Sailing ship

A sailing ship uses sails, mounted on two or more 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.[1] Others carry only fore-and-aft sails on each mast—schooners. Still others employ a combination of square and fore-and aft sails, including the barque, barquentine, and brigantine.[2] Sailing ships developed differently in Asia, which produced the junk and dhow—vessels that incorporated innovations absent in European ships of the time.

Sailing ships with predominantly square rigs became prevalent during the Age of Discovery, when they crossed oceans between continents and around the world. Most sailing ships were merchantmen, but the Age of Sail also saw the development of large fleets of well-armed warships. The Age of Sail waned with the advent of steam-powered ships, which permitted more reliable water transport.

John C. Munro off Hong Kong
A barque—a three-masted sailing ship with square sails on the first two masts (fore and main) and fore-and-aft sails on the mizzenmast
Sail plan ship
Full-rigged ship
Sail plan barque
Sail plan barquentine
Sail plan schoonerx3


The history of the sailing ship begins in lands abutting the western Mediterranean Sea with vessels powered downwind by square sails that supplemented propulsion by oars. Sailing ships evolved differently in the South China Sea and in the Indian Ocean, where fore-and-aft sail plans were developed several centuries into the Common Era. By the time of the Age of Discovery—starting in the 15th century—square-rigged, multi-masted vessels were the norm and were guided by navigation techniques that included the magnetic compass and making sightings of the sun and stars that allowed transoceanic voyages. The Age of Sail reached its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries with large, heavily armed battleships and merchant sailing ships that were able to travel at speeds that exceeded those of the newly introduced steamships. Ultimately, the reliability of steamships and their ability to take shorter routes, passing through the Suez and Panama Canals,[3] made sailing ships uneconomical.

Ulysse bateau
Roman warship with sails, oars, and a steering oar
Chinese junk with a center-mounted rudder post
Nao Victoria
Replica of Ferdinand Magellan's carrack, Victoria, which completed the first global circumnavigation.

Before 1700

Initially, sails provided supplementary power to ships with oars, because the sails were not designed to sail to windward. In Asia sailing ships were equipped with fore-and-aft rigs that made sailing to windward possible. Later square-rigged vessels were able to sail to windward, as well and became the standard for European ships through the Age of Discovery when vessels ventured around Africa to India, to the Americas and around the world. Later during this period—in the late 15th century, "ship-rigged" vessels with multiple square sails on each mast appeared and became common for sailing ships.[4]

Mediterranean and Baltic

Sailing ships date to 3000 BCE, when Egyptians used a bipod mast to support a single square sail on a vessel that mainly relied on multiple paddlers. Later the mast became a single pole and paddles were supplanted with oars. Such vessels plied both the Nile and the Mediterranean coast. The inhabitants of Crete had sailing vessels by 1200 BCE. Between 1000 BCE and 400 CE, the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans developed ships that were powered by square sails, sometimes with oars to supplement their capabilities. Such vessels used a steering oar as a rudder to control direction. Fore-and-aft sails started appearing on sailing vessels in the Mediterranean ca.1200 CE,[4] an influence of rigs introduced in Asia and the Indian Ocean.[5]

Starting in the 8th century in Denmark, Vikings were building clinker-constructed longships propelled with a single, square sail, when practical, and oars, when necessary.[6] A related craft was the knarr, which plied the Baltic and North Seas, using primarily sail power.[7] The windward edge of the sail was stiffened with a beitass, a pole that fitted into the lower corner of the sail, when sailing close to the wind.[8]

South China Sea

The Javanese built ocean-going merchant ships called djongs since the first century CE.[9] Junks with fore-and-aft sails were plying Asian waters in the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). Song Dynasty (950-1276 CE) commercial junks had as many as four masts. The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), saw the use of junks as naval vessels. Chinese Admiral Zheng He reportedly sailed to India, Arabia, and southern Africa on a trade and diplomatic mission. His largest vessel, the "Treasure Ship", reportedly measured 400 feet (120 m) in length and 150 feet (46 m) in width—reputedly the largest example of a junk.[10] Junks in China were constructed from teak with pegs and nails; they featured watertight compartments and acquired center-mounted tillers and rudders.[11]

An important invention in this region was the fore-and-aft rig, which made sailing against the wind possible. Such sails may have originated with the Malay (Nusantaran) people, who made such sails from woven mats reinforced with bamboo, at least several hundred years BCE.[12] Balance lugsails and tanja sails also originated from this region. Vessels with such sails explored and traded along the western coast of Africa. This type of sail propagated to the west and influenced Arab lateen designs and the east to influence the Polynesian crab claw sail design.[12]

Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean was the venue for increasing trade between India and Africa between 1200 and 1500. The vessels employed would be classified as dhows with lateen rigs. During this interval such vessels grew in capacity from 100 to 400 tonnes. Dhows were often built with teak planks from India and Southeast Asia, sewn together with coconut husk fiber—no nails were employed. This period also saw the implementation of center-mounted rudders, controlled with a tiller.[13]

Global exploration

Technological advancements that were important to the Age of Discovery in the 15th century were the adoption of the magnetic compass and advances in ship design.

The compass was an addition to the ancient method of navigation based on sightings of the sun and stars. The compass was invented by Chinese. It had been used for navigation in China by the 11th century and was adopted by the Arab traders in the Indian Ocean. The compass spread to Europe by the late 12th or early 13th century.[5]Use of the compass for navigation in the Indian Ocean was first mentioned in 1232.[9] The Europeans used a "dry" compass, with a needle on a pivot. The compass card was also a European invention.[9]

At the beginning the 15th century, the carrack was the most capable European ocean-going ship. It was, a carvel-built and large enough to be stable in heavy seas, and for a large cargo and the provisions needed for very long voyages. Later carracks were square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast and lateen-rigging, rigged on the mizzenmast. They had a high rounded stern with large aftcastle, forecastle and bowsprit at the stem. As the predecessor of the galleon, the carrack was one of the most influential ship designs in history; while ships became more specialized in the following centuries, the basic design remained unchanged throughout this period.[14]

Ships of this era were only able to sail approximately 70° into the wind and tacked from one side to the other across the wind with difficulty, which made it challenging to avoid shipwrecks when near shores or shoals during storms.[15] Nonetheless, such vessels reached India around Africa with Vasco da Gama,[16] the Americas with Christopher Columbus,[17] and around the world under Ferdinand Magellan.[18]

1700 to 1850

H.M.S. Mars and the French '74 Hercule off Brest, 21st April 1798
1798 sea battle between a French and British man-of-war
Portrait of an American Clipper Ship.jpeg
A late-19th-century American clipper ship
Preussen - StateLibQld 70 73320
The five-masted Preussen was the largest sailing ship ever built.
FMIB 37320 Schooner Sept-Mats nord-americain.jpeg
Schooners became favored for some coast-wise commerce after 1850—they enabled a small crew to handle sails.

Sailing ships became longer and faster over time, with ship-rigged vessels carrying taller masts with more square sails. Other sail plans emerged, as well, that had just fore-and-aft sails (schooners), or a mixture of the two (brigantines, barques and barquentines).[4]


Naval artillery was present in the 14th century, but cannon did not become common at sea until the guns were capable of being reloaded quickly enough to be reused in the same battle. The size of a ship required to carry a large number of cannons made oar-based propulsion impossible, and warships came to rely primarily on sails. The sailing man-of-war emerged during the 16th century.[19]

By the middle of the 17th century, warships were carrying increasing numbers of cannon on three decks. Naval tactics evolved to bring each ship's firepower to bear in a line of battle—coordinated movements of a fleet of warships to engage a line of ships in the enemy fleet.[20] Carracks with a single cannon deck evolved into galleons with as many as two full cannon decks,[21] which evolved into the man-of-war, and further into the ship of the line—designed for engaging the enemy in a line of battle. One side of a ship was expected to shoot broadsides against an enemy ship at close range.[20] In the 18th century, the frigate and sloop-of-war—too small to stand in the line of battle—evolved to convoy trade, scout for enemy ships and blockade enemy coasts.[22]


Fast schooners and brigantines, called Baltimore clippers, were used for blockade running and as privateers in the early 1800s. These evolved into three-masted, ship-rigged sailing vessels, optimized for speed with fine lines that lessened their cargo capacity.[23] Sea trade with China became important in that period which favored a combination of speed and cargo volume, which was met by building vessels with long waterlines, fine bows and tall masts, generously equipped with sails for maximum speed. Masts were as high as 100 feet (30 m) and were able to achieve speeds of 19 knots (35 km/h), allowing for passages of up to 465 nautical miles (861 km) per 24 hours. Clippers yielded to bulkier, slower vessels, which became economically competitive in the mid 19th century.[24]

Copper sheathing

During the Age of Sail, ships' hulls were under frequent attack by shipworm (which affected the structural strength of timbers), and barnacles and various marine weeds (which affected ship speed).[25] Since before the common era, a variety of coatings had been applied to hulls to counter this effect, including pitch, wax, tar, oil, sulfur and arsenic.[26] In the mid 18th century copper sheathing was developed as a defense against such bottom fouling.[27] After coping with problems of galvanic deterioration of metal hull fasteners, sacrificial anodes were developed, which were designed to corrode, instead of the hull fasteners.[28] The practice became widespread on naval vessels, starting in the late18th century,[29] and on merchant vessels, starting in the early 19th century, until the advent of iron and steel hulls.[28]

After 1850

Iron-hulled sailing ships, often referred to as "windjammers" or "tall ships",[30] represented the final evolution of sailing ships at the end of the Age of Sail. They were built to carry bulk cargo for long distances in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were the largest of merchant sailing ships, with three to five masts and square sails, as well as other sail plans. They carried lumber, guano, grain or ore between continents. Later examples had steel hulls. Iron-hulled sailing ships were mainly built from the 1870s to 1900, when steamships began to outpace them economically, due to their ability to keep a schedule regardless of the wind. Steel hulls also replaced iron hulls at around the same time. Even into the twentieth century, sailing ships could hold their own on transoceanic voyages such as Australia to Europe, since they did not require bunkerage for coal nor freshwater for steam, and they were faster than the early steamers, which usually could barely make 8 knots (15 km/h).[31]

The four-masted, iron-hulled ship, introduced in 1875 with the full-rigged County of Peebles, represented an especially efficient configuration that prolonged the competitiveness of sail against steam in the later part of the 19th century.[32] The largest example of such ships was the five-masted, full-rigged ship Preussen, which had a load capacity of 7,800 tonnes.[33] Ships transitioned from all sail to all steam-power during from the mid 19th century into the 20th.[34] Five-masted Preussen used steam power for driving the winches, hoists and pumps, which allowed for a crew of 48, compared with four-masted Kruzenshtern, which has a crew of 257.[35]

Coastal top-sail schooners with a crew as small as two managing the sail handling became an efficient way to carry bulk cargo, since only the fore-sails required tending while tacking and steam-driven machinery was often available for raising the sails and the anchor.[36]

In the 20th century, the DynaRig allowed central, automated control of all sails in a manner that obviates the need for sending crew aloft. This was developed in the 1960s in Germany as a low-carbon footprint propulsion alternative for commercial ships. The rig automatically sets and reefs sails; its mast rotates to align the sails with the wind. The sailing yachts, Maltese Falcon and Black Pearl, employ the rig.[35][37]


Every sailing ship has a sail plan that is adapted to the purpose of the vessel and the ability of the crew; each has a hull, rigging and masts to hold up the sails that use the wind to power the ship; the masts are supported by standing rigging and the sails are adjusted by running rigging.


Warrior (1781), body plan
Hull form lines, lengthwise and in cross-section from a 1781 plan

Hull shapes for sailing ships evolved from being relatively short and blunt to being longer and finer at the bow.[4] By the nineteenth century, ships were built with reference to a half model, made from wooden layers that were pinned together. Each layer could be scaled to the actual size of the vessel in order to lay out its hull structure, starting with the keel and leading to the ship's ribs. The ribs were pieced together from curved elements, called futtocks and tied in place until the installation of the planking. Typically, planking was caulked with a tar-impregnated yarn made from manila or hemp to make the planking watertight.[38] Starting in the mid-19th century, iron was used first for the hull structure and later for its watertight sheathing.[39]


Running Rigging-Square-rigged ship--Biddlecombe
Diagram of rigging on a square-rigged ship.[40]

Until the mid-19th century all vessels' masts were made of wood formed from a single or several pieces of timber which typically consisted of the trunk of a conifer tree. From the 16th century, vessels were often built of a size requiring masts taller and thicker than could be made from single tree trunks. On these larger vessels, to achieve the required height, the masts were built from up to four sections (also called masts), known in order of rising height above the decks as the lower, top, topgallant and royal masts.[41] Giving the lower sections sufficient thickness necessitated building them up from separate pieces of wood. Such a section was known as a made mast, as opposed to sections formed from single pieces of timber, which were known as pole masts.[42] Starting in the second half of the 19th century, masts were made of iron or steel.[4]

For ships with square sails the principal masts, given their standard names in bow to stern (front to back) order, are:

  • Fore-mast – the mast nearest the bow, or the mast forward of the main-mast with sections: fore-mast lower, fore topmast, and fore topgallant mast[41]
  • Main-mast – the tallest mast, usually located near the center of the ship with sections: main-mast lower, main topmast, main topgallant mast, royal mast (sometimes)[41]
  • Mizzen-mast – the aft-most mast. Typically shorter than the fore-mast with sections: mizzen-mast lower, mizzen topmast, and mizzen topgallant mast.[43]


FMIB 47800 Differents types de Voiles.jpeg
Different sail types.[44]

Each rig is configured in a sail plan, appropriate to the size of the sailing craft. Both square-rigged and fore-and-aft rigged vessels have been built with a wide range of configurations for single and multiple masts.[45]

Types of sail that can be part of a sail plan can be broadly classed by how they are attached to the sailing craft:

  • To a stay – Sails attached to stays, include jibs, which are attached to forestays and staysails, which are mounted on other stays (typically wire cable) that support other masts from the bow aft.
  • To a mast – Fore-and-aft sails directly attached to the mast at the luff include gaff-rigged quadrilateral and Bermuda triangular sails.
  • To a spar – Sails attached to a spar include both square sails and such fore-and-aft quadrilateral sails as lug rigs, junk and spritsails and such triangular sails as the lateen, and the crab claw.


Square rigged sail parts and running rigging
Square sail edges and corners (top). Running rigging (bottom).

Sailing ships have standing rigging to support the masts and running rigging to raise the sails and control their ability to draw power from the wind. The running rigging has three main roles, to support the sail structure, to shape the sail and to adjust its angle to the wind. Square-rigged vessels require more controlling lines than fore-and-aft rigged ones.

Standing rigging

Sailing ships prior to the mid-19th century 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 relied heavily on support by a complex array of stays and shrouds. Each stay in either the fore-and-aft or athwartships direction had a corresponding one in the opposite direction providing counter-tension. Fore-and-aft the system of tensioning started with the stays that were anchored at in front each mast. Shrouds were tensioned by pairs deadeyes, circular blocks that had the large-diameter line run around them, whilst multiple holes allowed smaller line—lanyard—to pass multiple times between the two and thereby allow tensioning of the shroud. After the mid-19th century square-rigged vessels were equipped with steel-cable standing rigging.[46]

Running rigging

Halyards, used to raise and lower the yards, are the primary supporting lines.[47] In addition, square rigs have lines that lift the sail or the yard from which it is suspended that include: brails, buntlines, lifts and leechlines. Bowlines and clew lines shape a square sail. [40] To adjust the angle of the sail to wind braces are used to adjust the fore and aft angle of a yard of a square sail, while sheets attach to the clews (bottom corners) of a sail to control the sail's angle to the wind. Sheets run aft, whereas tacks are used to haul the clew of a square sail forward.[40]


Ship Garthsnaid, ca 1920s
Seamen aloft, shortening sail

The crew of a sailing ship is divided between officers (the captain and his subordinates) and seamen or ordinary hands. An able seaman was expected to "hand, reef, and steer" (handle the lines and other equipment, reef the sails, and steer the vessel).[48] The crew is organized to stand watch—the oversight of the ship for a period—typically four hours each.[49] Richard Henry Dana Jr. and Herman Melville each had personal experience aboard sailing vessels of the 19th century.

Dana described the crew of the merchant brig, Pilgrim, as comprising six to eight common sailors, four specialist crew members (the steward, cook, carpenter and sailmaker), and three officers: the captain, the first mate and the second mate. He contrasted the American crew complement with that of other nations on whose similarly sized ships the crew might number as many as 30.[50] Larger merchant vessels had larger crews.[51]

Melville described the crew complement of the frigate warship, United States, as about 500—including officers, enlisted personnel and 50 Marines. The crew was divided into the starboard and larboard watches. It was also divided into three tops, bands of crew responsible for setting sails on the three masts; a band of sheet-anchor men, whose station was forward and whose job was to tend the fore-yard, anchors and forward sails; the after guard, who were stationed aft and tend the mainsail, spanker and man the various sheets, controlling the position of the sails; the waisters, who were stationed midships and have menial duties attending the livestock, etc.; and the holders, who occupied the lower decks of the vessel and were responsible for the inner workings of the ship. He additionally named such positions as, boatswains, gunners, carpenters, coopers, painters, tinkers, stewards, cooks and various boys as functions on the man-of-war.[52] 18-19th century ships of the line had a complement as high as 850.[53]

Ship handling

Imperator Alexander (ship, 1885) - SLV H99.220-2856
Sailing ship at sea, rolling and heeled over from the force of the wind on its sails.

Handling a sailing ship requires management of its sails to power—but not overpower—the ship and navigation to guide the ship, both at sea and in and out of harbors.

Under sail

Key elements of sailing a ship are setting the right amount of sail to generate maximum power without endangering the ship, adjusting the sails to the wind direction on the course sailed, and changing tack to bring the wind from one side of the vessel to the other.

Setting sail

A sailing ship crew manages the running rigging of each square sail. Each sail has two sheets that control its lower corners, two braces that control the angle of the yard, two clewlines, four buntlines and two reef tackles. All these lines must be manned as the sail is deployed and the yard raised. They use a halyard to raise each yard and its sail; then they pull or ease the braces to set the angle of the yard across the vessel; they pull on sheets to haul lower corners of the sail, clews, out to yard below. Under way, the crew manages reef tackles, haul leeches, reef points, to manage the size and angle of the sail; bowlines pull the leading edge of the sail (leech) taut when close hauled. When furling the sail, the crew uses clewlines, haul up the clews and buntlines to haul up the middle of sail up; when lowered, lifts support each yard.[54]

In strong winds, the crew is directed to reduce the number of sails or, alternatively, the amount of each given sail that is presented to the wind by a process called reefing. To pull the sail up, seamen on the yardarm pull on reef tackles, attached to reef cringles, to pull the sail up and secure it with lines, called reef points.[55] Dana spoke of the hardships of sail handling during high wind and rain or with ice covering the ship and its rigging.[50]

Changing tack

Course made good by tacking--square-rigged ship versus schooner
Diagram contrasting course made good to windward by tacking a schooner versus a square-rigged ship.

Sailing vessels cannot sail directly into the wind. Instead, square-riggers must sail a course that is between 60° and 70° away from the wind direction[56] and fore-and aft vessels can typically sail no closer than 45°.[57] To reach a destination, sailing vessels may have to change course and allow the wind to come from the opposite side in a procedure, called tacking, when the wind comes across the bow during the maneuver.

When tacking, a square-rigged vessel's sails must be presented squarely to the wind and thus impede forward motion as they are swung around via the yardarms through the wind as controlled by the vessel's running rigging, using braces—adjusting the fore and aft angle of each yardarm around the mast—and sheets attached to the clews (bottom corners) of each sail to control the sail's angle to the wind.[40] The procedure is to turn the vessel into the wind with the hind-most fore-and-aft sail (the spanker), pulled to windward to help turn the ship through the eye of the wind. Once the ship has come about, all the sails are adjusted to align properly with the new tack. Because square-rigger masts are more strongly braced from behind than from ahead, tacking is a dangerous procedure in strong winds; the ship may lose forward momentum (become caught in stays) and the rigging may fail from the wind coming from ahead. The ship man also lose momentum at wind speeds of less than 10 knots (19 km/h).[56] Under these conditions, the choice may be to wear ship—to turn the ship away from the wind and around 240° onto the next tack (60° off the wind).[58][59]

A fore-and-aft rig permits the wind to flow past the sail, as the craft head through the eye of the wind. Most rigs pivot around a stay or the mast, while this occurs. For a jib, the old leeward sheet is released as the craft heads through the wind and the old windward sheet is tightened as the new leeward sheet to allow the sail to draw wind. Mainsails are often self-tending and slide on a traveler to the opposite side.[60] On certain rigs, such as lateens[61] and luggers,[62] the sail may be partially lowered to bring it to the opposite side.


Marine sextant
The marine sextant is used to measure the elevation of celestial bodies above the horizon.

Early navigational techniques employed observations of the sun, stars, waves and birdlife. In the 15th century, the Chinese were using the magnetic compass to identify direction of travel. By the 16th century in Europe, navigational instruments included the quadrant, the astrolabe, cross staff, dividers and compass. By the time of the Age of Exploration these tools were being used in combination with a log to measure speed, a lead line to measure soundings, and a lookout to identify potential hazards. Later, an accurate chronometer became standard for determining longitude.[63]

Passage planning begins with laying out a route along a chart, which comprises a series of courses between fixes—verifiable locations that confirm the actual track of the ship on the ocean. Once a course has been set, the person at the helm attempts to follow its direction with reference to the compass. The navigator notes the time and speed at each fix to estimate the arrival at the next fix, a process called dead reckoning. For coast-wise navigation, sightings from known landmarks or navigational aids may be used to establish fixes, a process called pilotage.[1] At sea, sailing ships used celestial navigation on a daily schedule, as follows:[64]

  1. Continuous dead reckoning plot
  2. Star observations at morning twilight for a celestial fix
  3. Morning sun observation to determine compass error by azimuth observation of the sun.
  4. Noontime observation of the sun for noon latitude line for determination the day's run and day's set and drift.
  5. Afternoon sun line to determine compass error by azimuth observation of the sun.
  6. Star observations at evening twilight for a celestial fix

Fixes were taken with a marine sextant, which measures the distance of the celestial body above the horizon.[63]

Entering and leaving harbor

Given the limited maneuverability of sailing ships, it could be difficult to enter and leave harbor with the presence of a tide without coordinating arrivals with a flooding tide and departures with an ebbing tide. In harbor, a sailing ship stood at anchor, unless it needed to be loaded or unloaded at a dock or pier, in which case it had to be towed to shore by its boats or by other vessels.[65]


These are examples of sailing ships; some terms have multiple meanings:

Defined by general configuration

  • Caravel: small maneuverable ship, lateen rigged
  • Carrack: three or four masted ship, square-rigged forward, lateen-rigged aft
  • Clipper: a square-rigged, fast merchant ship
  • Cog: plank-built, one-masted, square-rigged vessel
  • Dhow: a lateen-rigged merchant or fishing vessel
  • Djong: large tradeship used by ancient Indonesian and Malaysian people
  • Fluyt: a Dutch oceangoing merchant vessel, rigged similarly to a galleon
  • Galleon: a large, primarily square-rigged, armed cargo carrier of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
  • Junk: a lug-rigged Chinese ship, which included many types, models and variants.
  • Koch: small, Russian clinker-built ship, designed for use in Arctic waters
  • Longship: vessels used by the Vikings, with a single mast and square sail, also propelled by oars.
  • Pinisi: Indonesia's traditional sailing ship
  • Pink: in the Atlantic, a small oceangoing ship with a narrow stern.
  • Snow: a brig carrying a square mainsail and often a spanker on a trysail mast
  • Sailing superyacht: a large sailing yacht
  • Waʻa kaulua: Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe
  • Windjammer: (informal) large merchant sailing ship with an iron or steel hull

Defined by sail plan

All masts have fore-and-aft sails

  • Schooner: fore-and-aft rigged sails, with two or more masts, the aftermost mast taller or equal to the height of the forward mast(s)

All masts have square sails

  • Brig: two masts, square rigged (may have a spanker on the aftermost)
  • Full-rigged ship: three or more masts, all of them square rigged

Mixture of masts with square sails and masts with fore-and-aft sails

Military vessels

  • Corvette: lightly armed, fast sailing vessel
  • Cutter: small naval vessel, fore-and-aft rigged, single mast with two headsails
  • Frigate: a ship-rigged warship with a single gundeck
  • Ship of the line: the largest warship in European navies, ship-rigged
  • Xebec: a Mediterranean warship adapted from a galley, with three lateen-rigged masts


Sailing ship Götheborg (1)

Götheborg, a sailing replica of a Swedish East Indiaman


INS Tarangini, a three-masted barque in service with the Indian Navy

Cutty Sark (1358567693)

Cutty Sark, the only surviving clipper ship[66]

USS Constitution underway, August 19, 2012 by Castle Island cropped

USS Constitution with sails on display in 2012, the oldest commissioned warship still afloat[67]


French steam-powered, screw-propelled battleship, Napoléon

The Maltese Falcon (2906785674)

Maltese Falcon with all-rotating, stayless DynaRig

See also


  1. ^ a b Quiller-Couch, Arthur Thomas (1895). The Story of the Sea. 1. Cassell and Company. p. 760.
  2. ^ Parker, Dana T. Square Riggers in the United States and Canada, pp. 6-7, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL, 1994. ISBN 0-933449-19-4.
  3. ^ Pacific American Steamship Association; Shipowners Association of the Pacific Coast (1920). "Safe Passage (Poem and photo of four masted John Ena in Canal)". Pacific Marine Review. San Francisco: J.S. Hines. 17 (October 1920). Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e Anderson, Romola; Anderson, R. C. (2003-09-01). A Short History of the Sailing Ship. Courier Corporation. ISBN 9780486429885.
  5. ^ a b Merson, John (1990). The Genius That Was China: East and West in the Making of the Modern World. Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press. ISBN 978-0-87951-397-9.
  6. ^ Magnússon, Magnús,. The Vikings. Stroud [England]. p. 90. ISBN 075098077X. OCLC 972948057.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Friedman, John Block; Figg, Kristen Mossler (2017-07-05). Routledge Revivals: Trade, Travel and Exploration in the Middle Ages (2000): An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. p. 322. ISBN 9781351661324.
  8. ^ Norman, Vesey (2010-06-15). The Medieval Soldier. Pen and Sword. ISBN 9781783031368.
  9. ^ a b c Paine, Lincoln (2013). The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World. New York: Random House, LLC.
  10. ^ Gao, Sally. "A Brief History Of The Chinese Junk". Culture Trip. Retrieved 2019-06-02.
  11. ^ Hall, Kenneth R. (2010-12-28). A History of Early Southeast Asia: Maritime Trade and Societal Development, 100–1500. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 216. ISBN 9780742567627.
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External links

Media related to Sailing ships at Wikimedia Commons


Baggywrinkle is a soft covering for cables (or any other obstructions) to reduce sail chafe. There are many points in the rig of a large sailing ship where the sails come into contact with the standing rigging; unprotected sails would soon develop holes at the points of contact. Baggywrinkle provides a softer wearing surface for the sail.

Baggywrinkle is made from short pieces of yarn cut from old lines that have been taken out of service. Two parallel lengths of marline are stretched between fixed points, and the lengths of yarn are attached using a hitch called a "railroad sennit". This creates a long, shaggy fringe which, when the marline is wound around a cable, becomes a large hairy cylinder.


A beakhead or beak is the protruding part of the foremost section of a sailing ship. It was fitted on sailing vessels from the 16th to the 18th century and served as a working platform by sailors working the sails of the bowsprit, the forward-pointing mast that carries the spritsails. The beakhead would be one of the most ornate sections of a ship, particularly in the extravagant Baroque-style ships of the 17th century. The sides were often decorated with carved statues and located directly underneath was the figurehead, usually in the form of animals, shields or mythological creatures. The beakhead also housed the crew's toilets (head), which would drop refuse straight into the sea without sullying the ship's hull unnecessarily.


A centreboard or centerboard (US) is a retractable keel which pivots out of a slot in the hull of a sailboat, known as a centreboard trunk (UK) or centerboard case (US). The retractability allows the centreboard to be raised to operate in shallow waters, to move the centre of lateral resistance (offsetting changes to the sailplan that move the centre of effort aft), to reduce drag when the full area of the centreboard is not needed, or when removing the boat from the water, as when trailering. A centreboard which consists of just a pivoting metal plate is called a centerplate. A daggerboard is similar but slides vertically rather than pivoting.

The analog in a scow is a bilgeboard: these are fitted in pairs and used one at a time.

Lt. John Schank (c. 1740 – 6 February 1823) was an officer of the British Royal Navy and is credited with the invention of the centerboard. Schank, however, gave credit for the idea to British Brigadier General Earl Percy.

Extra (sailing)

In sailing, an extra is a sail that is not part of the working sail plan.

The most common extra is the spinnaker. Other extras include studding sails, the modern spanker (or tallboy), and some staysails and topsails.

In yacht racing, there are often separate divisions depending on whether extras are permitted. A race or division in which extras are not permitted is commonly called a non spinnaker, or no flying sails, race or division.

Figurehead (object)

A figurehead is a carved wooden decoration found at the bow of ships, generally of a design related to the name or role of a ship. They were predominant between the 16th and 20th centuries, and modern ships' badges fulfill a similar role.


The forecastle ( FOHK-səl; abbreviated fo'c'sle or fo'c's'le) is the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast, or the forward part of a ship with the sailors' living quarters. Related to the latter meaning is the phrase "before the mast" which denotes anything related to ordinary sailors, as opposed to a ship's officers.


Hawser is a nautical term for a thick cable or rope used in mooring or towing a ship.

A hawser passes through a hawsehole, also known as a cat hole, located on the hawse.

Iron-hulled sailing ship

Iron-hulled sailing ships represented the final evolution of sailing ships at the end of the age of sail. They were built to carry bulk cargo for long distances in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were the largest of merchant sailing ships, with three to five masts and square sails, as well as other sail plans. They carried lumber, guano, grain or ore between continents. Later examples had steel hulls. They are sometimes referred to as "windjammers" or "tall ships". Several survive, variously operating as school ships, museum ships, restaurant ships, and cruise ships.


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.

Maritime transport

Maritime transport, fluvial transport, or more generally waterborne transport is the transport of people (passengers) or goods (cargo) via waterways. Freight transport by sea has been widely used throughout recorded history. The advent of aviation has diminished the importance of sea travel for passengers, though it is still popular for short trips and pleasure cruises. Transport by water is cheaper than transport by air, despite fluctuating exchange rates and a fee placed on top of freighting charges for carrier companies known as the currency adjustment factor (CAF).

Maritime transport can be realized over any distance by boat, ship, sailboat or barge, over oceans and lakes, through canals or along rivers. Shipping may be for commerce, recreation, or for military purposes. While extensive inland shipping is less critical today, the major waterways of the world including many canals are still very important and are integral parts of worldwide economies. Virtually any material can be moved by water; however, water transport becomes impractical when material delivery is time-critical such as various types of perishable produce. Still, water transport is highly cost effective with regular schedulable cargoes, such as trans-oceanic shipping of consumer products – and especially for heavy loads or bulk cargos, such as coal, coke, ores, or grains. Arguably, the industrial revolution took place best where cheap water transport by canal, navigations, or shipping by all types of watercraft on natural waterways supported cost effective bulk transport.

Containerization revolutionized maritime transport starting in the 1970s. "General cargo" includes goods packaged in boxes, cases, pallets, and barrels. When a cargo is carried in more than one mode, it is intermodal or co-modal.

NRP Sagres (1937)

The NRP Sagres is a tall ship and school ship of the Portuguese Navy since 1961. As the third ship with this name in the Portuguese Navy, she is sometimes referred to as Sagres III.

Orlop deck

The orlop is the lowest deck in a ship (except for very old ships). It is the deck or part of a deck where the cables are stowed, usually below the water line.It has been suggested the name originates from "overlooping" of the cables, or alternatively, that the name is a corruption of "overlap", referring to an overlapping, balcony-like half deck occupying a portion of the ship's lowest deck space. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word descends from Dutch overloop from the verb overlopen, "to run (over); extend".

Poop deck

In naval architecture, a poop deck is a deck that forms the roof of a cabin built in the rear, or "aft", part of the superstructure of a ship.The name originates from the French word for stern, la poupe, from Latin puppis. Thus the poop deck is technically a stern deck, which in sailing ships was usually elevated as the roof of the stern or "after" cabin, also known as the "poop cabin". On sailing ships, the helmsman would steer the craft from the quarter deck, immediately in front of the poop deck. At the stern, the poop deck provides an elevated position ideal for observation.On modern, motorized warships, the ship functions which were once carried out on the poop deck have been moved to the bridge, usually located in a superstructure.


Portuguese may refer to:

anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Portugal

Portuguese cuisine, traditional foods

Portuguese language, a Romance language

Portuguese dialects, variants of the Portuguese language

Portuguese man o' war, a dangerous marine cnidarian that resembles an 18th-century armed sailing ship

Portuguese mythology (also Lusitanian), traditional religion

Portuguese people, an ethnic group

Sailing Ship Columbia

The Sailing Ship Columbia, located at the Disneyland park in Anaheim, California, is a full-scale replica of Columbia Rediviva, the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe. The Columbia has entertained park visitors for over fifty years, including its twenty-four year role as Captain Hook's pirate ship, the Jolly Roger, in the park's popular nighttime show, Fantasmic!. Its passengers embark on a scenic, 12-minute journey around the Rivers of America.


A schooner is a type of sailing ship, as defined by its rig configuration. Typically it has two or more masts, the foremast being slightly shorter than the mainmast.Pronounced , the term appeared in North America in the early 1700s. The name may be related to a Scots language word meaning to skip over water, or to skip stones.

Top (sailing ship)

The top on a traditional square rigged ship, is the platform at the upper end of each (lower) mast. This is not the masthead "crow's nest" of the popular imagination – above the mainmast (for example) is the main-topmast, main-topgallant-mast and main-royal-mast, so that the top is actually about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way up the mast as a whole.

The main purpose of the top is to anchor the shrouds of the topmast that extends above it. Shrouds down to the side of the hull would be at too acute an angle from the mast, so struts running out from the mast are added to take the place of the hull for a smaller copy (the topmast) of the lower mast and its rigging. Placing a few timbers between these struts produces a useful platform, the top. The futtock shrouds carry the load of the upper shrouds into the mast below.

At the upper end of the topmast and topgallant, there is a similar situation regarding the next mast up (topgallant and royal respectively). At these points a smaller top might be constructed, but it is more usual simply to leave the shroud-bearing struts open, in which case they are known as crosstrees.

Access for sailors to the top may be by a Jacob's ladder, lubber's hole, or the futtock shrouds.

A foremast might be stepped into a similar fore-top platform on the foremast. A mizen-top would be a platform on the mizenmast. Similar main-top and fore-top platforms have been retained on steam ships and motor vessels as preferred locations for installing rotating radar antennae.

Truck (rigging)

A truck is a nautical term for a wooden ball, disk, or bun-shaped cap at the top of a mast, with holes in it through which flag halyards are passed. Trucks are also used on wooden flagpoles, to prevent them from splitting.

Without a masthead truck, water could easily seep into the circular growth rings of a wooden mast. However, the grain in the truck is perpendicular to that of the mast, allowing the water to run off it.


A winch is a mechanical device that is used to pull in (wind up) or let out (wind out) or otherwise adjust the tension of a rope or wire rope (also called "cable" or "wire cable"). In its simplest form, it consists of a spool (or drum) attached to a hand crank. Winches are the basis of such machines as tow trucks, steam shovels and elevators. More complex designs have gear assemblies and can be powered by electric, hydraulic, pneumatic or internal combustion drives. It might include a solenoid brake and/or a mechanical brake or ratchet and pawl which prevents it unwinding unless the pawl is retracted.

Types of sailing vessels and rigs
Sailing rigs
By sail plan
Multihull vessels
Naval & merchant
sailing ships
and other vessels
(by origin date)
Fishing vessels
Recreational vessels
Special terms
Parts of a sailing ship
Sails (sail plan, course, extra)
Sail components
Spars (Jury rigging)
Rigging types and components


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