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National Boating Glossary of Terms


TERM MEANING
HEADWAY SPEED The slowest speed at which it is still possible to maintain steering
IDLE SPEED The slowest speed at which it is still possible to maintain steering; the vessel should not produce a wake at this speed
NO WAKE SPEED The slowest speed at which it is still possible to maintain steering; the vessel should not produce a wake at this speed
SLOW - NO WAKE SPEED The slowest speed at which it is still possible to maintain steering; the vessel should not produce a wake at this speed
AGROUND Touching or stuck on the bottom
ALL-ROUND WHITE LIGHT Combination of a masthead and sternlight into a single white light able to be seen by other vessels from any direction (also called an anchor light)
ANCHOR Device used to secure a boat to the bottom of a body of water
BACKFIRE Explosion of prematurely ignited fuel or of unburned exhaust gases in an internal combustion engine
BAIL To remove water by scooping it out with a bucket
BEAM Maximum width of a vessel
BILGE Interior of the hull below the floorboards; lowest part of a vessel's interior where the sides of the vessel curve in to form the bottom
BOAT Any type of vessel other than a personal watercraft
BOW Front of a vessel
BOW LINE A line (rope) used at the bow of a vessel
BUNKS Wooden supports on which the vessel rests while on the trailer
BUOY Anchored, floating device used as an aid to navigation
CABIN Enclosed living space
CAPSIZE To turn on the side or turn completely over
CAST OFF To undo all mooring lines (ropes) in preparation for departure
CHANNEL Portion of a waterway that is navigable and usually marked
CHART Map used for navigation (See an example of a navigation chart.)
CLEAT Metal fitting on which a rope can be fastened
COUPLER The part of the trailer that attaches to the ball hitch on a towing vehicle
COURSE Direction that a vessel is steered through the water
COWL Hooded opening designed to scoop in air
DECK Covering of the hull
DISPLACEMENT HULL A hull designed to cut through the water with a minimum of propulsion
DOCK 1. Area of water between two piers where a vessel can be secured; 2. To guide a vessel alongside a float or pier in preparation for securing the vessel
DOWNCURRENT In the direction the current is flowing
DOWNWIND In the direction the wind is blowing
DRAFT Depth of water needed to float a vessel
EMBARK To go on board
EPIRB Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon—a small transmitter used in cases of distress
FAIRWAY Navigable channel
FEDERALLY CONTROLLED WATERS

Waters on which vessels must observe federal requirements, including VDS requirements; these waters include:

  • Coastal waters (coastal waters include oceans, gulfs, and all bays, sounds, harbors, rivers, inlets, etc. where any entrance is over two miles wide to the first point where the distance between shorelines narrows to two miles)
  • The Great Lakes
  • Territorial seas
  • Bodies of water connected directly to one of the above, up to a point where the body of water is less than two miles wide
FENDERS Cushioning device placed between vessels or between a vessel and a dock to prevent damage
FLOAT PLAN A written plan of an outing left with a relative, friend, or local marina to provide a description of the vessel, list of persons on board, the detailed route, and expected return time
FORWARD Toward the bow
FREEBOARD Distance from water to lowest point of the boat where water could come on board
FURL To roll up tightly and make secure
GIVE-WAY VESSEL The vessel that is required to take early and substantial action to keep well away from other vessels by stopping, slowing down or changing course
GUNWALE Upper edge of vessel's side (generally pronounced gunnel)
HALYARDS Lines (ropes) used to raise and lower the sails
HATCH Closable opening in the deck
HITCH 1. A connection between a vehicle and a trailer. 2. Knot used to secure a rope fast to another rope or other object
HULL Body of a vessel; basic structure or shell
IGNITION SAFETY SWITCH A safety device that is designed to shut the engine down if the operator is thrown from the proper operating position
IMPELLER Device used to pump and force water under pressure through a steering nozzle at the rear of the vessel
INBOARD ENGINE A type of engine that has a motor mounted inside the hull's midsection or in front of the transom that turns a drive shaft that runs through the bottom of the hull and is attached to a propeller at the other end
JET DRIVE ENGINE A type of engine that uses a motor to power a strong water pump, which sucks up water and forces the water out the back to thrust the vessel forward
JET SKI Frequently used term for personal watercraft, which is a small vessel that uses an inboard jet drive as its primary source of propulsion, and is designed to be operated by a person or persons sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel rather than inside the vessel
KEEL The part of the boat attached to the bottom of some hulls to keep the boat from sliding sideways through the water
LANYARD Short cord used for fastening something or securing rigging; on a PWC and most powerboats, it attaches the ignition safety switch to the operator's wrist or life jacket
LEEWARD Direction toward which the wind is blowing, or downwind. Leeward vessel refers to the vessel that is downwind of the other.
LENGTH OVERALL (LOA) Length of the hull excluding any attachments
MARINA A facility providing vessel moorage space, fuel, or commercial services
MAST Vertical spar on which sails are set
MASTHEAD LIGHT White light that shines forward and to both sides
MOOR To keep a vessel in place by setting anchor or tying the vessel to a fixed object or buoy
MOTORBOAT Any vessel operated upon water that is propelled by sail or machinery, whether or not the machinery is the principal source of propulsion
NAVIGATION
LIGHTS
Lights shown by a vessel that indicate course, position, and type of vessel
NAVIGATION
RULES

The rules of the U.S. Coast Guard governing navigation lights, rules for vessels encountering other vessels and distress signals. For the purpose of the navigation rules, the following definitions apply:

  • Vessel engaged in fishing: Any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls, or other fishing equipment that restricts maneuverability; however, does not include a vessel fishing with trolling lines or other fishing equipment that do not restrict maneuverability
  • Vessels in sight of one another: One vessel can be observed visually from the other
  • Restricted visibility: Any condition in which visibility is restricted by fog, mist, falling snow, heavy rainstorms, sandstorms or any other similar causes
  • Risk of collision: Any situation when an approaching vessel continues on a collision course (the bearing of the approaching vessel does not change), or when you are approaching a very large vessel
OPERATE To steer, direct, or otherwise have physical control of a vessel that is underway
OUTBOARD ENGINE A type of engine that is a complete power unit (motor and propeller) mounted on the transom of the vessel
OVERBOARD Over the side or out of the vessel
PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICE (PFD) A buoyant vest, coat, or suit designed to be worn or a buoyant ring or cushion designed to be grasped
PERSONAL WATERCRAFT (PWC) A small vessel that uses an inboard jet drive as its primary source of propulsion, and is designed to be operated by a person or persons sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel rather than inside the vessel
PIER Structure extending into the water from shoreline to allow vessels to dock
PLANING HULL A hull designed to rise up and glide on top of the water when enough power is supplied
PORT Left side of a vessel
POWERBOAT A vessel whose means of propulsion is an engine
POWER-DRIVEN
VESSEL
Any vessel propelled by machinery, including a sailboat using an engine
PROPELLER Rotating device that turns and powers a boat forward or backward
PWC A small vessel that uses an inboard jet drive as its primary source of propulsion, and is designed to be operated by a person or persons sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel rather than inside the vessel
RAFT A floating platform
RIGGING The lines (ropes) and gear used to support and control the sails on a sailboat
RUDDER Steering device, usually a vertical blade attached to a post at, or near, the stern of the boat
SAFETY LANYARD Short cord for attaching the ignition safety switch to your wrist or personal flotation device (life jacket)
SAILING VESSEL Any vessel under sail and with no engine in use
SHEETS Lines (ropes) used to control the angle of the sails to the wind
SIDELIGHTS Red and green navigation lights visible to another vessel approaching from the side or head-on (also called combination lights); red indicates a vessel's port side; green indicates a vessel's starboard side
STAND-ON VESSEL The vessel that must maintain its course and speed unless it becomes apparent that the give-way boat is not taking appropriate action; if you must take action, do not turn toward the give-way boat or cross in front of it.
STARBOARD Right side of a vessel
STEERING CONTROL Means of controlling the steering nozzle on a PWC
STEERING NOZZLE Device used for directing the stream of water to the left or right at the stern of the PWC, which steers the PWC
STEM Upright structural member or post of the bow
STERN Rear of a vessel
STERN DRIVE
ENGINE
A type of engine that has a motor mounted inside the vessel and attached through the transom to a drive shaft that runs through the transom and turns a propeller at the other end; also called inboard/outboard engines (I/O)
STERNLIGHT White light seen only from behind or nearly behind the vessel
STERN LINE A line (rope) used at the stern of a vessel
SWAMP To fill with water
SWIM PLATFORM A deck extending from the transom at waterline position
TIDE The vertical rise and fall of ocean water resulting from the moon and sun exerting a pull on the earth
TILLER Lever used to turn a rudder to steer a boat
TONGUE WEIGHT The weight a loaded trailer places on the towing hitch
TRANSOM Vertical surface at the back of the hull
TRIM Term that refers to the running position of the engine drive unit
UNDERWAY Not anchored, tied to shore or aground; making progress through the water
UNPOWERED VESSEL Any sailboat under sail power alone and vessels that are paddled, poled or rowed
UPSTREAM In the direction that is against the current
UPWIND In the direction that is against the wind
VESSEL Every kind of watercraft capable of being used as a means of transportation on water, including seaplanes
VISUAL DISTRESS SIGNAL (VDS) A device that allows vessel operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency
WAKE Waves that a vessel leaves behind as it moves through the water
WINCH A geared drum turned by a handle and used to pull lines (ropes) such as those that connect a vessel to a trailer
WINDWARD Direction from which the wind is blowing, or upwind. Windward vessel refers to the vessel that is upwind of the other.