Boating terms

Specialised language or jargon has been developed over the years to refer to specific aspects of boating and provide clear and concise communication. You don’t need to know all of the terminology, but a working knowledge will prove useful.


  • Abreast of, or at right angels to, the fore and aft line of the vessel.
  • Towards the 'stern', or rear of the vessel.
  • A shallow area formed by sand, mud, gravel or shingle near the mouth of a river or at the approach to a harbour, which is often dangerous.
  • Operating a vessel between official sunset and sunrise.
  • A shallow area where waves may break.
  • The front of the vessel.
  • The level below which soundings are given on some charts and maps above which are given the drying heights of features. Datum is also the level above which tidal levels and predictions are given in Tide Tables.
  • In relation to a vessel, means conditions when there is a greater chance of an incident occurring or if an incident was to occur, it might be difficult for those on board to help themselves. Examples include (but are not limited to) tides, river flows, poor visibility, rough seas, adverse weather or an emergency causing an elevated risk to the safety of persons onboard the vessel.
  • The minimum depth of water a vessel needs to float in.
  • The falling or run-out tide.
  • Any port or inland navigable waters in New South Wales.
  • Any navigable channel.
  • The rising or run-in tide.
  • Reduce speed, stop, go astern or alter course so as to keep out of another vessel's path.
  • Reverse engines or travel backwards.
  • Pronounced 'gunnel', is the top edge of the vessel's sides.
  • Steering into the wind and sea making minimum headway.
  • One knot is a speed of one nautical mile per hour, or 1.852 km/h.


  • Marks used in channels and at bar entrances which when in line indicate the centre of the navigable channel.
  • The shore onto which the wind blows.
  • Downwind side.
  • When a vessel is underway and propelled by the vessel's engine
  • The person in charge of a vessel, whether or not they are actually driving it. Often referred to as the skipper.
  • Mean High Water Spring is an average value of spring high tides used on some signs. These make no allowance for unusual tide conditions.
  • A unit used in measuring distances at sea, equal to 1.853 kilometres or 1.151 miles.
  • Navigable waters which are not enclosed waters. Sometimes referred to as 'ocean' waters.
  • A vessel that has no part of, or not more than one-quarter of, the area between its gunwales permanently covered so as to hinder water from entering the vessel.
  • The person driving a vessel. The operator is often, but not always, the vessel's master.
  • Includes:

    • Any harbour or haven, whether natural or articial, or any estuary, channel, river, creek or roadstead
    • Any navigable water in which vessels may lie for shelter of for the shipment or unshipment of goods or passengers.
  • The left hand side of a vessel when you are looking forward from the stern and the side on which a red sidelight is displayed.
  • A personal watercraft is a vessel designed to be operated by a person standing, sitting astride or kneeling on. It uses waterjet propulsion and has an engine in a watertight compartment.
  • A vessel propelled only by sails; when a vessel is under sails but being propelled by engines it is classed as a power driven vessel.
  • A parachute like device used to reduce speed and stabilise the vessel in adverse conditions.
  • Lights to be shown at night when underway, showing an unbroken light over an arc of 112.5 degrees from right ahead to 22.5 degrees abaft the beam.
  • A tide of relatively large range occurring near the time of the New of Full Moon.
  • Continue on the same course and speed.
  • The right hand side of the vessel when you are looking forward from the stern and the side on which a green sidelight is displayed.
  • The back or rear of the vessel.
    • Less than 7.5 metres in length
    • Does not operate further than 1 nm from its parent vessel
    • Used to transport persons or goods between shore and its parent vessel or between its parent vessel and another vessel.
  • Not at anchor or made fast to the shore or ground. If you are drifting you are underway.
  • Any craft capable of being used to undertake a voyage on the water. This includes submersible craft, kiteboards and sailboards. It does not include surfboards, towed flotation devices or swimming accessories.
  • The direction from which the wind blows (upwind).

Diagrams of vessels

Diagram 1

Diagram 1 shows an overhead view of a vessel, indicating the stern, cockpit, deck house, cabin trunk, deck and bow (on the left of the diagram) and bow, cleat, pulpit, console, wheel, cockpit and transom (on the right of the diagram). The diagram also shows the starboard (right-hand side of the vessel as you face forwards), and the port (left-hand side).

Diagram 2

Diagram 2 shows the rear view of a vessel on the left, indicating the transom, topsides, pulpit, gunwale, chine and bottom, and the waterline. The right of the diagram is a side-on view of a vessel, indicating the freeboard height (measured from topsides to the waterline), the depth (measured from topsides to the bottom of the vessel), the effective draft (measured from the waterline to the lowest part of the vessel, in this case the propellor), and the overall length of the vessel.

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