Know Your Boat: Common Terms for Location, Position, and Direction

5 Common Boating Terms All Mariners Should Know

If you aren't familiar with common boating terms, mariners can seem to speak a foreign language at times. That's because, like any other job or sport, there are specific terms they use.

Following are some common terms used to describe location, position, and direction aboard a boat. Knowing these terms will help you better communicate with persons aboard your boat and fellow mariners.​

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Bow and Stern

Silhouette of girl jumping off sailboat
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The front end of a boat is the bow. When you move toward the bow, it is called going forward. The rear of a boat is the stern. When you move toward the stern, you are going aft.

When a boat is moving, either by power or sail, it is called being underway. A boat moving forward is moving ahead. When the boat moves backward, it is going astern.

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Port and Starboard

If you are standing in the rear of the boat looking forward, the entire right side of the boat is the starboard side; the entire left side is the port side.

The front right side of the boat is the starboard bow; the front left is the port bow. The right rear of the boat is the starboard quarter; the left rear is the port quarter.

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Amidships is the central part of the boat, while athwartships is an imaginary line running from one side of the boat to the other.

The right center side of the boat is the starboard beam; the left center side is the port beam.

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Going Topside and Going Below

Going topside is moving from a lower deck to an upper deck of the boat while going below is moving from an upper deck to a lower deck.

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Windward and Leeward

Windward is the direction from which the wind is blowing; leeward is the opposite direction from which the wind is blowing. Knowing the windward side and leeward side is particularly helpful when you are mooring, unmooring, and operating in heavy weather.