What’s what on the sailing boat



The illustration shows a classic cruiser used in navigation sailing, and may excellently serve in smaller club regattas. The list includes terminology of the basic deck equipment used in sailing and steering. We shall start from the bow and move towards the stern, explaining each important part of the equipment along the way.

1. BOW RAIL (PULPIT) – front part of the railing, often made of stainless steel, firmly bolted through the deck, provides leverage to the sailor on bow when changing the staysail. Sometimes it has a stepper on top, which makes it easier to get on the bow and off the bow.

2. ANCHOR LOCKER – a box below deck which is used to store the bow or “main” anchor. On larger cruisers, it stores the windlass. There must be a possibility for sealing from the upper side and sea drainage from the lower side.

3. CLEAT – both on the bow and stern, used to tie the boat, anchor or a lighter towed vessel (if it concerns a less weighty ship).

4. HATCH, FORWARD HATCH – serves in emergency and for evacuating the boat, so its dimensions should be at least of the human body width. Its purpose is to provide light and to ventilate lower deck. In larger cruisers, they are arranged across the deck from the bow toward the stern.

5. HALYARDS – cordage used to haul up the sails, which go through the mast, and they come to the mast through leads and sheaves on the mast heel. They are fixed with various types of stoppers.

6. GRAB RAILS (HANDRAILS) – Hand-hold fittings mounted on cabin tops and sides in order to enable the crew safe passage from the stern to the bow and vice versa.

7. HANDRAIL PILLARS AND RAILING – their main task is to protect the crew from falling off to sea. On bigger boats, there is a double line of railing. The safest lines are PVC coated wire ropes. Recentuse includes ones with Kevlar thread, but we do not recommend them for longer use because they become fragile in the sun and rip open. Take into account that high railings cause trouble for the Genoa sail when sailing. Therefore, you should be considerate so that the railing does not harm the twitchy Genoa in manoeuvring.

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8. GENOA TRAVELER AND TRACK SLIDES OF THE ATTACHMENT POINT OF THE STAYSAIL – these are the rails across deck through which the main sheaves of the staysail sheets move, and they serve for staysail trimming.

9. STERN RAIL – secures crew in the cockpit while sailing. We most often set a horseshoe device on one of its sides, with a rope for rescuing man overboard and a nightlight for marking the drowning man. Part of the rail usually opens to enable easy exit or is sometimes stretches out into sea ladder.

10. WINCHES CAPSTANS (winches, crickets) – used to tighten the ropes on the boat. Size or their number most often depend on the size and purpose of the sailboat. Capstans set on the cabin serve mostly for handling halyards, and the ones on the edge of cockpit for handling sails (sheets of staysail and spinnaker). For easier manipulation, we use the winch handles, whereas larger capstans can have two- or more-speed handles.

11. COCKPIT – the crew uses it as primary space for dwelling and steering sailboat when sailing. All controls, from halyard and sheets, to the rudder and engine control handle are placed in a cockpit.

12. COMPANION WAY – consists of horizontal sliding part and vertical doors, which we also close when sailing in harsh conditions, when there is danger of the sea bursting into the boat.


Masts and sails of the boat, together with the cordage, i.e. ropes of the mast and sails, are called the rigging.

13. MAST – a vertical spar, most often made of wood or aluminium (more recently in regatta sailboats made of carbon), which supports the sails. The mast consists of the head on top, mast body and the heel in the lower end, as well as appurtenant parts, such as sheaves, slides, crosstrees (spreaders) and additional equipment.

14. SPREADERS – parts of the mast that serve controlling the angle and direction of gripping the shrouds on the mast. Modern sailboats have very high masts so the width of the boat is insufficient toachieve an angle which would hold the mast upright. Minimum angle between shrouds and mast, in order to securely keep it in vertical position, should be between 12 to 15 degrees. The mast may also have several spreaders.

15. BOOM – a horizontal spar used mainly to set the mainsail along the lower horizontal edge. When steering the sailboat across the wind, it travels from one side to another and becomes dangerous for the crew. This is why the English sailors have called it a “boom”.

16. SPINNAKER POLE – a horizontal spar ahead the mast, which serves to set the spinnaker and staysails; sometimes called a spinnaker boom. We fix it when sailing with spinnaker with the halyard and downhaul.

17. MAIN SAIL – consists of the sail head (top with metal plate sewed in), final of the sail hem (leech), with sewed on pockets for battens (crates/slats), lower hem or base of the sail and front hem.

18. STAYSAILS – a sail that has one or two sides attached to a stay, that is, one of the ropes or wires that helps hold the mast in place; for instance a jib or Genoa. Jib is a triangle shaped sail forward of the mast that does not reach aft of the mast. Genoa is a large foresail that reaches aft past the mast and extends beyond the luff of the mainsail


Rigging is the cordage of the mast and sails. It is divided into standing and running rigging. Standing rigging serves for holding the mast and bowsprit in place, for holding crosstrees and alike. On modern sailboats, the entire rigging is tightened by bottle screws. Running, living rigging serves to control sails and other what we are fitting during sailing.

19. HEADSTAY OR FORESTAY – tightens the mast toward bow and serves for setting staysails.

20. SHROUDS – they hold the mast up from side to side, and depending on which part of the mast they reach – we call them small, middle, large etc. These names depend, naturally, on the type of mast of our sailboat (topmast, seven-eights, nine-tenths, and alike). These are most often roughly-weaved cables with small flexibility, and they may be built especially from one piece by undulating.

21. BACKSTAY – they tighten the mast to the stern, most often fixed. Instead by sheaves, it is tightened at larger ships by special thread or hydraulics.

22. MAIN SHEET – the line attached to the boom used to control the angle of the sail in relation to the wind.

23. RUNNERS – they hold 7/8 (seven-eights) regatta masts from the stern.

24. BOOM VANG – may be fixed or movable with dual function: tightening or lifting the boom.


We left two important parts for the end – rudder and keel.

25. SAILBOAT RUDDER – serves to steer the boat, and regardless of its type (ballast, fin, outboard…) it consist of the leaf, waist (rudder shaft) and a tiller.

26. KEEL – is an underwater fin by which we stop lateral movements of the sailboat; in cruisers it carries around 40% of total weight of the ship, not allowing it to tilt not under the gravest of conditions. Therefore, remember before the first sail out, that one should not be afraid of tilting. True, so-called small boats have a moving fin instead of a keel and they do tilt over due to the crew-member mistakes, but at the first level of joint studying, we board the ship with the proper keel, so you could only get wet because of the sea spray on deck. Anyways, what kind of sailing would that be if your parts would remain completely dry?


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From: „Sailing nautical skills“ by Emil Tomašević


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