What Is Standing Rigging?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Standing rigging is the part of a ship's rigging that remains fixed in place, rather than being adjustable while the ship is underway to compensate for changing weather conditions, winds, and needs. Many types of cables and lines are available for use in standing rigging, and wire cable tends to be the most popular due to weight, tensile strength, and durability. Stores and catalogs with rigging supplies carry materials for repairing and replacing all components of the standing rigging and can often make custom products for specific situations.

Standing rigging remains fixed in place and is not adjustable.
Standing rigging remains fixed in place and is not adjustable.

An example of standing rigging can be seen around the masts, where lines known as shrouds hold the masts in tension to keep them upright. Each mast has multiple lines at different heights that pull against one another to stabilize the mast and keep it in place. Without this rigging, the mast wouldn't be able to support the weight of the sails and other rigging, especially in harsh conditions like storms. The shrouds do not move, as they need to support the mast.

This contrasts with running rigging, intended to be adjustable. Sails and their components are all running, allowing sailors to raise and lower them to take advantage of prevailing winds. It is also possible to adjust them by shifting their positions, so as the wind changes direction, the sailors can compensate to keep the boat in motion and on the right heading. Adjustments to the running rigging happen constantly while ships are underway.

The standing rigging can include a number of components, including rigging for lifelines worn by sailors for safety while on deck. Sailors must regularly inspect the rigging along with all attachment points for signs of wear and damage. Hairline cracks, frays, and tears can become a serious problem, as the rigging is under stress, and can be further stressed in bad weather and rough seas. A failure of the rigging could result in serious injuries as well as damage to the ship. In particularly bad conditions, the ship might sink.

There are a number of ways to arrange rigging on a ship, depending on the size and type. Individual captains and sailors can also have preferences based on their experiences. Sailors new to a ship usually walk the deck to familiarize themselves with all the rigging and take note of any special circumstances or safety concerns, like coils of rope left lying on the deck instead of being neatly stowed for safety.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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