclosed space on a boat used as a bedroom

Cockpit: a place where controls and a seat for a skipper are located

Flybridge: an open deck on the roof of a vessel, equipped with navigating controls

Galley: the kitchen

Head: toilet room

Saloon: seating area with a dining table

Getting to know the sailboat parts

Now it is time to tap into some sailing jargon that will make you feel like a pro during your voyage on the sea.

Boom: the metal spar (pole) extending from the mainsail which is used to control the shape and angle of the sail (the mainsail always has a boom, pivoted on the mast). If it ever hits you on your head you’ll understand why it’s called a boom.

Helm: the wheel of the yacht, used for steering

Hull: the body of a vessel including the bottom, sides, and deck

Keel: a flat blade at the bottom of the boat that protects the monohull from capsizing

Lazarette: a storage space for gear and equipment in a boat’s stern area

Jib: a sail at the front of the sailboat (not a mainsail, jib has no boom)

Mainsail: the largest regular sail on a sailboat

Mast: vertical spar that supports sails

Finding a way how to navigate on a boat

Forget the right, left, back or front … sailors use a bit fancier sailing terminology to express direction on board. But don’t worry, even if you don´t know much about sailing, you have probably heard some of these before.

Aft: towards the stern (the back of the vessel)

Aloft: overhead or high above the ship’s highest solid structure

Ashore: located on the shore or land

Astern: in back of the boat, opposite of ahead

Bow: the front of the boat

Latitude: imaginary circles running around the world from east to west

Longitude: imaginary lines running north-south on the globe

Port: the left side of a boat when facing the bow

Starboard: the right side of a boat when facing the bow

Stern: the back of the boat

Equipment and devices

Now it is time to cover some onboard equipment and devices that are incorporated into or attached to the vessel.

Bimini: fabric stretched over a steel frame, fastened above the cockpit of a sailboat or a power yacht, which protects the crew from the rain or sun

Fender: marine bumpers which provide the cushion effect to a vessel when it collides against other vessel, pier or berths

Gangway: the passageway you walk on from the dock to the yacht

Generator: a machine that creates electricity on board

Rudder: a flat piece located under the boat used for steering

Running lights: sidelights on starboard (green light) and port (red light), masthead forward and aft, stern light, required to be turned on underway between sunset and sunrise

Thruster: a propulsion device at the bow that provides port and starboard thrust, making the vessel more maneuverable

Time to set sails

Are you picturing yourself on a yacht as you cut through the waves on the Adriatic? Manifest that vision into real life, and make sure to remember the following key yachting techniques and maneuvers.

Heeling: a phenomenon when a vessel is pushed by the wind and leans over the water

Jibe: a maneuver to change direction by turning the stern of the boat through the wind

Leeward: towards the direction which the wind is blowing (downwind sailing)

Reefing: a technique used in rough weather, it means folding one edge of the canvas to reduce the area of the sail

Tack: a maneuver to change direction turning the bow of a vessel through the wind

Windward: sailing towards the wind (upwind sailing)

Boat berthing

Anchoring, docking, mooring … a lot of sailors mix up these terms, so let’s set the record straight once and for all.

Anchoring: dropping anchor that latches itself to the seabed to prevent the boat from floating away

Docking: pulling a vessel up to a dock as parallel as you can, and then using ropes and nautical knots to fasten the boat to the dock

Mooring: tying, or otherwise securing a vessel to a fixed object, such as a mooring buoy

Is there anything else to know?

We hope you enjoyed this crash course of sailing terms. Enjoy the fruits of it on your charter and not only will you sound like you know what you are doing, you’ll quickly feel like you’re in your own element! Just remember that practice makes perfect and we are here to guide you through this fascinating process of learning. To get a better insight of what to bear in mind when taking up sailing, we highly recommend you to check out our 10 boating tips for beginners in Croatia.  

And now that you’re ready to start sailing, you may want to discover the 10 absolute best things to do in Croatia.

If you have any questions feel free to contact us at and we will happily assist you with anything you need to plan your sailing vacation in Croatia.

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