Parts of a Boat

Parts of a Boat from Bow to Stern & Everything in Between

If you are new to boating, you’ve probably figured out that there is a whole new vocabulary associated with owning a boat.

We want to make it easy and teach you the basic parts of a boat, complete with a detailed description of each component, how they work and why they are important.

What are the parts of a boat called? 

We’ve created a list of boat parts and what they are called. We include a definition of the boat parts, why they are important, and where they are located on the boat.

1. What is a beam of a boat?

The boat beam is the overall width of a boat measured at the widest portion of the waterline.

The beam section of a boat is important for two reasons:

1. The beam size determines if passage around an obstacle in the water can be done safely.

2. The beam also determines the boat’s overall stability.

Boat Beam DiagramBoat Beam Diagram

2. What is the bow of a boat?

The front of the boat is called the bow. The bow helps boats and ships smoothly pass through the water. Bows minimize the hull's resistance by cutting through the water.  

Boat Bow DiagramBoat Bow Diagram

3. What is the chine on a boat?

The chines are the angle of the bottom of the hull in the cross-section. If you slice a boat in half, the chine is the angle that forms at the very bottom of the hull.

Chine on a boatChine on a boat

4. What is the cleat on a boat?

Cleats are especially important to docking and tying up your boat. They are used to tie ropes through when you are securing your boat to a dock or slip. They are securely affixed to your ship in various places on your boat that offer the best functionality when docking.

Cleat on a boatCleat on a boat

5. What are combination lights on a boat?

The combination lights on a boat, also known as sidelights, are red and green lights visible to other boats approaching either head-on or on the side.

The red light indicates the boat’s port (left) side, and the green reflects the vessel’s starboard (right) side.

Combination lights on a boatCombination lights on a boat

6. What is the draft of a boat?

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.

Draft of a boatDraft of a boat

7. What is the freeboard of a boat?

A boat’s freeboard is the distance from the waterline to the upper deck level where water can enter the boat or ship, also known as the lowest point of sheer.

This measurement, or freeboard, is typically higher on offshore and console boats than skiffs or bay boats. The higher the freeboard, the more protected the boat is from being washed out.

Freeboard of a boatFreeboard of a boat

8. What is the gunwale?

The gunwale is the upper edge of the boat. The gunwale serves two purposes:

  • It is a walkway for passengers to move from the bow (front of the boat) to the aft (stern)
  • It is ideal for placing rod holders
Gunwale on a boatGunwale on a boat

9. What is an 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.

Boaters like outboard motors for:

  • High horsepower to weight ratio
  • Easy installation


Outboard MotorOutboard Motor

10. What is starboard and port, and why are they called that? 

Starboard is on the right side of the boat when looking toward the bow, and port is the left side of the boat. 

Before ships had rudders on their centerlines, they were controlled by a steering oar. Sailors called the right side the steering side, which became starboard, the combination of the Old English words, stéor meaning "steer" and bord meaning "the side of a boat."

Port came about because as boat sizes got bigger, so did the steering oar. This size increase made it much easier to tie up a boat to a dock on the left side of the oar, known as the larboard, the "loading side." Larboard was too similar to starboard, so it was changed to port, as this was the side that faced the port when entering the dock and allowed the ship's supplies to be ported aboard. 

What do starboard and port meanWhat do starboard and port mean

11. What is a prop on a boat?

The motor powers boat propellers. They typically have three to five blades that turn on a shaft - and the more blades, the higher propulsion.

Boat propellers include blades that turn on a shaft powered by the motor. Propellers can have three, four or five blades. Typically, the more blades on the propeller, the more propulsion can be achieved. While the motor provides the power, the propeller is where all the action occurs. Propeller blades displace water to create the forces that move a boat forward.

What is a prop?What is a prop?

12. What is a rub rail on a boat?

Rails are a safety feature on boats for passengers to hold onto, so they don’t fall overboard. While not on every boat, rails are typically found on or near the helm.

Rub rail on a boatRub rail on a boat

13. What is the steering wheel and console of a boat? 

The boat’s steering wheel is also known as the boat’s wheel. It is part of the steering mechanics at the boat’s helm, and as you would imagine, steers the boat. The wheel changes the direction of the boat’s rudder or tiller as the boat goes through the water.

The console is where the controls are located, including steering, ignition, radio, and other electronic devices. Consoles may have a small area for storage.

Steering wheel and console of a boatSteering wheel and console of a boat

14. What is the stern of a boat? 

The back 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.

Stern of a boatStern of a boat

15. What is the transom of a boat? 

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

Transom of a boatTransom of a boat

16. What is the waterline of a boat?

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.

Waterline of a boatWaterline of a boat

17. What is the windshield of a Boat?

The boat windshield is a major part of a boat. It deflects water and wind and keeps all aboard from getting soaked. Some boats have windshields, while others have windscreens, usually made from Plexiglass.

Sailboats typically have portlights which are small windows on the side of the boat that let light into the cabin.

Windshield of a boatWindshield of a boat

These photographs, recommendations, and approximations are intended for demonstration purposes only and do not reflect the specifications of any watercraft. Always consult the manufacturer’s Owner’s Manual.