Maritime terms

Knowing these specialised maritime terms can help you understand and follow the rules when you're on the water.

Types of vessels

Our website and handbook use specific terminology to refer to vessels.

  • Vessel: Any vessel used as transport on the water. Includes powered vessels, sailing vessels, paddlecraft and rowing vessels. Does not include surfboards, stand-up paddle boards, towed equipment – for example, water skis, inflatable tubes or rafts – or swimming equipment.
  • Powered vessel: Vessel with an engine – for example, powerboats, sailing boats using an engine and personal watercraft (PWC).
  • Sailing vessel: Any vessel using a sail for power. For example sailing boats without an engine or with an engine (but not using it), off-the-beach sailing boats, sailboards and kiteboards.
  • Personal watercraft (PWC): Vessel with a fully enclosed hull that you drive standing up, lying down, sitting astride or kneeling. It uses waterjet propulsion and has an engine in a watertight compartment. For example, jet ski or jet-powered surfboard.
  • Paddlecraft: Vessel that you paddle – for example, kayaks, canoes and surf skis.
  • Rowing vessel: Vessel that you row – for example, rowing shells and skiffs, dragon boats, rowing boats, rowing dinghies and small inflatable boats.
  • Tender: Vessel used to transport people and goods between its parent vessel and the shore, or another vessel. It is less than 7.5m long and doesn't operate further than 1 nautical mile form the parent vessel.
  • Skipper: The person in charge of a recreational vessel, whether driving or not. Often referred to as the master.
  • Driver: The person driving a vessel. Often referred to as the operator.

Parts of a vessel

  • Beam: The widest part of a vessel.
  • Bilge: Inside the bottom of a vessel's hull where water collects.
  • Bow: The front of a vessel.
  • Cabin trunk: On a small boat, a raised cabin above the deck.
  • Centreline: The middle line of a vessel, from bow to stern. The dividing line between port and starboard.
  • Chine: A sharp change in angle on the surface of a hull. For example, where the topside meets the bottom.
  • Cleat: A fitting on a vessel to which lines (ropes) can be attached.
  • Cockpit: A lowered space in the deck of a boat where people can stand or sit.
  • Console: Where controls are located, such as steering, radio, ignition and other switches.
  • Deckhouse: An enclosed cabin on the deck of a vessel.
  • Draft: Distance from the waterline to the lowest part of the vessel.
  • Freeboard: The vertical distance from the waterline to the top of a vessel's hull.
  • Gunwale: The top edge of a vessel’s sides.
  • Hull: The main body of a vessel.
  • Marlin board: A small deck on the back of a boat to make getting into the water easier – similar to a swim board.
  • Port side: The left side of a vessel when you are looking towards the bow and the side on which a red sidelight is displayed.
  • Pulpit: The railing at the bow of a boat.
  • Starboard side: The right side of the vessel when you are looking towards the bow and the side on which a green sidelight is displayed.
  • Stern: The back or rear of a vessel.
  • Topsides: The sides of a vessel between the waterline and the gunwale.
  • Transom: The surface that forms the stern of a vessel.
  • Wheel: Used for steering a vessel. Also called the helm.
Towards the front of the boat is known as the bow, the back end is known as the stern
Towards the front of the boat is known as the bow, the back end is known as the stern.

General maritime terms

  • Give way: Reduce speed, stop, reverse or alter course to keep out of another vessel’s path.
  • Knots (speed): 1 knot is a speed of 1 nautical mile per hour, or 1.852 kilometres per hour.
  • Nautical miles (nm): A unit of measure for distances at sea. One nautical mile per hour is equal to 1.852 kilometres or 1.151 miles.
  • Navigable waters: A waterway that a vessel can navigate safely.
  • Planing: A vessel is planing when it speeds up enough to rise and skim on top of the water. Also called 'on the plane'. Heavier boats are not capable of planing.
  • Underway: Moving. A vessel is underway when not at anchor or fastened to the shore or ground. If a vessel is drifting, it's underway.
Share this page: