Lesson Three: Basic Seamanship & Terminology


When working on a boat or a yacht there are simple rules that a seafarer or crew member needs to understand and terminology that you do need to know in order to understand instructions and commands from the Captain.  In addition, knowing the basic yacht layout and what everything is called before you start to work on a yacht will assist with the familiarisation of your first vessel.

When working onboard a yacht you must remember that safety comes first at all times.  Unlike a regular working environment, the boat moves and it is not always possible to predict the sea conditions although weather prediction sites are pretty accurate nowadays.  It is usual that a yacht Captain will endeavor to avoid bad seas but this is not always possible and when you have unexpected rough seas, damage to the vessel or the interior can happen very quickly.  In addition, rough weather can lead to injuries or worse a MOB (Man Over Board) situation which is very serious and not only puts the MOB life in danger but can put the lives of other crew at risk.

As a crew member you will need to be vigilant and pay attention to what you are doing at all times.  Following instructions from superiors is essential and obeying commands immediately are the normal protocol for seafarers.  The Captain is in charge of the vessel and his word is final.

The Basic Boat Layout:

All boats and yachts have the same basic layout and names for the areas and equipment on board regardless of whether they are motor or sail.

Boat Measurements:

Beam: The measurement of a boat’s width at its widest point.
Draft: The total distance a boat penetrates the water, from waterline to keel or appendage bottom.
Freeboard: The distance between a boat’s waterline and the top of its gunwales. Length Overall LOA: The overall length of a boat, as measured from its aft-most to forward-most appendages.

Waterline Length: The length of the hull where it intersects the water, from bow to stern. Sometimes shortened to “LWL.”

The amount of levels on a yacht will depend of the size and style and these are called decks:


Upper Deck or Sun DeckMaster CabinOwner’s Stateroom
Owners DeckVIP CabinGuest Cabin/Stateroom
Main DeckOwner’s BathroomGuest Bathroom
Swim Platform/DeckDay HeadFoyer
LazaretteMain SalonMain Saloon
Engine RoomDining SalonBanquette
WheelhouseGuest HallwayGuest Stairs
ConsoleStew PantryService Stairs
CockpitCrew MessOfficers Mess
Tank DecksShips Office 

Yachting Terminology:


This refers to when a boat or yacht is on the move with engines on and is travelling from one place to another or one anchor point to another.

At Anchor

This means the boat is stationary with the anchor dropped and the engines are off, the anchor is down and has dug into the seabed securing the vessel in one place.

On Passage

This is when a vessel is doing a long trip, crossing a large body of water which may take a number of days or weeks.


Is the term used for when the boat is being moved from one location to another during the night, usually for when guests are onboard and they wish to walk up in another area or when the yacht has to be moved quickly to another port for a guest pick up.


Is the term for when a boat is tied to in a marina or a port


Is the term used for when a vessel is maneuvering into the space at the dock.


Is the name given to the space at a dock where a boat will be parked.  They usually have a number or letter for identification.

Stern To

Is the term for when a yacht is tied to the dock with the stern of the boat at the dock wall.


Refers to when a yacht is tied to, with either the port or starboard side running along the dock wall.

Ships Log/Captains Log

This is the name for the official logbook that is used to record events in the management, operations and navigation of a vessel.

Watch Keeping

This refers to when a crew member is required to be on duty onboard the vessel while other members of the crew are off duty.  When in port, most yachts will require that someone is on watch at all times. After work is finished for the day a crew member must remain onboard and is responsible for the security and safety of the vessel during that time.  This also refers to the role of being on watch whilst the vessel is underway and being situated on the bridge or in the wheelhouse to ensure the safe passage of the boat.  In many instances there can be two people on watch at the same time during the night. One will be classed as the watch leader and one will be the look out.  The watch leader has the responsibility of making adjustments to the course of the vessel in order to avoid collision with others.  When watch keeping there will be a requirement to complete logs (record data in an official document).

Nautical / Military Time or The Twenty Four Hour Clock:

On yachts the practice is to use the 24-hour clock. It is a convention of time-keeping in which the day runs from midnight to midnight and is divided into 24 hours, numbered from 0 to 23.  This system is the most commonly used time notation in the world today and is practiced in communications for the maritime industry in order to avoid confusion when sending information over the radio.

Examples are:                     1:00 am is either stated one o’clock or O one hundred.
  1:00 pm is stated as thirteen hundred.


The Phonetic Alphabet

The phonetic alphabet was developed to minimize confusion in verbal radio communications. Words are used instead of letters.  For example, the aircraft call sign N805cc is expressed as “November Eight Zero Five Charlie Charlie”.  Below is the alphabet.   It is important to know it by heart.

 A – Alpha G – Golf     M – Mike        S – Sierra
B – Bravo            H – Hotel      N – November       T – Tango  
C – Charlie  I – India   O – Oscar   U – Uniform   
D – Delta      J – Juliet     P – Papa   V – Victor
E – Echo    K – Kilo     Q – Quebec  W – Whiskey
F – Foxtrot       L – Lima          R – Romeo   X – Xray
Y – Yankee
   Z – Zulu  


VHF Radio Operations:

Radio communications are a central and essential part of life at sea and all crew are normally issued a VHF (very high frequency radio) for every day communications between crew onboard.

There are a number of purposes for good communications while at sea.  These range from safety, which has absolute priority, to operational and business communications, both ship to shore and ship to ship.  Familiarity with and correct use of the various items of equipment is essential and, in some instances compulsory.

When a yacht travels offshore the communications equipment includes SSB/FH radio, Satellite communications, EPIRBS’s and SART’s

You can take a government approved VHF operations course to ensure knowledge of VHF operations.


SART or Search and Rescue Transponder, is an extremely vital equipment on the ship as it performs the job of a signal-man. It is a vital machine during distress for it helps in locating the position of the vessel in case it goes off-track. SARTs are made of waterproof components which protects it against damage by water. SARTs are essentially battery-operated, hence can be operative for a long time. SARTs are of use in ships, lifeboats and life-rafts. They are the most supportive machines in case of an unprecedented emergency. SARTs are designed to remain afloat on water for a long time in case the vessel finds itself submerged in water.

The bright color of SARTs enables their quick detection, whereas the combination of transmitter and receiver enables it to transmit as well as receive radio signals. SART machines have been instrumental in rescuing several crafts and ships by reacting to the search signal sent from an X-band radar, typically of 9 GHz.  These signals are known as homing signals. The response is usually displayed on radar screens as a sequence of dots on a X band-radar, which helps rescuers reach the vessels in time.


Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or EPIRB is used to alert search and rescue services in the event of an emergency. It does this by transmitting a coded message via the free to use, multinational Cospas Sarsat network. A 406 MHz distress frequency signal is sent via satellite and earth stations to the nearest rescue co-ordination centre.

EPIRBs also transmit a homing signal via 121.5 MHz to help rescue services to pinpoint the beacons location. Some EPIRBs also have built-in GNSS receivers which enables the rescue services to accurately locate your coordinates to +/- 50 metres. These receivers can be single source, typically using the US GPS, or multi-constellational, working with a number of GNSS satellite systems such as the EU’s Galileo or Russia’s Glonass offering greater global coverage, faster detection and more accurate location detection..

Multiple GNSS Receivers