San Diego Sailing Lessons at West Coast Sailing
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These terms are not listed in alphabetical order but follow a logical sequence as one might be looking at the boat in preparation to learn to sail. Those terms indicated by an (*) are well illustrated and explained in a somewhat more detailed manner and can be accessed by clicking on the term. One can get a more detailed definition of all the terms by clicking on the word.

The front part of the boat. One might walk forward to the bow to secure the bow line, for example.

The back part of the boat; sometimes referred to as the aft end of the boat. One might walk to the back part of the boat and secure the stern line, for example.

The left side of the boat facing the bow; a necessary term for describing direction while sailing. For example, another boat might be approaching on the port side, or one might need to position the boat so that the wind is coming over the port side.

The right side of the boat facing the bow; a necessary term for describing direction while sailing. Example: “The buoy we are looking for is just off the starboard bow”, or “Position the boat so that the wind is coming over the starboard side.”

Often defined as “the widest part of the boat”. This specification is useful for “trailering” a boat or putting a boat into a slip. Most useful, however, is to know that “beam” is a direction at right angles to the boat. For example, “there is a boat approaching on the starboard beam”. Or, “position the boat so that the wind is coming over the beam”, i.e. a “beam reach”; in this situation the boat would be sailing in a direction approximately 90 degrees to the direction of the wind.

The direction that the wind is coming from; upwind. If you are facing the wind, everything in front of you is windward. There will be a windward side of the boat, the side of the boat that the wind is coming over first.

Downwind. For example, if two boats heading in the same direction, one boat would be upwind (windward) and the other boat downwind (leeward).

1. Commonly used to describe the lower, forward corner of the sail where the sail is attached to the boom or the bow of the boat (in the case of the forward sail).

2. Most importantly is the ‘zig-zag’ course that a sailboat takes to sail upwind; the boat must “tack” or change the direction that the wind is blowing over the boat. To sail to an upwind destination, first sail on a port tack, then a starboard tack. While sailing, one must always be aware of what tack the boat is on and what tack other sailboats might be on.

Port tack
A boat is on a port tack when the wind is coming over the port side.  Very important to know also that a boat is on a port tack when the boom is on the starboard side of the boat. If one boat is on a port tack and the other boat is on a starboard tack, the port tack boat is the “give way” vessel and must avoid the other boat under the “sailing rules of the road”.

Starboard tack
A boat is on a starboard tack when the wind is coming over the starboard side. More important, a boat is on a starboard tack if the boom is on the port side. If one boat is on a starboard tack and the other boat is on a port tack, the starboard tack is the “stand on” vessel under the “sailing rules of the road”.

*Windward/leeward boat
If two boats are on the same tack, either port or starboard, the windward (upwind) boat must stay out of the way of the other boat. In other words, the windward boat is the “give way” or “burdened” vessel.

If two boats are on the same tack, either port or starboard, the leeward (downwind) boat is the stand-on (privileged) vessel.

A fitting to which a line is attached and secured. Cleats may be in the shape of a “bull’s horns”, affixed securely to the dock and used to secure the boat to the dock with mooring lines. On the boat itself, cleats come in many sizes and configurations. There are horn cleats, jam cleats, cam cleats and more. On the sailboat, cleats are used to secure dock lines, halyards, sheets and other control lines.

*Bow pulpit
The railing structure at the bow of the boat, usually chrome on modern fiberglass boats. Lifelines may be attached to the bow pulpit.

*Stern pulpit
The railing structure at the stern of the boat to which lifelines may be attached.

The underwater vertical fin shaped part of the boat that provides stability and helps prevent the boat from slipping sideways (leeway) when moving through the water. A keel helps the boat to sail more efficiently to an upwind destination and may constitute about 1/3 of the boats total weight.

Wires, plastic covered, that are attached to the bow pulpit, and run along the periphery of the boat about one to two feet above the deck. Supported by uprights called stanchions, the lines connect to the stern pulpit. The purpose of the lifelines is to help keep the crew from falling overboard. Note that while lifelines are very desirable to have on the boat, they are mechanical devices that can come undone if they are leaned upon. Therefore, never use the lifelines to lean on or expect them to support your weight. Lifelines, if misused or not properly maintained, are the cause of some sailors falling overboard.

Pole-like supports, generally of stainless steel. The stanchions hold the lifelines.

The pole that the mainsail is raised up along. The mast may be wood or aluminum and has fittings to support the boom, and the necessary hardware to facilitate the raising of the sails with the halyards.

The pole or “spar” that extends horizontally out from the mast and supports the foot of the mainsail.

A single masted sailboat with a sail plan of a mainsail and a foresail called a jib.

The most aft sail on a sloop, this sail is raised up the mast and usually controlled by the helmsperson by adjusting the mainsheet.

The forward sail in front of the mast on a sloop. A boat might have several jibs to be used in various wind conditions. The jib might be referred to as a storm jib, working jib, or genoa depending on its size.


Standing rigging
Stainless steel wires that support the mast, including the forestay, backstay and shrouds. Standing rigging may be tensioned to “tune” the rigging to enhance boat performance. Standing rigging is not necessarily adjusted every time the boat is sailed. Adjustments are usually corrective maintenance and/or to fine tune the wire rigging.

Running rigging
Generally ropes that act as control lines; these consist of sheets, halyards, traveler control lines, boom vang lines and furling lines.

Part of the standing rigging; supports the mast laterally and keeps the mast from falling sideways. Traditionally on a keelboat there are upper and lower shrouds. The upper shrouds maintain a different angle of support and are held out and away from the mast by spreaders.

Part of the standing rigging consisting of a forestay and a backstay; the forestay and backstay support the mast and prevent it from falling forward or aft. The backstay may be “split” and/or adjustable. The forestay will extend from the foredeck at the bow of the boat to the top of the mast. A jibstay may extend from the deck to maybe 2/3 the way up the mast. Other stays not found on sloops are “whisker stays” and “bobstays,” for example.

Support struts (poles) that extend out from the mast to hold the upper shrouds out from the mast and guide the shrouds to the edge of the deck where they are attached.

Lines that control the trim or adjustment of the sails. Sails that are not “self-tending” such as jibs require two jib sheets. Mainsails that have a boom can be controlled with a single sheet called a mainsheet. When there are two sheets, such as control the jib, one sheet is always under tension and is called the “working sheet”. The jib sheet that is not under tension is called the “lazy sheet”.

*Furling lines
One “furls” a sail when the sail is no longer to be used, and the process of folding or rolling the sail up is called furling. Furling lines are control lines that may be used to roll up the jib, for example, and the jib is rolled around the forestay. Some modern boats also have furling lines to roll the mainsail into the mast.

Lines that are used to raise or lower the sails. Therefore, we have a “mainsail halyard” and in the case of a non-furling jib, we have a jib halyard.

Used to guide the jibsheets back to the cockpit. The fairleads consist of a “track”, a “car”, and a block. Moving the fairleads changes the sheet angle and therefore the shape of the jib. For example, one might move the cars and blocks forward in lighter winds and farther back in stronger winds.

A drum mounted on the deck or mast, for example, so that control lines, sheets and halyards, can be more easily adjusted under load by giving a the person using the winch a tremendous mechanical advantage. To get the full mechanical advantage of using a winch, one must pull on the line (tail) while turning the handle after the winch has been properly and safely wrapped. Other winches, the self-tailing type, have a way to feed the line over a metal device and secure it, thereby negating the need to “tail” or pull on the line as it is being winched.

A cross bar extending across the cockpit or mounted on the cabin top that has a block system that contains the mainsheet. The position of the mainsheet can be moved windward or leeward to help in adjusting the mainsail to get the most power or to depower the mainsail in varying wind conditions.

A long handle, usually of wood, that is attached to the rudder. By turning the tiller the helmsperson can steer the boat.

The fin attached to the tiller that extends into the water. By moving the tiller, one changes the angle of the rudder and steers the boat.

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