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PA Boating Handbook
Boat Motors and Types / Boat Terminology

There are four primary types of boat motors:

  1. Outboard motors vary in size and clamp onto the transom. The whole motor pivots on its mounting to aim the wash and steer the boat. The boat turns in the opposite direction that the tiller arm is pushed. Electric motors are outboards.

  2. Inboard / outboard motors are bolted inboard, at the stern, with the drive unit through the transom.

  3. Inboard motors are mounted lower in the boat and farther forward than an inboard/outboard. A rudder is used to steer.

  4. Jet motors use an engine to pump water through a nozzle at the stern, which pivots to steer the boat.

Many Pennsylvania lakes have specific motor-type and horsepower limitations.


There are two basic types of boat hulls:

  1. Boat illustration showing hull typesPlaning hulls are flat-bottomed and skim across the water.

  2. Displacement hulls have round bottoms and plow through the water. They are more stable but not as fast as planing hull boats.

Most boats are a compromise between planing and displacement hulls (deep-V, modified-V, cathedral, etc.). There are also multiple-hulled boats such as catamarans and pontoons.


Aft- near or at the stern of the boat.

Beam- the width of a boat, also the direction at right angles to the centerline of a vessel.

Bilge- the lowest point of a boat’s interior hull.

Bow- the forward part (toward the front) of a boat.

Draft- the vertical distance from the waterline to the lowest point of the keel; it is the minimum depth of water in which a vessel will float.

Forward- aboard a boat, the direction to the front, to the bow.

Freeboard- the vertical distance from the waterline to the gunwale.

Gunwale- the upper edge of the side of a boat.

Boat illustration with terminologyHull- the structural body of the boat; does not include superstructure, masts or rigging.

Keel- the main structural member of a boat; its backbone; the lateral area beneath the hull that helps to provide stability and reduce the sideways drift of a boat.

Life Jacket- also known as a personal flotation device, vest or preserver.

Port- looking toward the bow, the left side of the boat.

Starboard- looking toward the bow, the right side of the boat.

Stern- the aft (back or rear) portion of the boat.

Transom- the transverse part of the stern (where an outboard motor is attached).

Waterline- the intersection of a boat’s hull and the water’s surface.

USCG- United States Coast Guard

USPS- United States Power Squadrons

Boat illustration with terminology
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