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Marine Lingo Every Boater Must Know

If you’re new to the wonderful world of boating, you may not know that boaters and boating have a language all their own. It’s an entire vocabulary that goes along with owning and operating a boat. Knowing this maritime jargon not only allows you to become acquainted with every aspect of your vessel, but it’s the primary way you’ll communicate with other boaters.


Yes, this new boating language sounds intimidating at first, but before you know it, it will become second nature. Much like the first time, heart pounding, that you back your beloved boat into its slip. We want to take you past the basic boating terms and into some you might not be familiar with.


Patapsco River, Baltimore, MD


How many of these boating terms do you know?


Above Board: Anything that is on or above the open deck is considered above board. In other words, if something is above board, it means it’s in plain view.


Anchor watch: This refers to the job of keeping an eye on the anchor to assure it is holding and the boat is not drifting. It’s particularly important during rough weather and at night. Check to see if your marine GPS unit has an Anchor Watch alarm capability.


Batten Down the Hatches: This means to prepare for trouble and take precautionary measures. The saying itself originated from the sailing practice of securing a ship's hatchways to prepare for bad weather.


Cut and run: This term is used when a boat and crew need to make a quick escape. For instance, a vessel might need to cut line for an anchor, causing the loss of the anchor - but shortening the usual time needed to make ready by bypassing proper procedures.


Draft or Draw: A boat’s draft or draw is the depth of the boat in the water - measured from the waterline to the lowest part of the hull. This is important to know, especially if cruising in shallow water or docking in an area where outgoing tides can leave your boat sitting on the bottom.


Flank: The flank is the maximum speed of a boat. It’s faster than “full speed” and is only used in situations where a boat finds itself needing to get out of the way of imminent danger.


Flemish Coil: This is a line coiled around itself to neaten the deck or dock. It derived its unique name from the sailors from Flanders (the Flemish) who made this technique well known.


Fluke: We’re not talking about the flatfish. On a boat, a fluke is the wedge-shaped part of an anchor’s arms that dig into the bottom.


Following sea: You’re following sea when your boat is going in the same direction as a wave or tidal movement. This term is used synonymously with the points of sail below a beam reach, since the wind direction is generally the same as the sea direction. For this reason, the phrase "Fair winds and following seas," suggests that a boat will have good winds, and not be pounding into waves.


Give Leeway: To give leeway is to give enough extra room to another boat that’s being blown into a downwind — leeward. It allows ample room to maneuver and avoid a bad situation.


Know the Ropes: If you’re a boater who knows the ropes, then you’re familiar with the ropes and cords required to properly run a boat.


Navigation Rules: They are simply the rules of the road for boaters - guidelines that keep our waterways safe. They govern how different situations should be handled based on the boat type and activity.


No Room to Swing a Cat: If you hear a boater say “there’s no room to swing a cat”, it means that an area is far too crowded. This term can be used to describe a crowded waterway or a deck.


Position: Your boat’s position is the geographical measurement based on the intersection of latitudinal and longitudinal lines. Not only does it allow you to know where you are at every point in your voyage, but it is used by emergency responders to find your boat using coordinates on a chart.


Quartering: The term “We need to quarter the waves.” Refers to the act of running with the waves at an off-angle to lessen the blow when head-on seas are too rough.


Touch and Go: Not a term you want to hear, it means that the bottom of the boat is touching the bottom but is not yet grounding.


Underway (or Under Weigh): If a boat is “underway,” it means that the lines have been cast off the dock, and the boat is floating freely.


Wake: Considerate boaters are always aware of their wake. It’s the column left behind a boat when it’s in motion. Wake from a large boat can create rough conditions for a smaller boat that crosses that path, as well as boats anchored or docked nearby.


Written by: Jo Montgomery

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