The Boater’s Dictionary: A Guide to All Things Boats

The world of boating is a very exciting one to dive into, especially if you’re looking to test the waters with a rental boat before you decide what type of vessel is going to work best for your situation! 

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But before you pack your sunscreen and captain’s hat, there is some very important boating terminology that you should be familiar with. Let us help you — here are some common terms and phrases to know before you find yourself at the helm!

Parts of the Watercraft to Know

Before you head out for a day on the water, it’s important to be able to identify the main components of your boat and understand their individual purposes. Here are a few general terms to familiarize yourself with — but don’t be afraid to ask your boat rental team questions once you arrive and see your vessel for the first time:


The main body of the boat, including the side, bottom, and deck. It does not include the masts, superstructure, rigging, engines, or other fittings. Topsides refers to the portion of the hull that is above the waterline. 


The front of the boat. Also referred to as “forward.” 


The rear of the boat. Also referred to as the afterdeck or the aft.


The part of the boat where you steer the vessel — the tiller or wheel used for steering and directional changes. Also referred to as the cockpit or center console area, depending on the type of boat. 


The enclosed and protected area on a boat, which can range from a small cabin to a large living space with multiple rooms. 

Casting Platform

The raised, open deck area of a fishing boat, used for casting off. 


The raised area above the deck or cockpit where passengers can sit or stand while the boat is in motion.


The sleeping area on a boat, or can be used to refer to as a place where the boat is tied up. 


Any exposed, flat exterior surface of the vessel that passengers stand on. The foredeck is the most forward part of the deck.


The term for the bathroom aboard the vessel.

Swim Platform

The part of the stern that was designed to make it easier to get in and out of the water on certain types of boats. 


This is the lowest section of the boat, and the area where water will often collect. That’s why a bilge pump is essential, as it helps to forcibly remove that excess water.  


Deck drains that channel any water that gets into the boat. 

Inboard or Outboard Engine

An inboard engine is mounted inside the hull of the boat, while an outboard engine is mounted on the transom. 


This is the vertical reinforcement piece that is used to strengthen the stern of the boat and is above the water line. It is where an outboard engine would be mounted. 


The rotating device that works with the engine to move the boat forward and backwards through the water. 


The moving backend appendage that controls the steering of the boat. 


Raised sides or edges on a boat, to keep waves from coming into a specific area, such as the cockpit. 


The door or cover of a boat that closes off the cabin from the rest of the boat. 


Rope of any kind aboard the watercraft, which is typically used for tying up at a dock (bow line) or sailing purposes. Lifelines are those cables or lines that prevent people or gear from falling overboard.

Fenders or Bumpers

These rubber floating devices are designed to protect a boat’s hull from damage when tied to a dock or another vessel.


This is the device, typically secured to a dock, which allows you to secure your boat in one place via a rope. 

Navigational Lights

Sometimes referred to as “running lights,” these are important to have on at night so other boats can see you in the dark. The port side is red, and the one on the starboard side is green, to help show other boaters what direction you’re facing and who has right of way. 

VHF Radio

A marine “Very High Frequency” or VHF radio is the primary means of communication out on coastal waters and allows you to instantly communicate with other boaters, marinas, bridges, and the United States Coast Guard in case of emergency. 

Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

A personal floatation device or PFD is a life jacket or something similar that helps you to float in the water in case of emergency. 


Directions & Docking, and Navigation

Here are some very important navigational terms to understand before you head out in the open water. 


Refers to the left side. 


Refers to the right side. 


Above deck.


Alongside or at a right angle to the centerline of a boat. 


This means a boat is not anchored or fastened to a dock and is able to move freely in the water. 


The speed at which a watercraft travels, in nautical miles per hour. One nautical mile is equal to 1.15 miles on land. 


A floating navigational aid that is anchored to an area to show reefs or other boating hazards. 


Uncovering the Origins of Boat Lingo 

Have you ever heard a phrase and wondered, “Where did that come from before it turned into a slang term?” Here are some interesting, boating-inspired idioms you may not realize have an interesting origin story. 

“Going overboard”

To go overboard means to literally fall out of a boat — so if someone tells you you’re going overboard while your two feet are firmly planted on solid ground, it might mean that you’re being a little bit much and need to be careful that you don’t go too far! 

“Leaving you high and dry”

Beaching your boat during high tide could mean that a following low tide would recede and leave your vessel out of the water and stuck ashore. Now, we use this terminology to describe being stranded in a bad situation. 

“Under the weather”

When sailors took refuge from a storm, they went below deck to wait things out. Now, when we’re not feeling well and need to stay home until our illness passes, we use the catchphrase loosely. 

“The whole nine yards”

Commonly misconstrued to be a sports reference, this phrase originates from sailors who dealt with three masts of three yards of sail each. If you were doing “the whole nine yards,” all your sails were up and you were moving at max speed, so now we use this idiom to mean going all out. 

“Loose cannon”

This one is a little self-explanatory — if a cannon broke loose from the deck of the boat in rough seas, it was a big issue for anyone in its way. Similarly, a loose cannon today means someone is acting unpredictably and dangerously. 

“Even keel”

When a boat is properly balanced, it’s at an even keel — just like when things in life are perfectly balanced!


Visit Your Local Morningstar Marinas

At Morningstar Marinas, we pride ourselves on the community of boaters we’ve created across the Southeast’s top boating destinations. Our facilities and services paired with our friendly and knowledgeable team members will help you quickly and efficiently get out there on the water, so you can start having fun! Morningstar Marinas is more than just a place to store your boat — we’re here to offer you an unforgettable boating experience, every time. Learn more about our boat rentals and other marine services.