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The chains of a vessel are the iron linkages which secure the shrouds to the side of the hull. For each shroud there is a chain, consisting of several elongated links, the lowest of which is fixed to a chain-plate bolted to the hull. From here the chain extends upwards and outwards; it passes through a slot cut in the outer edge of the channel, and immediately above this its uppermost link is formed as a broad ring into which a deadeye is fitted. By having the chain-plate (chain-wales or channels) project from the side of the hull, the "outrig" or "spread" of the lower rigging was increased, adding to the security and support the shrouds could provide.[1]

The term chains was also applied to the whole structure of chains, channel and deadeyes. A man standing on one of the channels, perhaps for the purpose of heaving the log or the lead, would be said to be 'in the (fore, main or mizzen) chains' or simply 'in the chains'.

Other uses for chain were just becoming common during the canonical period, allowing Darcy Lever to write of anchor chains in 1819, "These Cables are now in general use."[2] Between Aubrey's preference for the old-fashioned and the age of most of his commands, it is unsurprising that he does not use chain cable. Chain slings, however, were shipped before an action to support to the yards should one of the halliards part,[3] and the standard means of controlling the level of water within the hull was a chain pump.


  1. Smyth, W. H. (William Henry), 1788-1865 Admiral. The Sailor's Word~Book. Blackie and Son, Paternoster Row, 1867 Reprinted by Algrove Publishing Limited Almonte, ON Canada 2004. ISBN 1-897030-05-3
  2. Lever, Darcy. The Young Sea Officer's Sheet Anchor: or, A Key to the Leading of Rigging and to Practical Seamanship. (c)1998 by Dover Publications, Inc.: p.116
  3. '"Mr. Watt, the top chains and puddening...." "Aye aye, sir," said the bosun, clanking away aloft , already loaded with the chains that were to prevent the yards falling in action.' O'Brian, Patrick. Master and Commander. (c) 1969 by Patrick O'Brian. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and New York, First Edition: p. 121
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