A Glossary of Boat Parts for Beginners
Nautical terminology can be a bit overwhelming to the novice boater looking to get his or her feet wet on their way to becoming an experienced skipper.
If you’re new to the boating world, you can toss common directional words like “front” and “back” overboard when you’re riding with experienced captains and crew. Don’t even bother asking where the “kitchen” is on a boat either! And what the heck is a “gunwale” anyway? To the uninitiated, it might sound like a weapon-toting marine mammal, but it’s actually the upper edge of a boat hull’s sides.
The terminology used in nautical environments is very broad, and takes some time to get used to, but eventually becomes second nature to seasoned skippers and crew.
A comprehensive list of boating terminology and jargon on a single web page can feel like an endless electronic ancient scroll when you’re reading it (just look up Wikipedia’s “Glossary of Nautical Terms” for proof). However, beginners to the boating world should at the very least learn some of the basic boat parts before getting into the more complex nautical vernacular.
In the interest of helping the nautical newbies or the uninitiated, we’ve compiled a “boat parts for dummies” of sorts for novice seafarers looking to learn more about the parts of a boat. Here’s our glossary of some of the basic boat parts every future captain or crew member should know.
Anchor: Heavy items (usually metal) that have a ring on one end for attaching a line, and an extension, typically having two or more hooks. Anchors are dropped into the water to secure a boat by grasping the bottom surface of a body of water.
Berth: A sleeping area on a boat. It also refers to a boat’s allotted place on a dock, marina or wharf, or the act of berthing or docking.
Bilge: The lowest compartment on the outer surface of a boat’s hull that collects water. A bilge pump is usually housed here to eliminate excess water.
Bimini top: A Bimini top is a canvas top accessory supported by a frame, usually attached to the cockpit of a boat to protect boaters from exposure to the sun and rain.
Bow: The forward end or front portion of a boat.
Cabin: An enclosed area of the boat below deck used primarily for sleeping or leisure. The cabin can be a single room or an area where multiple rooms are located.
Chine: The area of a boat where the bottom intersects with the sides of the hull.
Cleat: Boat cleats are fittings, usually made of metal, that are used to secure lines to the boat.
Cockpit: A partially enclosed area where the control center of the boat is found.
Console: An area above the deck for sitting or standing while a boat is in motion.
Deck: The surface of the boat on top of the hull.
Fenders: Rubber or plastic bumpers that hang off the sides of a boat. Fenders act as a buffer between a dock or a pier to prevent damage to the boat and the mooring.
Flybridge: A steering station on top of a boat’s cabin, often used for entertaining.
Galley: The area used for food preparation on a boat.
Gunwale: The top or upper edge along the sides of a boat’s hull.
Hatch: An opening on the deck of the ship that leads to the cabin or a lower level on a boat.
Helm: The section of a boat where a person steers the vessel while it’s underway. It also refers to the area of a boat that houses the steering and engine controls.
Hull: The body or shell of a boat that sits atop the water and includes the deck, the bottom, and the sides.
Impeller: A rotating component found in boat engine water pumps that moves the fluid being pumped.
Inboard engine: An engine housed inside the hull of a boat.
Keel: The main beam of the hull that sits in the water and runs through the middle of the boat from the bow to the stern. It’s the lowest section of a boat’s hull.
Livewell: A compartment on a boat for keeping fish, bait, and other small marine animals alive.
Mess deck: A place on a boat used for eating meals.
Outboard motor: An external engine with a propeller, usually mounted to the transom of a boat.
Port: The left side of a boat when you’re facing forward toward the bow.
Propeller: A propeller is a rotating mechanism attached to an engine to put a boat in motion.
Rudder: An external, vertical steering device on the hull of a boat.
Scuppers: Drains found on the deck to remove water from a boat.
Starboard: The right side of a boat when you’re facing forward toward the bow.
Stern: The rear part of a boat.
Topside: The part of a boat’s hull above the waterline.
Transom: A surface at the stern of a boat that connects the port and starboard sections of the hull, typically where outboard motors are attached.
Underside: The bottom of a boat or the portion of the hull that touches the water.
Knowing these boat parts helps novice boaters get a basic understanding of how to take command of one, and to not appear completely clueless when they’re onboard with an experienced skipper!