The Parts Of A Boat That You Need To Know

If you’re new to boating or are considering entering the world of boats, then there are many unique terms that you will need to know.

It’s not enough just to have a boat and know how to sail it, you’ll also need to be aware of what each part of the boat is called so that you can deal with any problems that arise and freely converse with other boaters.

In this article, we will run through all of the parts of the boat that you need to know. We will also run through some of the most important terms you need to know as these go hand-in-hand with the parts of a boat.

The Most Important Parts Of A Boat That You Need To Know

Before you start your boating life, there are some essential parts of the boat that you need to know and be able to name. If you only learn a few boating terms, these are the ones to concentrate on.

Where Is The Bow Of A Boat?

The bow of a boat or vessel is the most forward part of the ship. If you imagine a boat that is underway and sailing (see also ‘A Complete Guide On Tacking And How To Tack A Sailboat‘), the bow is the point that leads the way. You might also hear it referred to as “forward” or “fore.”

Bows are designed so that the boat can pass efficiently through the water and can differ in design. They should also be tall enough to prevent any water from regularly splashing over the top of them during regular sailing.

As different ships travel at different speeds and through different waters, this affects the shape of the bow.

Where Is The Stern Of A Boat?

To answer this question, we move from the bow at the front of a ship to the rear as the stern is found at the back of a boat. It can also be called the “aft” and usually has a white navigation light that is lit at night.

Like the bow, the stern (see also ‘Stern Of A Boat Or Ship—What And Where Is It?‘) can differ in design depending on the type of boat and the function it needs to serve. There are several different types of sterns with the main types being transoms, ellipticals, and cruiser sterns.

Where Is The Transom Of A Boat?

We just mentioned that a transom is one of many types of sterns, so this would infer that many boats don’t have a transom as they have different sterns instead. So why are we including transom in this list?

The reason why we’re including transom as a separate point is because there are two different meanings for the term transom when it comes to naval architecture.

Over time, the two meanings have become a little mixed as they do refer to similar concepts.

In this instance, transom refers to the reinforcements in a stern that connects the two different sides of the boat together.

It strengthens the stern and can also serve a variety of functions such as supporting a rudder, or an outboard motor, as well as being used as an access or swimming platform. 

Where Is The Hull Of A Boat?

The hull of a boat is the main body of the boat. It’s the watertight body that sits in the water and comprises the majority of the boat.

Some hulls are completely open whereas others are partially covered with decks. They can vary greatly in shape as well and the shape depends on factors such as hydrodynamics, cost, stability, cargo, and the role of the boat.

Where Is The Chine Of A Boat?

The term chine refers to the angles on a boat where the sides meet the bottom of the boat. If you imagine a cross-section of the hull, you will be able to see the change in angles more vividly and these changes are the chines.

There are many different chines available and the shape of the chine depends on the purpose of the boat. For example, two chine hulls are very popular with cargo ships because they are very spacious and leave plenty of space for cargo.

Multiple chines are often seen on larger ships and those that often travel through rough conditions. They can spread out the impact of the wave and reduce the amount of rocking and rolling the ship has to suffer through.

Where Is The Port Side Of A Boat?

Where Is The Port Side Of A Boat?

Most people know that the sides of a boat are called port and starboard, but do you know which one is which?

When you are standing on the boat and facing the bow of the ship, the side to your left is the port side. One easy way to remember this is that both the words “port” and “left” have four letters.

Where Is The Starboard Side Of A Boat?

Now that we know which side is the port side, we can figure out which side is starboard. 

As before, if you have the bow of the ship in front of you, then starboard is the right-hand side.

Why Do We Use Port And Starboard Instead Of Left And Right?

You might be wondering why boaters need separate terms such as port and starboard when left and right are used for everything else in life.

The reason for this is because the port and starboard sides of a boat are fixed and do not change depending on your perspective. If someone says that the left side of a boat is damaged, which left do they mean?

Are they facing the bow and referring to the side on their left, or facing the stern and referring to the side on their left? Although both of these sides are left, they are different sides.

However, the port side of the ship always remains the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re facing the bow or the stern, port side can only mean the left side when facing the bow.

Using port and starboard reduces confusion and ensures that everyone involved with sailing will always understand which side is which.

Where Are The Gunwales On A Boat?

Pronounced as “guh-nel,” put simply, the gunwales are the upper edge of a boat. 

The name comes from “gun wale” and they were originally reinforced edges added to ships so that guns could be mounted. Firing artillery causes huge strain to the sides of boats so they were reinforced to prevent damage.

Although boats typically don’t have guns mounted to their edges anymore, the name has stuck. 

Now, gunwales provide a firm base for rod holders (see also our article on rod length) so that boaters can catch all the fish they want.

They can also be used as walkways so that people can move around the boat without having to step down into the console area and potentially get in the way of others and any cargo.

They can also make boarding and disembarking easier by giving an extra step between the boat and the dock. This is why boaters often opt for vessels that have wider gunwales instead of those with thin or small ones. 

Boat Terminology That You Should Know

There are many important boat terms that relate to parts of a boat that aren’t actually parts themselves. If you want to understand your boat and why different parts work, you will need to know these terms as well.


This term often comes in handy when talking about the hull of your boat. When we speak of the beam of a boat we are referring to a measurement.

This is the width of your boat at its widest point and is important to know, especially if you’re sailing through narrow inlets or similar features.



This is another term that is often used in relation to a hull. The deadrise of a boat is the angle of the hull’s v-shape. On sunny days with clear water, you can usually see the deadrise of a boat if you take a look, but they’re harder to spot on gray and rainy days. 

There is a great variety in the angles of deadrises. You will find flat-bottomed boats that have a zero deadrise whereas others can have really sharp angles and a deadrise of 50.

The best deadrise depends on what you will be using the boat for. If you’re going to be sailing in smooth waters, then you don’t need a sharp deadrise at all.

However, if you will be sailing in rough waters, then a sharp deadrise will help make your sailing smoother. Do keep in mind that higher deadrises require a more powerful engine.


When talking about boats, a draft refers to how much of the boat sits beneath the water line.

This is measured from the water line to the deepest part of the boat. It’s the minimum amount of water that’s needed to make the boat float and is important to know if you’re going to be traveling through shallow waters.

If your boat sails into water that is shallower than your draft, your boat could become grounded.

You should be aware that your draft can change. It’s affected by several factors such as how heavy a load the boat is carrying. It’s always best to check your draft immediately before sailing if you will be approaching shallow waters.


You may recognize this term and be familiar with the concept from science class. Displacement refers to how much water is pushed out by an object.

Whether it is a boat or another object, when something enters water it will push out a volume of water that is the same as its own volume. This is called displacement.

Dry Weight

As the name implies, this is related to the weight of your boat. Specifically, it is the weight of your boat when it doesn’t have any fuel or water on board.

This weight is important to know if you are looking to transport your boat by towing it on a trailer. It will make sure that you get a trailer that is strong enough to safely transport your boat.


Earlier we introduced the gunwales of a ship and this term relates to those. The freeboard of a boat is the distance between the waterline and the height of the gunwales.

A higher freeboard can make passengers feel safer, especially when traveling through rough waters, as it means there is a larger gap between the sides of the boat and the water.

This makes it less likely that waves will crash over the gunwale and that the boat will take on water.

Waterline Length

The waterline length of a boat is the length of the boat, from bow to stern, at the level at which it sits in the water. It’s often abbreviated as LWL. 

For most boats, the waterline length is shorter than the overall length of the boat. This is because most bows or sterns have protrusions that sit either higher or lower than the waterline, so they are not included in the LWL.

Final Thoughts

We hope that this list of the parts of a boat you need to know will help you as you begin your journey as a boater. You should now know your port from your starboard and your bow from your stern.

We’ve also included several terms related to parts of the boat that you need to know.

Have fun on the water (see also ‘The Best Sailing Songs To Inspire Your Life On The Water‘) and stay safe!