Sailing Terms That Begin with the letter 'L'

Ladder- On board a ship, all "stairs" are called ladders, except for literal staircases aboard passenger ships. Most "stairs" on a ship are narrow and nearly vertical, hence the name. Believed to be from the Anglo-Saxon word hiaeder, meaning ladder.

Laker- Great Lakes slang for a vessel who spends all its time on the 5 Great Lakes.

Land lubber- A person unfamiliar with being on the sea.

Lanyard- A rope that ties something off.

Larboard- The left side of the ship (archaic, see port). cf. starboard. Derived from the old 'lay-board' providing access between a ship and a quay.


Large- See By and large.


Lateral System- A system of aids to navigation in which characteristics of buoys and beacons indicate the sides of the channel or route relative to a

conventional direction of buoyage (usually upstream).


Lay- To come and go, used in giving orders to the crew, such as "lay forward" or "lay aloft". To direct the course of vessel. Also, to twist the strands of a rope together.


Lay down- To lay a ship down is to begin construction in a shipyard.

League- A unit of length, normally equal to three nautical miles.

Leech- The aft or trailing edge of a fore-and-aft sail; the leeward edge of a spinnaker; a vertical edge of a square sail. The leech is susceptible to twist, which is controlled by the boom vang and mainsheet.

Leehelm- If the helm was centered, the boat would turn away from the wind (to the lee). Consequently, the tiller must be pushed to the lee side of the boat in order to make the boat sail in a straight line. See weatherhelm.

Lee side- The side of a ship sheltered from the wind (opposite the weather side or windward side).

Lee shore- A shore downwind of a ship. A ship which cannot sail well to windward risks being blown onto a lee shore and grounded.

Leeway- The angle that a ship is blown leeward by the wind. See also weatherly.

Leeward- In the direction that the wind is blowing towards.

Let go and haul- An order indicating that the ship is in line with the wind.

Letter of marque and reprisal- A warrant granted to a privateer condoning specific acts of piracy against a target as a redress for grievances.


Lifeboat- A small steel or wood boat located near the stern of a vessel. Used to get the crew to safety if something happens to the mothership.


Line- The correct nautical term for the majority of the cordage or "ropes" used on a vessel. A line will always have a more specific name, such as mizzen topsail halyard, which describes its use.

Liner- Ship of The Line: a major warship capable of taking its place in the main (battle) line of fighting ships. Hence modern term for most prestigious passenger vessel: Liner.


List- The vessel's angle of lean or tilt to one side, in the direction called roll.


Loaded to the gunwales-Literally, having cargo loaded as high as the ship's rail; also means extremely drunk.

Loggerhead- An iron ball attached to a long handle, used for driving caulking into seams and (occasionally) in a fight. Hence: "at loggerheads".

Lubber's line- A vertical line inside a compass case indicating the direction of the ship's head.



  1. The forward edge of a sail.

  2. To head a sailing vessel more towards the direction of the wind.



  1. When a sailing vessel is steered far enough to windward that the sail is no longer completely filled with wind (the luff of the sail is usually where this first becomes evident).

  2. Loosening a sheet so far past optimal trim that the sail is no longer completely filled with wind.

  3. The flapping of the sail(s) which results from having no wind in the sail at all.


Lying ahull- Waiting out a storm by dousing all sails and simply letting the boat drift.