Anatomy of a Sailboat – Part 2 – Aloft

, Anatomy of a Sailboat – Part 2 – Aloft

Next, we will look aloft on the sailboat! Also known as… “up there,” here’ a guide from the easiest to learn to the hardest to learn, with memory techniques and devices to quickly master the quirky language aboard.

Main stay / Forestay / Head stay – the metal stay, the cable from the bow to the top of the mast.

Headsail – sail toward the front of the boat.

Mainsail – largest sail toward the middle of the boat.

Gooseneck – the fitting between the mast and the boom that allows the boom to swing from side to side and up and down – just like the neck on a goose.

, Anatomy of a Sailboat – Part 2 – Aloft

Mast – main spar on the sloop; stands perpendicular to the deck.

Boom – sound it makes when you don’t duck – runs parallel to the deck.

, Anatomy of a Sailboat – Part 2 – Aloft

Standing Rigging

All the items that “stand there” and don’t move around a whole lot.

, Anatomy of a Sailboat – Part 2 – Aloft

Running Rigging

All the items that “run around” when you are sailing the boat.

, Anatomy of a Sailboat – Part 2 – Aloft


There really are only five main lines on the sloop! Good news! There are a lot of tweaky, futsy, small adjustment lines, but we’ll get to those later. Let’s concentrate on the five most important lines.

, Anatomy of a Sailboat – Part 2 – Aloft

By the way, there are very few ropes. Only three ropes are possible; the bell rope that moves the clapper to make a bell ring, the man rope for climbing down into a lifeboat, and the bolt rope – the rope sewn into the font, luff edge of the sail, giving it strength to haul a sail or flag aloft. Even the lines for tying to the dock are called… dock lines! Not ropes. I’ve heard that once a rope is cut and has a purpose, then it’s always called a line.

, Anatomy of a Sailboat – Part 2 – Aloft

Main halyard – I like to imagine the days of old, when sailors would call out “Hey, why don’t you haul that sail up to the yardarms” and got tired of yelling all that, and kept shortening the command until it was simply “haul…yard!” Main halyard hauls the main up to the yardarms. Or, in our case, toward the top of the mast.

Jib halyard – hauls the jib up toward the top of the mast. Yes, even roller-furling sails have halyards; that’s how they got up there. Once they are “up there,” then they might be rolled in and out.

Main sheet – sheets in and out the main.

Jib sheets – sheets in and out the jib and moves it from side to side around the front of the mast. There is a starboard jib sheet and a port jib sheet. Once sailing, the one carrying the load will be called the “burdened sheet,” and the other will be the “lazy sheet,” not cleated or secured, just ready for the next tack.

That truly is the main five lines.

, Anatomy of a Sailboat – Part 2 – Aloft

Now for some that are nearly as important!

Boom topping lift – lifts the top of the boom – most likely to be missed on a test due to being right next to the leech of the sail. It’s the line that keeps the boom from falling into the cockpit, and sometimes you need to adjust it so the sail shape is natural, or jack it way up once you’re not sailing so you can see under the boom to motor back to the harbor.

Outhaul – hauls the main out to the end of the boom. Tightens the foot.

Downhaul – hauls the main down the boom; tightens the luff. Also called a Cunningham.

Boom vang – keeps the boom from vanging up, like when you are sailing downwind and the boom wants to lift. Opposite of the boom topping lift.

Leech line – small line that looks like string; but you wouldn’t call anything on the boat string!  It adjusts the tension of the luff, is often found in a velcroed panel that loses it’s ability to snag and just flaps about. That line.

, Anatomy of a Sailboat – Part 2 – Aloft

I like to start bow to stern on deck, then bow to stern aloft, then bow to stern below. For this series, Part 1 is On Deck, Part 2 is Aloft, and Part 3 is Below Decks.


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