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Boating Terminology

What a great day to go boating. But before we head out on the water, we need to learn some of the specific terms that are used to describe common parts of all boats. For example, did you know that the two sides of a boat are called "port" and "starboard", not left and right?

Let's review some more boating terms, starting with the body of a boat.

Parts of a Boat

  • The body of a boat is called its hull.
  • At the upper edges of the boat's hull are the gunwales. The gunwales provide extra rigidity for the hull.
  • The cross-section of the stern, where you attach an outboard motor, is called the transom.
  • On the top of the boat are metal fittings called cleats. When docking your boat, you fasten a rope or cable to the cleats.
  • Most boats are also equipped with navigation lights. Common types of navigation lights are red and green sidelights and an all-around white light, specific to powerboats.
parts of a boat; back light, transom, sidelights, gunwale, hull, cleat

What Are The Front, Back, Left, and Right of a Boat Called?

Now let's learn the words for the front, rear, left and right sides of the boat.

sides of a boat; stern, port, bow, starboard
  • The front of a boat is called the bow, while the rear of a boat is called the stern.
  • When looking towards the bow, the left-hand side of the boat is the port side.
  • And starboard is the corresponding word for the right side of a boat.

A handy tip for remembering which side is port, is to remember that port and left have the same number of letters.

Additional Terminology

Now that we know where the bow, stern, port and starboard are located, let's learn some more important boating terms.

boat terminology; beam, freeboard, draft, propeller, keel
  • Beam: The width of the boat, measured at its widest point. Generally, the larger the beam, the more stable the boat.
  • Bilge: A compartment at the lowest point of a boat's hull.
  • Draft:The distance between the waterline and the keel of a boat; the minimum depth of water in which a boat will float.
  • Aft: The area towards the stern of the boat.
  • Forward: The area towards the bow.
  • Freeboard: The distance measured from the waterline to the gunwale.
  • Waterline: The intersection of a boat's hull and the water's surface, or where the boat sits in the water.
  • Keel: A boat's backbone; the lowest point of the boat's hull, the keel provides strength, stability and prevents sideways drift of the boat in the water.

Now that we have covered the major parts of the boat and some important boating terms, let's take a closer look at the hull and how boats move through the water depending on their hull design.