20 Terms Every Future Sailor Should Know 🪢

Posted Jul 23 2021 in Boating tips

Sailing is a fun recreational activity that could easily inspire the inner sailor in you. In an instant, you may find yourself dreaming of a boating life or even considering the option of buying a boat. Whether you want to enjoy a boat rental vacation or join the boat owner club, there are certain seamen slang and terminology you might need to get familiar with. Sounds exciting? Then read on and let’s dive into the depths of sailor terms and vocabulary:

Boating terms and phrases every aspiring sailor should learn...

1. Snipe

Snipes are crew members, working technical maintenance or engineering jobs below the deck. Their onboard tasks include fixing boiler and machinery issues and making sure the vessel operates in optimal condition.

2. Listing

That simple sailor term to describe boats determines how far a watercraft leans to the side. Whenever a vessel is referred to as a listing then it is not completely safe to use until it’s fixed. These types of problems need serious technical attention to figure out what causes the boat to lean. 

3. Running Backstay

This term is used to describe a detachable piece of equipment (standing rigging) at the back part of the sail. Its purpose is to support the mast and counteract and regulate the tension of the forestay and jib, for safe boating. 

4. Gunwale

A gunwale is the top edge of the watercraft hull. Another commonly used name for gunwales is gunnels, they are practically the same boat part.

5. Spinnaker

The spinnaker is a specific type of balloon-like sail for sailboats. It is designed for the purpose of cruising on a downwind course and works by filling up with wind.

6. Bubble Head

Bubble head is a navy term adopted by sailors and used to describe submarine crew members.

7. Bow, Aft, Port, Starboard

A bow is the front of a vessel, and the back of the watercraft is called an aft or a stern. To determine the sides of the boat or ship, face forward towards the bow. The left side is called a port and the right side - starboard. Properly knowing those terms helps seamen navigate themselves on board.

8. Leeward, Windward 

These words are used by sailors to navigate directions, according to the wind. When a sailboat floats against the wind, the proper term to use is “leeward”. And when a boat is moving in the same direction in which the wind is currently blowing, the term to use is “windward”. 

9. Boom

The boom is a spar attached to the foot of a fore and aft rigged sail. Booms are used to improving craft control. 

10. Jib

Situated in the front of the boat, forward of the mast, the jib is the small-sized sail with a triangular shape we can see on almost every type of boat. 

11. Bosun’s Chair

A Bosun’s chair is a boating device used to harness and suspend a person from a rope and keep them in the air. The machine’s main purpose is to help crewmembers safely perform boating tasks. 

12. Halyard

This term represents the rope, used to raise and lower a flag on a ship or boat.

13. Roach coach

Roach coach is slang for lunch trucks that park themselves by the pier at the late hours of the day when sailors dock their boats.

14. Crank

Just another sailor terminology to describe a newly assigned worker or transferee striving for recognition at the mess decks.

15. Cumshaw

An interesting Navy term that stands for the action of internal bartering or trading on a ship. Those kinds of sneaky deals are done off the record, in exchange for goods, personal favors, and shift covers. 

Common sailor jargon and catchphrases

16. Reef the Main

If a sailor ever tells you to go reef the main, they mean reducing the mainsail. The technique used to fold and roll the sail is called reefing, so that is where the boating catchphrase comes from. During bad and stormy weather, reefing the main allows the boat to stabilize on a rough sea.

17. Pipe down

Piping down stands for silence and duty dismissal. In its entirety, the phrase signifies the end of the crew’s working day and that it’s time for a well-deserved rest. 

18. Nuke it

“Nuke it” is just another way to say “no need to overthink it”. Sailors use the slang phrase to tell their crewmates when they are overanalyzing a basic task that does not require rocket science skills to finish. 

19. Muster

Muster is a roll call - the act of assembling sailors for crew meetings and compulsory safety briefings. Basically, it means gathering the team to discuss general or pressing boating matters. 

20. Gun Decking

The sailor term “gun decking” stands for falsifying a log report or other official form in the Navy. Filling out misleading or inaccurate information usually happens when a sailor wants to put themselves in positive lighting or pass an inspection.

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