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Glossary of Boating and Nautical Terms

The yachting, boating and marine industry has a language of its own. The following words are only a small chunk of the nautical lexicon. If you are already a boating expert, you likely know the definitions — but it doesn’t hurt to test your memory.  See how many 'Nauticalisims' you discover!

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B

Backstays

Long lines or cables, reaching from the rear of the vessel to the mast heads, used to support the mast.

Beam

The width of a vessel at the widest point, or a point alongside the ship at the mid-point of its length.

Beam ends

The sides of a ship. “On her beam ends” may mean the vessel is literally on her side and possibly about to capsize; more often, the phrase means the vessel is listing 45 degrees or more.

Beaufort scale

The scale describing wind force devised by Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort in 1808, in which winds are graded by the effect of their force (originally, the amount of sail that a fully rigged frigate could carry). Scale now reads up to Force 17.

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Bilge

The bilge is the compartment at the bottom of the hull of a ship or boat where water collects so that it may be pumped out of the vessel at a later time.

Bilge keels

A pair of keels on either side of the hull, usually slanted outwards. In yachts, they allow the use of a drying mooring, the boat standing upright on the keels (and often a skeg) when the tide is out.

Bollard

From “bol” or “bole”, the round trunk of a tree. A substantial vertical pillar to which lines may be made fast. Generally on the quayside rather than the ship.

Boom

1. The horizontal member in a sailing vessel's rigging that supports the foot of the sail.  2. A section of a davit or crane that positions the pick-point; articulates under load, potentially extending.

Bridge

A structure above the weather deck, extending the full width of the vessel, which houses a command centre, itself called by association, the bridge.

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Broaching-to

A sudden movement in navigation, when the ship, while scudding before the wind, accidentally turns her leeward side to windward, also use to describe the point when water starts to come over the gunwhale due to this turn.

Bulkhead

An upright wall within the hull of a ship. Particularly a load bearing wall.

Bulwark

The extension of the ship's side above the level of the weather deck.
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