My editor suggested I put together a list of terms that regularly appear in this column, which makes perfect sense if you think about it. He comes from a sailing background. My background is clouded with burned hydrocarbons, so it’s quite possible that he and I could have a “beer summit” to discuss what each of us likes about boating—and never understand one word the other was saying. It’s also possible that he’s been reading the columns without understanding them fully.


The real peril is that regular readers also might be somewhat in the dark about some of the finer points of ski- and wakeboard-boat terminology. To bridge that knowledge gap, I’ve put together a small glossary of terms. Many of the definitions were written with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but they are all true. I swear.

Bimini Top – No, this isn’t the highest peak on a tiny spec of an island in the Bahamas, but rather a canvas top that keeps the sun from beating on your passengers’ heads all day long. It’s usually a folding frame apparatus, and sometimes is incorporated into the towing tower.

Ballast system – In wakeboarding, it’s all about the wake. Ballast systems hold upward of 900 pounds of water, and can be built into the hull and stringer system or can be large “bladders” tucked into the keel and compartments to either side of the engine. Ballast systems increase the weight of the boat, which makes bigger wakes.

CNC –  It stands for computer numerically controlled, and refers to anything that has been milled with a five-axis router guided by computer-assisted design. It’s far more reliable and repeatable than the shaky hands of factory workers.

Doghouse – This is a slang term for the engine box in the middle of the floor on a direct-drive inboard boat. Most of them are upholstered, so they can be used as a seat or for other purposes.


Direct Drive – This is the term for a ski-boat drivetrain. The engine, which is under the doghouse, is connected directly to the transmission, which is connected directly to the driveshaft, which exits through the hull bottom directly to the shaft strut and propeller. How’s that for direct?

Dude – Can be a noun or an exclamation. In noun form, it is virtually any guy on earth. As an exclamation, and depending on the speaker’s inflection, it can mean anything from “Hello,” or “Nice jump,” to “I’m so disappointed in you” and “See ya’ later.” It’s a very handy and common word among brain-dead wakeboarders who have crashed a lot.

Gas Struts – These have nothing to do with a boat’s ride and everything to do with how the hatch lids stay up when you open them. Lots of boating hacks call them shocks, but that is, well, wrong. Mnemonic device: shocks absorb, struts support.

Goofy-foot – A colloquial term used to identify wakeboarders who ride with their right foot forward. Most people prefer left-foot forward. To determine whether someone should ride left- or right-foot forward, tell him to stand with his feet together, then go behind him and push him. Obviously, don’t tell him what you’re going to do. Whatever foot he puts forward first is the foot that goes forward on the wakeboard. Or a skateboard. Or surfboard. Or wakeskate.

L-, J- or U-shape Lounge – Not the configuration of your favorite pub, but the shape of the cockpit lounge seating as seen from above.

Marine Grade – A generic term that essentially means “water resistant.” Seriously, you always want marine grade, especially when it comes to hardware, carpeting and vinyl upholstery because of its wear resistance, and added corrosion and UV protection.

Multisport Wake Plate – Supra and Moomba use this to describe a trim tab mounted in the center of the boat at the transom. It’s used to fine-tune the boat’s wake.

Nibral – Once you understand what this word means, it makes perfect sense. Nibral is an alloy used to make propellers, which consists of nickel, bronze and aluminum.

Perfect Pass – A brand name for a speed-control system. It’s used to provide consistent speeds and wakes for water-skiing and wakeboarding. It’s far more reliable and repeatable than the shaky hands you usually find on the throttle.

Observer Seat – This describes the rear-facing lounge on the port side, where a person can watch the rider in tow and tell you when to turn around to pick him up after he’s crashed and burned. It’s also the most likely seat to produce a seasick passenger, even on glassy calm lakes.

Playpen – Essentially a cushion that fills in the bow area to create a fully upholstered “playpen.” The industry would have gone with “padded room” because you have to be crazy to sit up there, but it just didn’t hold the same allure.

Shaft Strut – Not the unusually stylish walk of lead characters in 1970’s blaxploitation movies, this is the bracket on the bottom of the hull that holds the prop shaft in place, usually mounted just forward of the propeller.

Swim Platform – Generally the detachable decking at the transom used for strapping on a ski or wakeboard, made of teak, plastic or fiberglass. This is usually the part of the boat you clock your hip on when walking around it when it’s on the trailer.

TAPS – This is the trademarked name for Tigé’s wake-tuning trim tab.

The Wedge – Malibu’s wake-tuning system is actually a hydrofoil mounted on a bracket on the hull bottom, which when lowered and locked into position actually pulls the transom downward into the water as the boat moves forward, thus creating larger wakes.

Tow Eye – This is the little eyelet on the transom above the swim platform, typically used for pulling kids on tubes, or for friends and relatives who aren’t coordinated enough to manage a deepwater start on a board or ski.

Towing Tower – Almost self-explanatory, the towing tower is usually a four-point, collapsible aluminum frame used for pulling wakeboarders. It’s designed to give riders upward as well as forward pull. It’s what makes for “righteous big air, dude” (see “dude,” above).

Tow Pylon – Also called a ski pylon, the tow pylon is nearly always mounted in front of the engine, whether it’s a direct- or a V-drive. Hardcore wakeboarders rarely use them, which is why they are usually offered in a “pop-up” design that drops down beneath the upholstery when not in use. If you thought clocking your hip on the swim platform was painful, try goring your tenders on a tow pylon that isn’t recessed into the sunpad.

Tracking – The ability for a towboat to hold its line as skiers or wakeboarders slash from side to side behind the boat. A boat that tracks well doesn’t mean you can take your hands off the wheel (doing so is dangerous and ill-advised) but it keeps the back of the boat from being pulled around hard enough that you have to make course corrections.

V-drive – This term describes a wakeboard-boat drivetrain. The engine is mounted in the boat, flywheel forward. The transmission is coupled to rear of the engine, power comes in the back of the gearbox and goes out the back to the propeller shaft, which exits through the bottom of the hull and leads to the shaft strut and propeller. The power path forms a V, thus the name.

Wakeboard – North American English for “saved a destitute ski-boat industry.” Seriously, in the early 1990s, water skiing was as passé as it is today. Wakeboarding came along and made being dragged behind a boat on a rope cool and fun again. It also created a whole new breed of towboat and revitalized watersports in the process.

Wakeboard Racks – Usually mounted on the towing tower, wakeboard racks get those clumsy boards out of the cockpit and out of the way, yet keep them easy to get to. Aesthetically, they’re hideous, but you don’t want a wakeboard boat without them.

Wakeskate – Basically, it’s a wakeboard without bindings to keep it on your feet. It’s for advanced riders, but because it isn’t attached to your feet, it is the most likely piece of equipment to knock the teeth out of your head when you crash.

Wake-surfing – Surfing for people who don’t want to contend with the nitwits you find at any point break in California and their “locals only” gibberish. Nowadays, wakeboard boats can be fitted with enough ballast to throw a wake big enough to surf on. And you get to hear a V-8 rumble while you’re doing it. Cool.
Written by: Brett Becker
Brett Becker is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered the marine industry for 15 years. In addition to covering the ski boat and runabout markets for, he regularly writes and shoots for Based in Ventura, Calif., Becker holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in mass communication from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.