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What is Mast Stepping?

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  • Written By: C. Daw
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2016
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Mast stepping within the boating industry can mean one of two things: a ceremony performed during the final stages of shipbuilding; in sailing, it is the term used when raising and lowering the mast. When it comes to nearing the completion of building a new ship, coins are set on the mast step before the actual mast is attached. In sailing, it means to raise or lower the mast as needed, such as when nearing docks or low overhanging trees. Basically, before raising and using the mast, mast stepping must be performed by both builders and sailors.

Shipbuilders from all over the world, including numerous armed forces that attack and defend from the sea, follow an age old Roman custom. Coins are placed upon the mast step during a mast stepping ceremony and are bolted or welded into place in order to ensure that they do not move. The Romans began this practice back in the middle ages, believing that in a shipwreck, the coins could be used to gain entrance to the underworld if the people on board died. Even though these beliefs are basically non-existent today, the tradition continues with numerous shipbuilders from every region. In older ships these coins where usually placed within the main mast of the ship, but in today’s larger vessels they are more commonly found installed under the radar mast.

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In the sailing world, mast stepping is common terminology for raising and lowering the mast. This can be done with a crane or without a crane by using various other devices that have been made for the purpose. A pulley system, or a series of levers, can be found on smaller boats which can be manually operated by one person. Larger sailing ships require more effort to raise the mast, so a device known as the spinnaker halyard is installed. No matter what form of device is used, mast stepping is simply the action of raising or lowering the mast when needed.

Whether shipbuilders or sailors are discussing the definition of mast stepping, the final terminology comes to mean basically the same thing. Placing, raising, or lowering the mast within a ship is a process that begins or ends the project or adventure. Builders and buyers perform a ceremony before the mast is installed into place, and sailors begin their journeys by doing the same thing, but without the ceremony.

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