boat terminology

Boat Terminology – A Boat Glossary of What You Should Know

When you are learning a new skill or hobby, understanding the terminology and how it is used can be daunting. As a new boater, you’re taking on a whole new experience and you want to master it sooner rather than later. We get it, there is a lot to understand. We want to make this process as simple as possible, so you can get yourself acquainted with some of the boating terms universal to various types of boats you will need to know for life on the water. Think of this as your basic boat glossary. Interested in specific pontoon boat terminology? Check out Parts of a Pontoon Boat Explained.

Let’s Dive Right into What You Need to Know with These Nautical Terms!

To get started, you should be familiar with parts of the boat, this boat glossary will refer to many of the parts of a boat and will help you understand how they work.

Are you ready?

Aft of an old boatAft of an old boat


Above Deck

This term can be tricky. It means on the deck, not above it as you would think.


A position that is closer to the stern or back of the boat. Aft refers to the rear of a ship.


This has to do with wind direction. Alee means away from the direction of the wind. It is the opposite of windward.


Aloft refers to boats with sails and riggings, typically sailboats, and is the area above the surface of the deck.


Batten Down

This means to secure the hatches as well as any loose objects that are on the deck. Typically, preparing for high winds or a storm.


The boat beam is the widest point of a boat measured between the sides of a boat at the waterline.


You will find the bilge at the bottom point, or lowest inner part of the boat. It is designed to collect excess water and most boats have a bilge pump inside the bilge that removes the water.


A bimini top is the open canvas structure that sits over the boat’s cockpit and is supported by an aluminum frame triangle marine center. Biminis offer shade to protect you from the sun and elements.

Boat Bumper

Boat bumpers, also known as boat fender, is an inflatable cushion used to protect a boat from contact against pilings, docks, piers or other boats.


A buoy is an anchored float used for marking a position or to show passage and warn boats of any potential danger.

Luxurious interior of a yachtLuxurious interior of a yacht



A chart in the boating world refers to a nautical chart, a map that features the shoreline, seafloor and offers water depths, or any potentially dangerous situations.


Cleats are especially important for docking and tying up your boat. They are used to tie ropes, such as spring lines, through when you are securing your boat to a dock.


A cuddy is a small shelter underneath the deck and can include a sleeping area, galley and head.


The current is the rate of movement in the water and each current has a specific direction and speed. Boaters need to be familiar with the different types of water currents.



The deck is the permanent covering over a compartment or hull of a boat. It is the primary area of a boat.


A dinghy is a small open boat and is typically used to transport passengers to and from a larger vessel.


The draft of a boat is the distance between the top of the waterline and the lowest part of the hull. The draft is important because it measures how deep the water needs to be for the boat to float.  



You will find the flybridge at the highest part of the boat, known as fly. The flybridge has a driving area and a seating area.


Also known as boat bumpers a fender is an inflatable cushion used to protect a boat's hull sides from contact against pilings, docks, piers or other boats.



A galley is the name for a boat’s kitchen.


The gunwale is the upper edge of the boat. The gunwale is a walkway for passengers to move about from the bow to stern and they are ideal for placing rod holders.

Super yacht anchored at public dockSuper yacht anchored at public dock



A watertight cover or doorway in a boat deck or cabin top.


The name for a boat’s toilet.


The helm of a boat is the area where the boat is steered. The helm can also refer to the wheel or tiller.


The boat’s hull is the section that sits in the water.


Inboard Motor

Inboard engines are installed inside the hull, in the bilge in recreational boats.



The keel section of a boat is the beam that runs in the middle of the boat from bow to stern. It provides stability and control when the boat is moving forward.


It is a measure of speed that is equal to one nautical mile (6076 feet) per hour.

A knot is also made from lines to secure to an object like a piling.



Leeward is the sideways movement of a boat that is caused by either the wind or current.


Lines refer to any rope that is used on a boat for docking, mooring, rafting, or attaching fenders.



Mooring is a way boaters tie up their boat and there are several ways to moor. Some call a permanently anchored float that has an attachment point a mooring. Dock lines are also referred to as a mooring line. When boats are tied up in their slip, the boat is considered moored or docked.


Outboard Motor

The outboard motor propels the boat and is the most common motor for powerboats. They are installed outside the transom, leaving more overall room in the boat's interior.

Buckling yellow life vest clipBuckling yellow life vest clip



A personal flotation device also known as life jackets, are required by law to be on your boat. The size and type of boat will determine how many PFDs you need onboard. 


Pilings are what you will find near docks. They are usually a vertical pole, or a cylindrical piece of wood driven into the water’s bottom and used to support a pier as a mooring site.


When facing the front of the boat, port side is to the left hand side of the boat.


A Personal Watercraft is a small craft with an inboard jet drive and is typically operated by one or up to three people.



Rafting is a term used for tying up to other boats.


A boat rail refers to the protective barrier running along the upper edges of a vessel, providing support and safety for passengers and crew.


The rudder is the flat sheet that is attached to the stern and moves back and forth as the boat is being steered.



A navigational instrument used to measure a boat’s latitude.


The upright metal post that is affixed to the deck and supports the guard rails.


When facing the front of the boat, starboard side is on the right side.


The rear of the boat is called the stern. It is also where the engine and transom are located. Many ships have seating at the stern of the boat.  



The handle that is connected to the rudder, or an outboard motor that is used for steering.


The transom of a boat is the cross-section of the stern. It is where the outboard motor is attached.  



Underway means your boat is moving and is not docked or anchored.

Large boat wake aerial viewLarge boat wake aerial view



A wake is the wave a boat creates underway as it displaces water. 


You’ll find the boat’s waterline at the intersection of the hull and the water’s surface, or where the boat sits in the water.  


Windward is being in or facing the direction of the wind. It is the opposite of Alee.

Congratulations! You are on your way to learning the proper boat terminology.

Keep this boat glossary nearby as you are learning and soon you will be using these terms just like a seasoned boater!

Have fun.