The Guide to Boat Parts and Terminology

Learn some basic terminology to help on your next boating excursion

Boats offer a great escape from everyday life. Whether you’re sailing across an ocean or sitting back enjoying the view from a yacht, being on the water can be relaxing. In order to get the most out of the experience, it is helpful to know the different parts of a boat and have some understanding of how they work. Gone are words like “front,” “back,” “left,” and “right.” Instead, nautical terminology takes over and adds to the enjoyment of being on the water.

Anchor: An anchor is a heavy item that is dropped down into the water, touching the bottom of the body of water and securing the vessel. Usually, the anchor is made up of a ring at one end for attaching the line (rope), while the other end of the anchor has two metal pieces jutting out to the sides to help grasp the floor of the body of water.

Bow: The bow of a boat is the front portion of the hull. As the boat moves ahead, this is the forward portion of the boat. When standing facing the bow, the left side is called the port bow and the right side is called the starboard bow.

Cabin: The cabin is the part of the boat below deck where people can sleep or spend time. It can refer to one single room where a person resides, or it can refer to the entire space where multiple rooms are located.

Deck: The deck is a portion of the boat that sits on top of the hull. This portion of the vessel works as a roof to the hull and is also where much of the work on a boat takes place.

Fenders: Made of plastic or rubber, the fenders prevent a vessel from moving onto a pier. They prevent damage to the boat as well as the pier should the two come into contact with each other.

Gunnel: Also known as the gunwale, this is an edge along the side of a boat. It works to add to the structure and provide strength to the overall design.

Hatch: The hatch is an opening that connects the bottom of the boat and the deck. Some ships have multiple hatches, depending on the design and the purpose of the vessel. Going down using the hatch is also called “going below.” When moving up through the hatch, the term is “going topside.”

Helm: The helm is one of the most important parts of a boat. This is how a person is able to steer the boat or yacht when moving along in the water. In most cases, the helm is a wheel that is used to control the direction of the boat.

Hull: The actual body or shell of a boat is called the hull. This includes several different parts of the structure, including the deck, the bottom, and the sides. It is important to note that it does not include things like the rigging or the mast.

Keel: The keel is a specific part of the hull. It is the main beam that runs from the front (bow) of the boat to the back (stern) and goes through the middle of the vessel. It is one of the main pieces of the structure and is often considered the foundation of a ship or yacht.

Line: A line is another word for rope in the nautical realm. There are several different purposes that lines can serve. Knowing the proper knots used at sea can be helpful when working with line.

Mooring: A mooring is a place where a vessel can be secured. This includes all sorts of locations, including wharfs and piers. It can also refer to the actual lines or anchors that are used in the process of connecting to a location.

Port: The left side of a boat, when you’re facing forward or toward the bow, is known as port. The port side runs all the way from the front of the vessel to the back.

Rigging: Rigging can be found on a sailboat and refers to the lines (ropes) that are used to work the masts, yards, and sails. When a person is going up into the rigging, it is often referred to as “going aloft.”

Scope: The scope is often understood as a formula where it equals the length of an anchor line divided by the depth of water below the ship measured from the deck. While it can be a little complicated to understand, it is important that the scope be correct to ensure that a ship is anchored correctly.

Starboard: The right side of a boat, when you’re facing forward or toward the bow, is known as starboard. The starboard side runs all the way from the front of the vessel to the back.

Stern: The stern is the back portion of the vessel. When a person is moving toward the stern, they are moving aft. However, if the boat is moving backward, it is called astern. When facing the bow of the ship but standing in the stern, the left side is called the port quarter while the right side is considered the starboard quarter.

Superstructure: Any type of structure that is above deck is considered the superstructure of a boat. It is important to note that the rigging is not considered part of the superstructure.

Underside: The underside of a boat is the portion of the hull that touches the water. It is also known as the bottom of the vessel.

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