glossary


Home
progress
concept
photos
videos
rigs
questionnaire
feedback
background
adaptive foils
glossary
Concept Boat competition
windships
windsurfing version
canoe/kayak rig

Sailing is associated with a rich vocabulary reflecting its long international history, and some of the specialist terms appear on the pages of this website. Here is an explanation of the terms used. 


A B C D E F G H I J K L M
N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
A

aspect ratio

the relationship between the height and width of a sail. A tall, narrow sail has a high aspect ratio, while a short wide sail has a low aspect ratio.
about as in "going about" - meaning to change direction by tacking
aft towards the back of the boat
amidships the centre of the boat
astern behind a boat, or to travel backwards

B

backstay

part of the rigging that supports the mast: it goes from high on the mast down to the stern of the boat.

bail

to empty water from the boat

batten

a stiffening rod usually slipped into a sleeve attached to the sail. Some battens support the entire width of the sail ('full battens'), while others are shorter and support only the trailing edge (leech) of the sail.

beam

the widest part of a boat's hull.

bear away

to change course away from the direction the wind is coming from.

beat

sail to windward - closer to wind.

block

a structure containing one or more pulley wheels around which ropes or cables can be passed to change their direction of pull. Two or more blocks can be arranged to increase the power generated by pulling on the rope passing round them - this is called a tackle.

C

centreboard

a pivoted, streamlined board that can be tilted downwards below the craft to reduce the tendency it has to drift sideways when the wind comes from the side (compare with daggerboard, below).

clew

the lower outer corner of a fore-and-aft sail.

cringle

a metal eye set into a sail and through which a rope can be passed.

D

daggerboard

a streamlined board that can be raised and lowered vertically through a slot in the hull to reduce sideways drifting when the wind comes from the side (compare with centreboard, above).

dinghy

this word originates from India - it originally referred to small river craft on the Ganges. It is now applied to small sailing or rowing boats.

downwind

moving in the same direction as the wind.

draught

the depth of a vessel below the waterline.

E

ebb tide

falling water level after high water.

F

flood tide

rising water level after low water.

foot

the bottom edge of the sail.

forestay

part of the rigging that supports the mast - it goes from the mast down to the bow of the boat.

G

genoa

a large sail set mainly in front of the mast but whose trailing edge extends back beyond the mast.

guy

a rope which hold or moves a spar, for example: a spinnaker guy attached to a spinnaker pole

gybe

to change course when sailing downwind so that the stern of the boat passes through the wind and the sail swings across to the other side.

H

halyard

a rope used to hoist a sail up the mast.

hank

a clip (usually several) used to attach a sail such as a jib to the forestay.

head

the topmost corner of a sail.

heads

the toilet on board a yacht.

head up

turn the boat more towards the direction from which the wind is coming.

headsail

a sail attached to the forestay ahead of the mast.

heel

the way a sailing boat leans away from the wind.

helm

the tiller or wheel used to steer the boat - it can also mean the person doing the steering.

I

incidence

the angle between the apparent wind and the sail.

J

jib

a triangular sail carried forward of the mast, its luff attached to the forestay. Jibs and genoas are types of headsails.

K

ketch

a boat with two masts, the rear mast being set in front of the axis of the rudder.
kicking strap a device that holds the boom down whilst still allowing it to move freely from side to side. Its main purpose is to increase the tension in the leech (trailing edge) of the sail.

knot

a nautical unit of speed - 1 knot = 1 nautical mile (2000 yards) per hour.

L

lee

the side of the vessel away from the wind. 'In the lee' of something means sheltered from the wind by that structure: for example, in the lee of a large vessel.

leech

the trailing edge of a sail.

leeward

(pronounced loo'ard) downwind, on the sheltered side. Opposite of windward.

luff

the leading edge of a sail.

luff up

change the boat's course so that it is sailing closer to the wind.

M

mainsail

(pronounced mains'l) the principal fore-and-aft sail on a boat.

mainsheet

the rope attached to the boom and used to adjust the mainsail.

mast

a vertical spar to which sails are attached.

N

nautical mile

the unit of distance at sea. It is defined as one minute (1') of latitude, and is standardised to 1852m (6076 ft) - slightly longer than a land mile.

neap tide

a tide with the smallest rise and fall.

O

offshore wind

a wind that blows away from the land.

onshore wind

a wind that blows towards the land.

outhaul

a rope that pulls something away from something else - for example, the mainsail outhaul which pulls the clew of the sail outwards towards the end of the boom.

P

painter

rope attached to the bow of a dinghy for mooring or towing.

pinching

attempting to sail too close to the wind.

planing

skimming across the surface of the water.

port side

the left-hand side of a boat, when looking forwards.

pram dinghy

this name can be traced back to praam - a Swedish name given to small sailing vessels that could be rowed in calm weather. It is now generally used to describe a dinghy that has a blunt rather than pointed bow.

Q

quarter

the aft end of the side of a boat.

R

reach

to sail with the wind coming from the side of the craft.

reef

to reduce the sail area when the wind speed increases.

rig

the structures involved in deriving energy from the wind: the mast(s), spar(s), sail(s), supporting rigging, and control systems. To see illustrations of a variety of rigs, click here...

run

to sail with the wind coming from behind the craft.

S

schooner

generally applied to small two-masted boats with fore and aft sails on each mast. The story is that at the launch of such a boat in 1714, an admirer exclaimed to the owner that the "hull scooned upon the water!" "Then a sc(h)ooner she shall be," agreed her proud owner.

sheave

a pulley wheel usually located inside a block.

sheet

rope used to control the sideways movement of a sail.

shroud

standing rigging at the side of a mast.

sloop

one sail forward of the mast and the mainsail behind. This term has a rather confused history, at one time being applied in military parlance to a type of vessel rather than a type of rig. When it entered civilian usage, the word became more associated with the rig. The word derives from 'chaloupe', a French term for a small vessel.

spinnaker

a lightweight, balloon-shaped sail attached in front of the mast when the craft is running down wind. There are many suggestions about the origin of this name. One is that a sail of this type was first set on a yacht called "Sphinx". Another is that when it was set on the racing yacht "Niobe", one of the sailors aboard said, "now there is the sail to make her spin!". The name 'spin-maker' was given to the sail, and later shortened to spinnaker.

T

tack

1) to alter course by turning the bow of the boat across the wind so that the wind strikes the sail from the other side
2) the lower forward corner of a fore-and-aft sail.

thwart

a seat placed across a boat.

topping lift

a rope that supports the outer end of the boom when the mainsail is not set.

transom

flat stern of a boat.

trim

adjust the sails to obtain the required performance.

U

V

vang

a device between the foot of the mast and the underside of the boom that prevents the boom from being lifted by the tension in the sail. Also called a kicking strap.

W

warp

a rope used to moor a boat.

windward

towards the wind - the opposite of leeward.

X

Y

yacht

Derived originally from a German word for 'hunting ship' - jachtschiff, the term entered the Dutch language in the 17th Century as jaght and then English as yacht. It is now generally used for small sailing ships used for racing and pleasure.

Z

Here is an example of sailing-related terminology:

diagram of windship sails"The so-called English rig usually consisted of deep, single top gallants, above which royals were set. The spanker was a quadrilateral gaff sail, whereas in the Scottish rig, it was often a leg-of-mutton sail, while double topgallants were favoured under the royals."

from: The Story of Sail, by V. Laszlo and R. Woodman, 1999, London: Chatham Publishing (p 209).


Home ] progress ] concept ] photos ] videos ] rigs ] questionnaire ] feedback ] background ] adaptive foils ] [ glossary ] Concept Boat competition ] windships ] windsurfing version ] canoe/kayak rig ]