Full Rigged Ships

A full rigged ship or
fully rigged ship is a
sailing vessel with
three or more masts,
all of them square
rigged. A full rigged
ship is said to have a
ship rig.

Sometimes such a
vessel will merely be
called a ship, parti-
cularly in 18th to early
19th century and earlier usage, to distinguish it from other vessels such as schooners, barques, barquentines, brigs, et cetera. Also a full rigged ship may be referred to by its function instead, as in collier or frigate, rather than being called a ship.


The masts of a full rigged ship, from bow to stern, are:

There is no recognized name for a fifth mast on a ship-rigged vessel (though this may be called the spanker mast on a barque, schooner or barquentine). Only one 5-masted full rigged ship (the Flying P-Liner Preussen, her masts: fore, main, middle, LAEISZ (else: aft-mast), mizzen) had ever been built until recent years when a few modern 5-masted cruise sailing ships have been launched. Even a fourth mast is relatively rare for full rigged ships. Ships with five and more masts are not normally fully rigged and their masts may be numbered rather than named in extreme cases.

If the masts are of wood, each mast is in three or more pieces. The lowest piece is the mast itself, or may be called the lower. Above it, the pieces in order are:

On steel-masted vessels, the corresponding sections of the mast are named after the traditional wooden sections.

Sails On A Mast

The lowest and normally largest sail on a mast is the course sail of that mast, and is referred to simply by the mast name: Foresail, mainsail, mizzen sail, jigger sail.

Above the course sail, in order, are:

  Lower topsail, if fitted.
  Upper topsail, if fitted.
  Lower topgallant sail, if fitted.
  Upper topgallant sail, if fitted.

The division of a sail into upper and lower sails, was a matter of practicality with regard to paying a crew big enough to handle the undivided sail of a big ship. In extreme cases, such an undivided sail in a big, late-nineteenth or twentieth century vessel would have been impossible to handle.

There is some variation possible here, for example some ships have only one sail set on the topmast, in which case it is simply called the (fore, main, mizzen or jigger) topsail and even more often on the topgallant mast, in which case it is simply called the (fore, main, mizzen or jigger) topgallant. If all seven sails are present on the foremast, the fourth sail from the deck on the foremast would (just as an example) be called the fore lower topgallant sail.

Jibs are carried from the foremast, and have varying naming conventions.

Staysails may be carried between any other mast and the one in front of it or from the foremast to the bowsprit. They are named after the mast from which the are hoisted, so for example a staysail hoisted to the top of the mizzen topgallant on a stay running to the top of the main topmast would be called the mizzen topgallant staysail.

In light winds studding sails (pronounced "stunsls") may be carried on either side of any or all of the square rigged sails except royals and skysails. They are named after the adjacent sail and the side of the vessel on which they are set, for example main topgallant starboard stu'nsail.

One or two spankers are carried aft of the aftmost mast, if two they are called the upper spanker and lower spanker. A fore-and-aft topsail may be carried above the upper or only spanker, and is called the gaff sail.

Full Rigged Ship - Click To Enlarge