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Useful Boating Terms for Passengers

Useful Boating Terms for Passengers

A responsible skipper always ensures, prior to leaving the docks that everyone on the boat is familiar with the safety equipment and is informed of a plan for emergencies. These are obviously very important instructions.

However, one of the things that many skippers or boat owners are unaware, is that their family or friends onboard, may not be familiar with many, if not all, basic boating terms. Some of these are very important, particularly in situations when the skipper has to give instructions to any passenger.

Here are some words, in alphabetical order, which we believe passengers should know, to avoid a situation when instructions get “lost in translation”, particularly when an emergency occurs underway. If you are a skipper, you may want to keep this article for your passengers to read before leaving. If you are just a passenger, make sure you are also able to identify these parts of the boat so you can be of help to the skipper, especially in emergency situations.


BILGE It is the lowest portion of a ship’s interior, where water may usually collect. When the skipper says, “Check the bilge,” he or she is asking to check that there is little or no water collected in the boat. To do this, you may have to lift a floorboard to see the bilge. If water does collect in the bilge, the boat will have a bilge pump to empty it.

BOOM This refers to a long pole or spar used to extend the foot of certain sails. It helps improve the sail shape and serves as an attachment pint for sail control lines. It is located above the cockpit. If anyone yells, “Boom!” or “Duck!” the only thing to do is to immediately duck without looking to avoid injury.

BOW & STERN The bow is the outside front part of the boat. The stern refers to the outside (offboard) rearmost part of the vessel, while the aft is the inside (onboard) rearmost part of the vessel.


HEELING This happens when a sailboat leans over in the water, as the sails are pushed by the wind. When this occurs, it is safest and most useful for passengers to stay on the windward side of the boat, the high side of the boat, and the direction the wind is blowing from.


LIFE BUOY A life buoy is also referred to as a ring buoy or life ring. This ring is designed to be thrown to a person in the water to provide buoyancy and avoid drowning. It is attached to a long line that is also tied to the boat, to ensure that any person in the water can be pulled out onto the boat. When anyone yells, “Man overboard!” and you are instructed by the skipper to get the life buoy, you should be able to grab the nearest one as soon as possible and throw it over towards the person in the water.


LIFELINE A lifeline is a wire or cable running along the outside of the deck. The wires or cables are supported by stanchions (an upright bar, post, or frame forming a support or barrier). Lifelines prevent crew or gear from falling overboard. (Do you use the lifelines to hang your washing?)


MAN OVERBOARD (or MOB). If someone in the boat yells, “Man overboard!” and you are not particularly instructed to do anything, you can help out by finding the man overboard and keep your fingers pointed to the direction of the person in the water at all times. Some boats have a Man Overboard button, which may be labelled “MOB”. You may be instructed to hit this button, so be sure to know which one it is.


PORT & STARBOARD Facing the bow of a boat, port side is to your left, and starboard is to your right. When someone says, “There’s a jet ski to port”, it means there is a jet ski on the left side of the boat. When someone says, “Swimmer to starboard,” look over to the right. When you are able to spot something on either side, it will help the skipper if you are able to clearly state which side you are referring to – port or starboard. One useful tip is to remember that “port” has the same number of letters as “left”.


WINDWARD & LEEWARD Sailboats move with the wind, making the windward direction an important sailing term to know. Windward is the direction in which the wind is currently blowing from. Leeward is the opposite of windward, thus the direction where the wind is blowing to.


Compiled by Roselle Tenefrancia