Learning Boatyard Lingo
Date Posted: April 3, 2023
Source: Captains Chris & Alyse Caldwell, Waterway Guide Magazine

Cruisers have a language all our own. If you are new to this adventure then you may not yet understand what sounds like gibberish. This language is particularly important to decipher when you enter the world of the boatyard. In a boatyard you will see boats up "on the hard," supported by tripods, blocks and straps. But how did they get up there and what keeps them from toppling over? A skeg, a shoe and a V-strut all have something in common. But what are they and what do they do? Boatyard professionals tend to toss around these salty terms so let's help you interpret what they mean and how you can learn to speak "boatyard lingo" too. 

Travel Lift This heavy-duty machinery hauls boats of various sizes from the water and onto dry land (also called "on the hard"). The travel lift straddles the boat slip, which is called a "haul-out well." The lift operator slides straps attached to the travel lift under the hull of the boat from starboard to port sides. Depending on the length and weight of the boat, two or more straps will cradle the boat's beam as the travel lift raises the boat from the water.

Tripods & Blocks The boat is lowered down by the travel lift onto wooden blocks. The keel is balanced on these blocks, fore and aft. The hull is supported by pairs of tripods, one on each side from bow to stern. In hurricane season you may see these tripod pairs chained together from one side of the boat to the other. This is to prevent the tripods from wiggling out of position. Often the sails and canvas will be removed to keep from catching wind and challenging the balance of the boat on the tripods.

Bottom Job You can stop blushing…This bottom refers to the underside of the boat's hull. And the job in question usually includes a haul-out, pressure washing and eventually a few coats of paint. The pressure washing removes surface growth and dirt, allowing you to see the condition of the hull. If all is well, the hull is sanded and then antifouling paint is applied to prevent immediate attachment of marine growth once the boat is back in the water.

Blisters During the pressure washing and sanding process the boatyard staff will examine the condition of the hull surface, which should be smooth and without blemish. If they see any raised areas or the appearance of bubbles beneath the antifouling paint, it could mean your boat has osmotic blisters. Unlike blistered skin from the sun, the osmotic blister occurs when water seeps through the gelcoat layer into the structural fiberglass layup of the boat hull. Blisters should not be left untreated. The remedy could be a simple as grinding through a layer or two of coatings (e.g., paint, barrier coat, gelcoat) allowing it to dry and then refilling with an epoxy resin. In extreme cases, the entire hull will need to be peeled of the gelcoat layer down to the dry fiberglass layers. This can be more than a simple DIY project.

Paint After any fiberglass repair such as blisters or an entire hull peel, the affected area should be painted with a barrier coat. This prevents water from permeating into the fiberglass layer of the hull and is applied before the antifouling paint. Antifouling paint choices include Ablative which is a soft coating and Hard paint which is not really hard like the paint on the fender of your car but harder than Ablative. Both have toxins which are designed to prevent marine growth from attaching to the hull. Nothing works forever so plan on hauling out again every 12 to 24 months. Depending upon how often you use the boat or leave it sit in the water of your marina, growth happens. Having a diver scratch the bottom every month or two can extend time between haul outs but tell him not to be too aggressive and scratch away all the antifouling paint.

Running Gear Nope, not topsiders or anything else you wear on your feet. Propellers, shafts, rudders and trim tabs if equipped are considered your running gear.  When you notice any vibration or unusual noise while underway you may want to have your propeller checked to see if it is true and exact with proper pitch and angle. The shaft should be straight, rudders snug with no play and inspect the trim tabs for any hydraulic fluid leak. These are all made from different metals and must be protected by sacrificial anodes. Depending on the water that your boat is used in (salt, brackish or fresh), the anode may be made of zinc, magnesium or aluminum. Check with your boatyard for the proper metal anode.

Running Gear Support The skeg is an extended keel which will protect the propeller and rudder. The shoe is commonly found on a wooden boat and is a softer wood than the hull. It will act as a sacrificial material that worms and other marine wood borers will attack instead of attacking the wood comprising the boat hull. A shaft strut supports the propeller shaft. You may find a V-strut supporting the shaft of a boat with a more powerful larger propeller. On other boats it takes the shape of an I instead of a V so it is called an I-strut or just a strut. All struts have a vulcanized rubber insert that is called a cutlass bearing. The cutlass bearing is what prevents a metal shaft to metal strut contact.

ICW Mustache While some of you take the opportunity to grow a nice set of whiskers while cruising, this mustache is found on the bow of your boat at the water level. A brown stain starts to form as your bow wake splashes against your hull. Tidal waters often have tannin from the tree roots and leaves that also make the water a darker brown tea color. This tea stain finds its way into the porous fiberglass gelcoat that is unprotected by wax. Good news! You don't have to haul your boat to clean this badge of honor from your bow and sometimes swim platform. Straight lemon juice in a spray bottle will make this brown stain magically disappear in minutes. No scrubbing. The next time you are in the boatyard reapply your wax to prevent further staining.

No Cash, No Splash This phrase is heard when the work is done and you are ready for your boat to be put back in the water. The Boatyard wants to be paid when you leave their property so make arrangements before launching. Some yards are still small enough that credit cards are not an option. Hard to believe but it's true.

So now you know some Boatyard Lingo to begin a conversation with a marine professional. These fun phrases will start you on your way but there is always more to learn. When you read or hear other marine phrases that need a translation…Ask Captain Chris.


Captains Chris & Alyse Caldwell are USCG 100-ton Masters and Cruising Coaches who offer Personal Boat Training Online or Onboard your boat anywhere! The Caldwell's help build your cruising confidence with hands-on training, with their AskCaptainChris.com training videos and through 2-day seminars filled with tons of tips for the boater who loves learning. If you have additional questions for Captains Chris or Alyse, please call 772-205-1859 or email them at [email protected].


Comment Submitted by Captain Gene of Galene - March 31, 2022

Boat unit = $1000

Comment Submitted by Jody Reynolds - March 31, 2022

Another boat yard term: "she'll be ready to splash next week". Splash is commonly used to depict launching. "Next week" is commonly used to describe any time in the future. 

When communicating with boat yards, always be specific. Weeks have a way of becoming months, etc.

Comment Submitted by Capt Steve Weisbrod - March 30, 2022

Simple, but important. From NY experience as a dockmaster I can say that a lot of new boaters will pull up to the fuel dock and tell you they "need to get some gas". Even if their boat has a diesel engine. They use "gas" as a generic term for "fuel". That can cause confusion which leads to bad things happening. 

Explore More News & Articles In Specific Cruising Areas
Recent Videos
Plan Your Boating Adventures with Waterway Guide
Waterway Guide's new Mobile App on iPad Mini with maps, data links, and downloadable guide books
Fuel Prices for Boating at Waterwayguide.com
Purchase A Guide
  • 4,000 Marinas
  • Thousands of anchorages
  • Updated Charts
  • Mile-by-Mile Navigation
  • Highlighted Alerts & Cautions
  • Full-Color Aerial Photographs
Download The App

The Waterway Guide App Makes it easy to leave reviews, use our explorer, and view waterway guide materials all on the go!