Naming of (yachting) parts


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When it comes to yachting, how well do you know your port from your starboard, your galley from your keel, your head from your bulkhead? 


Little guy: “Mom! I want to be a sailor when I grow up!”

Mom: “You’re eventually going to have to make a choice, my boy. It’s either one or the other.”


Us: “Sorry Mom, you’re wrong! Because we love sailing: it’s like we’re playing our favourite game all the time. But we’ll allow that it does have its jargon – so here’s our brief intro to some of the terms we use (with translations into the original Pirate where clarity requires).


Port and starboard

The port’s the left hand side of the boat, the starboard’s the right. The port is marked with a red light, the starboard with a green light. If the captain’s turning the boat towards the port side, he or she will blast two beats on the horn; to the right, it’s one.


All of which is easy to remember if you remember it in Pirate:


‘Look! The captain left two glasses of port wine for us.’


That’s port made from red grapes, of course…


Masts and rigging

Drawing by Pater McFly


yacht parts, Pater McFly

Yacht diagramme by Pater McFly – Wikimedia Commons

  1. Main Sail – the big, triangular, canvas thingy that makes the boat go forward. Actually, like all sails, a kind of a vertical wing. (Pirate: Mains’l);
  2. Jib – the foresail. (‘Fore’ on a boat means – generally – in front of the mast). (Pirate: fores’l)
  3. Spinnaker – the big, colourful, very powerful, billowy sail that we hoist when the wind’s coming from directly behind us.
  4. Hull – the part of the boat that’s usually underwater.
  5. Keel – the very lowest part of the boat. The keel on our yacht, Outeniqua, is filled with weights to help keep the boat from floating too high in the water, and thus becoming unstable. (Not to be confused with the Pirate term, ‘keelhaul’ – which was a particularly nasty punishment we’d rather not even talk about. Except to say it was worse than the feeling you got after you’d drunk the entire crew’s rum ration).
  6. Rudder – a triangular shaped board that makes it possible for us to steer the boat. On larger yachts like Outeniqua, the rudder’s situated below the cockpit (And the cockpit’s the place from where the skipper drives the boat and yells at the crew).
  7. Skeg – similar to a rudder, usually fitted to smaller sailing boats.
  8. Mast – the tall, vertical pole that every one wants to climb. (And no. You can’t.)
  9. Spreaders – braces that help the shrouds keep the mast aligned.
  10. Shrouds – the steel cables running up from the sides of the boat that keep the mast upright.
  11. Main Sheet – the rope that controls the angle of the boom against the mast. The angle of the boom helps the skipper to get maximum power out of the sail. (Pirate: main sheet. And no, it’s got nothing to do with the linen on the pirate’s four-poster bed).
  12. Boom – the pole at the lower edge of the mains’l (by now you know enough Pirate. We don’t need to translate this again.)
  13. Mast – Same thing as (8) Mast (we’re not sure how this repeat happened, sorry!)
  14. Spinnaker Pole – like the boom, the spinnaker pole is used to control the shape of the sail to which it’s attached.
  15. Backstays – support cables between the mast and the stern (back of the boat).
  16. Stays – similar to shrouds, the stays run to the front of the boat. (Pirate: forestays)
  17. Vang – the rope that controls the vertical height of the boom; used to help keep the mains’l in the best possible shape for creating lift from the wind.



Just a few notes about the things inside the boat:

  • The ‘deck’ is the bit you walk on (and never in shoes);
  • The ‘galley’ is the tiny cubbyhole where the cook works to make our lunch (Pirate: kitchen);
  • The ‘bulkheads’ are the walls between the cabins – and you should please not confuse them with:
  • The ‘head’ – which is where you dispose of your lunch. If you see what we mean (Pirate: loo).


Yachting glossary

For an extensive and authoritative glossary of sailing terms, please go to



Beware! You’ll cause terrible confusion if you don’t know  what you’re talkin’ about – as you can see from the instructional video below from Clarke and Dawe, courtesy of


“A sailboat is a fickle mistress. You’ve got to buy her things. You’ve got to understand everything about her. What you don’t know she’ll use against you.” – Captain Larry


The sailor’s kit

A sailor met a pirate in a bar – the pirate wearing peg-leg, hook, and eye patch, of course.


Sailor: “So, how did you end up with the peg-leg?”

Pirate: “Caught in a monster of a storm off The Cape an’ swept overboard by a giant wave. Managed to catch onto one o’ the sheets, but just as me crew were pullin’ me back aboard, a shark come along an’ bit me leg off!”

S: “Blimey! And the hook”?

P: “Ahhhh… Weeeelll … we was raidin’ a trader ship and I got me hand cut off in the fracas.”

S: “That’s terrible. But how did you come by the eye patch?”

P: “Caught a seagull droppin’ in me eye.”

Sailor: “That’s amazing. Are seagull droppings poisonous then?”

Pirate: “Nah. It was me first day with the hook.”


Clarke and Dawe: The Front Fell Off




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