The Sailing Lingo Quiz


By: Robin Tyler

6 Min Quiz

Image: Steve Schwarz/Moment/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Sailing ships are things of beauty. 

The earliest sailing ship ever found by archaeologists dates back to 1300 BC. In fact, many ancient nations were incredible sailors. 

For instance, the Phoenicians, the world's early explorers, were the first to travel around Africa, while the Greeks colonized much of the area around the Mediterranean.

And both civilizations achieved these incredible feats using the humble sailing ship. 

And think about the exploration of the world. The Spanish reached both north and south America. They achieved this thanks to their brilliant sailing skills as well as their well-built sailing ships. 

It was only with the arrival of the industrial revolutions and steam power that sailing ships became redundant. Today, we have replicas of those ships of the past that give us an insight into a time long ago. 

But sailing hasn't died. Now, it is a recreational sport as well as a much loved past time. And with many other sports, it has its own special language.

And that's what we want to test today. Do you love sailing? Do you know many of the terms associated with it? Then this quiz should be a breeze ... pun intended!

Good luck and fare thee well!

In sailing, what is a spinnaker?

The largest sail on the boat, when it is running with the wind, the spinnaker is set up before the main sail. The spinnaker is a three-cornered sail that holds a lot of wind and provides plenty of speed for the boat.


If you were told to adjust the rigging on a sailboat, what would you be working with?

The rigging on a sailing ship is all the ropes found on the boat. These are used in a number of ways, from tying up the boat to securing the anchor to raising the sails.


If the skipper of the boat told you to turn to port, which side must the boat go?

Sailing has many different terms for everyday words that we might use when not at sea. For instance, should you want to go left, the ship would be turned to port. Don't confuse that with port, as in the harbor.


A sailing boat turning to starboard is turning which way?

Sailing has many different terms for everyday words that we might use when not at sea. For instance, should you want to go right, the ship would be turned to starboard.


What is a keel?

The keel is a large fin that comes out the bottom of the boat. On a sailing ship, this can be fairly large and long. Its primary job is to provide stability for the boat as it sails. This helps to keep it from capsizing.


If you are adrift in sailing lingo, what is happening?

Generally, if a ship is adrift it is not under control of the crew or whoever is sailing it. This means that it will travel in the direction of the ocean currents or winds.


The term "avast" means ______

"Avast" means stop. It comes from the Dutch term, "hou' vast" which essentially means hold on. Certainly not a modern sailing term, but if you were a pirate ...


What is a jib?

You've heard the saying, "I like the cut of your jib". Well, actually it's referring to a sail on a sailing boat. It is found in front of the mainsail and does not have a boom of any kind.


The leeward side of the boat is?

Like an island, a boat has a leeward side. Unlike an island, this side will change, depending on the direction of the boat. When a boat is sailing at an angle, the leeward side is always closest to the water.


A sailing boat that is tacking is doing what?

Tacking involves changing the course of the sailing boat at regular intervals. This involves turning the front of the boat into the wind and letting it fall away. Rinse and repeat!


The sailing term lines refers to what?

A sailing boat without ropes is not going to go anywhere! They are used in a number of ways including securing the boat to the dock, securing the anchor and perhaps most importantly, in the rigging for the sails. In sailing lingo, ropes are called lines.


The captain of a boat is generally found at the helm. What is this on a sailing boat?

The helm is the best place for the captain to see what is going on, not only with sea conditions but with the ship and crew as well. It is generally a raised area and includes a large wheel from where the captain steers the boat.


If told to move to the bow of the ship, where should you go?

Yes, it's not just the left and right-hand parts of a sailing ship that have their own names, but the front and back as well. And now you know, the front is the bow.


The captain yells for the crew to meet him at the aft of the ship. Where is that?

Like the front of a ship, the rear section has a name as well. It is called the aft section and generally is where the helm of the ship is found, including the big wheel used to steer the boat.


The term "point of sail" means what in the world of sailing?

There are 8 point of sail positions for a sailing boat, each with their own terminology. For instance, a boat at the point of sail position of "in irons" is going straight into the wind.


What is a mast?

One of the most important parts on a sailing ship, the mast is the large upright pole that on older sailing ships would be made from wood. And what does it do? Well, its main job is to hold up the sails that are put up. A sailing ship without a mast is useless.


It's certainly something to be aware of on a ship, that is for sure but what is a boom?

Found at the bottom of the mast, the boom is to be respected on a sailing ship. Newbies tend to get hit by it often. But what purpose does it serve? It has sails connected to it. The boom is moved toward the wind's direction and this helps to drive a sailing ship forward.


Another critical part of the any sailing ship is its rudder. Do you know what it is?

Without a rudder, the ship cannot be steered properly, especially when not under sail or driven by a motor. A large wheel is connected to the rudder on large sailing ships while on smaller ships, the rudder is connected to a tiller at the back of the boat.


Explain what windward means in sailing.

Like an island, a boat has a windward side. Unlike an island, this side will change, depending on the direction of the boat. When a boat is sailing at an angle, the windward side is always furthest from the water.


If a sailing boat jibs, what is it doing?

If the wind direction needs to be from the other side of the sailing boat than what it is currently, a jib is performed. This means the rear of the boat is moved through the wind to change its direction from one side of the boat to another. This is not performed as much as tacking.


When a sailing ship is alongside something, it is _____

A sailing ship can be alongside many things. Basically this means it is next to something. For instance, a ship that is in the harbor might be alongside a pier, while two sailing ships racing are alongside each other.


Part of a sailing ship, what is a booby hatch?

Throughout the deck of a sailing boat, you can find hatches that can be pulled open. These are storage spaces for equipment mainly, but some accommodation can be below decks behind larger booby hatches.


When a boat capsizes, it ________

Capsizing is a very serious situation. On large sailing boats with big keels, capsizing is virtually impossible, but on smaller boats, where keels are far smaller, it can happen easily. Normally this is as a result of a large wave.


In sailing, what would a compass be used for?

But you knew that, right? To make sure the boat is going in the right direction, it will be equipped with a compass. This is particularly important on journeys where land will be out of sight.


In sailing, draft is a measurement. But of what?

Knowing the draft length, the depth of the keel below the waterline can be handy. A ship with a short draft length is certainly more prone to capsizing than one with a bigger draft length. Note, this can also be spelled draft.


Can you identify what a driver is?

On a sailing ship, the driver is a type of sail. It is flown from the mizzen gaff. This type of sail is only found on large sailing vessels such as schooners or barquentine. These ships generally had six masts.


Can you tell us what a fathom in sailing lingo?

In sailing and nautical terms, a fathom is a unit of depth. It is the equivalent of 6 feet, which is around 1.8 meters. Often used to measure how deep the ocean floor is in a particular area.


What is the job of a helmsman?

On a normal sailing ship, the helmsman would be the captain. On large sailing boats of old, the helmsman was a specific person but not the captain. On a single sailing dinghy, the helmsman is the only person in the boat!


A sailor who is loaded to the gunwales is ______?

In days of yore, sailors would often get drunk. In fact, the British Navy used to give their sailors a rum ration each day. If a ship was loaded to the gunwales, it had cargo all the way to the top, and hence this is how it became a way to describe drunken sailors.


Any idea what a tiller is?

Single dinghy-type sailing ships can only take one person. They are steered using a rudder which is connected to a tiller which comes into the dinghy itself. Other smaller ships that hold a few more people are often steered in this way as well.


If a ship is moored, it has _________

A ship that has docked in a harbor or possibly against a buoy out in the ocean is said to be moored. Ships are moored as a way to ensure they they do not get taken away by the current or wind.


Can you tell us what the poop deck is?

Admit it, you laughed! No, it's not where the toilet is found. On older ships from a bygone era, there was a raised deck at the back of the ship. This was known as the poop deck.


If someone asks the captain what the beam of his yacht was, he would reply with its ______

The beam of a boat is its width. But this is not taken just anywhere. It must be measured at its widest point, which is generally in the middle of the deck.


What would someone do in the galley of the ship?

OK, it's obvious that not all ships have a galley. But sailing boats, those that are for more than one person, probably have a place below deck where food can be prepared. Even a sailor has to eat sometime!


If a sailor is tasked with splicing, what does he need to do?

Splicing means that two separate cables or ropes must be put together. This means they form one continuous piece. To achieve this, the frayed ends are intertwined enough so that they join together.


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