Sailing 101: Learn What These Sailing Expressions Mean


You might have noticed that boat captains and their crew use a different kind of language when they’re sailing. If you think they sound like Jack Sparrow and his fellow pirates, it’s because those sailing expressions are still being used today. To better understand what sailors and pirates are saying, here’s a list of nautical words that you should know.

Aft: Also known as the stern, the aft is simply the back of the ship.

Bow: This is the front of the boat and anything near it is referred to as “forward.”

Port: When facing the bow, port is anything to the left of the ship. So when you’re on a boat, don’t say “left,” use “port.”

Starboard: The opposite of port, anything to the right of the bow is called the starboard. Saying “right” or “left” to indicate a direction can be confusing when you’re out on the open sea, so sailors use the sailing expression starboard or port.

Point of sail: This refers to the boat’s direction in relation to the wind. There are actually eight common points of sail. One example is “in irons,” which refers to when you’re headed straight into the wind. If the wind is blowing from the side, that is called a “beam reach.”

Sailing 101 Learn What These Sailing Expressions Mean

Leeward: Also used simply as lee, it means the direction opposite to where the wind is currently blowing.

Windward: This is the direction where the wind is currently blowing. Since boats move with the wind, it’s crucial that you know what this sailing expression means.

Heeling: This is when the sailboat is pushed by the wind and leans or tilts over the water. You’ve probably seen it happening during boat races, when the sails fill and the boat’s speed picks up. It’s exciting to look at them and even more exhilarating when experienced in person.

Helm: This is where you steer the boat by controlling the rudder. In big boats (or in pirate ships), this is often a big wheel. But smaller ships use a tiller, which looks like a long wooden stick.

Rudder: Made from a flat piece of wood, metal or fibreglass, the rudder is located beneath the boat and is used to steer it. Yachts control the rudder using a wheel but small boats use a tiller, a steering mechanism found in the aft.

Don’t get lost at sea. Learn these useful and crucial sailing expressions and earn your sailing stripes.