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What is a Whisker Pole?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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A whisker pole is a form of spar that is used to help hold the clew portion of the jib when the vessel is sailing off the wind current. These poles belong to a part of basic sailboat and yacht configuration that is known as a spar. Essentially, a spar is a round piece of timber or metal that is part of the basic outfitting of a sailing vessel. Along with the whisker pole, other types of spars include the masts, gaffs, yards, and booms found on the boat. Each of these different types of spars play a role in securing sails into position, so the boat can be directed in any direction desired, using air flow as the force for the movement. The whisker pole is perhaps the lightest of all the different types of spars that are in use as part of standard equipment on a sailing vessel.

Whisker poles themselves are also constructed using hardwood that has been sealed against moisture and humidity. Some versions are constructed using steel and similar hard metals. Like their wooden counterparts, the metal poles will be treated and sealed, so that the material will withstand corrosion from the elements. Held in place with a series of bolts, it is not unusual for a spare pole to be stowed somewhere on the sailing vessel, in the event that any type of damage does occur during the voyage.

The main function of the whisker pole has to do with the proper securing and operation of the jib sail. As a triangular shaped sail, the jib helps to control the speed and direction of the sailboat or yacht during sailing. The whisker pole provides a connection between the main mast and the front section of the vessel, allowing the jib sail to be fully unfurled for use in catching the wind.

The dimensions of the whisker pole are fairly standard, so there is no problem in obtaining the right length for most sailing vessels. Marinas usually keep a number of different sizes in stock, so replacements are readily available when needed. Also, most shipbuilding companies will also manufacture a line of whisker pole types that are custom designed for the sailboats they build and sell.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WikiMotors, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By parkthekarma — On Oct 24, 2011

I agree that sailing is an expensive hobby, but recreational sailing is pretty tame compared to the massive money sink that is sailboat racing.

The jib sail can be really important in racing because you have to be able to make the most of whatever wind there is. They also tend to buy the lightest gear they can find, which really adds to the cost.

The owner of the racing boat I crew just replaced the standard whisker pole with a carbon pole. That saved a few pounds on a boat that weighs a few tons, and it cost more than my first car. I thought it was a bit of overkill, but it's really normal in that world.

By horsebite — On Oct 23, 2011

@Viktor13 - I feel your pain about the cost. I was always a believer in the old joke, " a boat is a hole in the water that you throw money into". Whomever said that was not kidding.

Anything to do with sailboat rigging is going to cost you, but what are you going to do? They have a captive audience for this stuff, and you need gear that's going to hold up because you might be hundreds of miles from help when something breaks.

By Viktor13 — On Oct 22, 2011

I used to sail in college, and I always loved the name "whisker pole". It's a handy little thing because it lets you use the jib, which can add a few knots of speed to your boat or just take advantage of what wind there is on a calm day.

I was a fan of buying a used whisker pole when I could find them, because they seemed to break or get misplaced often and the expense of losing a new one was annoying.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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