Sailing 101: The Anatomy of the Sailboat

Ahoy sailors, welcome to the first article in a new series set on giving you a complete guide to the world of sailing. The Log will be compiling sailing information from experts so you will be well-versed in sailing in no time.

SOUTHERN CALIF.— There are many ways to learn to sail. You can jump in the boat with a friend and learn from experience, you can sign up for formal lessons, or if you can get your hands on a boat, you can try and teach yourself. No matter which method you prefer, it’s necessary to understand the boat and what it can do out on the water before you dive into your education.


The Basics of a Sailboat


Before setting sail, there is much you need to know. Gaining a basic knowledge of the boat’s anatomy will help the new sailor familiarize themselves with where and how the boat operates. Knowing the different parts of the sailboat is important for both safety and being able to sail your boat as flawlessly as possible.


  • Block: This is the nautical term for a pulley.
  • Boom: The horizontal support for the foot of the mainsail extends aft of the mast. Aft is the rear of the ship, at the direction of the ship’s stern. This is what you want to watch out for when changing directions in a sailboat. It can give you quite a bump on the head if it hits you.
  • Bow: This is what the front of the boat is called.
  • Centerboard: This is a (usually fiberglass) plate that pivots from the bottom of the keel (a flat blade sticking down into the water from the bottom of the sailboat) in some boats and balances the vessel when under sail.
  • Cleat: Cleats are what lines (or ropes) get fastened to when they need to be kept tight.
  • Halyard: Lines that raise or lower the sails. (Along with the sheets, aka running rigging.)
  • Hull: The hull is the boat’s body and consists of everything below the deck.
  • Jib: This is the sail at the bow of the boat. The jib helps propel the boat forward.
  • Genoa: A foresail that is larger than a jib.
  • Keel: The keel is what prevents a boat from sliding sideways (“making leeway”) in whatever way the wind is blowing and stabilizes the boat.
  • Line: Lines are ropes. They are everywhere on boats. There is only one “rope” on a sailboat, the bolt rope that runs along the mainsail’s foot.
  • Mainsail: It’s all in the name; this is the boat’s mainsail. It is the sail attached to the back of the mast.
  • Mast: The mast is a large, vertical pole that holds the sails up. Some boats have more than one mast.
  • Painter: This is a line positioned at the front of small boats. It is used to tie the boat to a dock or another boat.
  • Rudder: The rudder is how the boat is steered. It is movable so that when you turn the wheel or tiller, the rudder directs the boat in the direction you would like to go.
  • Sheets: The lines that control the sails, (also known as running rigging.)
  • Spinnaker: The usually brightly colored sail used when sailing downwind or across the wind.
  • Stays and Shrouds: Some wires ensure the mast stays upright, even in hefty winds, (also known as standing rigging.)
  • Stern: The back of the boat.
  • Tiller: The tiller is a stick attached to the rudder and controls the rudder.
  • Transom: This can also be called the butt of the boat. It is the back part of the boat perpendicular to its centerline.
  • Wheel: The wheel works the rudder, steering the boat.
  • Winch: Winches help tighten the sheets and halyards. When these lines are wrapped around a winch (in a clockwise direction), a sailor can turn the winch with a winch handle, providing mechanical advantage, which makes it easier to bring in the lines.


Study these terms and distinguish where they are located on the boat. Retain that knowledge while the Log prepares for the next lesson in Sailing 101.

One thought on “Sailing 101: The Anatomy of the Sailboat

  • February 1, 2022 at 12:34 pm

    The timing of your article Sailing 101 turns out to be perfect for myself as I set a new course and plan to learn how to sail. After a lifetime of boating starting on the northeast coast and now in southern California, I have been fortunate to enjoy various types of power boats including trawlers. Now that my wife is done with boating I needed to find something to keep me on the water and stay young. Why not sailing? After a yearlong search for the “right boat” I commissioned the build of a 16′ Sandpiper Catsailboat built by Marshall Marine Corp, in Maine. With the boats ultra-wide beam of 7′ I felt it would offer the greatest stability for a beginner and its great classic looks add to its appeal. I look forward to following your article and learn as much as possible. Thank you



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