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Sailing Terms Everyone Should Know

Category : Sailboats

Knowing the right sailing terms to use on board a boat is not JUST a way of sounding super cool and impressing your friends. (Though it works for that, too.) It’s actually very useful, and sometimes crucial in communicating while you’re sailing. Some of the vocabulary used on board boats can sound arcane, which it is! That’s part of what’s fun about it; we’re still using terms that have been used by sailors for hundreds of years. So when you know your terminology, you’re participating in the grand sailing tradition, and you don’t have to say, “Can you hand me that…thing?”

main sheet

photo by b. cohen

Here are the key sailing terms you’ll want to know as you begin learning to sail!

  • Port: Facing forward, this is anything to the left of the boat. When you’re onboard, you can use this term pretty much any time you would normally say “left.”

    Starboard:
    Facing forward, this is anything to the right of the boat. Same deal as “port”–only the opposite.
  • Bow/Stern: The bow is the front of the boat, the stern is the back. Anything near the front of the boat is referred to as being “forward,” and anything toward the back is “aft” or “astern.”
  • Point of Sail: The boat’s direction relative to the wind. For example, if you’re going straight into the wind, your point of sail is called “in irons.” (Note: This isn’t a good place to be!) If the wind is blowing straight over the side of the boat, that’s called a “beam reach.” There are 8 commonly used points of sail, and it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with them before going out.
  • Helm: Where you steer the boat. Usually this is a big wheel, but on smaller boats it can be a tiller, which is basically a long wooden stick. Either of these can be used to control the boat’s rudder.
  • Keel: The keel is a long, heavy fin on the bottom of the boat that sticks down into the water. It provides stability and is the reason why modern sailboats are nearly impossible to capsize.
  • Heeling: This is the term for when a sailboat leans over in the water, pushed by the wind. There’s nothing else like the thrill of heeling over as your sails fill and your speed picks up!
  • Tack: This term has two distinct meanings, both of them very important. As a verb, to tack is to change direction by turning the bow of the boat through the wind. As a noun, your tack is the course you are on relative to the wind. For example, if the wind is blowing over the port side, you are on a port tack. If it’s blowing over the starboard side, you’re on a…you guessed it…starboard tack.
  • Jibe: A jibe is another way of changing direction, in which you bring the stern of the boat through the wind. Whether you choose to tack or jibe entirely depends on the situation–what’s around you, and the direction of the wind.
  • Windward: The side of the boat closest to the wind. When heeling over, this will always be the high side.
  • Leeward:The side of the boat furthest from the wind. When heeling over, this will always be the low side.
  • Lines: On board a boat, this is what you say instead of “ropes.”
  • Mainsail: The big triangular sail just aft of the sailboat’s mast. As the name suggests, this is the boat’s largest and most important sail. Running along its bottom edge, the mainsail has a thick pole called the boom.
  • Jib: The next most common sail on any boat. The jib can always be found forward of the mast, and unlike the mainsail, does not have a boom.

 

sailboat under main and jib

A sailboat cruising the Caribbean under mainsail and jib.


Getting familiar with these sailing terms is an important step. Not only will you sound like you know what you’re doing, you’ll quickly begin to realize that with the right practice and training, you really DO know what you’re doing!

Why Sailing School Makes Sense

Category : Schools

My first sailing class on the windy, choppy waters of Puget Sound was a Christmas gift, and probably the best one I’ve ever received. I was hooked immediately, but little did I know where sailing would eventually take me: Cape Cod, Mexico, the South Pacific, Europe, and the Caribbean, just to name a few places, and my adventure continues.
the freedom of sailing

Now, with the holidays coming up, we’re all starting to think about what to get for our family and friends this year. Lessons at an ASA sailing school are the gift that keeps on giving–years after the course is over, you’ll still be getting joy and adventure out of what you learned. So if you’re looking for something different to put in the stockings this winter, consider skipping the long lines at the mall, and look up your local sailing school instead!

Here are just a few of the reasons why a sailing school is the best place to learn:

1. Expert Instructors
Maybe you have a very good friend who is a master sailor, owns a boat, and has the time to take you out and teach you everything you need to know. But if that’s not the case, the place to find someone like that is an ASA sailing school! Our instructors are highly trained professionals who have dedicated their lives to sailing, spending countless hours on the water and in the classroom. In order to become an ASA instructor they must offer proof of substantial sailing and teaching experience, and undergo a rigorous Instructor Qualifying Clinic. In other words, only the best make it!

2. Comprehensive Curriculum
There are many books, online tutorials, and videos on how to sail, and some of them are very good. But those alone can’t teach you to sail. On-water experience, combined with study, is critical, as there are some things you can only learn by doing. How does it feel to steer a boat, or haul a line? How does a boat respond to the wind and waves? It’s about more than just getting your sea legs, it’s about really understanding how a sailboat works! And after all, isn’t being on the water the reason you’re doing this in the first place? That brings me to my next point…

3. Skip the Painful (and Expensive) Trial-and-Error

Learning a new skill or hobby is always a process of making mistakes and learning from them. But it shouldn’t be a shot in the dark, which is why sailing lessons from a qualified instructor can save you a lot of time, money, and stress. Sailing can be easy when you’ve had the right preparation and training, but if you’re unprepared it can turn into a frustrating experience. In a worst-case-scenario, it could even be dangerous. Much better to have an expert sailing instructor along to guide you through any uncertain moments. That way you’ll be making your beginner’s mistakes in a safe, constructive environment.

4. Accessibility
Here’s a fun fact: Most people, even avid sailors, don’t own a boat. Your local sailing school, however, DOES own a boat–probably a bunch of them. The best part of all? They’ll let you use it. A huge part of ASA’s mission is making sailing accessible to everyone, so that your education doesn’t end with certification. You don’t need to splash the cash on a brand new Beneteau or Hunter–we do it so you don’t have to. In addition to teaching sailing, many of our schools also operate sailing clubs, racing regattas, and double as charter companies, meaning you can rent their boats for an afternoon, a weekend, or a fortnight, whatever suits you. Once you start taking ASA classes, you’re part of our community, and we’re determined to provide opportunities to practice your skills and enjoy everything sailing has to offer.

5. Fun!
Not only will you be able to share the sport of sailing with your friends and family, at your sailing school you’re sure to meet like-minded people, both students and instructors, and who knows where that will lead? Maybe you’ll put together a team for Saturday night beer can races, or just find a group to go daysailing with. Perhaps you’ll even end up going on a flotilla in some exotic locale? Our instructors lead dozens of them every year, all over the world. (Here’s a list of ASA’s 2013 flotillas, by the way.) Once you start sailing, there’s just no telling where it might take you.

My sailing adventure began as a gift all those years ago. (Thanks Mom & Dad!) Now, are you ready to start yours?

5 Ways to Start Sailing

Category : American Sailing Association

small boat sailing bahamasLet’s say you’re a novice to sailing and you’re curious to give it a try. Where do you start? How can you get a taste of the sailing lifestyle, and what are you getting yourself into? Here’s a secret: You don’t have to buy a boat. You don’t need grand plans to sail around the world. You definitely don’t need to spend a lot of money. All you need is a little time and the willingness to give it a shot.

Luckily, getting new sailors started is one of ASA’s specialties. You can ease your way in without even leaving the home, plunge straight into an exotic sailing adventure, or try something in-between. Whatever your style, here are five ways you can begin to live the dream.

1. Complete our free eLearn course, “Your First Sail.”
It only takes about 30-45 minutes, and covers all the basics for a new sailor or anyone looking to brush up. You’ll learn sailing terms, the parts of the boat, basic safety skills, and even what to wear and bring with you. This is great preparation for a first sailing lesson, and will also make you a better guest aboard someone else’s boat. Try it for free here.
sailing wing on wing
2. Attend an On-Water Clinic at a boat show.

ASA exhibits at boat shows around the country, and now offers a variety of on-water clinics so you can go sailing at the show! There are courses for all levels, from first-timers to seasoned cruisers. You’ll learn sailing skills straight out of the ASA curriculum, taught by our certified instructors. Check with your local boat show to see if we’ll be there!

3. Sailing School Open House
Many of our sailing schools host “Open House” events periodically where you can get to know the instructors and the boats, and sometimes even go sailing for free. It’s an easy, low-stakes way to see what sailing is all about. Find your nearest ASA sailing school and contact them to see if there are any open house events scheduled.

4. Take an introductory ASA sailing course.
This is where the REAL learning begins. Sign up for ASA 101, Basic Keelboat Sailing, and get ready to become a confident small boat skipper. You’ll learn everything you need to have a great time as a casual sailor, and have the option of continuing through our courses to become an expert. Once again, just contact your local sailing school to get started!
relaxing in st. martin
5. Join an ASA Flotilla.
This is for those who want to start their sailing lives with a bang! ASA flotillas take place all over the world each year. Some of our favorite repeat destinations include the Caribbean, the San Juan Islands, Greece, Croatia, and Tahiti. And you don’t have to be a hardened sailor to go! Each boat will have a qualified skipper on board, and the trip will be led by an ASA instructor who is an expert in the local waters. Check out our flotilla schedule for 2013 here!

ASA in Croatia: Sailing the Adriatic

Category : Flotillas

vis harbor sunsetThis post is about ASA’s 2012 Croatia sailing flotilla. You can also read about the Top 5 Things to See on the Dalmatian Coast here, and a story of Croatia’s special cuisine here.

The Adriatic Sea was, for me, one of those places that always sounded incredibly far-off and wonderful, not quite real, a magnificent realm that I would probably never get to see. Its waters are steeped in history and legend. Strategically located between Italy and Greece, they were a focal point of the classical world, sailed by everyone from Odysseus to Julius Caesar to Marco Polo.