Sailing Terminology

 Sailing Terminology

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Nautical terms differ greatly from day-to-day terms. Here are some of the most commonly used terms in sailing that you need to understand in order to fully enjoy the sport.


Also known as the stern, this term refers to the back of the boat.


The front of the boat.


The bottom of the sail that is facing backwards.


Easing refers to the act of letting out the sails.


Bottom of the sail.


The highest, top-most part of the sail.

Head Up

Steer the boat’s direction towards that of the wind.

Head Down

Steer the boat’s direction away from that of the wind.


The helm is the object that one uses to steer the boat. It can be a wheel, in the case of larger boats or yachts, or a wooden stick on smaller boats.


Jibbing is a move where one turns the stern of the boat so that the wind changes from one side of the boat to the other. This technique is less commonly used than tacking.


Back-facing side of the sail, between the clew and the head.


In the direction facing away from the wind.


The side of the sail between the head and the tack.

Point of Sail

Point of sail refers to the boat’s direction in relation to the wind. There are eight different types of points of sail.


This refers to the left side of the boat, when the sailor is facing the bow. Left and right can be confusing in open waters and hence special terms are used to replace these terms.

Port Tack

Wind coming from the left side of the boat.


A shift refers to a change in wind direction. It can be both a temporary change or a continuous change.


In nautical terms, the right side is known as the starboard. This applies when one is facing the bow.

Starboard Tack

Wind coming from the right side of the boat.


Forward-facing bottom of the sail.


Tacking refers to a manoeuver that sees one turning the bow of the boat so that the wind direction changes from one side of the boat to the other. This move is also sometimes referred to as coming-about.


The opposite of ease, trim refers to bringing the sails back in.

Velocity Shift

A velocity shift is a change in wind speed. It can appear to be a change in wind direction initially.


In a direction that is facing the wind.

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