Last modified on August 18, 2016, at 00:29

Full-rigged ship

A ship is the generic term for most comparatively large deepwater vessels.

A ship, or “full-rigged ship” (“full-rigger“), is also classified as a sailing vessel of three or more masts, all of which are fully square-rigged. As well, a gaff-rigged spanker would normally be set on the mizzen (aft) mast, and any number of fore-and-aft sails (usually staysails) could fill the spaces between the masts and foremast and bowsprit. (The larger clipper ships of the second half of the 19th century could set over an acre of canvas!)

American clipper ship of 1850s

All post-17th century Western European naval ships from the frigate upward were full-rigged ships.


  • Square-rigged refers to the set of the sails on what most people would consider the classic large sailing ship – the galleon or the clipper for example, or any large warship of the age of sail. The sails are set across the bow to stern line of the vessel and are four-sided and attached to yards that can be angled according wind direction.
  • Gaff-rigged refers to a spar attached, by means of a fixture that allows it to swivel and be raised and lowered, to a mast. To it can be “hung” a square sail with its bottom corners usually attached to a boom. This is “gaff-rigged” and is one of the two common forms of rigging for the mainsail on yachts and other fore and aft rigged boats and ships. (The other is Bermudian.)
  • Aft: nautical for after, towards the stern. At the back of the boat. If it is relative, it should be “abaft” as in “a yawl’s aft mast is abaft the tiller post.”
  • Staysail: refers to a triangular sail set between two masts with two corners attached to the aftmost. (This corner is called the clew and it is here that the sail is trimmed by tightening or loosening it.) If set from the foremast it is called a headsail or forestaysail. If there is only one on the foremast that sail is called the jib. If more than one headsail, then jib refers only to the topmost.
  • Bowsprit. The boom projecting from the bow of a sailing vessel to which can be attached the forestaysails, also known as headsails, the leading one of which is referred to as the jib. Sometimes, during the Age of Exploration and after, a square-rigged sail would be set from it, or even from a tiny mast on it. (See Pinnace.)