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What Is a Bowsprit?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

A bowsprit is a long spar or pole that extends from the front of a sailing vessel. It is usually made of wood but can be made from other materials as well. The bowsprit acts as a securing point for ropes attached to the sails, allowing the ship to position the sails further forward on the ship. This pole extends off the part of the ship known as the prow, which is the point of the ship farthest forward in the water that cuts through the water, allowing the ship to move forward at higher speeds.

The bowsprit of the vessel is usually tilted upward from the deck of the ship, rather than extending horizontally to the water. This helps prevent it from being submerged in water during rough seas. The forward sails, known as jibs, are secured by ropes to the bowsprit; these small sails are useful for quicker maneuvering, especially on larger ships, and the bowsprit allows for proper positioning of the jibs for the best maneuverability. The forestay will also be attached at this point on the ship; a forestay is a rigging that helps keep the mast or masts from falling backward when under load from the wind on the sails. Large ships can feature several forestays, all attached to the bowsprit at the front of the ship.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

The length of the bowsprit will vary significantly according to the size of the ship as well as the size of the ship's masts. Larger ships very often feature bowsprits that extend several yards from the prow of the ship, while smaller vessels may feature bowsprits that are only a few feet long, since the load on smaller vessels will not be as large. Some small to medium crafts will feature a retractable bowsprit that can be pulled back when not in use. This is primarily used for attaching a spinnaker when necessary.

Sails that are not in use may be stowed on bowsprits, which means sailors may need to walk or climb onto them during sailing to retrieve the sails and rig them. This can be a dangerous proposition, which is one of the reasons why bowsprits are generally angled upward from the water. The sailors can work on this part of the craft without worrying about being submerged into the water during rough seas, and the sails that are stowed in this location will also not be doused and damaged.

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