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sailing terms 101

Knot shore about sailing? These terms can help

By: Fran Jackson, Broadreach HQ High School Adventures, Middle School, Sailing

You’ll notice as soon as you step onboard any sailboat or any boat at all there are some pretty weird (and wonderful) names for just about everything on board. From the bow to stern or galley to head, all these strange names derive from sailing throughout the years. Here are some of the main ones and a little insight about where the name comes from – hopefully they will help you before stepping aboard a sailboat on a Broadreach summer sailing program!

Stern: Meaning the back of the boat, originates from around the 13th century from a Scandinavian word meaning ‘to steer,’ as traditionally all boats were helmed (steered) from the back of the boat.

Bow: Pronounced with a short ‘o’ and means the front of a boat. A way to remember this is by looking at the shape of the boat, the bow often is pointed in shape to help with moving through the water smoothly, whereas the stern is a blunt squared shape.

Helm: The instrument by which the vessel is steered this could be a tiller or most likely a wheel. If you are the one steering the boat you would be known as the helmsman! The word helm comes from a very old Norse or viking word, meaning ‘to steer.’

Port and starboard: These are terms used to describe each side of the boat or for directions. When facing the bow of a vessel, port refers to the left side and starboard the right. You may ask: why not just use left and right? Because, depending on which way you face your right and left changes, whereas port and starboard always remain the same. If you were using left and right for directions, you could confuse your helmsman pretty quickly!

The name starboard came about years ago when an oar out of the right side was used for steering, leading to the right side being referred to as the steering side. This soon became starboard by combining two old English words stéor (meaning “steer”) and bord (meaning “the side of a boat”). Port was originally called ‘larbord’ but got confused with starboard as it sounds so similar and was soon changed. Seeing as it was the side of the boat which was always against the dock, using port instead seemed to make sense!

Port and starboard are really important to remember but can be a little tricky, so here is one easy way to get it right: port is made up of four letters and left is also made up of four letters. If you can remember which side is the port side, then you are halfway there!

Galley: This is the kitchen on a boat and, in the past, used to name kitchens on warships. Did you know, though, that kitchens on planes and trains are also known as galleys? You can also have a galley kitchen in your house, and the name refers to a streamlined, narrow kitchen design.

The head: This is the toilet. This name comes from the long-past days of sailing, when there was one spot on the boat where you could almost guarantee you would be downwind of your crewmates to go to the toilet – this was the very front by the figurehead! As a result, the toilet became forever known as ‘the head.’ Obviously things have changed a lot since then, and the head on a boat can now be just about anywhere below deck, and is a lot more private.

There are so many other terms that you will come across during a Broadreach program, from sailing-specific terms for lines, sails and knots, to many more boat parts. But don’t worry: before long, you will soon be a pro and will be on your way to becoming an amazing sailor!

Having always been fascinated with the ocean, Fran learned to scuba dive as soon as she could, later becoming a PADI Scuba Instructor and teaching diving in incredible places around the world. Through leading trips for Broadreach, she discovered a passion for sailing, too, leading her to become certified as an Offshore Skipper. Fran has been leading diving and sailing trips for Broadreach for more than 5 years now!


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