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Stays (noun) are ropes which form part of the standing rigging with the function of bracing and supporting the mast. They are divided into forestays (usually called simply stays) which run forward from the mast and restrain it from collapsing backwards, and backstays which run behind the mast and brace it against stresses which incline it forwards.

Each mast of the three-piece pattern normal in a ship has six different stays, named from the section of the mast to which they apply; thus the mainmast has a mainstay and a main backstay for the lowest section, a main topmast stay and backstay for the topmast, and a main topgallant-mast stay and backstay for the topgallant mast. A similar distribution applies to the foremast and the mizzen mast.

The foremast stays run more or less diagonally from the mast to the bowsprit and jibboom; the main and mizzen stays go to the deck, where they are secured to bitts, while the stays for the upper main and mizzen masts run downwards to the mast next in front. The backstays, which are much more nearly vertical, are usually doubled (one on each side) and are secured at the lower end to the channels, just aft of the shrouds.

The mainstay and forestay are particularly substantial, and in pictures of ships they usually stand out very noticeably from all the other components of the rigging because of their greater girth. In addition, they often have auxiliary or preventer stays running alongside them.

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