One Hundred Boating Terms Everyone Should Know

April 21, 2022

Ahoy, mateys! New to the boating world? You’re not alone — in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we know a lot of you bought boats for the first time. Congratulations! We may be slightly partial, but we think it’s an excellent way to spend your hard-earned free time. That said, being a responsible boat owner does take a little bit of work — and that includes learning the lingo. Not only are you going to want to know what it means when someone says they need to hit the head, but it’s also an issue of safety. The more you know, the better prepared you are in the event of an accident — or to avoid one. Read below for 100 terms you should know before taking your boat out for its next spin.

AbaftBehind the boat, or toward the rear
AbeamOn either side of the boat
AftBack (or stern) of the boat
Aids to navigationArtificial markers indicating safe or unsafe waters
AISAutomatic identification system that allows you to identify any vessel in your immediate area that is broadcasting an AIS signal
All-round lightA light shining unbroken over the horizon at an arc of 360 degrees
Anchor lightA light that must be shown when anchored at night
AsternBack of the boat
AutopilotSelf-steering devices that can steer your vessel on a preset course or heading
AweighThe position of an anchor when it is raised above the bottom
BathymetryThe measurement of underwater depths, usually shown as contour lines and depth soundings
Batten downSecure loose objects and hatches on the boat
BeamWidest part of the boat
BearingThe direction of an object, either shown on the chart as a true bearing or relative to the heading of the boat
BightThe part of rope or line on which a knot is formed
BilgeThe interior of the hull below the floorboards
Bilge PumpClears standing water from the boat
Bitter endLast part of the rope or chain
Boat hookA tool used as a docking and undocking aid, usually with a blunt tip for pushing during undocking and a hook for docking
Boat switchA panel used to control the vessel’s electrical functions
Boot topThe area between the water lines of a ship when fully loaded and when unloaded
BowFront of the boat
BowlineA knot that forms a loop at the end of a line
Center console steerBoat steered via a steering wheel located at the console at the center of the boat
Chart datumThe baseline of tidal height in tide tables
ChartplotterA device that integrates GPS data with electronic navigational charts; most chartplotters also offer sonar support
CleatA fixture used to secure a boat to a dock
CockpitsThe area on a vessel where the main consoles are located
COLREGsCollision regulations, or the laws that prevent collisions on the water
Come toPoint up closer to the wind
CurrentsThe horizontal movement of water
Docking lightHeadlights on a boat that are meant to be used in close quarters
DraftThe minimum amount of water a boat needs to be able to float
DSPDigital signal processing is the technology that is built into Fusion’s premium stereos that ensures optimized audio reproduction by minimizing distortion, customizing audio profiles based on specific speaker locations and protecting speakers from being overloaded with excess power
Ebb tideWhen the water goes back away from the shore (opposite of rising tide)
EPIRBEmergency position indicating radio beacon
FishfinderA device that uses sonar waves to detect fish and other objects underwater
Flood tideWhen water comes to the shore (rising tide)
FlybridgeAn elevated open deck above the main bridge of a boat, usually equipped with duplicate vessel controls
ForwardToward the direction of the bow
Four-cycle motorInternal combustion engine in which the piston completes four separate strokes while turning the crankshaft
FreeboardThe distance from the waterline to the deck of the vessel
GalleyThe cooking area of a vessel
GibA metal fitting that holds a member in place or presses two members together
Give-wayTo slow down, stop or alter course to avoid the path of another boat
Go asternTo go backwards, or reverse engines
GunwaleThe top of each of the sides of the boat
HeadThe toilet on a boat
Heave toSteering into the wind
HelmThe area from which you steer the boat
HullThe part of your boat that rides both in and on top of the water
ImpellerPart of the boat’s engine cooling system that pumps cold water into it to cool it down
Inboard motorAn engine enclosed within the hull of the boat
KnotsA unit of speed — one knot is one nautical mile per hour
LanyardA small line joining an object to the boat
LeadsMarkers used in channels or bar entrances that indicate the middle of the channel
Lee shoreThe shore the wind is blowing toward
LeewardThe downwind side of the boat
Live sonarTechnology that allows you to see what’s happening around your boat in real time
Lower unitPart of the outboard that takes the power and rotation from the engine and transfers them to the prop shaft and the propeller
Magnetic northThe direction in which all compass needles point
MFDMultifunction display— typically a chartplotter at its core with support for multitudes of capabilities, like sonar, radar, autopilot, vessel data, audio control, etc.
Nautical chartA type of map used by mariners that shows detailed water and shoreline features, such as depths, aids to navigation, obstructions and other features essential for navigation
Nautical mileHistorically defined as the meridian arc length corresponding to one minute of latitude; today the international nautical mile is defined as 1,852 meters (1.15 miles)
Navigation lightA light affixed to a boat that shows everyone the size and type of vessel, whether you’re underway or at anchor and what direction you’re traveling
On the quarterToward the stern
Open watersWaters that are not enclosed
Outboard motorMotor designed to be affixed to the outside of the hull on the transom
OutriggersLong poles mounted to a boat that are swung out to the sides and are designed to hold fishing lines
PFDA personal flotation device, like a life jacket
PlaningWhen a boat moves over the top of the water rather than through it
PortLeft (when facing the front of the boat)
Port-sideThe lefthand side of the boat on which a red navigational side light is displayed
PWCPersonal watercraft
Quartering seaWhen water comes in on a boat’s quarter
RadarUses radio signal to detect objects and their positions
RMS powerThe term used to describe the continuous power handling for a specific speaker or subwoofer; this is also used to describe the continuous power output of an amplifier
Scanning sonarClearVu/SideVu: Sonar that uses a thin, wide beam to provide clear images of structure and fish below the boat, as opposed to the cone-shaped beam used by traditional and CHIRP traditional sonar 
ScopeThe length of deployed anchor rode relative to the depth of the water
Side console steerBoat steered via a steering wheel located at the console on the starboard side.
Sonar black boxA depth sounder that helps to find fish
Spring lineA pivot line used in docking, undocking or preventing the boat from moving while docked
Stand onContinue with the same course and speed
StarboardRight (when facing the front of the boat)
Starboard sideThe righthand side of the boat, on which a green navigational side light is displayed
SternBack of the boat
ThrusterA transversal propulsion device built into, or mounted to, either the bow or stern of a ship or boat to make it more maneuverable
TidesThe rise and fall of water levels due to the attraction of the moon and sun
Tiller steerBoat motor that is steered and throttled up/down via a lever/handle attached to the motor
TransducerTurns electrical energy into a high frequency sound wave, serving as an antenna for a boat’s sonar system
TransomStern cross-section of the boat
TrimFore and aft balance of the boat
Trolling motorElectric outboard motors that push or pull small boats
Two-cycle motorInternal combustion engine that completes a power cycle with two strokes of the piston during one power cycle; this power cycle being completed in one revolution of the crankshaft
UnderwayAnother word for drifting; not at anchor
VHFVery high frequency radio
WindlassAnchor winch
WindwardThe direction the wind is blowing from