On the Job

101 Words You Need to Know as Crew

31 May 2021By Holly Overton

Written by

Holly Overton

Holly grew up sailing dinghies on the south coast of England and discovered the world of big boats after landing a job as a digital writer for our sister website boatinternational.com.


It is always helpful as crew to be able to speak more than one language, but in reality, all yacht crew are bilingual without even knowing it. “Yacht speak” might not the official term but it is a whole different language you need to learn before stepping onto a boat. If you’re new to the industry, bookmark this handy guide of 100 words you need to know...

Abeam 

At a right angle to the center of a vessel’s length

Aft 

Towards the rear of the vessel

Ahead 

In front of a boat or moving in a forward direction

AIS (Automatic Identification System) 

A tracking system required on vessels of more than 300GT

Amidships 

The central portion of a vessel

Anti-fouling 

A special paint applied to the hull to prevent marine growth

APA (Advanced Provisioning Allowance)

An Advanced Provisioning Allowance is an additional charter fee paid in advance to cover the cost of provisions such as fuel, food and drink, and marina fees. The APA is usually 30% of the charter fee.

Apparent Wind 

The direction and speed of the wind felt by the crew as a sum of true wind and the motion of the vessel

Astern 

Towards the stern or moving in reverse

Athwartships 

Perpendicular to the yacht’s centerline

Aweigh 

An anchor that is off the bottom

Backstay 

On a sailing yacht, a wire that supports the mast, running from the head of the mast to a point on the stern

Ballast 

Weight added to a vessel to increase stability

Batten Down 

To secure hatches and loose objects, i.e., ”batten down the hatches“

Beam 

The width of a vessel measured at its widest point

Bear Away 

To steer a boat away from the wind

Bearing 

The direction to an object or location from your current position, measured in degrees

Beating 

Sailing upwind

Berth 

The vessel’s allotted space in a marina, also used as a seafarers’ term for a bed

Bilge 

This bilge is the deepest part of the vessel’s hull often used for storage

Bimini 

A canvas canopy supported by a frame that offers shelter over a cockpit or lounge area of a boat

Boom 

The boom sits perpendicular to the mast towards the bottom and runs along the foot of the sail

Bow Line 

A rope that is tied onto the front of a boat (the bow) and stops the vessel from moving sideways when moored

Bow 

The front of a boat 

Bowsprit 

A spar protruding forward from a ship’s bow to which the forestays are fastened

Bridge 

From which the captain steers the boat

Broach 

To turn sideways to the wind

Bulkhead 

An upright wall or partition within the hull of a ship

Capstan 

A winch used to wind in an anchor and tighten lines

Cardinal Marks 

Buoys indicating the direction of safe water with reference to the cardinal points

Cast off 

To let go of a line

Chine 

The change in angle where the sides of the hull meet the bottom of the hull

Cleat 

A t-shaped piece of metal on a boat to which lines are attached

Coaming 

A raised surface on deck designed to prevent the entry of water

Cockpit 

The outdoor area of a sailing yacht where guests sit and eat, and from where the captain may steer and control the boat

Companionway 

A set of steps that lead from a ship’s deck down to a cabin or lower deck

Deadrise 

The amount of angle that forms between the boat bottom and a horizontal plane on either side of the center keel

Displacement 

The weight of water displaced by a hull, or a type of hull that displaces water as opposed to ’planing’

Draft 

The depth of a vessel beneath the waterline

ENG1 

MCA-approved medical certificate required for all crew on commercial superyachts.

Ensign 

The principal flag or flown by a vessel to indicate its nationality

Fairlead 

A fitting through which anchor or mooring lines are led

Fender 

An air-filled cushion placed between two boats or between a boat and a pontoon to prevent damage

Fluke 

The palm of an anchor

Flybridge 

An open deck located above the bridge that features a secondary helm station

Foredeck 

The forward part of the deck of a ship, usually level with the main deck

Forepeak 

A compartment or cabin in the angle of the bow.

Freeboard 

The height of a ship's hull above the waterline

Galley 

The kitchen on board a boat

Gangway 

The area of a ship’s side where people board and disembark

Gunwhale 

The upper edge of a boat’s sides

Gybe 

To change course with the wind astern so that the stern of the vessel goes through the wind and the boom passes from one side to the other

Halyard 

A line used to raise the mainsail

Hatch 

An opening, usually rectangular, in a vessel providing access into the next compartment.

Head 

A bathroom

Head Up 

To steer closer to the wind

Heading 

The direction in which a vessel is pointed at any given moment

Headway 

The forward motion of a vessel

Heel 

The canting of a vessel to one side

Helm 

The steering system

Hull 

The body of the vessel

IMO (International Maritime Organisation) 

The United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping

Jib 

Foresail

Keel 

A structural framework that runs longitudinally along the centreline of a hull, which on sailing yachts is extended downwards to increase stability

Knot 

A measure of speed equal to one nautical mile

Lazarette 

A storage space in a boat’s stern area

Leeward 

The side sheltered from the wind

Line 

A length of rope that serves a specific purpose

Mainsail 

The primary sail on a yacht set behind the mainmast

Make Fast 

To secure a line

MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) 

Implements the UK government’s maritime safety policy in the UK to prevent the loss of life on the coast and at sea

Midships 

Equidistant from bow to stern (see Amidships)

Mizzen 

A sail flown from the mizzenmast (a third mast or the mast immediately behind the mainmast)

Nautical Mile 

A unit used in measuring distances at sea, equal to 1,852 meters

Passarelle 

A gangplank or platform used to board or exit a large yacht

Port 

The left side of the boat

Port Bow 

The front left side of a boat

Port Quarter 

The rear left side of a boat

Reach 

Sailing with the wind on the beam

Rigging 

Lines that hold the masts

Rudder 

An underwater blade at the stern of a boat used for steering

Shroud 

Wires that support the mast

Spring Line 

A line led diagonally from the bow or stern of a ship to a point on the dock to prevent the vessel from sliding forward or backward

Stabilizers 

A design feature of a yacht that sits below the waterline intended to reduce or combat its tendency to roll in seas.

Starboard 

The right side of the boat

Starboard Bow 

The front right of a boat

Starboard Quarter 

The rear right of a boat

Stern 

The rear end of a boat

Stern Line 

Stern lines prevent the stern of a boat from moving side to side or, when coming into a berth, keeps the boat from drifting away from the dock

Stow 

The nautical term for putting items away

Superstructure 

The part of the ship built above the hull

Tack 

To change the direction of a sailing vessel by turning the bow of the boat through the wind

Tender 

A smaller vessel used to ferry guests to shore or for water-based activities

Transit 

Two fixed objects lined up by an observer

Transom 

The flat surface forming the stern of the boat

Trim 

To adjust the angle of the sails

True Wind 

The direction and speed of the wind felt when stationary

Underway 

When a boat is moving, either by motor or wind

Warp  

A line used for anchoring or mooring

Windward 

The side closest to the wind (opposite of Leeward)

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