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Navigating Boating Jargon on the Lake

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Boat JargonDo you love boating, but have trouble speaking the language?

Are you sunk when people throw around boating jargon, terms, and lingo when boating?

Do you look around lost when someone says there are “fish jumping off the starboard bow”?

We’re here to help!

Here are 40+ of the most common nautical terms on the lake. This cheat sheet won’t make you a ship’s captain, but you’ll be able to hold your own on the waves.

Boating Terms

Aft: the rear part of a boat, behind the middle of the vessel (see “fore”).

Anchor: object designed to stop the drift of a boat; usually a metal, plough-shaped object designed to sink into the lakebed or ground, and attached to the vessel via a line or chain.

Ashore: on or moving towards the beach or shore.

Bearing: the horizontal line of sight between two objects (typically between a boat and its destination).

Below decks: any of the spaces below the main deck of a vessel.

Bow: the front of a vessel (either side or both).

Bowline: a type of knot that produces a strong, fixed loop, commonly used in sailing or mooring.

Breakwater: structure built on a coast or shoreline to protect against waves and erosion.

Buoy: a floating object of defined shape and color, anchored at a set location to aid in navigation.

Bunks: wooden supports on which a boat rests while it’s being transported in a trailer.

Capsize: when a boat turns onto its side or completely upside down in the water.

Cast off: to undo all mooring lines in preparation for departure.

Channel: a portion of a waterway that is navigable by boat, usually marked.

Chart: a map used for navigation on the water.

Cleat: sturdy metal fittings to which a rope can be fastened (usually to moor a boat, fixed on docks and/or boats themselves).

Current: the natural, horizontal flow of water.

Deck: the permanent covering over a compartment or hull (usually the main walking surface).

Downstream: Direction in which the current is moving, or an object in that direction.

Draft: the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of a boat’s hull. This is important to know in order to prevent running aground.

Echo sounder: electronic device that uses sonar to measure the depth of water under a boat.

Fender: cushioning device hung on docks and the sides of vessels to prevent damage to them.

Fore: part of the vessel towards the front, or bow (see “aft”). Here’s a tip to remember the difference between “fore” and “aft.” If you’re in the boat, “fore” is facing “forward,” and “aft” is what is “after” the boat.

Gunwale: the upper edge of a boat’s hull.

Hull: the outer shell and framework of a ship.

Idle speed: the slowest speed at which steering is possible for a boat; the boat shouldn’t produce a wake at this speed.

Inboard motor: a type of boat motor housed inside the hull, with a drive shaft running through the bottom of the hull to a propeller at the other end.

Knot: a unit of speed, equal to one nautical mile (1.15 miles) per hour. It’s called a “knot” because it was originally measured by paying out a line from the stern of a moving boat; the line had a knot every 47 feet 3 inches, and the number of knots passed out in 30 seconds gave the speed through the water in nautical miles per hour.

Leeward: in the direction that the wind is blowing towards.

Marina: a docking facility for boats, small ships and yachts.

Mast: a vertical pole on a ship with sails or rigging.

Outboard motor: a motor mounted externally on the back of a boat (usually smaller boats). Steering can happen by turning the entire motor on a swivel, or by using a rudder.

Overboard: anything that has gone over the side of the boat.

Personal flotation device (PFD): a life jacket, buoyant vest, or cushion designed to be worn (or held) and keep someone afloat in the water.

Pier: wooden or metal structure that extends into the water from the shoreline, allowing vessels to dock

Propeller: rotating device attached to a boat’s motor that propels the boat through the water.

Rudder: steering device attached under the boat, usually shaped like a blade, which turns to steer the boat.

Sounding: measuring the water’s depth.

Stern: the rear part of a ship.

Upstream: against the current, or the direction from which the current is flowing.

Wake: the turbulence behind a vessel caused by its passing.

Waterline: the line where the hull of a ship meets the water’s surface.

Windward: in the direction the wind is blowing from.

Of course, these aren’t all the boat jargon terms out there. There are hundreds of others! Find more at


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Water Safety for Kids on the Lake

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Water SafetyEvery parent wants their children to stay safe while having fun at the lake.

Just a little preparation can help your kids have a fun time on the lake, and build memories you will cherish for a lifetime.

Whether they are toddlers or teenagers, water safety can start right now!

Here are some water safety tips for parents, big brothers and sisters, or anyone keeping an eye on kids at the lake.


Near the Water

Imagine a warm summer afternoon. You’re sitting in a lounge chair on your back deck, having some laughs with the family. The smell of barbecue is in the air, the sun is shining off the lake, and it’s a gorgeous day.

The water is less than fifty yards away. Everyone’s having a great time – especially your toddler, who is making her way right to the water!

With small children, the most important safety factor is supervision. Even if you are watching them, it’s easy to get distracted. Always keep an eye on your children.

If you have small children, make sure you latch, lock, or childproof every possible route between your little one and the water.

As soon as they are old enough, make sure they understand that they are never to go near the water without a parent or adult. Don’t make them afraid of the water! Rather, visit the water with them.

Make sure your kids know to be careful around docks, shorelines, dams, and boathouses. One wrong step on a slippery dock can spell disaster.

Consider buying your kids water shoes or boating shoes. These give much more traction than sandals or bare feet, and protect your little ones from rocks, sticks, and broken glass.


On the Water

Water safety is just as important for boating. Make sure everyone on a boat wears a life preserver, especially children. Many communities mandate the use of life preservers for children on boats less than 30 feet long.

This is good advice, even in calm water. Nearly half of all drownings related to boating happen in calm water. In the vast majority of them, life preservers were in the boat, but not being worn.

It helps to serve as a good example. Wear a life preserver yourself! You don’t have to wear the bulky life preservers of the past, either.

Modern technology has given us smaller, more comfortable life preservers. Many of them lay flat until they hit the water, at which point they inflate automatically. Those which need manual pull-cords to inflate are not recommended for children.

Make sure your child has an appropriately sized life preserver, too. It should close securely around their chest.

If you grip the life preserver securely and lift, this should eventually lift your child. A life preserver that is too loose will slide up around their neck. One that is too tight or small will not close.

Enroll your child in a boating safety course, if you can. Most lake communities have these available for a small fee. A weekend of instruction can not only save your child’s life. You might learn a few things, too!


In the Water

According to the CDC, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 4.

If you are supervising kids, make sure you keep an eye on them at all times. Children who are not strong swimmers should have life preservers in the water. Toys such as water wings and pool noodles do not count!

If your kids are in the water, you should be, too. Should your child get in trouble, you need to be right there. It won’t help if you’re busy texting at the shoreline! This is less important if they are strong swimmers, but you still need to be nearby.

Of course, the best way to encourage water safety with your kids is to enroll them in a swimming course. Any child who spends time on the lake should be able to swim, even if they wear a life preserver. This does more than save their lives. It also means they can enjoy the lake, and the water, in every possible way!

Not sure if your child is old enough to learn to swim? If they’re even six months old, they can get started! “Infant swim” classes are becoming more popular nowadays. These programs have decades of research behind them, and are proven to save children’s lives.

Instructors teach children to float, to roll over onto their backs, and not to panic if they fall into the water. Infant swim lessons are not a substitute for parental supervision. They are a last line of defense. They also acclimate children to the water, so they can take proper swimming lessons as they get older.

For more information on infant swim classes, visit

Even if your children can tread water on their own, swim classes are a great summer activity. Most lake communities have places for swim lessons for kids of all ages.

Whatever their interests, your children can be safe near, on, or in the water with just a little preparation. Have fun, stay safe, and enjoy the lake!


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