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Spars are solid beams used to stabilize and manipulate sails. Masts, yards, booms, gaffs and battens are the most commonly encountered spars. Typically spars are in compression, more or less. The booms have the least of all, except the spinnaker boom which is in pure compression as are spreaders. A stayed mast is almost in pure compression as well.

Spars are attached to the sails by cordage systems designed to allow an appropriate range of motion while maintaining the aerodynamic properties of the sails. Spars can be made of any sufficiently strong material. Flexibility and weight are primary concerns for materials; ideally, spars would be sufficiently rigid to maintain control over the shape of the sail, as well as lightweight in order to maintain a low and stable center of balance. Commonly used materials include wood, steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, and fiberglass.

Masts are vertical spars firmly attached to the hull. Some masts are keel-stepped and others are attached to the deck or cabin roof. They are generally set along the keel line. The classification of a mast is determined by its position, size and use.

A yacht's vertical masts are named, from bow to stern, the fore-mast, the main-mast, the mizzen-mast if ship or schooner rigged; if ketch rigged the two masts are, from bow to stern, the main-mast and the mizzen-mast. There may also be a bowsprit, which extends forward past the bow and a jib boom which attaches to and extends forward of the bowsprit. To extend the staying base aft, there may be a boomkin which attaches to and extends aft of the stern.

Masts carrying rectangular or square sails have horizontal yards to stabilize the top and bottom edges of the sails. These yards can rotate around the mast, allowing the sails to be oriented horizontally, usually up to 45 degrees from perpendicular to the keel line. Some yards can be tilted vertically.

Masts carrying fore-and-aft sails typically have a horizontal boom to stabilize the foot of the sail. Gaffs are similar to square sail yards but used on fore-and-aft rigs. Battens are flexible spars included within the sail.


See Sails


The term cordage refers to the ropes, called lines, that connect and manipulate sails. Cordage is attached to the spars and sometimes the sails. The materials chosen for cordage are determined by the strength, weight, and windage of the rope. Cordage can be divided into two types: running rigging and standing rigging.

  • Standing rigging is cordage which is fixed in position. Standing rigging is almost always in tension between a mast and the deck or hull. Due to its role, standing rigging is now most commonly made of wire rope. It was historically made of the same materials as running rigging and both types of materials were historically coated with a water repelling material like tar for added strength and protection from the the elements.
  • Running rigging is the cordage used to control the shape and position of the sails. Running rigging must be flexible in order to allow smooth movement of the spars and sails, but strong enough for the role it plays. For instance, a halyard, used to hoist heavy spars up and down, must be very strong and durable. On the other hand, a Sheet, used to control the orientation of a triangular sail, must be very flexible and smooth, and need only be strong enough to support the tension caused by the wind.

Rig Types

  • The Batwing Rig is a small-boat rig, with the yard and upper battens all radiating from a fitting that slides on the mast; this feature distinguishes batwing from other full-batten sails. The battens and head of the sail meet at the luff.
  • The Bermuda Rig is also called the marconi rig and a jibheaded rig among other names. It has a boomed triangular sail. Its popularity stems from its simplicity and weatherlines.
  • The Chinese, or Junk Rig is distinguished by having full length stiff battens, most of which are sheeted. In its original flat-cut form, it is inferior to western rigs to windward, but recent developments in adding camber to each panel of the sail have resulted in much improved performance upwind. It is favoured by cruisers for its docile nature, ease of handling and superior downwind performance.
  • The Claw Rig also called the Polynesian Claw or South Pacific Claw is frequently seen on small boats like kayaks in the Western world; in Polynesia it may be found on larger vessels.
  • The Full-Batten Rig in its Bermudan form has flexible adjustable battens that impose and support sail camber.
  • The Gaff Rig has been used for centuries and is considered by many to be the most versatile, efficient, manageable, safe and seaworthy rig. It has been said that each and every other rig surpasses the gaff rig in some way, but no other rig combines so many good attributes. The gaff, to which the head of the sail is bent, is raised by two halyards (throat and peak). Peak halyard systems vary as do gaff lengths and shape.
  • The Gunter Rig is typically a small-boat rig with a yard peaked up to nearly vertical; in performance and appearance it is much like a high peaked gaff. The difference between the gaff rig and the gunter rig is that the gunter yard is raised vertically whereas the gaff is raised horizontally and then peaked up. The rig is useful for a sailing dingy in which all the parts may be stored inside the length of the dingy.
  • The Lateen Rig has a long, sometimes curved, yard crossing the mast obliquely fore and aft upon which a triangular sail is bent. It is an ancient Mediterranean rig and Middle Eastern rig. It is one of the earliest fore and aft rigs.
  • The Lug Rig rivals the square rig in age. The rig resembles the square rig in that a mast is crossed by a yard onto which a four-sided sail is bent. Unlike the square rig, it is fore-and-aft. The peaked up portion abaft the mast is longer than the portion before. The lug rig may carry a boom and if so it is sometimes loose-footed.
  • The Settee Rig, similar to the lateen rig, has a long and sometimes curved yard crossing the mast in an oblique fore and aft manner but the settee yard has a quadrilateral sail.
  • The Square Rig is an ancient rig. Even after it was superseded by the easier-to-use and more versatile fore-and-aft rigs it remained popular. It can be used in conjunction with other rig types. It is still used in the form of topsails on trade wind cruising boats. The addition of a square rig sail to the cruiser is a stout, manageable, powerful downwind alternative to a spinnaker.
  • The Sprit Rig is a simple rig and after Europeans came to the “New World” became the most common small-boat rig in North America. It is a simple, rotating rig (no standing rigging) with a low center of effort, short mast, and sprit of approximately the same length. The rig has a four sided sail often used with no boom or loose footed. A single halyard is employed. Sprit rigs have a brail which can be used to scandalize the sail quickly.
  • The Sprit-Boom Rig is similar to the sprit rig but usually has a triangular sail the clew of which is held out by the sprit boom. Larger sprits use a topping lift and can be bent to the mast by means of lacing or hoops.
  • The Wishbone Rig is an extension of the sprit boom. It is most commonly seen on small boats and wind surfers but can be used on larger cruising rigs. Usually a wishbone rig has a three sided sail but a four-sided sail can be used. On a cruising boat, the wishbone is supported by a topping lift within it are the clew and reefing outhauls. The wishbone ketch rig uses a standing wishbone and sheets to the mizzenmast. Two well known boats with wishbone ketch rigs are Fritz Fenger's Diablesse and William Albert Robinson's Svaap.

Yacht Sail Configurations

See also Types of Yacht. For a more exhaustive list see Types of ships on wikipedia.




Running Rigging - New England Ropes on Line Care


Publications, etc.



Also See

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