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Parts of a Boat (Illustrated Diagram of a Boat’s Anatomy)

Different photos of my new boat

Just like a car or truck or animal, there are many parts of a boat, all of which are unique to a boat.  When you start boating, it’s a good idea to become familiar with boat anatomy and terms.  Not only does it save you from looking like an amateur but it can be a safety issue.

The parts on a boat may vary by boat type.  For instance, not all boats have a flybridge.  That’s unique to certain types of boats.  Below is our extensive series of diagrams setting out the main parts of a boat.  We use a series of different types of boats and angles to aid understanding.  Below our diagram, we expand on the specifics.

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Parts of a boat diagram

Parts of a boat explained

  • Bow: the front of a boat.
  • Stern: the rear of a boat.
  • Port: left side of a boat.
  • Starboard: right side of a boat.
  • Helm: the driver’s seat.
  • Gunwale: the top of the boat’s side (upper edge).  If water comes higher than the gunwale, it enters the boat.
  • Transom: The cross-section of the rear of the boat (stern).
  • Pilothouse: Enclosed cabin for driver and passengers. Not all boats have a pilothouse.
  • Cleats:  Protruding knobs for tying up boats.
  • Fenders: Act like bumpers to protect a boat against a dock or next to another boat.  Prevent the boat from bouncing into anything solid.  Because I keep my boat at a marina slip with a dock on one side and boat on the other, I have four fenders (two for each side).  If you keep it at a dock only, you only need two (or more if a longer boat).
  • Flybridge: Open area with additional helm on top of a boat’s cabin.  Often includes seating for passengers.  Found on cabin cruisers, convertible boats and yachts.
  • Handrail: Railing on top of the gunwale.
  • Beam: The full width of a beat.
  • Freeboard:  The distance from top of the water (waterline) to the gunwale (the point where water could flow into the boat).
  • Draft: The distance from boat’s waterline to bottom (keel) of the boat.  This is the shallowest the boat can enter.  If propeller drops below the keel, either need to stay in deeper water or lift the motor up.
  • Keel: the lowest point of the hull.
  • Bilge: The very bottom of the boat.  Water often collects in here which requires pumping out. If water fills the bilge it runs the risk of sinking.
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Are there other boat parts?

There are for specific types of boats such as a sailboat. Sailboats have many additional parts and are more complex because of the sails. Ships also have many more parts to them as they are large and much more complex vessels.  The above boat anatomy diagram is to set out the parts of a boat commonly found on most boats.

Why don’t you include boat accessories, especially required boating safety accessories?

Boat accessories are not standard parts of a boat.  I’ve now bought a ton of boat accessories for our boat.  Many are required to have on board (life jackets, fire extinguisher, whistle, manual bailer, etc.) but still, they are not part of a boat.  Check out our extensive boat accessories article for tons of ideas to make your boat safer and more fun.

Where can you learn about boating including boat anatomy, safety and navigation?

Where I live, all boat operators must have a boating license.  To get the boat license, we must take a course first. I took the BoaterExam course which was excellent. I passed the boat exam on my first try.  In fact, I sailed through it.  We were given 75 minutes for the exam. I had it done in 20 minutes.

Can you take boat operation lessons?

If you live near the ocean in a populated area, chances are there are powerboat classes and courses you can take where they instruct you on the water.  I live in Vancouver and there are such options such as Cooper Boating.  In the US, check out the USPowerboating website for course locations and options.  Generally, there’s more instruction available for sailing than powerboat operation just because sailing is much more difficult to learn.

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What about the parts of a boat trailer?

While tightly related to the parts of a boat, we decided to publish a separate article setting out the parts of a boat trailer here.