The bowsprit, or boltsprit, of a sailing vessel is a pole extending forward from the vessel's prow. It provides an anchor point for the forestay(s), allowing the fore-mast to be stepped further forward on the hull.

On large tall ships the bowsprit may be a considerable length and have several forestays attached. When not in use the foresails are stowed by being tied onto the bowsprit. The crew must then work out on the bowsprit to stow or prepare the sails. To minimise the risk of the bowsprit (and any crew working on it) being buried in large waves, the bowsprit is normally angled upwards from the horizontal.

Early ocean-going vessels tended to tilt the bowsprit at a high angle, and hung one or two square spritsails from yards. In the 17th century and early 18th century a vertical sprit topmast was added near the end of the bowsprit and another square sail added to it; this was not a particularly successful design however, the mast tending to carry away in heavy weather. Fore-and-aft sails known as jibs hung from the stays proved more useful for speed and maneuvering, and the basic bowsprit was lengthened with a jibboom and then even further with a flying jibboom, resulting in bowsprits of tremendous length, up to 30 meters total.

On smaller vessels, where the bowsprit is not used for stowing sails, it is often horizontal. Bowsprits are rare on modern yachts, the forestay merely running down to the tip of the bow, though they were typical of traditional Bermudian design; the Bermuda rig having become the most common yacht rig during the 20th Century. On some modern racing yachts and dinghies, the bowsprit is retractable and primarily used to fly an asymmetrical spinnaker.

The very end of the bowsprit is traditionally painted white on tall ships, unless the ship in question has ventured into either the Arctic or Antarctic circles, in which case it is painted blue (i.e. bluenose). Fact|date=June 2007


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  • Bowsprit — Bow sprit , n. [Bow + sprit; akin to D. boegspriet; boeg bow of a ship + spriet, E. sprit, also Sw. bogspr[ o]t, G. bugspriet.] (Naut.) A large boom or spar, which projects over the stem of a ship or other vessel, to carry sail forward. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • bowsprit — spar extending from the bow of a ship, late 13c., probably from M.L.G. bochspret, from boch bow of a ship (see BOW (Cf. bow) (n.2)) + spret pole (Cf. O.E. spreot pole, Du. spriet spear; see SPRIT (Cf …   Etymology dictionary

  • bowsprit — is pronounced with bow as in low …   Modern English usage

  • bowsprit — ► NOUN ▪ a spar running out from a ship s bow, to which the forestays are fastened …   English terms dictionary

  • bowsprit — [bou′sprit΄, bō′sprit] n. [ME bouspret, prob. < MDu boegspriet < boeg,BOW3 + spriet,SPRIT] a large, tapered spar extending forward from the bow of a sailing vessel, to which stays for the masts are secured …   English World dictionary

  • bowsprit — UK [ˈbəʊˌsprɪt] / US [ˈboʊˌsprɪt] noun [countable] Word forms bowsprit : singular bowsprit plural bowsprits a long pole that sticks out from the front of a ship …   English dictionary

  • bowsprit — noun Etymology: Middle English bouspret, probably from Middle Low German boochspreet, from booch bow + spreet pole Date: 13th century a large spar projecting forward from the stem of a ship …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • bowsprit — /bow sprit, boh /, n. Naut. a spar projecting from the upper end of the bow of a sailing vessel, for holding the tacks of various jibs or stays and often supporting a jib boom. [1300 50; ME bouspret < MLG bochspret (c. D boegsprit) (boch BOW3 +… …   Universalium

  • bowsprit — noun A spar projecting over the prow of a sailing vessel to provide the means of adding sail surface …   Wiktionary

  • Bowsprit — Bow|sprit [ bəʊsprɪt; engl. gleichbed.]: ↑ Bugspriet …   Universal-Lexikon

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