Nautical Terminology – Explained

We look forward to helping those new to Sailing Terminology learn something new, but also for those experienced followers to pass on the benefits of their experience too.

So whether you are Dame Ellen McArthur (it would be great if you have made it to our humble pages!) or a first time novice, we welcome your contributions.

A sextant and dividers on a chart.
The Sextant A symbol of nautical learning
Man on the bow of a large sailing yacht with yachts in the back ground.
Man on the bow Large sailing yacht with yachts in the back ground.

Bearing Away

Giving Instruction

There are generally two directions you can steer a yacht, to port or starboard. Or left or right as you face the bows (the front on the boat).  Sometimes sailors like to make it a little more complicated! Rather than ask a helmsman (the person driving) to go left or right, or port or starboard, it is better to reference the instruction to the wind. This does makes sense.

The wind, if it is not directly ahead of you or directly behind you, is to one side or the other. If a navigator wants you to go closer to the wind he or she would call for you to luff-up.  If they instead wish you to turn away from the wind, they would use the term ‘bear-away’.

Bearing Away – Tricks.

We now know that this is turning the boat away from the wind and can be to port or to starboard.  Sometimes, especially for novices, the direction of the wind can be uncertain.  Some boats have wind instruments to help you, but it can be confusing at first and there is the possibility the wind is directly behind you, where would bearing away be then!

If you are asked to bear away, if the boat you are using has a tiller (a long, normally wooden, stick), pull or push it to the side opposite the mainsail.  If the boom is over the port hand side, pull the till over to starboard and vice versa. In doing this, you will bear the yacht away from the wind.  If you have a wheel, then turn the wheel ‘towards’ the boom.


Please leave a comment if you found this useful or you have anything to add.  We promise to respond to every remark.

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