The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship


The Elements and Practice of Rigging And Seamanship, 1794, by David Steel, is a comprehensive English textbook of rigging, seamanship and naval tactics. A key reference for those interested in the age of Nelson. Although at times difficult because of its fine detail, it will reward those that search through it to understand the technology of the era.The fonts in the 1794 original created unusual challenges to its conversion from images to text. Its s, f, S, F and l characters are not easily distinguished. Even in reprint, this is an expensive book and so we used photography rather than flatbed scanning to capture the document. Finally, each of the copies we had available had faded pages. All of this is to explain that even after quite a lot of work, this manual required more proof-reading and correction than any we have previously attempted. We really appreciate your reporting any errors that you find. We would especially like to thank Scott Weller for his thorough and accurate 2011 proofreading and reporting.Please note that the page numbers in the tables jump from 138 to 141. This accurately reflects the 1794 original and the reprint from a different original.In this online version of the manual we have attempted to keep the flavour of the original layout while taking advantage of the Web’s universal accessibility. Different browsers and fonts will cause the text to move, but the text will remain roughly where it is in the original manual. We have not attempted to correct any errors found in the original document. However, this text was captured by optical character recognition and then encoded for the Web which has added new errors we wish to correct. We wish to thank United States Naval Academy Museum for letting us photograph an original of the 1794 manuscript. Thank you also to San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park‘s J. Porter Shaw Library for the access to a reprint of this manual. Finally, we wish to acknowledge Sim Comfort Associates for creating the really nice 1978 reprint. Please report any typos, or particularly annoying layout issues with the Mail Feedback Form for correction. Richard Pekelney Webmaster





IN Great Britain the naval arts are indigenous, and flourish with a superiority, which is the result of a vast demand for their various labours. But, singular though it is, the British Nation cannot boast of having taught or considerably improved them by the efforts of her press. Whatever may have been the cause of this does not at present much import; although curiosity would excite us to investigate, why these subjects have more engaged the attention of French authors: perhaps it might be ultimately traced to the consciousness of practical superiority, or to the different national characteristic; for the reserve of an Englishman is almost proverbial. The germe of this work was a small and incomplete treatise on sail making, which some years ago came into the possession of the publisher. In the course of rendering that fit for general use, the reciprocal dependence of the naval arts was discerned; and it was instantly resolved to collect them all together, although public materials were few, and private communications were with difficulty to be obtained. The subject of ship-building seemed capable of being, with propriety, treated as a distinct pursuit; and these considerations, added to the reflection that much was already known upon that subject, produced the present labours upon the arts relative to or connected with the RIGGING OF A SHIP. When thus far advanced, a seaman rebuked the deficiency, by asking if a ship, completely rigged, was to remain an inert body. Of what use, said he, are these masts, and stays, and braces; these blocks, and sails, and anchors? Pray put your complex machine in motion; send her to sea, and send her thither with directions, to act singly or in fleets. Hence was perceived the necessity of an union between the naval arts and the purposes to which they are applied. This little history of our progress will perhaps strikingly illustrate their intimate connection. The seaman, who knows what can be and is performed by the naval artist, and who knows the construction and powers of the minutest parts of a ship’s rigging, becomes a better judge of how the naval arts may be improved, or how more effectually directed to the purposes of seamanship. While the naval artist, on the other hand, who is acquainted with the objects of a seaman’s pursuit, will be better enabled so to direct the arts he professes, as to facilitate the attainment of those objects. Thus each reflects a light upon the other; and, from the study of both, solid improvements in naval science are to be expected. We speak not without foundation; it is from this joint knowledge, that Captain Edward Pakenham produced his excellent inventions concerning masts and rudders. The vanity of man makes him talk of the difficulties he has surmounted; the greater the difficulties, the more is his vanity gratified. Let it not, however, be attributed to this passion, if we mention a few of those impediments that presented themselves to us; but rather let them be taken as reasons, for our soliciting indulgence towards any errors that may, from that cause, have crept into the work. Actual workmen in each art were necessarily consulted, and their differing methods required comparison by others, in order that correct principles might be established, and the best practice explained. The disinclination of many to be open in their communications, from the possession of


supposed secrets, has often opposed the advancement of these volumes, and often chilled the ardour of our perseverance. Nor was the path always smooth, where even liberality was found; for the best practical workman and the best practical seaman were generally inexpert in the use of the pencil; they could describe, but not delineate; and artists were therefore employed, whose task was to elucidate by drawings the most complex figures and operations. Hundreds of the technical phrases were vainly sought for in the common dictionaries, and even in the maritime vocabularies; and thence it became necessary to explain and prefix them to each art. The language of the workman was not sufficiently exact for the public eye, and this was obliged to pass under revision. The publications which at present exist upon the making of masts, ropes, anchors, sails, blocks, and upon rigging, are in the whole extremely few and incorrect: from them, therefore, much assistance could not be derived; making an exception, however, in favour of the Traite du Greement of M. Lescallier, which afforded some hints that corresponded with the practice in the British navy, and which were of course adopted. Thus, from the number of objects and of agents, the tediousness of our progress may be conceived; but there labours will be amply repaid, if our theories are acknowledged to be (what we hope they are) theories demonstrated, and our practice of the different arts, the practice of their best artificers.Upon the two subjects of SEAMANSHIP and NAVAL TACTICS we owe many obligations to the writers of France. It has been long admitted that M. Bouguer has given the true theory of working ships, and that M. Morogues is the most enlightened author on naval tactics. M. Bouguer is too mathematically abstruse for general use: of more benefit, therefore, is the work of M. Bourde de Villehuet, named Le Manoeuvrier; because this latter gentleman has treated the laws of motion in fluids with regard to ships, and the effects of the different sails and of the rudder, in a manner equally correct and more accessible to general comprehension; and he has furthermore shewn the exact correspondence of practice with theory. From these sources we have drawn much; but not from these alone: we have resorted to writers and seamen of our own country, and gained from them much excellent practice.The NAVAL TACTICS will, we trust, be found more complete than any hitherto published; for all that is known of them, from M. Morogues to the Viscount de Grenier, is systematically arranged, and greatly elucidated by numerous engravings.The foster-parent of this work is none other than the publisher. In the long course of his business, particularly confined to maritime and nautical productions, he became acquainted with the wishes and the wants of the naval world. Sincerely desirous to contribute the efforts of his station to the promotion of maritime science, he has employed years in collecting materials for it; he sought out the most skilful in their arts, and the most judicious in the sciences. And at length, with grateful thanks to many DISTINGUISHED CHARACTERS IN THE BRITISH NAVY who honoured him with their communications, and to those LIBERAL NAVAL ARTISTS who yielded him their assistance, he delivers, to the British nation, THE ELEMENTS AND PRACTICE OF RIGGING AND SEAMANSHIP.




The female figure represents Naval Science seated in a marine car. The triton is emblematical of the power of the ocean, as the figure at the back of the car is that of the winds. Both seem to confess the dominion of Naval Science, by conducting the car in obedience to her commands.


THE READER WILL PLEASE TO ATTEND TO THE FOLLOWING CORRECTIONS, FOR THE TABLES OF STANDING AND RUNNING RIGGING, WHICH ARE AT THE END OF THE SECOND VOLUME.ERROR in the Tonnage of 98 and 90 Gun Ships: 2290 and 2164 Tons respectively should be 1931 and 1827 Tons respectively. In the Table for a Cutter of 200 Tons, add, after Outer Tye, 6 in.| 19 1/2 fathoms| as the circumference and length of the rope necessary for the outer Tye. When a Cutter has a Topmast with Cross-trees, it has two pair of topmast shrouds and one pair of backstays, or else three pair of topmast shrouds only. In the Table for a Ketch of 150 Tons, page 147, Length, &c. should be Length of the first warp of the Main Shrouds. By a recent Order of the Navy Board, the Main and Fore Sails of all Ships in the Royal Navy are to have double tacks; for which the allowed quantity is twice the length of the single tacks, but the rope is to be of the same size as that used for the sheets. For Tarred Lines three-quarter rope is commonly used; the length of each of these lines is generally 108 Feet; and, therefore, whenever it directs one, two, or three, tarred lines, it is meant that there should be once, twice, or thrice, that length. Sheets and Buntlines for Top Gallant Sails are omitted in three Tables, because they are always taken out of the Stores allowed for Sea. To each set of Main and Fore Topmast Shrouds, a sister block is allowed. No Seizings are allowed but for such blocks as require rope: all other blocks are to be seized with marline or spunyarn, allowed for fitting the rigging in the house. All running rigging had better be got out in the coil, and cut to proper lengths when reeved on-board.