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Know Your Aft from Your Elbow

Do you know your aft from your elbow? When you’re buying a luxury yacht, it helps to understand the lingo. Here’s the low-down, a glossary of some of the most commonly-used and important boat, yacht and nautical terminologies.

This isn’t an exhaustive reference for all nautical terms, just a selection that will help you understand Princess Motor Yachts’ vessel specifications and descriptions better.

  • The aft – Also known as the afterdeck – is at the rear of the boat, also called the stern.
  • The poop deck is the aft-most, highest deck. In sailing ships it often forms the roof of a cabin in the stern.
  • A flybridge refers to an open bridge deck from which the vessel can be fully controlled while providing all round, open air visibility.
  • Port is left, starboard is right.
  • The bow is the name for the hull at the front of a vessel, the stern is the hull at the back
  • If you are astern, you’re at the back of the vessel or behind it
  • The beam is the width of the craft at its widest point
  • The hull is the watertight body of a yacht and the keel is the lengthwise main structural member or backbone of a vessel.
  • A V-Hull is a hull of a ship that forms a V shape in cross-section instead of a rounded shape, the V being a better shape for offshore craft because it offers more stability.
  • The deck is the part of the yacht you walk on, and the deckhead is the underside of the deck above.
  • The bulkheads are the dividing walls between cabins and areas belowdecks.
  • The head is the toilet.
  • The galley is the kitchen.
  • The rudder is underwater, at the stern end, and is used to steer the vessel.
  • The propeller propels the vessel through the water, powered by the motor.
  • The sterngear refers to the watertight aperture through which the shaft, from the motor, connects to the propeller.
  • A Nautical Mile is 1.852 km, 2025 yards, 1.1508 miles.
  • A knot is a measurement of speed on water, namely one nautical mile per hour.
  • The draft of a vessel is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull (keel).
  • Displacement means the weight of water that a craft pushes aside when floating, made up of the weight of the vessel and its contents.
  • Ballast refers to material used to provide stability. Some vessels (e.g. ships) use ballast tanks to hold water as ballast.
  • The Bilge is the lowest internal area of a vessel. It is where water tends to collect and bilge pumps are used to expel the water.
  • A bearing is a direction in degrees. This might be an absolute bearing, which is the direction relative to north (true bearing relates to true north and magnetic bearing relates to magnetic north) or relative bearing which is the bearing relative to the direction of the vessel. For example, you might determine the relative bearing of a lighthouse which would be the clockwise angle from the heading of the vessel.
  • In three-masted vessels the masts are called the foremast, mainmast and mizzenmast. The foremast is at the front of the vessel, at the bow end.
  • The forecastle (fo’c’stle) is the name for an upper deck at the forward part of a ship or vessel. Historically this was where a castle structure would have been used by archers, hence the name.
  • A marina is a harbour with moorings for pleasure yachts and small boats.
  • A berth can be a bed or sleeping compartment on a vessel. The term is also used to refer to where vessels are moored in harbours and marinas. And the term is also used to refer to the distance between vessels as they pass one another or pass a fixed object (‘give a wide berth’).
  • Moorings are places where you can moor – tie up – a vessel.
  • A quay is the edge of a harbour.
  • A breakwater is a barrier built into the ocean to protect landward vessels and structures from the sea.
  • A buoy is a marker out at sea often warning vessels of danger. They come in many different sizes and have different meanings.
  • ‘The Drink’ (as in ‘he fell in the drink’) is the sea.
  • The gunwale is the top edge of the boat’s side.
  • The helm is the steering apparatus, in particular the wheel or tiller.
  • The main deck is the uppermost complete deck that stretches all the way from bow to stern.
  • The mess is where the crew socialises and eats and the mess deck is the deck where the mess is located.
  • A sea trial is the testing phase of a new craft, taking place on open water and lasting anything from a few hours to several days during which time all of the onboard systems are fully evaluated, calibrated and tested.

Safety first – Know your terminology

Now you know the basics, you’ll know what the experts are talking about when they mention any of the above. But knowing the jargon is about much more than just being aware of technical terminology. It’s also important for safety and security. You need to know, for example, which is port and which is starboard when a crew member wants you to get into a lifeboat in an emergency, a time when seconds really do count.

Knowing what everything is called also increases the pleasure you get from owning a beautiful yacht of your own. That sense of familiarity, of intimacy, helps you feel like you’re the master – or mistress – of the waves!

To learn more about Princess Yachts why not contact one of our team at Princess Motor Yacht Sales at or +44 (0)1489 557755.