Summer Olympics Sailing Handbook: A Landlubber's Guide to the Terms of the Boat

While often overlooked by the mainstream media outside the America’s Cup, sailing will be featured prominently at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. There will be 10 events, six for men and four for women, according to the official schedule–nearly double the number of diving events.

Sailing can be an exciting sport to watch, but as with any sport, it is important to know the terminology to more easily follow the action.

For a complete list of sailing terms, visit

The Sides of the Boat

Bow – The bow is the front of the boat. Much like finding north on a compass, the other sides are defined off the bow.

Stern – Also referred to as the aft, the stern is the rear of the boat, opposite the bow. A boat trailing behind you would be located astern.

Port – Port refers to the left side of the boat when facing the bow.

Starboard – Starboard refers to the right side of the boat when facing the bow.

The Winds

Windward – Literally meaning “towards the wind,” sailing windward is sailing in the same direction the wind is blowing.

Leeward – The opposite of windward, sailing leeward would be into the wind, instead of with the wind.

The Poles

Spar- A spar is any pole, mast, or boom which supports a sail.

Mast – The mast is vertical pole supporting the sail. In the case of a two-mast boat, these may be separately defined as the foremast (towards the bow) and the main mast.

Boom – A boom is the horizontal spar supporting the bottom of the sail. When shifting directions, the boom will pivot from one side of the boat to the other.

The Steering

Jibing – This involves turning the stern of the boat through the wind, changing which direction the wind is hitting the sails.

Tacking – The opposite of jibing, this involves turning the bow of the boat through the wind. As mentioned, both tacking and jibing will result in the boom pivoting to the opposite side of the boat.

Come About – This refers to the process of either jibing or tacking to maintain direction but with the wind on the opposite side of the boat.

The Rudder – The rudder is a vertical plate attached to the transom at the stern to help steer the boat. Smaller boats typically turn the rudder manually, using a tiller, while larger boats may employ a steering wheel.

Other Important Terms

Make fast – To Secure a line.

Set – To hoist a sail.

Furl – To neatly roll up a sail.

Trim – To adjust the angle of the sail.

Ship shape – Neat, organized, and ready to sail.

Though more of a fisherman than a sailor himself, Dave is a fan and frequent spectator of sailing competitions on the Great Lakes, and can often be found cheering on friends from the comfort of the dock.

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