ABC of Sailing Terms

sailing boat

Just for fun! TheYachtMarket brings you sailing terms that you may not be familiar with. Why not test yourself?

  1. Aft – Towards the stern
  2. Baggywrinkle – A soft covering for cables that prevents sail chafing from occurring.
  3. Chock-a-block – Rigging blocks that are so tight against one another that they cannot be further tightened.
  4. Deadeye – A round wooden plank which serves a similar purpose to a block in the standing rigging of large sailing vessels.
  5. Embayed – The condition where a sailing vessel is confined between two capes or headlands, typically where the wind is blowing directly onshore.
  6. Fathom – A unit of length equal to 6 feet (1.8 m), roughly measured as the distance between a man's outstretched hands.
  7. Gunwale – Upper edge of the hull.
  8. Hand over fist – To climb steadily upwards, from the motion of a sailor climbing shrouds on a sailing ship (originally "hand over hand").
  9. In Irons – When the bow of a sailboat is headed into the wind and the boat has stalled and is unable to manoeuvre
  10. Jibboom – A spar used to extend the bowsprit.
  11. Killick – A small anchor. A fouled killick is the substantive badge of non-commissioned officers in the RN. Seamen promoted to the first step in the promotion ladder are called 'Killick'. The badge signifies that here is an Able Seaman skilled to cope with the awkward job of dealing with a fouled anchor.
  12. Luffing - When a sailing vessel is steered far enough to windward that the sail is no longer completely filled with wind (the luff of the sail is usually where this first becomes evident).
  13. Mainsheet – Sail control line that allows the most obvious effect on mainsail trim. Primarily used to control the angle of the boom, and thereby the mainsail, this control can also increase or decrease downward tension on the boom while sailing upwind, significantly affecting sail shape.
  14. Nipper – Short rope used to bind a cable to the "messenger" (a moving line propelled by the capstan) so that the cable is dragged along too (Used because the cable is too large to be wrapped round the capstan itself). During the raising of an anchor the nippers were attached and detached from the (endless) messenger by the ship's boys. Hence the term for small boys: 'nippers'.
  15. Orlop deck - The lowest deck of a ship of the line. The deck covering in the hold.
  16. Pipe down – A signal on the bosun's pipe to signal the end of the day, requiring lights (and smoking pipes) to be extinguished and silence from the crew. A red light at night.
  17. Quarterdeck – The aftermost deck of a warship. In the age of sail, the quarterdeck was the preserve of the ship's officers.
  18. Ratlines – Rope ladders permanently rigged from bulwarks and tops to the mast to enable access to top masts and yards. Also serve to provide lateral stability to the masts.
  19. Sampson post – A strong vertical post used to support a ship's windlass and the heel of a ship's bowsprit.
  20. Three sheets to the wind – On a three-masted ship, having the sheets of the three lower courses loose will result in the ship meandering aimlessly downwind. Also, a sailor who has drunk strong spirits beyond his capacity.
  21. Under the weather – Serving a watch on the weather side of the ship, exposed to wind and spray.
  22. Vanishing angle – The maximum degree of heel after which a vessel becomes unable to return to an upright position.
  23. Windlass – A winch mechanism, usually with a horizontal axis. Used where mechanical advantage greater than that obtainable by block and tackle was needed (such as raising the anchor on small ships).
  24. Yardarm – The very end of a yard. Often mistaken for a "yard", which refers to the entire spar. As in to hang "from the yardarm" and the sun being "over the yardarm" (late enough to have a drink).

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