Racing Terms: Glossary for Newer Sailors

Courtesy of SailZing Editor – Racing Terms: Glossary for Newer Sailors

Racing terms

Racing Terms: Glossary for Newer Sailors | If you didn’t grow up sailing, how long did it take you to figure out what sailors mean when they say “put the bow down?” After hearing from newer sailors that the language of racing is hard to decipher, we decided to create a glossary of racing terms and phrases.

We chose about 80 racing terms and phrases that are likely to be obscure to newer sailors. To keep the list manageable, we did not include basic sailing terms, words defined in the racing rules, or racing terms applicable to big boats.

Our list is organized alphabetically. Italicised words have separate definitions. If in doubt, you can always ask your local expert here.

Racing Terms and Phrases for Newer Sailors

TermSynonymDefinition
Angle of attackAngle of incidenceThe angle between the apparent wind and the chord line of the sail.
Apparent wind The direction and speed of the wind as measured from a moving boat.
Bail out Tacking away from other boats to obtain clear air. Often used for starting situations.
Barging In starting, a boat that sails on starboard tack down towards leeward boats on starboard to try to create room. Barging violates Rule 11 of the Racing Rules of Sailing.
Bladed outFlattenedA sail that has been made flatter (less camber) with the use of sail controls.
BlockerStarboard blockerTactical positioning to windward of a starboard boat. Decreases the chance that a port tack boat will establish a lee bow position.
Boom vangKicker, kicking strap (UK term)Block and tackle (or hydraulic ram on big boats) to control the horizontal angle (rise) of the boom.
By the lee Sailing downwind with the wind blowing over the leeward side of the boat.
CamberDepth, fullnessThe depth of a sail, measured from the chord line to the deepest point.
Connect the dots Strategy to sail from puff to puff while sailing on the lifted tack as much as possible.
CoverLoose cover, tight coverTactical positioning to stay between your opponents and the next mark.
Cunningham Sail control to tension the leading edge (luff) of the sail. Sometimes incorrectly called downhaul.
Dip and tackTack and duckManeuver to escape being pinned by a boat close to windward, by bearing off to create separation, then tacking and ducking.
Draft positionDraft forward/aftThe point of maximum depth of a sail, measured in percentage of distance from the leading edge..
Ease, hike, trim Basic puff response technique.
Entry shapeThe profile of the leading edge of the sail, either flat or rounded.
Favored endLine biasStarting line: the end of the line that is further upwind. Finish line: the end of the line that is further downwind on an upwind finish.
Favored sideAdvantaged sideThe side of the course that gets you to the next mark faster, due to more wind, favorable shifts, less current, smaller waves, etc.
Feathering Allowing boat to head slightly closer to the wind during a puff. This is an additional component to the ease, hike, trim technique
FetchingLayingA boat that is sailing on the layline toward a mark.
FootBow down, low modeSailing upwind at a heading slightly further off the wind than VMG mode.
Gain/lose bearingMake or lose gauge, making or losing treesA measure of gain or loss against another boat. With a hand-held compass, the change in the compass bearing from one boat to another over time. Without a compass, gains or losses can be measured by the change in the angle between the boats to a distant shore reference, such as trees.
Geographic shiftShore effectsWind shifts due to geographic features, such as nearby shore, points of land, obstacles.
HelmHelm balance, weather helm, neutral helm, lee helmHelm refers to the tiller. Helm balance refers to the pressure felt on the tiller when sailing in a straight line. Helm balance is often shortened to helm, as in weather helm, lee helm, neutral helm.
In the grooveKeep it on the wind, pointSailing close-hauled with the sail trimmed in and the heading such that the sail is neither luffing or stalling.
Ladder rungs Concept that upwind progress can be visualized as a series of lines (ladder rungs) perpendicular to the true wind direction. Also applies downwind.
LaneClear laneA path you can sail on one tack (either upwind or downwind) without encountering other boats or disturbed air.
LaylineLaylineUpwind: the line that lets you sail close-hauled to the windward mark (or a start/finish line mark) without pinching. Downwind: the line you would sail to a leeward mark at your optimum VMG angle.
Lee bowSafe leeward positionSailing upwind with a boat positioned just behind and to windward. The boat ahead and to leeward is advantaged, since the windward boat is not in clear air.
Leeway Distance or angle a boat drifts off course due to the sideways force of the wind.
Leverage A boat that is laterally separated from other boats is said to have leverage, and will gain the most from a favorable shift, but lose the most from an unfavorable shift.
Leech shapeThe profile of the trailing edge of sail, either flat, open, or closed
Lift, header/knock A wind shift that allows you to change heading without changing sail trim. Upwind, a lift lets you sail closer to the windward mark and a header (knock) makes you sail further away from the mark. Downwind, a lift makes you sail further from the mark and a header (knock) lets you sail closer to the mark.
Line sightTransitAn aid to judging distance to the starting line, by finding a shore reference that aligns with an end of the line.
Long tack/gybe The tack (or gybe) that lets you sail the most distance without getting to the layline. Sail the long tack first is a strategy rule of thumb.
Luff, LuffingBackwind, bubbling1) The leading edge of a sail 2) Heading up toward the wind (luffing up) 3) The bubbling or fluttering of a sail when sailing too close to the wind.
Marshmallow A less skilled sailor. Some experts advise starting next to a marshmallow.
Mast bend Bending the mast from a straight line, either fore and aft or laterally. Mast bend is used to shape the sail.
Mast rakeRake forward/aftThe fore or aft angle of the mast compared to a horizontal reference. Often measured by the distance from the tip of the mast to the transom. Mast rake affects steering balance and sail power.
Oscillating shifts Wind that is shifting back and forth around an average direction.
Outhaul Sail control to tension the foot of the sail.
OverstandA boat that has sailed past the layline and thus sails extra distance to the mark.
Persistent shift Wind that shifts in one direction, either progressively, or one time during a leg.
Pin a boat Sailing close to windward of a boat to prevent it from tacking.
PinchHigh modeSailing upwind at a heading closer to the wind than VMG mode.
PressureVelocitySlang term for true wind velocity.
Rhumb line(Not “rum” line)The straight-line course from one mark to the next.
Roll tack/gybe Using weight to roll the boat, minimizing rudder use and accelerating after the sail crosses.
Sail in clear air Strategy to sail in wind that is undisturbed by other boats.
Sail the boat on its linesAngle of heelSailing with the optimum angle of heel. The design of the boat (its “lines”) dictates the optimum heel angle.
Sail the headed gybe Strategy to minimize distance sailed downwind by staying on the gybe that points you closer to the mark.
Sail the lifted tackIn phase, out of phaseStrategy to minimize distance sailed upwind by staying on the tack that points you closer to the mark. If you sail the lifted tack and change tacks when the opposite tack becomes lifted, you are in phase with the shifts.
Skewed courseUnbalanced legsA course in which the long tack is significantly longer than the opposite tack. A skewed course is not square to the wind.
Slam dunk A boat on starboard tack (S) crosses just ahead of a port tacker (P) and then tacks as P is ducking her. If S does this right, she will end up with control, to windward and slightly ahead of P.
Stalling Separation of air flow from the leeward side of a sail. Also, separation of water flow from a foil (centerboard, lee board, rudder). Stalling occurs when the angle of attack of the sail or foil is too large for the flow velocity.
Tacking angle When sailing close-hauled, the angle between the boat’s headings on port and starboard tack. Normally roughly 90 degrees but changes by +/- 10 or more degrees in light and heavy wind.
Take a hitch Tactical maneuver to tack away from a boat ahead and then tack back to obtain clear air or more wind.
TelltalesShroud tales, luff tales, leech talesShroud telltales – ribbons or yarn placed on the side stays (shrouds) to indicate the apparent wind. Luff telltales (or sail tales, woolies, ticklers) – ribbons or yarn placed behind the luff of the sail to indicate airflow over the sail. Leech tales – ribbons placed on the trailing edge (leech) of the sail to indicate air flow.
Tiller towards trouble Expression to help new sailors sail in the groove.  Move the tiller toward the luff telltales that are fluttering.
Traveler Control to change the sheeting angle of the mainsheet.
True wind The direction and speed of the wind over the water, as measured from a stationary reference.
TwistTwisted, untwistedThe change in angle of attack from top to bottom of a sail.
Up in the lulls, down in the puffsSoak low, heat it upDownwind technique to maintain boat speed and maximize downwind VMG. Head up in a lull (heat it up) and head down in a puff (soak low).
Vang sheeting Tensioning the vang so that the boom moves to leeward but not up when easing the mainsheet in a puff.
Veer, backWind shift, righty, leftyVeer – a true wind shift to the right when facing upwind. Back – a true wind shift to the left when facing upwind.
Velocity Made GoodVMGMeasure of the rate at which you are making progress directly upwind or downwind.
Velocity shift Velocity header/liftA change in the apparent wind direction due to an increase or decrease in the velocity (not direction) of the true wind.
VMG mode Sailing at the heading that maximizes the VMG, upwind or downwind.
When in doubt, let it outLet the sail breathe, ventilateExpression that reminds us to avoid over-trimming the sail. Applies in light air, in a lull, or when the boat is going slower than it should for the wind speed. .
WindexWind vane, wind finderRotating wind indicator at the top of the mast.

ABOUT DOYLE SAILS // As sailors, our obsession with sailing connects us to the water. The water is our playground, a sanctuary where we seek enjoyment, a competitive playing field where we race; it’s sometimes our home and always a place that unlocks our sense of adventure wherever that adventure might take us.

Our obsession with sailing takes us to every corner of the world and onboard every yacht. We become part of teams, share in the adventures of friends and families, sharing our knowledge and experience with those who have the same passion for sailing as we do. Sailing is in our DNA, where the water unlocks our sense of adventure. We are the custodians of a legacy that has been supporting sailors for close to four decades, and while our world changes around us, our commitment to sailors who seek the same enjoyment and adventure as we do hasn’t.

From our sailors to yours, we are your experts in sailing. Your adventure starts with Doyle. By sailors, for sailors.

Scroll to Top