Boatbuilding Terms Defined

There's a wonderful sequence in E.B. White's Stuart Little where Stuart and a sailor friend mock another boat's owner, saying he doesn't know "...A jib from a jibe...or a luff from a leech...or a deck from a dock....or a mast from a mist." Not all of us grew up around boats, however, and you might find boating jargon a bit bewildering. Here's a primer on some of the esoteric terminology used when building a small wooden boat.

Boatbuilders don't refer to front and back on a boat, they say fore and aft, or forward (sometimes written "for'd") and aft, aft being towards the stern. Of course, left and right is never heard aboard a boat, it's port and starboard. Just remember that port and left have the same number of letters and you'll always know it. Amidships, or ‘midships, refers to the middle region of the boat; athwartships refers to something running across the boat, perpendicular to the centerline of the boat, like a thwart.

chester yawl, transom, wooden boat A bulkhead is an athwartships structural member, often watertight, that compartmentalizes the interior of a boat. The TITANIC's bulkheads were famously inadequate. A transom is a flat face on the stern of a boat; kayaks are pointy at both ends and don't have them, except for our Pax models. Stem and bow are used somewhat interchangeably, but bow refers more generally to the front area of the boat, while the stem is the extreme bow, and especially the shape or structure of it — as in, "a sharp stem," or "a fair curve to her stem."

Now, fair is a term that is used whenever a boat is built. When wood is bent or curved or cut, or a line drawn, a boatbuilder must be concerned about fairness. A "fair curve" or line is one that is as smooth as it can be as it follows the path it must take around the hull of a boat. A fair line is free of extraneous bumps or hollows, and an unfair line needs to be faired, or smoothed out.

There's seldom any curve that must be more fair than the sheer of a boat. The sheer is the break in the hull of any boat that runs from bow to stern and separates the side of the hull from the deck. The sheer is this general area, and, especially the visual break this line creates. Other bits and pieces cluster around the sheerline of a boat, such as a sheer clamp, or a rail, or rubrail, or inwale, or gunwale, or bulwarks, and on and on.

 coaming, wooden kayak, A chine is a lengthwise break in the shape of a hull that distinguishes it from a round-bottomed boat, which is generally made of some other material than plywood. A hard-chine boat has just one or maybe two chines; a multi-chine boat might have many.

A coaming is a raised rim that protects the cockpit of any boat, including sea kayaks. A coaming can be just about anything that deflects water away from a cockpit.

I'm not going to get into real curiosities like futtock and faying line, but there are a couple of boatbuilding terms in our construction manuals that generate phone calls. A bevel is an angle cut in one piece of wood such that it fits against another piece of wood.
sheer clamp, wooden kayak A rabbet is a sort of groove cut in a piece of wood to accept another, such as is found in the planking of an Annapolis Wherry. A jig or a mold is a structure that you build to form the shape of a part that you need. Unlike many boat designs, most "stitch and glue" boats take their own shape, so no jig or mold is necessary for the hull. If you didn't buy a kit, however, you will have to make a jig to laminate the deckbeams for many CLC boats. To laminate something is to glue together multiple thin strips to achieve a given thickness, or make it possible to bend something to a tight camber. A camber is a regular curve, a section of a circle, as is found in the decks of CLC boats.

Finally, something that makes me recoil when I hear it: confusion between paddles and oars. You face forward when you use a paddle, folks; it may have one or two blades, but if you're in a kayak or canoe you'll never be using an oar. Don't let yourself be heard calling a kayak or canoe paddle an "oar," or describing the normal locomotion of a kayak or canoe as "rowing." Oars are mounted in oarlocks on the rail of the boat and you sit facing backwards.


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