In all directions: orienting yourself in a sailing boat

The English language has definite terms for describing positions of objects: somebody is standing left of a tree, a book is on a shelf above a table, or a car is behind a lorry. This is a very efficient way to name positions from a fixed viewpoint in an environment that changes little. Offshore, however, things are different.

With everything floating around you and the wind as your only source of energy, definite terms for spatial orientation fail very quickly. This is why the nautical language found relative terms that relate your body or the boat to specific environmental influences. Even though these terms might sound a little confusing to beginners, it is crucial to know and understand them. Using them is only a matter of practice.

1.) Terms relating to the boat: Left-hand side of the bow to somebody facing the bow is called port, right-hand side to somebody facing the bow is called starboard. Towards to back-end of the boat, the stern, is called aft. On the other side, the direction towards the bow is called fore or fore’ard. Very significant for sailing are terms that relate the boat to the wind.

2.) Terms relating to the wind: The direction away from the wind is called leeward, which is pronounced like loo’ard. The direction towards the wind is called windward (which is probably easier to remember).

Make yourself familiar with these terms, as they are every-day jargon of sailors. In stressful situations you won’t have much time to think of what is what, so try to use them naturally as soon as possible.

Further Reading

Back to "sailing"

Information on Compasses and Navigation

Wikipedia on navigation