A cutter is a type of watercraft. The term has several meanings. It can apply to the rig (or sailplan) of a sailing vessel (but with regional differences in definition), to a governmental enforcement agency vessel (such as a coast guard or border force cutter), to a type of ship's boat which can be used under sail or oars, or, historically, to a type of fast-sailing vessel introduced in the 18th century, some of which were used as small warships.
As a sailing rig, a cutter is a single-masted boat, with two or more headsails. – so a boat with two headsails may be classed as a sloop.On the eastern side of the Atlantic, the two headsails on a single mast is the fullest extent of the modern definition. In U.S. waters, a greater level of complexity applies, with the placement of the mast and the rigging details of the bowsprit taken into account
Government agencies use the term "cutter" for vessels employed in patrolling their territorial waters and other enforcement activities. This terminology is derived from the sailing cutters which had this sort of role from the 18th century to the end of the 19th century. (See below.) Whilst the details vary from country to country, generally these are small ships that can remain at sea for extended periods and in all usual weather conditions. Many, but not all, are armed. Uses include control of a country's borders and preventing smuggling.
Cutters as ship's boats came into use in the early 18th century (dating which roughly coincides with the decked sailing vessels described below). These were clinker-built open boats which were fitted for propulsion by both oar and sail. They were more optimised for sailing than the barges and pinnaces that were types of ship's boat used in the Royal Navy – one distinctive resulting feature of this was the washstrake added to increase the freeboard. It was pierced with rowlock cut-outs for the oars, so that the thwarts did not need to be set unusually high to achieve the right geometry for efficient use. : 33
Cutters, as decked sailing vessels designed for speed, came into use in the early part of the 18th century. When first introduced, the term applied largely to the hull form, in the same way that clipper was used almost a hundred years later. Some of these 18th and 19th century examples were rigged as ketches or brigs. However, the typical rig, especially in Naval or revenue protection use, was a single masted rig setting a huge amount of sail. Square sails were set, as well as a full complement of fore and aft sails. In civilian use, cutter were mostly involved in smuggling. The navy and coastguard therefore also used cutters in an attempt to catch those operating illegally. : 119–112
The term cutter appeared in the early 18th century as a description of a hull type. These vessels were designed for speed and the name was used in a similar way to clipper in the next century. The concept of hull type was perpetuated by the term "cutter brig" which was used over the period circa 1781-1807 for those rigged as brigs. "Cutter built" was a description applied to a hull of this type and designed for speed. More generally, the unmodified word "cutter" soon became associated with a single-masted rig. : 26–30
Fast vessels were often used for illegal purposes, such as smuggling, or by the authorities trying to prevent this illegality. Therefore cutters were used for both. The Royal Navy bought and had built a large number for use in controlling smuggling, as "advice boats" (carrying dispatches), or against privateers. : 56
The characteristic cutter hull shape was wide, many had a length to breadth ratio of 3 to 1. It had a lot of deadrise and fine lines. A huge amount of sail could be set on these beamy hulls. The rig became standardised as having one mast, a gaff-rigged mainsail, square sails and several headsails –together with a full range of extra light weather sails. The mainsail had a boom that extended beyond the stern. Square sails consisted of a course, topsail and topgallant. In earlier examples (before 1800) the topsail's foot had a large amount of roach and was sheeted to a separate yard that was set below the main yard (which carried the course). The headsails were a staysail, set on the forestay (which fastened to the stemhead), a jib, set flying to a traveller on the bowsprit and, in most cases, a flying jib (alternatively termed a jib-topsail) also set flying, but to a higher point on the mast. A cutter has a running bowsprit, which can be brought inboard when not needed, such as in rough weather or in harbour. The bowsprit was usually of great length, sometimes longer than the hull. The standard fair weather sails consisted of a ringtail to the mainsail and studding sails to the square sails. It was not unknown for cutters to use a removable mizzen mast for use when reaching, setting a lugsail. Since the boom of the mainsail overhang the stern, the mast would have to be removed to tack or gybe. : 26-30
The dimensions of an 18th century cutter purchased by the Royal Navy in 1763, and roughly in the middle of the size range of the batch of 30 bought that year (HMS Fly) are: length on deck 47 feet 6 inches (14.48 m), beam 20 feet 10.25 inches (6.3564 m), measuring just over 78 tons bm. Smuggling cutters ranged from 30 tons (captured in 1747) to 140 tons. The Revenue cutters increased in size to match the vessels they attempted to catch –Repulse, of 210 tons was built in 1778. A determining factor on size was the number of crew needed to handle the large gaff mainsail with its long boom. Larger cutters purchased by the Royal Navy were sometimes converted to brigs to make them easier to handle, but still utilising the fast hull. : 26-29 : 120-123 : ch 9
At about the same time that the decked, fast-sailing cutters of the 18th century appeared, the term was also applied to a new class of ship's boat. These were clinker-built open boats, optimised for sailing but capable under oars. They had finer lines than the boats of that time (which had more rounded bows) and a transom stern. A distinctive feature was that the washstrake had cut-outs (called rowlocks) in which the oars were worked, unlike most boats of the period, that used thole pins as the pivot point for the oars. –when the cut-outs were filled with wooden shutters (often mis-called poppets ) to keep the water out. The alternative, if the correct geometry for an efficient rowing position was adopted, was to position the thwarts awkwardly high. : 32–33, 65This allowed a higher freeboard, which was helpful if sailing
Like some other types of ship's boats used in the Royal Navy, the cutter appears to have originated in Deal. Some Navy Board correspondence of 1712 concerns disapproval of the captain of HMS Rochester for buying a cutter of about 20 feet (6.1 m) in length as a replacement for her pinnace. In 1722, another ship had a cutter issued for a voyage to India, and by 1740 substantial numbers of cutters were being bought from Deal boatbuilders to equip Navy ships. The size of these boats varied from 15 to 20 feet (4.6 to 6.1 m) in length. : 32–33
The 1740 purchases coincided with a decision to increase the number of boats carried by warships. During the Seven Years' War cutters were found particularly useful for cruising ships, being seaworthy and useful for boarding. However, they were more susceptible to damage than the heavier boats that they replaced and much less capable of carrying heavy weights, such as anchors and water casks. : 32-34, 36-37 The range of sizes available steadily increased. By 1817 the cutters issued came in 17 different lengths, from 12 to 34 feet (3.7 to 10.4 m). : 63 This big variety was reduced when the Royal Navy's warships moved to steam propulsion. Since drinking water could now be distilled on board, ships no longer needed to have the largest boats that they could carry to maximise the amount of water collected on each trip. The standard-issue cutters from 1877 to 1900 came in 11 different lengths, ranging from 16 to 34 feet (4.9 to 10.4 m). This was cut to 5 sizes from 26 to 34 feet (7.9 to 10.4 m) in 1914. : 70–71
The sailing rig of the cutters used as ship's boats was usually two masted. : 91–96, 112In 1761, the larger Deal-built cutters had spritsails set on these masts, soon transitioning to a dipping lug fore-sail and a sprit mizzen. For much of the 19th century, and into the 20th, cutters were rigged with a dipping lug on the foremast and a standing lug on the mizzen. This made them similar to many of the luggers worked from the beaches and harbours of Britain. The sail plan illustration here (1880 Sail Plan) even replicates the civilian lugger terminology of having a fore and mizzen mast, and not using the term "main mast". A variation on this rig, seen for example in 1887, was to have two dipping lugs.
The number of oars pulled varied with the size of the boat. A schedule of ship's boats of 1886 shows 34 to 30 feet (10.4 to 9.1 m) cutters pulling 12 oars, 28 feet (8.5 m), 10 oars, 26 to 20 feet (7.9 to 6.1 m), 8 oars and the two smallest sizes of 18 and 16 feet (5.5 and 4.9 m), 6 oars. The smaller boats could be single banked whilst the larger and later examples were generally double-banked. For transporting large numbers of men, in moderate weather conditions, a 34 ft cutter could carry a total of 66 men, a 26 ft cutter, 36 men and a 20 ft cutter, 21 men. : 87
Steam powered ship's boats saw a slow introduction to the Royal Navy from 1864. By 1877, three types were in use: steam launches, picket boats and steam cutters. However, right up to the time of the First World War, the majority of the boats in use continued to be propelled solely by sail and oar. : 106 The Royal Navy still has some cutters that can be worked under sail or oar. : 54
In the simpler definition, the sailing rig called "cutter" has a single mast with fore and aft sails which include more than one headsail. The mainsail (set abaft, or behind the mast) could be gaff, Bermuda, standing lug or gunter rigged. A more complex definition may be applied in American waters, where a boat with two headsails would be termed a sloop if the mast has a more forward position and the bowsprit is permanently rigged. An example of this is the Friendship Sloop. A traditional cutter, by contrast, has a running : 54–55bowsprit and the jib is set flying on a traveller that is hauled out to the end of the bowsprit. In a vessel such as a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter, a storm jib might be set on a reefed bowsprit, with the bowsprit partially run in from its most fully extended position.
The cutter is one of several types of sailboats. Traditionally the sloop rig was a rig with a single mast located forward of 70% of the length of the sailplan. In this traditional definition a sloop could have multiple jibs on a fixed bowsprit.[ citation needed ]
Cutters had a rig with a single mast more centrally located, which could vary from 50% to 70% of the length of the sailplan, with multiple headsails and a running bowsprit.[ citation needed ] A mast located aft of 50% would be considered a mast aft rig.
Between the 1950s and 2000s there was a shift in these definitions such that a sloop only flew one headsail and a cutter had multiple headsails and mast position became irrelevant. In this modern idiom, a cutter is a sailing vessel with more than one head sail and one mast. Cutters carry a staysail directly in front of the mast, set from the forestay. A traditional vessel would also normally have a bowsprit to carry one or more jibs from its end via jibstay(s) on travelers (to preserve the ability to reef the bowsprit). In modern vessels the jib may be set from a permanent stay fixed to the end of a fixed (non-reeving) bowsprit, or directly to the stem fitting of the bow itself. In these cases, that may be referred to as the forestay, and the inner one, which will be less permanent in terms of keeping the mast up, may be called the stays'l stay. A sloop carries only one head sail, called either the foresail or jib.[ citation needed ].
The cutter rig, especially a gaff rig version where the sails aft the mast were divided between a mainsail below the gaff and a topsail above, was useful for sailing with small crews as the total sail area was divided into smaller individual sails. These could be managed without the need for large crews, winches, or complex tackles, making the cutter especially suitable for pilot, customs and coast guard duties. For example, a pilot cutter may only have two people on board for its outward trip—the pilot to be delivered to a ship and an assistant who had to sail the cutter back to port single-handed. The cutter sailing rig became so ubiquitous for these tasks that the modern-day motorised vessels now engaged in these duties are known as 'cutters'.
The watermen of London used similar boats in the 18th century often decorated as depicted in historical prints and pictures of the River Thames in the 17th and 18th centuries. The modern waterman's cutter is based on drawings of these boats. They are 34 feet (10 m) long with a beam of 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m). They can have up to six oarsmen either rowing or sculling and can carry a cox and passengers. The organisers of the Great River Race developed the modern version in the 1980s and now many of the fleet of 24 compete annually in this "Marathon of the River". Watermen's cutters also compete annually in the Port of London Challenge, and the Port Admirals' Challenge. Cutter races are also to be found at various town rowing and skiffing regattas. In addition the cutters perform the role of ceremonial Livery Barges with the canopies and armorial flags flying on special occasions.
Cutters have been used for record-breaking attempts and crews have achieved record times for sculling the English Channel (2 h 42 min) in 1996 and for sculling non-stop from London to Paris (4 days 15 min) in 1999.
The pilot cutter developed from the need for a fast boat to take maritime pilots from harbour to incoming large trading vessels.
As most early pilots were local fisherman who undertook both jobs, although licensed by the harbour to operate within their jurisdiction, pilots were generally self-employed, and the quickest transport meant greater income. As their fishing boats were heavy working boats, and filled with fishing equipment, they needed a new type of boat; early boats were developed from single masted fishing cutter designs and twin masted yawls, and latterly into the specialist pilot cutter.
The natural dangers of the Bristol Channel brought about over many years the development of the specialist Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter. According to records from Pill, Somerset now housed in the Bristol Museum, the first official Bristol Channel pilot was barge master George James Ray, appointed by the Corporation of Bristol in May 1497 to pilot John Cabot's Matthew from Bristol harbour to the open sea beyond. In 1837 Pilot George Ray guided Brunel's SS Great Western, and in 1844 William Ray piloted the larger SS Great Britain on her maiden voyage.
The term cutter is also used for any seaworthy vessel used in the law enforcement duties of the United Kingdom's Border Force, the United States Coast Guard (because of its descent from the Revenue Cutter Service) or the customs services of other countries.
In the United States, the early Revenue Cutter Service operated customs cutters that were commonly schooners or brigs. In Britain, they were usually rigged as defined under Sailing (above). The British Board of Customs also used other vessels as hulks, which were moored in places such as tidal creeks. Customs officers worked from the hulks in smaller boats.
In the UK, the Border Force (successor to the UK Border Agency and HM Customs and Excise) currently operates a fleet of 42 m corvette-type vessels throughout UK territorial waters as border cutters, inspecting vessels for illicit cargoes.
A sloop is a sailboat with a single mast typically having only one headsail in front of the mast and one mainsail aft of (behind) the mast. Such an arrangement is called a fore-and-aft rig, and can be rigged as a Bermuda rig with triangular sails fore and aft, or as a gaff-rig with triangular foresail(s) and a gaff rigged mainsail. Sailboats can be classified according to type of rig, and so a sailboat may be a sloop, catboat, cutter, ketch, yawl, or schooner. A sloop usually has only one headsail, although an exception is the Friendship sloop, which is usually gaff-rigged with a bowsprit and multiple headsails. If the vessel has two or more headsails, the term cutter may be used, especially if the mast is stepped further towards the back of the boat.
A sailboat or sailing boat is a boat propelled partly or entirely by sails and is smaller than a sailing ship. Distinctions in what constitutes a sailing boat and ship vary by region and maritime culture.
A sail plan is a description of the specific ways that a sailing craft is rigged. Also, the term "sail plan" is a graphic depiction of the arrangement of the sails for a given sailing craft.
A ketch is a two-masted sailboat whose mainmast is taller than the mizzen mast, and whose mizzen mast is stepped forward of the rudder post. The mizzen mast stepped forward of the rudder post is what distinguishes the ketch from a yawl, which has its mizzen mast stepped aft of its rudder post. In the 19th and 20th centuries, ketch rigs were often employed on larger yachts and working watercraft, but ketches are also used as smaller working watercraft as short as 15 feet, or as small cruising boats, such as Bill Hanna's Tahiti ketches or L. Francis Herreshoff's Rozinante and H-28.
A yawl is a type of boat. The term has several meanings. It can apply to the rig, to the hull type or to the use which the vessel is put.
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.
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.
The Bermuda sloop is a historical type of fore-and-aft rigged single-masted sailing vessel developed on the islands of Bermuda in the 17th century. Such vessels originally had gaff rigs with quadrilateral sails, but evolved to use the Bermuda rig with triangular sails. Although the Bermuda sloop is often described as a development of the narrower-beamed Jamaica sloop, which dates from the 1670s, the high, raked masts and triangular sails of the Bermuda rig are rooted in a tradition of Bermudian boat design dating from the earliest decades of the 17th century. It is distinguished from other vessels with the triangular Bermuda rig, which may have multiple masts or may not have evolved in hull form from the traditional designs.
A topsail ("tops'l") is a sail set above another sail; on square-rigged vessels further sails may be set above topsails.
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.
This glossary of nautical terms is an alphabetical listing of terms and expressions connected with ships, shipping, seamanship and navigation on water. Some remain current, while many date from the 17th to 19th centuries. The word nautical derives from the Latin nauticus, from Greek nautikos, from nautēs: "sailor", from naus: "ship".
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 1600s; the term Marconi, a reference to the inventor of the radio, Guglielmo Marconi, became associated with this configuration in the early 1900s because the wires that stabilize the mast of a Bermuda rig reminded observers of the wires on early radio masts.
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, outside the lifts, are called the yardarms. A ship mainly rigged so is called a square-rigger.
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. Such vessels also have each mast stepped in three segments: lower mast, top mast, and topgallant mast. Other large, multi-masted sailing vessels may be regarded as ships while lacking one of the elements of a full-rigged ship, e.g. having one or more masts support only a fore-and-aft sail or having a mast that only has two segments.
A Thames sailing barge is a type of commercial sailing boat once common on the River Thames in London. The flat-bottomed barges with a shallow draught and leeboards, were perfectly adapted to the Thames Estuary, with its shallow waters and narrow tributary rivers. The larger barges were seaworthy vessels, and were the largest sailing vessel to be handled by just two men. The average size was about 120 tons and they carried 4,200 square feet (390 m2) of canvas sail in six working sails. The mainsail was loose-footed and set up with a sprit, and was brailed to the mast when not needed. It is sheeted to a horse, as is the foresail; they require no attention when tacking. The foresail is often held back by the mate to help the vessel come about more swiftly.
The spritsail is a four-sided, fore-and-aft sail that is supported at its highest points by the mast and a diagonally running spar known as the sprit. The foot of the sail can be stretched by a boom or held loose-footed just by its sheets. A spritsail has four corners: the throat, peak, clew, and tack. The Spritsail can also be used to describe a rig that uses a spritsail.
A foresail is one of a few different types of sail set on the foremost mast (foremast) of a sailing vessel:
The Friendship sloop, also known as a Muscongus Bay sloop or lobster sloop, is a gaff-rigged working boat design that originated in Friendship, Maine around 1880 and has survived as a traditional-style sailboat.
A fractional rig on a sailing vessel consists of a foresail, such as a jib or genoa sail, that does not reach all the way to the top of the mast.
A masthead rig on a sailing vessel consists of a forestay and backstay both attached at the top of the mast.