Last updated
Brig Niagara full sail.jpg
TypeSailing vessel
Place of origin Mediterranean
WeightTonnages up to 480
Length75–165 ft (23–50 m)
CrewVaries, 7 to 16 to sail

SpeedVaries per conditions, hull characteristics, and rig construction and proportions, speeds of over 11 knots (20 km/h) reported

A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. During the Age of Sail, brigs were seen as fast and maneuverable and were used as both naval warships and merchant vessels. They were especially popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Brigs fell out of use with the arrival of the steam ship because they required a relatively large crew for their small size and were difficult to sail into the wind. Their rigging differs from that of a brigantine which has a gaff-rigged mainsail, while a brig has a square mainsail with an additional gaff-rigged spanker behind the mainsail.

Square rig generic type of sail and rigging arrangement

Square rig is a generic type of sail and rigging arrangement in which the primary driving sails are carried on horizontal spars which are perpendicular, or square, to the keel of the vessel and to the masts. These spars are called yards and their tips, beyond the last stay, are called the yardarms. A ship mainly so rigged is called a square-rigger.

Age of Sail era dominated by sailing vesels out at sea

The Age of Sail was a period roughly corresponding to the early modern period in which international trade and naval warfare were dominated by sailing ships, lasting from the mid-16th to the mid-19th century.

Warship ship that is built and primarily intended for combat

A warship or combatant ship is a naval ship that is built and primarily intended for naval warfare. Usually they belong to the armed forces of a state. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faster and more manoeuvrable than merchant ships. Unlike a merchant ship, which carries cargo, a warship typically carries only weapons, ammunition and supplies for its crew. Warships usually belong to a navy, though they have also been operated by individuals, cooperatives and corporations.



A typical brig sail plan Brig3.png
A typical brig sail plan

In sailing, a full-rigged brig is a vessel with two square rigged masts (fore and main). [2] The main mast of a brig is the aft one. To improve maneuverability, the mainmast carries a small (gaff rigged) fore-and-aft sail. [3]

Sailing Propulsion of a vehicle by wind power

Sailing employs the wind—acting on sails, wingsails or kites—to propel a craft on the surface of the water, on ice (iceboat) or on land over a chosen course, which is often part of a larger plan of navigation.

Mast (sailing) pole of wood, metal or lightweight materials used in the rigging of a sailing vessel to carry or support its sail

The mast of a sailing vessel is a tall spar, or arrangement of spars, erected more or less vertically on the centre-line of a ship or boat. Its purposes include carrying sail, spars, and derricks, and giving necessary height to a navigation light, look-out position, signal yard, control position, radio aerial or signal lamp. Large ships have several masts, with the size and configuration depending on the style of ship. Nearly all sailing masts are guyed.

Gaff rig

Gaff rig is a sailing rig in which the sail is four-cornered, fore-and-aft rigged, controlled at its peak and, usually, its entire head by a spar (pole) called the gaff. Because of the size and shape of the sail, a gaff rig will have running backstays rather than permanent backstays.

Brig sails are named after the masts to which they are attached: the mainsail; above that the main topsail; above that the main topgallant sail; and occasionally a very small sail, called the royal, is above that. Behind the main sail there is a small fore-and-aft sail called the spanker or boom mainsail (it is somewhat similar to the main sail of a schooner). On the foremast is a similar sail, called the trysail. Attached to the respective yards of square-rigged ships are smaller spars, which can be extended, thus lengthening the yard, thus receiving an additional sailing wing on each side. These are called studding sails, and are used with fair and light wind only. The wings are named after the sails to which they are fastened, i.e. the main studding sails, main top studding sails, and the main top gallant studding sails, etc. [4]


A mainsail is a sail rigged on the main mast of a sailing vessel.


A topsail is a sail set above another sail; on square-rigged vessels further sails may be set above topsails.

Topgallant sail

On a square rigged sailing vessel, a topgallant sail is the square-rigged sail or sails immediately above the topsail or topsails. It is also known as a gallant or garrant sail.

The brig's foremast is smaller than the main mast. The fore mast holds a fore sail, fore top sail, fore top gallant sail, and fore royal. Between the fore mast and the bowsprit are the fore staysail, jib, and flying jib. All the yards are manipulated by a complicated arrangement of cordage named the running rigging. This is opposed to the standing rigging which is fixed, and keeps mast and other objects rigid. [4]

Bowsprit spar extending forward from a sailing vessels prow

The bowsprit of a sailing vessel is a spar extending forward from the vessel's prow. It provides an anchor point for the forestay(s), allowing the fore-mast to be stepped farther forward on the hull.


A staysail is a fore-and-aft rigged sail whose luff can be affixed to a stay running forward from a mast to the deck, the bowsprit, or to another mast.

A jib is a triangular sail that sets ahead of the foremast of a sailing vessel. Its tack is fixed to the bowsprit, to the bows, or to the deck between the bowsprit and the foremost mast. Jibs and spinnakers are the two main types of headsails on a modern boat.

Hull material

A brig is "generally built on a larger scale than a schooner, and may approach the magnitude of a full-sized, three-masted ship." [4] Brigs vary in length between 75 and 165 ft (23 and 50 m) with tonnages up to 480. [5] A notable exception being the famous designer Colin Mudie's 'Little Brigs' [6] (TS Bob Allen and TS Caroline Allen), which are only 10m long and weigh only 8 tonnes. [7] Historically, most brigs were made of wood, although some later brigs were built with hulls and masts of steel or iron. [3] A brig made of pine in the 19th century was designed to last for about twenty years (many lasted longer). [3]

A schooner is a type of sailing vessel with fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts. The most common type has two masts, the foremast being shorter than the main. While the schooner was originally gaff-rigged, modern schooners typically carry a Bermuda rig.

Development of the brig

The word "brig" has been used in the past as an abbreviation of brigantine (which is the name for a two-masted vessel with foremast fully square rigged and her mainmast rigged with both a fore-and-aft mainsail, square topsails and possibly topgallant sails). The brig actually developed as a variant of the brigantine. Re-rigging a brigantine with two square-rigged masts instead of one gave it greater sailing power. The square-rigged brig's advantage over the fore-and-aft rigged brigantine was "that the sails, being smaller and more numerous, are more easily managed, and require fewer men or 'hands' to work them." [4] The variant was so popular that the term "brig" came to exclusively signify a ship with this type of rigging. [8] By the 17th century the British Royal Navy defined "brig" as having two square rigged masts. [9]

Brigantine vessel with two masts, only the forward of which is square rigged

A brigantine is a two-masted sailing vessel with a fully square rigged foremast and at least two sails on the main mast: a square topsail and a gaff sail mainsail. The main mast is the second and taller of the two masts.

Fore-and-aft rig

A fore-and-aft rig is a sailing rig consisting mainly of sails that are set along the line of the keel rather than perpendicular to it. Such sails are described as fore-and-aft rigged.

Historic usage

Brigs were used as small warships carrying about 10 to 18 guns. [5] Due to their speed and maneuverability they were popular among pirates (though they were rare among American and Caribbean pirates). [4] [8] While their use stretches back before the 17th century, one of the most famous periods for the brig was during the 19th century when they were involved in famous naval battles such as the Battle of Lake Erie. In the early 19th century the brig was a standard cargo ship. It was seen as "fast and well sailing", but required a large crew to handle its rigging. [10] While brigs could not sail into the wind as easily as fore-and-aft–rigged vessels such as schooners, a trait that is common to all square-rigged ships, a skilled brig captain could "manoeuvre it with ease and elegance; a brig could for instance turn around almost on the spot". [11] A brig's square-rig also had the advantage over a fore-and-aft–rigged vessel when travelling offshore, in the trade winds, where vessels sailed down wind for extended distances and where "the danger of a sudden jibe was the large schooner-captain's nightmare". [12] This trait later led to the evolution of the barquentine. The need for large crews in relation to their relatively small size led to the decline of the production of brigs. They were replaced in commercial traffic by gaffsail schooners (which needed fewer personnel) and steam boats (which did not have the windward performance problems of square rigged ships). [10]

Historic examples

Painting of the brig USS Niagara in the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie. Battle small.jpg
Painting of the brig USS Niagara in the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie.
Brig "Mercury" Attacked by Two Turkish Ships , Ivan Aivazovsky, Oil-on-canvas, 1892 Aivazovsky, Brig Mercury Attacked by Two Turkish Ships 1892.jpg
Brig "Mercury" Attacked by Two Turkish Ships , Ivan Aivazovsky, Oil-on-canvas, 1892

The famous mystery ship Mary Celeste , while sometimes called a brig, was clearly a brigantine.

Brigs in fiction

Modern recreations

The brig Lady Washington Lady Washington Commencement Bay2.jpg
The brig Lady Washington

See also

Related Research Articles

Sloop sail boat with a single mast and a fore-and-aft rig

A sloop is a sailing boat with a single mast and a fore-and-aft rig. A sloop has only one head-sail; if a vessel has two or more head-sails, the term cutter is used, and its mast may be set further aft than on a sloop.

Sail plan diagram of the masts, spars, rigging, and sails of a sailing vessel

A sail plan is a set of drawings, usually prepared by a naval architect which shows the various combinations of sail proposed for a sailing ship. Alternatively, as a term of art, it refers to the way such vessels are rigged as discussed below.

Ketch type of sailing boat

A ketch is a two-masted sailing craft whose mainmast is taller than the mizzen mast. The name "ketch" is derived from "catch" or fishing boat.

Tall ship large, traditionally-rigged sailing vessel

A tall ship is a large, traditionally-rigged sailing vessel. Popular modern tall ship rigs include topsail schooners, brigantines, brigs and barques. "Tall ship" can also be defined more specifically by an organization, such as for a race or festival.

Sloop-of-war ship type

In the 18th century and most of the 19th, a sloop-of-war in the Royal Navy was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. The rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above; thus, the term sloop-of-war encompassed all the unrated combat vessels, including the very small gun-brigs and cutters. In technical terms, even the more specialised bomb vessels and fireships were classed as sloops-of-war, and in practice these were employed in the sloop role when not carrying out their specialized functions.

Snow (ship) sailing vessel

In sailing, a snow, snaw or snauw is a square rigged vessel with two masts, complemented by a snow- or trysail-mast stepped immediately abaft (behind) the main mast.

Cutter (boat) type of watercraft designed for speed

A cutter is generally a small to medium-sized vessel, depending on its role and definition. Historically, it was a smallish single- or double-masted, decked sailcraft designed for speed rather than capacity. As such, it was gaff-rigged, with two or more headsails and often a bowsprit of some length, with a mast sometimes set farther back than on a sloop. While historically a workboat, as used by harbor pilots, the military, and privateers, sailing cutters today are most commonly fore-and-aft rigged private yachts.

Barquentine sailing vessel

A barquentine or schooner barque is a sailing vessel with three or more masts; with a square rigged foremast and fore-and-aft rigged main, mizzen and any other masts.

Bermuda rig

A Bermuda rig, Bermudian rig, or Marconi rig is a configuration of mast and rigging for a type of sailboat and is the typical configuration for most modern sailboats. This configuration was developed in Bermuda in the 17th century; the term Marconi was a reference to the inventor of the radio, Guglielmo Marconi, because the wires that stabilize the mast of a Bermuda rig reminded observers of the wires on early radio masts at a time when both were newly introduced.

Full-rigged ship sailing vessel with three or more masts, all of them square-rigged

A full-rigged ship or fully rigged ship is a sailing vessel's sail plan with three or more masts, all of them square-rigged. A full-rigged ship is said to have a ship rig or be ship-rigged.

Trysail Storm sail

A trysail is a small triangular or square fore-and-aft rigged sail hoisted in place of a larger sail when winds are very high. The trysail provides enough thrust to maintain control of the ship. It is hoisted abaft the mainmast or, on a brig, abaft the foremast.


A jackass-barque, sometimes spelled jackass bark, is a sailing ship with three masts, of which the foremast is square-rigged and the main is partially square-rigged and partially fore-and-aft rigged (course). The mizzen mast is fore-and-aft rigged.

<i>Amazing Grace</i> (ship) topsail schooner ship

Amazing Grace is an 83' topsail schooner. Her home port is in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The ship serves as the platform for the non-profit Maritime Leadership and is also available for private charters and memorials at sea. Maritime Leadership provides traditional sail training adventures through sailings ranging from 3–48 hours.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to sailing:


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  13. "American Memory from the Library of Congress".
  15. New York Times June 17, 1900, p. 10
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