Belaying pin

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Properly securing a line to a belaying pin starts by leading the line under and behind the base of the pin to begin the Figure-8 pattern

A belaying pin is a solid metal or wooden device used on traditionally rigged sailing vessels to secure lines of running rigging. Largely replaced on most modern vessels by cleats, they are still used, particularly on square rigged ships.

A belaying pin is composed of a round handle and cylindrical shaft. The shaft is inserted into a hole in various strategically located wooden pinrails (lining the inside of the bulwarks, surrounding the base of masts, or free-standing, called fife rails) up to the base of the handle. A line is then led under and behind the base of the pin then round the top in a Figure-8 pattern till at least four turns are complete.

Excess line is coiled and stored neatly by taking a bight from the upper part of the final strand, looping it over and round beneath the coil, then twisting it once or more before slipping the twisted end over the top of the belaying pin to secure the coil in place.

Making fast under load[edit]

Lines coiled and secured by belaying pins

Lines are normally made fast to belaying pins after being hauled on by a team of sailors. It is important that as little line as possible be let out in the process of securing it to the pin. When the line to be hauled on descends vertically to the pin (like the clewlines and buntlines in the top picture) half the first turn can be left in place, so that the line comes down, round the back of the bottom of the pin, and then out across the deck. Simply hauling on the end of the line, though, will be very inefficient because of the friction produced by the half-turn on the pin. Instead the team is divided into "sweaters" pulling on the vertical part and "tailers" on the horizontal section - usually with more sweaters than tailers. When the line is to be secured, the half turn enables the tension to be held until it is properly made fast.

Some other lines run horizontally past their pins, and it is harder to maintain the tension between stopping hauling and making fast. Generally the line is held against the pin and the rail by hand - which helps a little but not much - and the transition between hauling and securing is then made as quickly as possible. At a shout of "come up!" the hauling team instantly provide the front man with slack line, and he snaps on the first turn. Inevitably some line will be lost in this procedure.

Finally, lines under very heavy load such as topsail halyards are equipped with short stopper lines attached near their pins. These are wound round the hauling line and held, to prevent it moving once the team stop hauling to allow it to be made fast.

Lines under tension can be let out in a controlled manner by leaving the first turn on the pin to provide friction. However, the hands must be kept a safe distance back along the rope or they may be dragged around the pin too.

Other uses[edit]

Belaying pins are or were used:

  • As improvised weapons and means of discipline on both military and civilian ships.
  • As toggles in belaying pin splices, an emergency method of rejoining ship's rigging where a belaying pin, marlinspike, or other short stout bar is used as a toggle to hold two rope eyes together.
  • As a means of adding heft to a heaving line when a monkey's fist is not tied in its end.