Living on an island with easy access to the beautiful Pacific Ocean only minutes away, ocean water activities rightly become a regular part of the lifestyle. Wherever there is land, man and water, boats you will also find. Not originally a part of the maritime community, I was very unfamiliar with the nautical way of life. My first invitation for an extended boat outing was also my initiation to nautical life. The captain and owner of the vessel was an ex-naval officer who continued to maintain close ties with his naval career upbringing. Shouting terms like; “aft,” “starboard,” “centerline” and other boat people lingo held me in confusion and awe. “What is he talking about?” I’d asked.
After everything was safely underway on board ship, the Captain set me down and talked to me. He explained in order to understand a vessel’s construction and duties while aboard it was important to learn nautical words and phrases and get in the habit of using them. He went on to say with a little practice the words will be easily remembered, especially when you associate them with visible parts of the vessel. Since this was a weekend fishing outing I was going to have plenty of time to acclimate myself with these nautical terms as I transitioned from “landlubber” to “sailor.”
When you get on the boat; you are aboard. The head of the boat is the bow, not the front end or sharp pointy end of the boat. The rear of the vessel is called the stern. When you are standing dead center of the boat and face the bow, you are facing forward, if you turn around and look toward the stern, you are facing aft. When you are facing forward, your right hand is on the starboard side of the vessel and your left hand is on the port side. There is an imaginary line that follows the center of the vessel from bow to stern. This line is known as the centerline, it runs fore-and-aft. The length of the line is the length of the ship. The widest width of the boat from starboard to port is referred to as the beam.
Is that enough confusion for you? Hold on there is more. An object that is not on the vessel but is on either side of is said to be abeam. An object or line that is running directly across the ship, like a passageway is said to be athwart ships. When you are located dead center on the boat you are amidships. When you are facing either the port or starboard side you face outboard. Any crew member aboard ship standing at the rail, who looks back at you, is facing inboard. All objects above your head are located above and everything underneath you is located below. The boat’s floors are called decks, and walls are referred to as bulkheads, and stairs are called ladders. There are no hallways or corridors on board, there are only passageways. The boat does not have a ceiling it is the overhead of your compartment. Openings in the decks and bulkheads are not doors, they are hatches and the boat windows are referred to as ports.
There are many other nautical terms that are used when you are aboard ship but my guess is that you are like me and do not intend to make boating your career. If that is so, this list should keep you from looking foolish whenever the opportunity to come aboard presents itself. This is an interesting nautical fact to close with. There is no absolute distinction between a boat and a ship. Both are floating vessels which move through the water under its own power. The most common definition is that a ship is large enough to carry a boat aboard it, but a boat is not large enough to hoist and carry a ship. Remember this, and be careful what you refer to the vessel you are aboard as.
Resource: Personal Experience