Elementary parts of a Boat

Before you actually start sailing, it is very important that you make yourself familiar with the parts of which a boat is built and how they are called. The following terms are in some cases centuries old and might sound a bit funny. However, the culture of seamanship is a crucial part of everybody’s sailing experience.

Since some elements of sailing boats are essentially the same for all types, we consider it to be part of the basis of the hobby to know them. This article aims to give you an introductory overview, without annoying you too much with special terms.

1.) The Hull
The “Hull” is the body of the boat and contains the buoyancy to keep itself and everything on board over water – ideally. Dinghy hulls are most commonly made of glassfiber these days, although you might come across some of wood or plastic. They contain buoyancy tanks, most commonly in the left part (Port tank), right part (Starboard tank) and the bottom (Central tank) of the hull.

The outer ring of the hull is called bow. Most dinghy hulls have a bow that is pointed. Some smaller dinghies often used for early sailing lessons have a square-shaped bow that is called pram bow. It helps to improve the buoyancy forwards. Most dinghies have a foredeck that covers the front bow-area and slim sidedecks for the flanks. In addition to that, a bench or thwart runs across the inner part of the hull. Larger dinghies often have side benches that run parallel to the sidedecks.

Cruisers are generally larger and heavier than dinghies, which adds to their stability. Cruiser hulls sometimes come in aluminum, ferro-cement of steel. The hull contains at least one cabin to provide shelter for the crew.

The outer edges of the hull – or the bow, actually – are called gunwale or gunnel. The pointy front of the bow is called stem. The back corners of the bow are called stern quarters and the bow’s backend is called stern. The flat backend of the boat is called transom rather than flat backend.

2.) Keel, Centerboard and Daggerboard
On the bottom of the hull, diving into the water, you will find a board-like foil called keel if solidly attached to the hull. In smaller dinghies, this structure can be removed, in which case it is called a centerboard or daggerboard. In either case, it helps to keep the boat aligned by reducing side drift or, as with heavy keels, through its sheer weight.

Centerboards and daggerboards have the advantage that they can be adjusted by the depth in which you allow it to penetrate the water. Centerboards move with the case to which they are mounted, daggerboards move vertically.

3.) The Rudder
The structure that is used to steer a boat is called rudder. It is normally controlled over a long stick-like extension that is linked to it and is called tiller. In dinghies, the tiller is often extended with another stick to allow access and control of the rudder from the thwart. It is – most originally – called tiller extension and linked with the tiller with a universal joint for maximum freedom.

The rudders in dinghy boats can be either fixed or have a lifting blade. The latter one is in particular useful for very small boats that get pulled ashore very often. Fixed rudders are lighter and stronger and generally favored for racing dinghies. However, beginners find them more challenging to use in shallow waters. Cruiser boats generally have fixed rudders. It is normally controlled from the cockpit through a pedestal.

4.) The Rig
Extensions from the hull that are fixed and mounted are called the rig, generally consisting of mast, boom and sails. The rig is the structure of a boat that catches the wind and transmits the power into the hull. Rigs come a great range of varieties, not only between dinghies and larger yachts, but also within the same category between different models and series.

Boom: The boom is a vertical pole that is attached with a flexible link to the mast and holds the mainsail by its foot. It is normally made of aluminum and a common source for the sudden loss of teeth on sailing excursions.

Standing Rigging: Normally, the mast and boom are supported by a number of attached ropes and wires that are called the standing rigging. The extent to which a boat has a standing rigging can vary a lot to the extent that is doesn’t have any – this is the case with boats that are designed to be navigated in a fashion as simple as possible, in particular single-handed yachts. In these yachts, the mast is standing freely.

Running rigging: The ropes that allow you to control the sails and that connect the sails to the mast and hull are collectively called the running rigging. The control of the running rigging is achieved through a number of different types of fitting.

Most dinghy boats – especially those that are most commonly used by beginners – are rigged in a way called Bermuda sloop. The Bermuda sloop consists of mainsail and a jib towards the front. In this arrangement, both sails are triangular in shape. In order to increase the speed of the boat – and to make it look better – many sailors like to attach spinnaker sails, especially for sailing downwind.

Sails: Modern sails are usually more or less triangular is shape and made of a woven material called Dacron. They are reinforced in parts that have to stand the hardest pressures – obviously the corners and fittings that attach them to mast or boom. Each side of the sail is referred to by a specific name: the leading edge is called luff, the back edge is called leech and the bottom edge is called foot.

The same thing applies to the corners: the top corner is called head, the bottom, forward corner is called tack and the backward one clew. If a sail has a curved outer edge to increase the sail surface, this extension is called roach. The roach is often supported by strips of fiberglass or other materials and come in different lengths.

Fittings: To allow the crew to control the rig, there a several types of fitting attached to the running rig. Blocks are used to change the direction in which ropes run. The toestrap is a structure on the bottom of the hull that allows sailors to anchor themselves to the boat for maneuvers where they have to be sitting out. Cleats are used to secure ropes in order to avoid them flying around and getting messed up.

The rope that is used to attach the boat when mooring, is called painter. Block-and-tackle fittings allow to pull ropes tightly and fix them – or loosen them if needed with a single movement. Fairleads are fittings that direct ropes into a specific directions, as in curves. The fitting that attaches the jib, forestay and painter to the bow – the front tip of the boat – is called bow fitting. Clam cleats fix ropes in a wonderfully simple way between to clamps that tighten if the rope causes a pulling force. Horn cleats allow you to tie ropes around them to secure loose ends.

All the fittings mentioned above might sound complicated and confusing for the beginner. In fact, it becomes quite clear what they are used for once you are sitting in a boat. Cruisers and large yachts have much more sophisticated fittings that require more skills – for smaller dinghies, all you really need is common sense to start with and practice to gain the routine. So don’t worry too much, just set sail.

Further Reading

Wikipedia on Sailing Ships

Information on Sailboats on Answers.com

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