Learn Some Commonly Used Terms to Sound Like a Boating Pro

Feeling like you’re in over your head when it comes to understanding various boat-related vocabulary?

Even if you’re only renting a boat for one day, understanding basic boating terms and phrases can help you navigate your day on the water safely. Take a look through the list below and before you know it, your boat vocabulary will be ship-shape and you’ll sound like an expert! While different types of boats have different terminology, we’ll be steering away from wooden boat and sailing terminology today in favor of motorboat and yacht related words. 

Starting with the basics:

First, when you’re standing on the boat looking forward, the parts of the boat are named as follows:

  • The BOW is the front of the boat and the back end is known as the STERN.
  • The left side of the boat is known as the PORT side, and the right side is referred to as STARBOARD.
  • You can easily keep this straight in your head by remembering that port and left have the same number of letters!
  • Moving forward on a boat is still known as FORWARD, but moving backward is referred to as AFT.

Below are the terms for other parts of the boat that are helpful to know

  • The HULL is the body of the boat.
  • The tops of the sides of the boat are known as the GUNWALES
  • The WATERLINE is a bit self-explanatory; it’s where the boat’s hull meets the water. Its important because you can measure the distance between the waterline and the bottom of the boat’s hull to know how much water it needs to float, which is called the DRAFT
  • The portion of the hull that sits above the waterline is called the TOPSIDES.
  • CLEATS are metal brackets on the side of the boat where ropes can be attached to tether the boat to a dock. 
  • The SWIM PLATFORM is usually located on the back of the boat (the stern, remember?) and is the area where you climb out of the water and onto the boat after swimming. It often has a folding ladder affixed to it that drops into the water. 
  • The word BERTH has two meanings; it refers to a bed or place to sleep on a boat, but it also refers to the “parking space” that you put a boat into at a marina or dock.
  • A MARINA, by the way, is a place where boats can dock, shelter, and receive services like fueling and water. You can also usually find food and other supplies there. 
  • The CABIN is any enclosed are on the boat. They’re often below the deck, but rooms up on the deck of the boat are also called cabins.
  • Speaking of which, the DECK refers to any flat surface of the boat that people walk on. 
  • The HATCHES on a boat refer to any kind of door or covers that covers an opening in the boat, whether it’s a cabin or a storage compartment (known as a LOCKER!)
  • LIVEWELLS are compartments on a boat that are specially designed to keep bait alive during fishing.
  • The HELM is the part of the boat where the controls are located, generally for steering, the engines, and other electronics like lights or speakers. 
  • The BILGE is a compartment in the hull of the boat that fills up with water and must be pumped out periodically. 

A few more terms you’re likely to hear on the water:

  • When a boat is moving, it’s said to be UNDERWAY.
  • When a boat is said to be ADRIFT, it’s not tethered to anything, like a dock or anchor. But boating gear can also be described as ADRIFT when it’s not secured in a locker or attached to anything.
  • Securing these items in the boat is referred to as BATTENING them down.

That’s it, you’re all set!

Now that you’ve mastered this basic boating vocabulary, you’ll be sounding like a nautical expert and ready for a fun day on the water. If you’re looking for an occasion to flex your new knowledge, check out our lineup of beautiful boats to enjoy.