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Maritime Terminology

  • Port and Starboard: In the days before technology made building boats with a fixed keel or center board possible, boats had a beam athwartships over the gunwales from which a board was suspended into the water.  The purpose of this board was to prevent the boat going sideways in a wind or ‘making leeway’.  This board was arranged to be on the right-hand side of the boat when looking ahead.  The German term for this board was ‘stuurbort’ and it is accepted that this became the ‘starboard, side.  The presence of the board over the side prevented boats from berthing on that side and so the opposite side became known as the ‘port’ side.
  • Athwartships: is the direction at 90 degrees to the fore and aft centre line and usually refers to a structure of some sort such as in ‘this bulkhead runs athwartships’.
  • Bulkhead: is the term used to describe an internal ‘wall’ which usually extends from one side of the vessel to the other or is situated between two such bulkheads and runs fore and aft.  Watertight bulkheads are just that – watertight and usually extend from the keel to the upper deck.
  • Abeam: is a term used to describe the direction at right angles to the fore and aft centre line of a vessel and is usually used in the sense ‘the light house abeam to Port is Cape Point light’
  • Fore and aft: is the direction of the centre line parallel to the keel.
  • Leeway: is the sideways movement of the vessel due to a wind abeam or nearly abeam.
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