Guest Writer: John N. Jamieson

Learn to sail faster and easier when you understand sailboat rigging terms used today in sailing. Sailing terms might seem a bit daunting, but learn these select few and you will be on your way to confident sailing--all the way!

Standing Rigging Keeps Your Mast Straight and True

Imagine that you want to install a super tall pole in front of your home or apartment. You dig a deep hold into the ground, shove the pole down into the hole and walk away. Now, as long as no forces act on that pole, it will stand straight and tall.

But let's say later in the afternoon, a stiff breeze comes up. What will happen to your newly "planted" pole? You can almost bet that it will lean to one side (the "downwind" side or side opposite the wind). And, with a whole lot of wind, our pole could topple over!

We could have prevented this by making that pole stay in place with four wires. To brace the pole, we will spread the wires around the base of the pole. First, drive stakes around the base of the pole, spread in a somewhat circular shape, well away from the pole.

Next, attach each of the four wires to the top of the pole. Lead each wire to one of the stakes on the ground and tension each wire in turn so that the pole stands straight and true. Now, no matter which direction the wind blew from, our super tall pole would still stand straight and tall!

Keep your sailboat mast up on the boat with this same concept. Most sailboats have 4 sets of wires that support the mast, just like the pole in our scenario. The two sets of wires that support that mast at the bow and stern are called "stays". The headstay leads from the top of the mast to the bow. The backstay leads from the back of the mast to the stern.

The two sets of wires that support the mast on its sides are called shrouds. Small sailing dinghies might have just one shroud on each side of the mast. Larger sailboats have two or more shrouds on each side. The shrouds that lead from the top of the mast to the side of the deck are called upper or "cap" shrouds. Intermediate shrouds that lead from a point lower on the mast to the side deck are called "lower" shrouds.

Running Rigging to Hoist and Trim Sails

Hoist your sails, move the boom in and out, or pull or ease a sail and you will use running rigging. Halyards are used to raise a sail just like you raise a flag on a flagpole.

Once you raise the sail, you need some method to control the sail. Use sail "sheets", rope or rope and block combinations help control the sail. The mainsail uses a mainsheet attached near the end of the sailboat boom. Pull in or ease off on the mainsheet to trim the mainsail for speed and power.

Other running rigging used to trim the mainsail includes the outhaul, boom vang, downhaul, Cunningham, and reefing lines.

Sails set forward of the mast, called headsails, include jibs, Genoas, and staysails. Headsails use a single line attached to the sail called a "sheet" attached to the lower aft corner of the sail. Pull in or ease off on the headsail sheet to trim the sail.

Other running rigging used to trim headsails includes furling lines and reefing lines.

Learn to sail smoother, faster, and easier when you understand basic sailing terms like these. You will soon be able to sail with confidence--wherever in the world you choose to go sailing!


Article by: John N. Jamieson

Captain John with 25+ year of experience shows you the no-nonsense sailing skills you need beyond sailing school! Sign up for his FREE highly popular "Captain John's Sailing Tips" Newsletter. Find out how you can get instant access to over 550 sailing articles, sailing videos, newsletters and more at SkipperTips

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