Understanding Your Boat: Terminology and Things You Should Know

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Understanding Your Boat: Terminology and Things You Should Know
Understanding Your Boat: Terminology and Things You Should Know

When you decide to buy a boat, it is a choice that you should not take lightly. The terminology and the parts are different from those of an automobile. Since you will most likely need to get a boating license in your state, you may want to learn the different parts and the terminology used (it will be on the test). When you buy a boat and need to have it professionally transported, look to the professionals at A-1 Auto Transport to get your boat to the water!

Getting to Know Your Hull: What is a Hull?

The hull is the body or shell of your boat. The hull can include the deck, the bottom, and the sides of your boat. It only includes the physical boat, not the extras that may exist on these parts of the boat, like the rigging or mast. 

Did you know that your hull can say a lot about your boat? There are four types of hull bottoms that you should be aware of. The hull of your boat can determine the characteristics of your boat and the water it is best suited for. Before going out on the water, make sure you familiarize yourself with the different types of hulls out on the water.

Flat-Bottomed Hull

Boats that have flat-bottomed hulls are considered stable on the water. These hulls are often great for fishing boats. You will often find hulls of this type on calm bodies of water that are smaller in size. 

Flat-bottom hulls are also useful for use in shallow bodies of water like rivers. The flat shape of the bottom keeps it from grounding. You will see shallow water fishing boats made of aluminum made in the flat-bottomed hull style.

Round-Bottomed Hull

Also known as a “displacement hull”, round-bottomed hulls are designed to move through the water with little to no effort. The most common round-bottom hull boats seen on the water are canoes. Canoes can glide through the water with minimal effort by the occupants.

The downside to the round-bottom hull is that the boat is often less stable in the water. Due to the shape, there is a higher potential to capsize. Extra care has to be taken when entering or exiting a round-bottomed hull boat.

V-Shaped Hull

The most common hull found on powerboats is the v-shaped hull. These types of hulls are also called planing hulls. Deeper v-shaped hulls are designed to plane the top of the water at higher speeds. This allows the boat to provide a smooth ride in choppy, unpredictable waters.

Unlike flat-bottomed and round-bottom hulled boats, the v-shaped hull boat will have a more substantial styled engine to help propel it through the water. The extra power from the engine helps in waters that aren’t calm.


As the name suggests, a multi-hulled boat has multiple hulls. The hulls that are on these types of watercraft can either be planing or displacement hulls. The type of hull on the boat will depend on the type of engine it is fitted with.

Multi-hull boats are some of the most stable boats on the water. These boats also have a more extensive range, requiring them to have more room to steer and turn. Popular examples of multi-hulled watercraft are pontoon boats and catamarans.

Boat-cabulary: What is Basic Boat Terminology?

Basic boat terminology includes the parts of the boat you should know before going out on the water. It would help if you also understood the terminology used for giving directions and navigating on the water.

There is a substantial amount of maritime vocabulary that you can learn. You won’t always need it, but if you are ever in a situation where someone uses terminology, you can at least be familiar with it. To make it easier, we will break it down into a couple of sections. Doing so will make it easier if you need to go back and reference it at any time.

Boat Directions

The first section is going to take you through directions when you are on your boat. You have probably already heard these terms, or even know what they are. It never hurts to have a refresher course before taking a boat licensing test.


The bow of the boat is the front part of the boat’s hull. When you are on course for a destination, the bow is the part pointing where you are going. If you understand where the bow of the boat is, you can figure out other directions easier.


When facing the bow of the boat, the port side is the left side of the boat. The port runs from the front of the hull to the back of the boat on the left side.


When facing the bow of the boat, the starboard is the right side of the boat. The starboard runs along the entire right side of the boat, from the front hull to the back end.


The stern is the rear portion of the boat, opposite the bow.

When a person is to move toward the stern, they are moving aft. 

If the boat is moving backward in direction, it is called astern. 

Four Sections of a Boat

To fully understand the directional names of your boat (this will be easy, I promise), you have to imagine that your boat is cut into fourths.

Understanding Your Boat Terminology And Things You Should Know
Sections Of A Boat

Structures of a Boat: All Hands on Deck!

Now that you know what the different directions of your boat is called, it is time to learn what the different structures aboard it are. Depending on the type of boat you own, not all of these may pertain to your specific vessel.


The cabin is the part of your boat that is below the deck. The cabin is where boat occupants often sleep or spend time together. The term cabin can refer to one single room where someone resides or an open space where many can gather.


The deck is the part of the boat that sits on top of the hull. The deck acts as a roof to the hull. This is the area where most of the work aboard the boat takes place.


The opening on the deck that leads to the space below the deck is called a hatch. Hatches can have several different purposes depending on the size and the type of boat. When going down through the hatch, the term is “going below”. When going through the hatch to the deck, the term is “going topside”.


One of the most critical parts of the boat is the helm. The helm is how a person can steer a boat when it is moving along the water. Generally, the helm is a wheel in which the driver turns to indicate the direction the boat needs to go in.


You will most often find rigging on a sailboat. Rigging is the lines or ropes that are used to work the masts, sails, and yards. When “going aloft”, a person is going up the rigging.


Any structure that is located above deck on a boat is considered a superstructure. Rigging is not considered a superstructure.

Other Important Definitions to Know When You Own a Boat

Now that you know what the structures are on top of the boat, it is time to review what else you will find. Many of the remaining terms will fall under boat structure and other internal and external features. 


When you are out on the water, your boat will drift along with the current if it is stopped. An anchor is an item with a hefty weight dropped to the bottom of the water to stop the boat from drifting too far off course. Most anchors are shaped like two fish hooks put back to back so that they can catch on to the floor of the water you are on.


Fenders are made of plastic or rubber and prevent the watercraft from running into a pier. The fenders are used to prevent damage from occurring to the boat and the pier should they meet. 


The gunnel is also known as a gunwale, which is along the side of a boat. It is used to add structure to a boat and provides strength to design overall.


A specific part of the hull is called the keel. The keel is the main beam that runs from the bow of the boat to the stern. It also goes through the midsection of the boat. The keel is often referred to as the foundation of a boat.


A rope in nautical terms is called a line. Lines can serve many different purposes aboard a boat, but if you don’t know how to tie the proper knots, it may not be of much use to you. 


When you use a line or anchor to secure a boat to a specific spot, it is called mooring. Moorings can be a part of many different locations, like piers, wharfs, and marinas.


The part of the hull that touches the water is called the underside of the boat. The underside can also be called the bottom of the boat.

What Kind of Safety Items Should I Have on My Boat?

The water poses a certain number of threats to those who are onboard a boat. As the owner of a boat, it is your responsibility to make sure that you have the proper safety items on your boat in case of an emergency.

Part of the responsibility of owning a boat is making sure you have the proper emergency items onboard. Some states will require specific equipment in excess of the standard list. You can find all the items at most sporting goods stores, or anywhere maritime equipment is sold.

  • Life jackets and other wearable personal flotation devices
    • Each person on a boat must have access to a personal flotation device or life jacket. Children 12 years of age and younger are required to wear one on a boat at all times. Anyone who rides a personal watercraft or partakes in watersports from your boat is required to wear a life jacket as well.
  • Flotation devices that can be thrown
    • A throwable flotation device is required onboard in case someone falls into the water. The device should have a line attached so that it can be pulled back in with the person from the water. Although only one is required, it is not a bad idea to have more than one.
  • Fire Extinguishers
    • The size and number of fire extinguishers to be present on your boat will be dependent upon the size of your boat. Make sure you check with your fire marshall or state to find out the appropriate type and number required.
  • Visual signaling device
    • There is a variety of visual distress signals available for boats on the water. The size of your boat will determine the type of signals you need, but as a common practice, flares of all types are most commonly used on boats.
  • Sound signaling device
    • Sounds can be used to warn boats of where you are in the event of fog or bad weather. Horns are the most commonly used on boats, but larger boats also require a bell.

Other Safety Equipment

Besides the standard required equipment on your boat, there is a list of items that are good to have in an emergency. These include:

  • Medical or First-Aid kits
  • Anchor with a line attached to moor the boat in place
  • Device to bail water in case of a leak
  • Oars or paddles for engine failure
  • Cellphone
  • VHF radio
  • Snorkel in case you have to go underwater to inspect the boat
  • Waterproof Heavy-Duty Flashlight
  • Distress flags (diver down, etc.)
  • Weather radio

Professional Boat Transport Services

Part of being a professional transport company that provides services for boat owners is knowing the terminology involved with their watercraft. A-1 Auto Transport offers professional boat shipping and transport services domestically and internationally. If you find yourself requiring the assistance of a professional transport company, call on A-1 Auto Transport today for your free price quote


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Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing. 

After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood. 

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