We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is a Topmast?

By Paul Reed
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
WikiMotors is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WikiMotors, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A topmast is a part of the mast structure of larger sailing ships that required higher mast heights due to the amount of sail they carried. The topmast 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 topmast, and above that might be a topgallant royal mast.

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

As the ships became bigger and faster, more sail was needed to propel them. Additional masts could be added to the ship design, but even more performance could be gained by adding sail area vertically with higher masts. The lower mast had reached practical limits due to the size of available trees, so another section was added called the topmast. Rigging was added to pull more sail vertically using the higher mast. The two mast sections were held together with rope or metal bands and bolts.

Higher masts created the problem of greater loads on the ship's masts and framework. Sails filled with wind create a very high force that has to be safety managed by the masts and rigging. Additional ropes to keep the masts in place and to hold the sails were added. Rigging used to support the masts, and transfer sail forces to the boat structure, is called standing rigging. The ropes, pulleys and other devices that move sails are referred to as running rigging.

Standing rigging that holds the masts upright and supports the loads of sails and wind are called stays. A forestay normally is any stay that points forward toward the bow or front of the ship, regardless of whether it is attached to another mast or the main deck. Backstays are attached toward the stern or rear of the ship from where they are attached on the mast. Halyards move the sails up and down, and sheets control the position of the sails. Each mast on the ship has its own name as well, with the largest normally called the mainmast. Therefore, a topmast used in this mast was called the main topmast.

At the top of each mast section was a cap, which protected the wooden mast from rainwater that can rot the wood. A crosstree was added a short distance below the mast top, which was used to connect the upper ends of stays and sail hardware. Depending on the mast height, a crow's nest might be added, which was a small platform used by crew members to look 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 be taken whenever sails were raised or lowered.

Sailing ships were the primary way to transport goods between cities and countries until steam engines were invented. Gaining the best ship speed was a constant concern, as well as cargo capacity of the ship. As the ships became larger and more complex, the sailing industry developed a terminology, or naming system, for the rigging and ship structures. Young sailors were required to quickly learn all the ship rigging names and functions to avoid chaos when handling sails. Many of those historic names continue to be used on sailing vessels of all sizes into the 21st century.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources

Related Articles

Discussion Comments
WikiMotors, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WikiMotors, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.