Sailing Parts: 22 Sailing Essentials & Beginner Basics

 What Do I Bring On Board A Keelboat Trip?

Here is a list of essentials to bring on board a larger keelboat (sizes 25 ft+) offshoring/coast to coast. Many of these are also applicable to smaller keelboats, dinghies, and catamarans. They are:

  1. Sunscreen, Sunglasses, Hats (Things to block exposure from the sun
    VHF Radio, VHF Sailing , VHF

    VHF used for communication with USCG and Rescue Teams

  2. Extra clothing ( since you will need /want to change clothes day to day)
  3. Water (drinking water)
  4. Ample engine fuel
  5. Chart/map
  6. Working compass
  7. Bucket along with a retrieval line ( can be used as a toilet or bail out water when if there is too much water on board)
  8. Anything USCG required
  9. whistles, fog horns, for signaling
  10. Lifesling/ Ring Buoy
  11. Any spare parts needed
  12. Fender to attach anchor or buoy


Sailor installing radar reflector

When you walk into any marine outlet, you will likely see the book titled Federal Requirements & Tips For Rec Boats. Always have this book handy to refer to. Although it is a great idea to read this whole book, it is more useful and effective for when you are faced with a question. That way you will more likely remember the answer after trying to get through your own challenge. You can also refer to their website. The CG Auxiliary and Power Squadron provide safety check forms to use and provide other services along these lines.


Should You Get Help Launching and Rigging a Sailboat?

Prepping a sailboat for hoisting (pulling the sails) can be more of a  process than you initially may have thought. Since you want your crew to get the feeling you know what you are doing, and that you are cool under pressure, this process cannot be overlooked.

Let’s say for instance that your boat is docked with other boats and that there isn’t much wiggle room or margin of error to rig correctly. What should you do? Well for starters, if you have an outboard or inboard engine attached, you should probably use it to get the boat out in the open and away from the other boats. Always remember that it is ok for guidance from an instructor or someone who is experienced to aid in getting the mast put up and possibly even helping you launch (getting the boat in the water) and getting the boat docked or attached to a mooring (which is a fancy word for a permanent anchor). 

What Are The Parts of a Sailing Keelboat?

1. Forestay(Headstay) : A rope, line or cord that leverages the mast from the bow, the opposite point of attachment

2. Jib Halyard: This line/rope/cable functions to raise the sails. A bowline is used to tie the halyard to the jib head.

3. Jib Head: Top of the Jib sail that has a place on the end for which to tie lines to in order to lift sail.

4. Jib Leech:  The back of the sail, the sail’s aft. (back edge) . Located between the clew and head of the sail.

5. Jib Luff:  The luff acts as the forward edge of the jib. When it flaps it signals that the sails are not trimmed correctly

6. Jib Sail:  This sail lies between the headstay/forestay and the mast. It can also be referred to as headsail, named for the fact that it is located at the head/bow of the boat.

7. Jib Clew:  The clew is on the lower aft of the jib sail. This is where the leech and foot of any sail intersect.

8. Jib Foot:  The foot is located at the bottom of the sail. It can be found between the clew and the tack.

9. Gunwhale:  this is the area /surface along the upper side of the cockpit.

10. Bow: This merely means the front of the boat and any parts can be found of the front side.

11. Keel/Centre Board/Dagger:  Depending on which type of vessel, a keel will typically be found on a keelboat, while a retractable centerboard/daggerboards will be found on your dinghies. These pieces make sailing at an angle in relation to the wind, possible. The rounded edge of the daggerboard/centerboard faces forward.

12. Jib Sheet: Sheets work as the main lines/cables of the sails that are adjusted based on what the wind is doing. The jib typically has a two sheets: (leeward) working sheet and lazy (windward) sheet.

13. Hull:  This is the section of the boat in charge of floating. It is the chassis/capsule of the boat. Main body of the boat

14. Main Sheet:   The main line of the mainsail. If you feel as though capsizing may occur, luffing the mainsail by pulling on the mainsheet will free the captured air from the mainsail and get you back on track

15. Stern: The backside of the boat and those components located there.  Aft is the direction headed towards the stern.

16. Rudder:  This is the controlling surface which is located behind the transom. When you force the tiller left the rudder is forced right and vice versa. The rudder is connected with a rudder head which connects the rudder and tiller along the transom. Certain rudder heads are made to hinge to the back while striking the bottom during sailing.

17. Tiller:  This acts a lever or arm that spins the rudder. This system works to steer the boat. Many small (under 20 ft) boats will have this system rather than using a steering wheel. On larger keelboats, however, you will typically see a steering wheel in place of the Rudder-Tiller-Transom system.

18.Boom: this spar runs horizontal and aids in supporting the bottom of the mainsail, lengthwise. It is made to rotate from one side to another.

19. Reinforcing Patches:  These are the cutouts where you tie your sheets to the sails using knots specified for each sail.

20. Main Clew: This is the area of the sail where the main foot and main leech draw an intersection point. They are located on the lower aft of the sail

21. Main Foot:  This is the lower edge of the mainsail which lies between the main tack and main clew.

22. Main Tack:  This is the front corner of the sail which is key to maneuvering the point of sail against headwinds.

23. Shroud:  These can be described as the support lines that begin at the top of the masts running down to the middle of the decks’ edge.

24. Main Leech: Basically the back edge of the sail that is located between the main head and  main clew

25. Main Luff: The front edge of the mainsail. Also means the sail will not flap correctly when sail is not trimmed properly

26. Mainsail:  This is the sail that is directly towards the back of the mast (aft) and is linked to the mast and the boom

27. Battens:   These are slats (usually plastic but can be wooden) that are inserted in the mainsail’s leech in order for stabilization of the back edge of the mainsails.

28. Main Head: Literally just means the highest point of the sail. Top of the sail.

29. Main Halyard:  The cable/line/rope responsible for lifting the mainsail.

30. Mast:  The highest spar (pole) that supports the sails. This is usually the main pole that the jib and mainsails are attached to.

Other terms that you will need to know, for now:

Cockpit:  this is the part of the boat where you and your crew move around, sit and handle the operation of the boat.

Lifelines:  These lines are made with a certain coated wire that is designed for safety and they wrap around the entirety of the deck.

Stanchion:  These are poles(typically made of a kind of metal) that run the deck’s perimeter and that carry/support the lifeline wire.

Backstay: These lines function as supporting wires and are located from mast to stern.

Topsides: These are the farthest outsides of the hull above the waterline.

Beam:  This measurement is the width of the boat to any other point on the boat. Max beam would be the widest width measurement from the farthest end of the boat (width wise) to the opposite farthest point.

Draft: This term is used interchangeably with draught. This is the measurement made from the water’s surface or water line to the lowest part of the boat(usually the keel or centerboard)

Freeboard: The measurement of the distance between the boat deck and the waterline.

Lines to Remember:sailboat lines, running rigging for sailboats, sailboat sheets

Cunningham:   This is the control line system that is made to adjust luff tensioning. It is located near the tack corner of the sail

Traveler:  This line acts to push the mainsheet attachment point from one side to the opposite side

Outhaul:  This line is used to control the tension of the foot of the sail

Boom Vang:  This line runs from the boom to the over to the mast and creates tension for the leech part of the mainsail.
For adjustment purposes, you will need a few items the lines can be housed in. These items include:
Winch:  This is basically a drum that revolves and leverages the power of a sailor to pull the rope. Most bigger boats have a minimum on one winch
Cleat: This type of housing works as a fitting to tie off the line and eliminates slipping of a line. These you will see often on larger boats.
Block: This system works as a machine to aid in pulling rope.

Mainsail Rigging

The first sail that you are going to want to rig is called the mainsail. This is done in a few steps:

  1. What you want to do is lay this sail down on the deck longwise, keeping it folded. The leading edge should be facing you.
  2. Next, make sure you have your battens ready to be inserted. Find the batten pockets located on the ends of the leech of the sail. Insert carefully. Battens may
    Insert batten into sails pockets along the leech

    Insert batten into sails pockets along the leech

    come in wood, plastic or fiberglass and aid in keeping the sails’ airfoil shape while sailing. It also helps keep the sails from over-flapping. 

  3. Attach the tack- typically the tack is linked to a fitting near the front of the boom. If not the boom then it would attach to the gooseneck Each corner of the sail has a grommet which is a strap loop that facilitates the attachment of each line to the sail. You will notice these grommets to be metalor plastic. You can use a metal hook to connect as many corners as you need to while appropriately using the correct knot to secure them. 
  4. Now comes the foot- If your mainsail is loose-footed which only attach to the boom at the corners then you will not need to do this. If however, the foot has line sewn onto it then you will have to slide the foot into the boom’s track. You would begin at the clew and then work your way down the entire boom shaft, from the front side to the back side. This usually takes a few people to pull off. One would be in charge of feeding the rope into the track and the other would be in charge of holding the sail steady 
  5. Connect the clew- The clew gets linked to the outhaul. Pull on the outhaul line to get it tight and secure.
  6. Connect the halyard- If you want to the sail to lift up to the top of the mast, you must attach the halyard to the sail
  7. Make sure the luff is pre-fed- sliding the top portion of the luff into the groove into the backside of the mast just above the boom. This is done similarly to how you slide in the feet of the sails. 

    Mainsail rig ready

Boarding A Boat – How do I Get Onboard a Dinghy the Correct Way?

sailor about to jump on board a dinghy from centerline

Just as certain types of boats have certain types of parts, how you get on each kind of boat may also be a little different depending on a few factors and tip levels.

With Dinghies,  you first need to recognize that these smaller boats don’t really hold much weight along the bottom centerboard. Dinghies have a propensity to tip over/capsize. So the best way to approach stepping into a dingy is to find the centerline of the boat (use your imagination and cut the boat in half widthwise and basically drop your feet onto this centerline one foot at a time in a standing position). This does not have to be perfect so don’t get too paranoid here 🙂 but you don’t want to get in on the bow side or the stern side because there is a good chance the boat tips over and we want to avoid this at all costs.  If your boat has wires rigged up such as shroud (which, remember are lines that run down the mast to the middle of the boat), carefully hold onto the mast and maneuver around these shrouds. Keep the sailboat as closest to you as you can. If you are having trouble, try crouching or sitting on the deck. This lowers your center of gravity and gives you more balance as you are climbing in. Remember, target the centerline!


Make sure to, that the centerboard/dagger is completely submerged. This will give the boat a stableness the boat would otherwise not have. Even more stability and rigidity will come when the wind’s pressure enters its sails.

Ok, Then What About Getting onboard a Keelboat?

climbing a boat, climbing sailboat, getting on sailboat

Get some help from other crew members if need be.

The good thing with keelboats is that the keel fin is extremely heavy and non-retractable. However, climbing into keelboats will still force you to think a little.  Since keelboats are larger, their freeboards are also wider.

You will find that you may have to lift your legs this time towards the centerline. Also, keelboats typically have lifeline cords which go around the perimeter of the deck level. These will also be found to wrap around stanchions (metal rods) so be careful not to get caught in these lines or come into contact with stanchions. They are there to aid the crew when times get real rough out at sea. Smaller keelboats come sometimes come without lifelines, so crisis avoided! In that case, the same methods to climb into dinghies applies to these smaller keelboats.

With larger keelboats that have these lifelines, it’s not as easy. It’s possible that there are stairs start at the dock and ascend to a small gate within the lifelines. Another possibility is that you picked a keelboat with a transom that opens and closes! This is most ideal since the transom is at the end of the boat and can slightly come over the dock or right at the edge of the dock, enough to easily climb on board. If however, these options are not available then your next option would be to climb up and around the lifelines by grabbing a shroud with one free hand,  at the same time stepping onto the deck with one leg and kicking the trailing leg around the lifelines. As if you are mounting an animal! Make sure you have both of your hands unobstructed of any items you may be carrying to pull this maneuver off.  Make sure you aren’t pulling the lifelines as they may not be able to carry your weight. If you can, try to grab the shroud as this can carry loads of weight! If you lack the athletic gene then suck up your pride and just crawl under these lifelines. Better to do this then fall and hit your head somewhere you would rather not. 

Keelboat with a step on transom

Keelboat with a step-on transom



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