sailing and nautical terms


There are some obscure sailing terms whose origins can't be pinned down - like "jib" - the name of a triangular sail in front of the mast, or "in irons" - the inability to maneuver

  • Sails
    • Luff - the front part (leading edge) of the sail
      • the luff runs from the head of the sail (top of a mast) to the tack of a sail (lower forward corner of a sail)
    • Foot - the lowest edge of the sail
    • Leech - the back edge of the sail
  • Luffing - stalling or flapping the sail at its forward edge, or over the entire sail
  • Lines (aka Don't call me ropes!)
    • Sheet - control line attached to a sail
    • Halyard - line used to raise and lower a sail
  • Port and Starboard = Left and right sides of a vessel as viewed by a person on board facing the bow (front)
    • Port - left side of vessel. Ages ago the left side of the vessel used to be called "larboard" but larboard was too easy to confuse with the term starboard. Imagine being on the bowsprit and having to shout "hard to larboard" back to the cockpit. The term Port replaced it, derived from the practice of mooring ships on the left side at ports in order to prevent the steering order from being crushed
    • Starboard - right side of of the vessel
  • In Irons - stalled head to wind and unable to maneuver due to lack of forward motion or steerage
  • Pinching - sailing too close to the wind (pointing up). Can easily get stuck head to wind "In Irons"
  • Nautical Mile - based on the circumference of the earth at the equator. The earth is 360 degrees of longitude around, and degrees are broken into 60 "minutes" of longitude - that means there are 360 x 60 = 21,600 minutes of longitude around the earth.
  • Nautical Mile to Statute mile - 1 to 1.15