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  1. Boating Terms: The Complete Boat Glossary
September 12, 2022

Boating Terms: The Complete Boat Glossary

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For those new to boating, learning the terminology involved in the sport can be extremely helpful to gaining confidence and learning new skills. Exploring boating for beginners can be daunting, especially when unfamiliar with all of the vocabulary involved, but this glossary of boating terms is here to help.


Parts of a Boat


A good place to start is with the proper names for the many parts of a boat. Generally, boats are constructed in similar ways in terms of overall shape, so this can help acclimate new boaters with virtually all boats.


Boat Bow


Simply put, the bow of the boat is the front. This part of the boat is designed on many types of vessels to slice through the water, with a dynamic design to help boost speed. The boat’s bow is always crafted to successfully lead the way through the water.


Boat Stern


Opposite the bow is the stern, or the back of the boat. Back here is typically where the power comes from. At least on power boats the engines and steering gear are most often located in the stern, propelling the boat forward.


Boat Chine


A chine is technically the change in angle of the hull when looking at a cross section. On V-hulled boats it is usually where the sides of the boat meets the bottom. Where chines are important for a boater is that they are what determine the stability of the boat and how the boat leans into turns. Deck boats will have multiple chines to create a wide, stable platform that handles well in most conditions.


Boat Cockpit


Similar to other uses of the term, the cockpit on a boat refers to the area where the controls are located. This can be at the back of the boat or middle in an open space, although depending on the cruising conditions of the area and the size of boat, it may have an enclosed cockpit.


Boat Swim Platform


Obviously, not all boats have swim platforms, but those that do are easy to identify. Swim platforms are typically found at the boat’s stern, and are flat, wide spaces designed to provide space for swimmers to get in and out of the water without much fuss. Many swim platforms come with ladders to help with easy ingress and egress.


Boat Hardtop


Depending on what kind of boat you have, you are not guaranteed to have a hard-top. This is a top or roof added to a boat cabin or console. Its purpose is to protect the driver and potentially passengers from the elements.


Boat Hull


The hull is the part of the boat that directly contacts the water. This is the body or shell of the vessel, and its shape is one of the most important components in determining what kind of boat it is, as well as what kind of performance to expect from it.




Like the bow and stern, starboard is a directional indicator. It simply indicates, if standing at the stern and facing the bow, the righthand side of the boat. Having this shorthand is extremely helpful, because directions on a boat can get twisted around – for example, someone standing at the bow and facing the stern has a different definition of right and left, so starboard clarifies matters for everyone.


Port Side


The opposite of starboard is port. Port refers to the left-hand side of the boat, as seen from someone standing at the stern and facing the bow. Like starboard, this serves as shorthand to help clarify which side of the boat you’re referring to, no matter where you are or what direction you’re facing when on the boat.


Boat Helm


The helm is where you steer a boat from and it includes any engine controls and a wheel, tiller or a joystick. The placement of the helm is different from boat to boat and it’s important to locate the helm if it’s your first time on a vessel.


Driving and Sailing Terminology


Now that you have some sense of the components that make up a boat, it’s important to understand the vocabulary that comes with a boat’s motion, be that under engine or wind power. Controlling a boat’s movements isn’t always a one-man job and being able to effectively communicate with other people on the boat will be extremely beneficial.


Engine Tilt


Tilt refers to lifting your engine up or lowering it down. Typically, this is used for moving your engine as necessary for storage or trailering, and it’s a control that’s important to be aware of, as it’s often associated with other types of engine motion – namely, trim.


Boat Trim


Similar to Tilt, Trim is a fine tuning of the angle that your propeller shaft is relative to your boat and changing it will change the angle at which the boat is powering through the water. As a boat picks up speed and starts to plane, trim keeps the bow down. Think of a boat with the bow up plowing through the water or a boat with the bow down skimming across the surface. Proper trim can impact speed, fuel efficiency and the comfort of your passengers and requires practice to get your boat running at peak performance.




Windward is an important sailing term, and luckily, it’s also pretty simple. It simply means “upwind,” or the direction from which the wind is blowing. The windward side of the boat is also something that can be important to know even when not on a sailing vessel, to help understand the conditions in which you’re operating.




Leeward is the opposite of windward, or the side opposite the wind and the direction where the wind is going. Wind hits the boat on the windward side and crosses the boat to the leeward side. Again, this is especially important to know when operating a sailboat, but all types of boaters can benefit from this knowledge.




Capsize is an important vocabulary term to know, if only so you know that it’s not an ideal situation. A capsized boat refers to a boat that has turned on its side or is upside down in the water. Most boats are designed to handle some sort of capsizing event, with the goal of righting them eventually, but this is still a situation best avoided.