Sailing: Directional Terms

Content provided by US SAILING.

Just as parts of the sailboat have specific names, a sailor needs terms to describe things relative to the boat. Directional terms help you locate something onboard, or describe where to look for something of interest on the water or shore. The first thing to learn is that, when facing forward, the left side of the boat is the port side and the right side is the starboard.

You have learned that the front of the boat is the bow, and the back of the boat is the stern. The direction toward the bow is forward. Beyond the bow, you would see something ahead. Toward the stern is aft. Beyond the stern is astern.

The area about halfway between the bow and stern is the midships. Halfway between the sides of the boat anywhere from bow to stern is on the centerline. Something that is beyond either side of the boat at right angles (90°) to the centerline is considered abeam.

Knowing where the wind is coming from relative to the boat is always essential. Windward is the side from which the wind blows. The opposite side is leeward (pronounced "lou-ward"). The wind direction is referred to geographically as well. For example, a north wind blows from the north and a southwest wind from the southwest.

When the wind is coming from the port side (with the sails to starboard), a sailboat is said to be on port tack. When the wind is coming from the starboard side (with the sails to port), a sailboat is said to be on starboard tack. (click image to view full-size)

Sailing Directional Terms

Port and Starboard:

To help you distinguish port from starboard,remember port and left each have four letters.

Keeping a Weather Eye

  • Watch the clouds for weather changes.
  • Track boats around you to avoid collisions.
  • Be aware of the current’s effect on your progress.
  • Watch water depth to avoid hitting bottom.
  • Keep track of where "home" is.