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The Anatomy of Boats and Ships

Anatomy of Boats and Ships

We all love to ride on boats but wouldn’t it be nicer to at least know the different boat parts (boat parts) and label them according to their “actual” names? This is because most people (of us) tend to switch the names of the parts. Notwithstanding, it must be mentioned that the anatomy of the boat varies on the size and type of vessel. For instance, yachts do not really have sails; only sailboats do. On the other hand, there are few boat parts (boat parts) which are common to all boats and ships. Example of this is the hull. This article aims to increase your awareness and understanding of the maritime industry by presenting the different boat parts (boat parts).

The Different Boat parts and Their Functions


Nearly all boats have a structure called keel. Keel serves as the spine of boats and ships. This base structure runs along the bottom of the vessel. Serve as the skeleton of a boat, keels are the first boat parts (boat parts) to be built. Modern boats have hydrodynamic keels which increase their performance efficiency and speed.

Keels as basic boat parts provide stability and avoid sideways movements brought by wind and water currents. Keels can be removable that is, they can be repositioned or retracted. A more specific type of keel that provides more stability is the twin keel which is a pair of angled keels. Twin keels reduce leeway movement and these boat parts (boat parts) are believed to have improved speed than their single counterparts.


Also called the shell of the boat, the hull is the most visible and perhaps, most familiar part of the boat. Hulls not only provide shelter to passengers but also the main element as to why do boats keep afloat. These boat parts (boat parts) are divided by compartments called bulkheads and decks. The number of these compartments lies on the size, type, and luxury of the boat. For instance, megayachts and superyachts can have up to 4 to 5 decks. The uppermost part of the deck is the top deck while the most bottom part is called bilge. At most times, the top deck is called the “command center” of the yacht. On the other hand, the hull comes in different designs and shapes.

A hull has the following boat parts (boat parts):

  1. Bow – The front section of the hull
  2. Stern – The back section of the hull.
  3. Port – The term called to refer the left side of the boat.
  4. Starboard – The term called to refer the right side of the boat.

Poop Deck

The poop deck is part of the main deck which ends with a flat roof. Poop decks are found in the very rear part of ships or yachts. These boat parts (boat parts) mainly function as observation platforms by sailors or can be used as halls by marine officers in issuing orders. Similarly, private yacht owners take their meals in poop decks or can be used as platforms for recreational activity like sunbathing.


The back portion of a boat is called stern. Sterns of ships and boats are often labeled with structural beams called stern posts. One of the most common boat parts (boat parts), small boats like canoes refer sterns as the steering parts of the vessel. It is also in these boat parts (boat parts) where the propulsion devices such as outboard motors or the engine room/s are stationed; albeit, this is not always the case as in cruising ships – watercraft for passengers – which make use of stern for different functions such as moonlight dining.


A rudder is the power-steering system of the boat. Rudders work by cutting waters and forcing it to pass over the body of the boat. Commonly found on the vessels’ tails or sterns, rudders are a flat piece of metals presented in varying shapes. These boat parts (boat parts) are either situated outboard or inboard.

The history of the use of rudders is believed to have stemmed from Ancient Egyptians when rudders were used as special oars for steering boats. Because it takes up to 2 oars to propel or land a boat, these boat parts (boat parts) are created to facilitate easy navigation and landing.


The most highlighted boat parts (boat parts)  of sailboats are sails. Sails are special fabrics that assist to propel boats by wind power. These boat parts (boat parts) were first used on land vehicles in the early centuries. Sails are connected to masts of the boat. Earliest sails were made up of wool but they are replaced with nylon material because the former easily stretched and sagged. The latter material is lightweight and has good shape retention property. The number of sails and their rigging systems is defined by the type of boat. A sail can be mainsail, headsail or spinnaker.

  1. Mainsail – All sailboats have mainsail. These boat parts (boat sails) are the major sails of the boat and the primary source of power. The mainsail can either have a square or triangular shape.
  2. Headsail – Larger boats can have a mainsail and headsail/s. Headsails are commonly seen in racing sports and activities where racers maneuver them to adjust and change the boat’s position. A headsail can easily be identified; any sail located and positioned at the foremast is the headsail.
  3. Spinnaker – A spinnaker is a balloon-type of sail.


Boat parts where sails are attached is referred to as masts. A mast is a vertical pole that connects and supports sails. A small size sailboat has only one or two masts but larger vessels can have up to five masts. Depending on the position of the mast, a mast can be foremast, the main mast, a mizzen mast, a Bonaventure mizzen, and a Jigger-mast.

Modern masts are either made up of aluminum material or wood. Most boats and ships owners favor the use of aluminum masts because they are lightweight.


The forward part of the boat is called bow. There is a nautical explanation as to why the bow is designed. The forward design of the bow helps reduce resistance in cutting waters. The most forward part of the bow is called the stem of the boat while above the waterline of the bow is called prow – the specific part of the boat that cuts through the water.


Bowsprits of the sailing vessel consists of poles that are positioned forward from the boat’s bow; hence, derived the term “bowsprit”. These boat parts (boat parts) are the anchoring points of forestays. At times, bowsprits are also used in stowing sails such as the headsails. The number of forestays attached to bowsprits may vary on the size of the ship. Commonly found in small to medium-sized ships, bowsprits are not seen on modern yachts. These bow boat parts (boat parts) are positioned and angled upwards to avoid getting caught with waves.


The hull of the boat is covered with a flat compartment called deck. A deck is the supporting structure of the hull. Boats, especially ships, can have a number of decks. These boat parts (boat parts) not only cover the hull but also provide a primary working surface.

The deck comes in varying names depending on the level or activity of the deck. The deck of the ship can be addressed according to numbers (such as level 1, level 2, etc. ) or names (Playground deck, Dining deck, etc). It must be mentioned that the function of the primary deck is purely structural. In other words, it only serves as the border between the hull and succeeding decks.

Below are some of the common names of the deck boat parts (boat parts):

  • Level 1 – The main deck.
  • Boat Deck: Deck area of lifeboats.
  • Bridge Deck: Deck of navigation station.
  • Gun Deck: Deck containing guns and cannons.
  • Helicopter Deck: Deck for helicopter landing.

Decks are made up of three common construction materials namely wood, fiberglass, and metal.


Not all boats have sea anchors but ships which are operated for commercial use benefit from these essential boat parts (boat parts). Anchors are pieces of equipment that are thrown into the seabed to provide security and stability on large boats and ships. Sea anchors are most valuable during strong winds and storms. Furthermore, sea anchors assist in halting drifts.

These boat parts (boat parts) work by creating a stopping power by dragging the seabed elements (mud, sand, clay, rocks) until the vessel comes into a stop. However, it must be mentioned that anchoring does not mean dropping the anchor in a jiffy. The practice of anchorage requires a certain amount of expertise to avoid damaging corals and schools of fish brought.

Sea anchors as essential boat parts (boat parts) come in different styles or designs which in turn depend on the type of seabed. For example, Danforth anchor types are suitable for sandy bottom while the Grapnel anchors are used in the rocky seabed.

The following are the parts of the anchor.

  • Shank – The trunk of the anchor.
  • Crown – Part of anchor that connects other parts.
  • Stock – It facilitates the “dig in” feature of the anchor.
  • Flukes – The sharp ends of the anchor that participate actively in the anchoring system.

Rigging System

Rigging system is the arrangement of different boat parts (boat parts) to prime the boat in moving forward by maximizing wind power. The rigging system of a boat consists of masts, sails, spars, and ropes ( a number of ropes are collectively known as cordage). It should be noted that there is no such exact rigging system. Yet, how sails and spars are positioned is based on the objective to catch the wind. Effective rigging system does not entail the use of oars and engines.

One crucial element of the rigging system is the masts. These boat parts (boat parts) provide the skeleton in the rigging.

Ancient rigging system is simple and only consists of a single sail and mast. But over time, the boat parts (boat parts) turn out to be more complicated hence, the development of multiple sails and masts.

Propulsion System of the Boat

A boat can be operated in 3 methods:

1. Human propulsion.

This includes the use of oars such as in the case of rowing a canoe or a kayak.

2. Sailing

This is the utilization of a rigging system – sails, ropes, masts, and spars. This type of propulsion system, like the human method, is fuel efficient. The sailing propulsion method is commonly used for recreation.

3. Motorized

This refers to the utilization of inboard or outboard motors and gas engines.

Last modified: July 5, 2019