Boating Terms You Should Know Before Hitting the Water


Before you get behind the wheel of a boat, it’s important to familiarize yourself with some basic boating terms and lingo. 

Here are some essential terms that every beginner boater should know:

  • Aft: The back or rear of the boat.
  • Beam: The width of the boat at its widest point.
  • Bow: The front of the boat.
  • Bulkhead: An upright partition that divides the interior of the boat into separate compartments.
  • Chine: The angled edge where the side of the boat meets the bottom.
  • Draft: The depth of the boat in the water, measured from the waterline to the lowest point of the hull.
  • Freeboard: The distance from the waterline to the top of the boat’s hull.
  • Gunwale: The top edge of the boat’s sides.
  • Keel: A central structural member of the boat’s hull, running along the bottom from the bow to the stern.
  • Port: The left side of the boat when facing forward.
  • Starboard: The right side of the boat when facing forward.
  • Stern: The back or rear of the boat.
  • Transom: The flat surface at the stern of the boat, typically perpendicular to the keel.

History of Boating Terms

Many of the terms commonly used in boating have their roots in nautical language, which has a long and storied history dating back to ancient civilizations. For example, the terms “port” and “starboard” come from the Old English word “steorbord,” which means “rudder side,” and the term “bow” comes from the Old Norse word “bogi,” which means “bow of a ship.”

Why It Matters to Know Boating Terms

Knowing basic boating terms is essential for the safe and efficient operation of a boat. It allows you to communicate effectively with other boaters and understand instructions and warnings. It also helps you to navigate and maneuver your boat with confidence and precision.

Equipment Specific to a Boat

In addition to basic boating terms, it’s also important to familiarize yourself with the equipment specific to your boat. Here are some common pieces of equipment that you may encounter on a boat:

  • Anchor: A heavy object used to hold the boat in place.
  • Bilge: The lowest part of the interior of the boat, where water collects.
  • Boat hook: A long pole with a hook on one end, used to fend off or moor the boat.
  • Compass: An instrument used to determine direction.
  • Depth finder: An electronic device used to measure the depth of the water.
  • Fire extinguisher: A device used to extinguish fires.
  • Life jacket: A personal flotation device worn to keep a person afloat in the water.
  • Paddle: A long, flat-bladed oar used for propelling a small boat.
  • Rudder: A vertical or horizontal fin used to steer the boat.
  • Throttle: A lever used to control the speed of the boat’s engine.

By learning about these and other pieces of equipment specific to your boat, you’ll be better prepared to handle any situation that may arise while you’re out on the water.