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The rigging of a square rigger in London. SquareRigging.jpg
The rigging of a square rigger in London.
Standing rigging on a fore-and-aft rigged sailboat.
Key: 1. Forestay 2. Shroud 3. (Spreaders) 4. Backstay 5. Inner forestay 6. Sidestay 7. (Boom) 8. Running backstays Schema-Stehendes-Gut.png
Standing rigging on a fore-and-aft rigged sailboat.
Key: 1. Forestay 2. Shroud 3. (Spreaders) 4. Backstay 5. Inner forestay 6. Sidestay 7. (Boom) 8. Running backstays
Bermuda rigged sloop at Convict Bay, Bermuda, circa 1879 Bermuda rigged sloop at Convict Bay ca 1879.jpg
Bermuda rigged sloop at Convict Bay, Bermuda, circa 1879
Standing rigging on a square-rigged vessel. Barkskibs staende rigning2.png
Standing rigging on a square-rigged vessel.
Running rigging on a sailing yacht:
1. Main sheet 2. Jib sheet 3. Boom vang 4. Downhaul 5. Jib halyard Yacht-mainsheet-jibsheet-vang-downhaul-jib halyard.jpg
Running rigging on a sailing yacht:
1. Main sheet 2. Jib sheet 3. Boom vang 4. Downhaul 5. Jib halyard

Rigging comprises the system of ropes, cables and chains, which support a sailing ship or sail boat's masts—standing rigging, including shrouds and stays—and which adjust the position of the vessel's sails and spars to which they are attached—the running rigging, including halyards, braces, sheets and vangs. [1]



According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition "rigging" derives from Anglo-Saxon wrigan or wringing, "to clothe". The same source points out that "rigging" a sailing vessel refers to putting all the components in place to allow it to function, including the masts, spars, sails and the rigging. [2]

Types of rigging

Rigging is divided into two classes, standing , which supports the mast (and bowsprit), and running, which controls the orientation of the sails and their degree of reefing. Configurations differ for each type of rigging, between fore-and-aft rigged vessels and square-rigged vessels.


Standing rigging is cordage which is fixed in position. Standing rigging is almost always between a mast and the deck, using tension to hold the mast firmly in place. Due to its role, standing rigging is now most commonly made of steel cable. It was historically made of the same materials as running rigging, only coated in tar for added strength and protection from the elements. [3]

Fore-and-aft rigged vessels

Most fore-and-aft rigged vessels have the following types of standing rigging: a forestay, a backstay, and upper and lower shrouds (side stays). Less common rigging configurations are diamond stays and jumpers. Both of these are used to keep a thin mast in column especially under the load of a large down wind sail or in strong wind. Rigging parts include swageless terminals, swage terminals, shackle toggle terminals and fail-safe wire rigging insulators. [4]

Square-rigged vessels

Whereas 20th-century square-rigged vessels were constructed of steel with steel standing rigging, prior vessels used wood masts with hemp-fiber standing rigging. As rigs became taller by the end of the 19th century, masts relied more heavily on successive spars, stepped one atop the other to form the whole, from bottom to top: the lower mast, top mast, and topgallant mast. This construction relies heavily on support by a complex array of stays and shrouds. Each stay in either the fore-and-aft or athwartships direction has a corresponding one in the opposite direction providing counter-tension. Fore-and-aft the system of tensioning start with the stays that are anchored in front of each mast. Shrouds are tensioned by pairs of deadeyes, circular blocks that have the large-diameter line run around them, whilst multiple holes allow smaller line—lanyards—to pass multiple times between the two and thereby allow tensioning of the shroud. In addition to overlapping the mast below, the top mast and topgallant mast are supported laterally by shrouds that pass around either a platform, called a "top", or cross-wise beams, called "crosstrees". Each additional mast segment is supported fore and aft by a series of stays that lead forward. These lines are countered in tension by backstays, which are secured along the sides of the vessel behind the shrouds. [5]


Running rigging is the cordage used to control the shape and position of the sails. Materials have evolved from the use of Manilla rope to synthetic fibers, which include dacron, nylon and kevlar. [6] Running rigging varies between fore-and-aft rigged vessels and square-rigged vessels. They have common functions between them for supporting, shaping and orienting sails, which employ different mechanisms. For supporting sails, halyards (sometimes haulyards), are used to raise sails and control luff tension. On gaff-rigged vessels, topping lifts hold the yards across the top of the sail aloft. Sail shape is usually controlled by lines that pull at the corners of the sail, including the outhaul at the clew and the downhaul at the tack on fore-and-aft rigs. The orientation of sails to the wind is controlled primarily by sheets, [6] but also by braces, which position the yard arms with respect to the wind on square-rigged vessels. [5]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sailing ship</span> Large wind-powered water vessel

A sailing ship is a sea-going vessel that uses sails mounted on masts to harness the power of wind and propel the vessel. There is a variety of sail plans that propel sailing ships, employing square-rigged or fore-and-aft sails. Some ships carry square sails on each mast—the brig and full-rigged ship, said to be "ship-rigged" when there are three or more masts. Others carry only fore-and-aft sails on each mast, for instance some schooners. Still others employ a combination of square and fore-and-aft sails, including the barque, barquentine, and brigantine.

Sail plan Description of the specific ways that a sailing craft is rigged

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.

Standing rigging Rigging that supports masts

Standing rigging comprises the fixed lines, wires, or rods, which support each mast or bowsprit on a sailing vessel and reinforce those spars against wind loads transferred from the sails. This term is used in contrast to running rigging, which represents the moveable elements of rigging which adjust the position and shape of the sails.

Gaff rig Sailing rig configuration

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.

Running rigging Lines that control sails

Running rigging is the rigging of a sailing vessel that is used for raising, lowering, shaping and controlling the sails on a sailing vessel—as opposed to the standing rigging, which supports the mast and bowsprit. Running rigging varies between vessels that are rigged fore and aft and those that are square-rigged.

Mast (sailing) Pole used in rigging of a sailing vessel

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 sails, 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.

Yard (sailing) Sail-carrying part of the rigging of a sailing ship

A yard is a spar on a mast from which sails are set. It may be constructed of timber or steel or from more modern materials such as aluminium or carbon fibre. Although some types of fore and aft rigs have yards, the term is usually used to describe the horizontal spars used on square rigged sails. In addition, for some decades after square sails were generally dispensed with, some yards were retained for deploying wireless (radio) aerials and signal flags.

This is a glossary of nautical terms; an alphabetical listing of terms and expressions connected with ships, shipping, seamanship and navigation on water, but not necessarily on the sea. 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Square rig</span> 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, outside the lifts, are called the yardarms. A ship mainly rigged so is called a square-rigger.

Sail components Features that define a (ship) sails shape and function

Sail components include the features that define a sail's shape and function, plus its constituent parts from which it is manufactured. A sail may be classified in a variety of ways, including by its orientation to the vessel and its shape,. Sails are typically constructed out of flexible material that is shaped by various means, while in use, to offer an appropriate airfoil, according to the strength and apparent direction of the wind. A variety of features and fittings allow the sail to be attached to lines and spars.

Full-rigged ship Sailing vessel with three or more square-rigged masts

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.

Stays (nautical)

Stays are ropes, wires, or rods on sailing vessels that run fore-and-aft along the centerline from the masts to the hull, deck, bowsprit, or to other masts which serve to stabilize the masts.

Topmast Section of mast on sailing ship

The masts of traditional sailing ships were not single spars, but were constructed of separate sections or masts, each with its own rigging. The topmast is one of these.


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.

Fractional rig Sailing rig type

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Junk rig</span> Type of sail rig used in the Junk ships of dynastic China

The junk rig, also known as the Chinese lugsail, Chinese balanced lug sail, or sampan rig, is a type of sail rig in which rigid members, called battens, span the full width of the sail and extend the sail forward of the mast.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sail</span> Fabric or other surface supported by a mast to allow wind propulsion

A sail is a tensile structure—made from fabric or other membrane materials—that uses wind power to propel sailing craft, including sailing ships, sailboats, windsurfers, ice boats, and even sail-powered land vehicles. Sails may be made from a combination of woven materials—including canvas or polyester cloth, laminated membranes or bonded filaments—usually in a three- or four-sided shape.

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

B&R rig Variant of the Bermuda sailboat rig

The B&R rig is a variant of the Bermuda sailboat rig, designed and patented by Swedish aeronautical engineers Lars Bergström and Sven Ridder. It employs swept spreaders that are usually angled aft, together with "stays" running diagonally downward from the tip of the spreaders to the attachment of the next pair of spreaders to the mast or to the intersection of the mast with the deck that facilitates a pre-bend of the mast that is sometimes tuned into the rig before it is stepped onto the boat. Conventional shrouds thereby contribute to both lateral and longitudinal stability, unlike rigs with unswept spreaders. A B&R rig can be a masthead or fractional rig depending on how stays are configured; a backstay is optional. Such rigs are employed in many of the models of at least one U.S. manufacture and in many thousands of boats, worldwide.

This is a glossary of nautical terms; an alphabetical listing of terms and expressions connected with ships, shipping, seamanship and navigation on water, but not necessarily on the sea. 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.


  1. Editors (2017). "Definition of rigging in English: rigging". en.oxforddictionaries.com. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on September 29, 2016. Retrieved 2017-01-02. The system of ropes or chains employed to support a ship's masts (standing rigging) and to control or set the yards and sails (running rigging).{{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  2. Chisholm, Hugh (1911). "Rigging". The Encyclopedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information . Vol. 23 (11 ed.). Encyclopedia Britannica Company. pp. 338–341. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  3. Ward, Aaron (1884). Text-book of Seamanship: The Equipping and Handling of Vessels Under Sail Or Steam. For the Use of the United States Naval Academy. D. Van Nostrand. p. 673.
  4. Westerhuis, Rene (2013). Skipper's Mast and Rigging Guide. Adlard Coles Nautical. London: Bloomsbury. p. 5. ISBN   9781472901491.
  5. 1 2 zu Mondfeld, Wolfram (2005). Historic Ship Models. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. p. 352. ISBN   9781402721861.
  6. 1 2 Howard, Jim; Doane, Charles J. (2000). Handbook of Offshore Cruising: The Dream and Reality of Modern Ocean Cruising. Sheridan House, Inc. p. 468. ISBN   9781574090932.

Further reading