Helm's a lee shipmate watch the boom - thoughts on sailing terms

Marine vocabulary is extremely varied and complex even for a salt encrusted sailor. Nautical words and phrases have even made their way into common use. An experienced seaman would, "know the ropes." Today, you might "know the ropes" in any number of different professions, sports or skills. If you're really into it you can even buy "Paasch's Illustrated Marine Dictionary" on Amazon. When you learn to sail you can be presented with an endless barrage of terms and words that appear a different language altogether. I think as an expert we sometimes use sailing terms to demonstrate our skill, proficiency and that we are part of the sailing community. You've only made it when you know the difference between "clam" cleat and "cam" cleat. However, these particular cleat based words are, in my opinion, unlikely to be needed by an advanced sailor let alone a beginner.

With so many terms it's the job of an instructor to try and introduce the beginner to our sailing language in manageable pieces. Knowing which is the "main" sail and where the "jib" can be found is important. Knowing a "sheet" from a "halyard" is also important. As a beginner you should definitely take every opportunity to pick up these words but DON'T STRESS about it. Communication helps us setup boats and sail them but it's definitely NOT the most important part of learning to sail. Your balance, ability to steer and trim sails is more crucial to being a good sailor.

Then there is the useless terms that really DON'T matter at all. At our instructor training we discussed and laughed at length about "sail slides," or is that "slugs," or maybe "trucks"...no, definitely "cars." You can watch the 3 minute (yes, 3 wholesome minutes) video of our "discussion" below. As long as you can rig this part of the boat, it doesn't really matter what you call it!

My thoughts? As teachers let's make sailing (or anything we teach) more accessible and less scary for everyone by putting less emphasis on language and more on skills. Teach using simple terms. Don't stop teaching our sailing words just introduce them in manageable pieces. Get people out on the water quickly and often, learning the skills that make people excellent sailors.

LearnTom Winskell