Posted by: Dan Sprague | March 11, 2012

2 points abaft the beam…Pirate talk

One of the first memories  I have about sailing with my father was that he would say something like “its two points abaft the starboard beam”.  I did not know what that meant for sure, but it always was followed by him pointing, so I learned the traditional points of relative bearings without being told what they were. I just thought it sounded so Nautical like a sea Captain or Pirate.

Terms like dead ahead and starboard quarter and close aboard and bearing and weather side and leeward all were heard and learned through the context of them being used but never formally taught.

When I used the terms and someone would ask or look confused of what I meant I would point or quickly explain what I meant. It was only when I took a basic boating Power Squadron class that I learned what the 32 points of relative bearing were.

In the traditional 32 point system the circle in which the boat is centered is divided into eighths. These eighths start at the bow, which is called dead ahead, and continue around the boat. When you get to the side of the boat, that is called the beam. You have a port beam (left side of the boat) and the starboard beam (right side of the boat). The back of the boat is called dead astern.

The 4 quarters of the boat are easily described as the port bow quarter (left front quarter of the boat), the starboard bow quarter (right front quarter), the starboard stern quarter or just the starboard quarter (the right rear quarter of the boat), and the port stern quarter or just the port quarter (the left rear quarter of the boat).

The quarters are divided in to eight parts called points.  These points are an 11 ¼ degree arc. Each quarter is divided once more to help describe where you are looking.  For example, the first 4 points of the port bow quarter is called on the port bow, the next 4 points are called forward of the port beam. In the next quarter the first 4 points are abaft the port beam and the last 4 points is on the port quarter. The starboard side is described the same.

This system lets you describe or tell where something is in relation to your boat. You can easily tell what 1/8 th of the circle around your boat something is, by first telling what side of the boat it is on, what quarter it is in and what ½ of the quarter to look in and then the points tell where in that section to look at.

Sure, you might think it would be easier to say, “it’s at 2 o’clock” or “4 o’clock,” but by using the points of the compass you can talk like a pirate. What could be better?

points on the boat

There are 32 points around the boats. Each quarter has 8 points in it.

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