What’s an upper mast?

Print anything with Printful

Upper masts were added to larger sailing boats to increase mast height and sail area. Wooden masts were used until modern materials were introduced. Foot rigging and running rigs were added to support the masts and sails. Each mast had its own name and set of sails. The shipping industry developed a naming system for rigging and structures.

An upper mast is a part of the mast structure on larger sailing boats that require greater mast heights due to the amount of sail they carried. The upper mast section is the second mast above the deck, and is attached to the lower mast. For ships requiring even more height, a topgallant mast section was added above the topgallant mast, and above that there could be a real topgallant mast.

Until steel, aluminum, fiberglass, and other composite materials were used in shipbuilding, sailing ships were made of wood. The sails were hoisted, or hoisted, using rope made of hemp or other natural fibers, into position on large vertical wooden masts. These masts were fashioned from the longest straight trees that could be found in the areas where the ships were built. In many cases, the bark was stripped from the tree and the entire mast was submerged in the sea for long periods to make it resistant to insects.

As ships got bigger and faster, more sail was needed to propel them. Additional masts could be added to the ship’s design, but even more performance could be gained by adding the sail area vertically with taller masts. The lower mast had reached practical limits due to the size of the trees available, so another section called the upper mast was added. Added rigging to drag more sails vertically using the taller mast. The two mast sections were held together with ropes or metal bands and bolts.

The taller masts created the problem of increased loads on the masts and the frame of the ship. Full wind sails create a very high force that must be safely managed by masts and rigging. Additional ropes were added to hold the masts in place and to support the sails. The rig used to support the masts and transfer the forces from the sail to the ship’s frame is called the foot rig. The ropes, pulleys, and other devices that move the sails are known as running rigs.

The foot rigging that holds the masts upright and supports the sail and wind loads are called jibs. A forestay is normally any stay that points towards the bow or front of the boat, regardless of whether it is connected to another mast or the main deck. Backstays are attached towards the stern or rear of the ship from where they are attached at the mast. The yards move the sails up and down, and the sheets control the position of the sails. Each mast on the ship also has its own name, with the largest one usually called the main mast. Therefore, an upper mast used on this mast was called a main upper mast.

At the top of each mast section was a cap, which protected the wooden mast from rainwater which can rot wood. A crosshead was added a short distance below the top of the mast, used to connect the upper ends of the stays and sail hardware. Depending on the height of the mast, a crow’s nest could be added, which was a small platform used by crew members to search for other ships, weather, or schools of fish for fishing vessels. Each mast section had its own set of sails, and crews were normally assigned positions to take them each time the sails were raised or lowered.

Sailing ships were the main way to transport goods between cities and countries until steam engines were invented. Getting the best speed out of the ship was a constant concern, as was the ship’s carrying capacity. As ships became larger and more complex, the shipping industry developed a terminology, or naming system, for ship rigging and structures. Young sailors had to quickly learn all the names and functions of ships’ rigging to avoid chaos when handling sails. Many of those storied names continue to be used on sailboats of all sizes well into the 21st century.

Protect your devices with Threat Protection by NordVPN

Skip to content