The rigging of a sailing vessel consists of several components without which it would not be considered a sailboat. There are two different categories of rigging: standing rigging and running rigging. Both the structural integrity of the vessel and its operation rely upon the rigging in one way or another. Aside from the hull which keeps the boat afloat, the rigging is the most essential component of a sailboat. Without it the mast would not be supported and the sails would be useless.
The standing rigging of a sailboat is so named due to the fact that is immobile. It is a collection of structural supports for the mast(s) and consequently the sails. On smaller and average sized vessels the standing rigging is fixed, but on larger, more complex boats it can be adjusted slightly. The standing rigging primarily includes the headstay or forestay, the backstay and the shrouds or sidestays, but it also includes the sails themselves.
The headstay, backstay and shrouds are the set of high tension wires that run from various points on the mast to the hull. They support the mast, provide a place for the jib sail to attach and can be held by sailors for support or to guide the boat from a dock.
The sails, although removable and adjustable, are also considered a part of standing rigging. Types of sails include the mainsail, jib sail, Genoa sail and spinnaker. The mainsail attaches to the mast and what is known as the boom. It is the easiest to control and the primary source of wind power. The jib attaches to the headstay and is forward of the mainsail. A Genoa sail is a larger form of a jib that partially overlaps the mainsail, while a spinnaker is a large balloon like sail used when sailing downwind.
The running rigging is made up of ropes or lines that attach to and control the sails. Without the proper adjustments, sails can be useless. They have to be manipulated with the running rigging in order to harness the power of the wind. The running rigging is used to trim and ease the sails. Trimming means pulling in or tightening up the sail while easing means to release it a bit. Both actions are designed to adjust to the wind conditions that are always changing.
The components of the running rigging are the halyards, mainsheet, jib sheets and the topping lift. The halyards are used to hoist the sails up into position. They attach to the top or head of each sail. The mainsheet is a rope or line that is used to trim the mainsail, just as the jib sheets are used to trim the jib sail. There are two jib sheets–one on either side of the boat. The topping lift supports the boom so that it does not fall onto the deck. The boom secures the bottom edge or foot of the mainsail.
Without both the standing and the running rigging a sailboat would simply be a hull. The components of both types of rigging work in concert with each other and are used to control the movement of the boat as well as support its mast. Becoming a sailor involves knowing every part of the vessel like the back of your hand and knowing how to use them. The specific terminology represents the uniqueness of each component and is part of the universal language of sailing.