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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 at least nine different stays, one fore-stay and two backstays, one to each side of ship, for each mast section, i.e., the mainmast has a mainstay and two main backstays for the lowest section, a main topmast stay and backstays 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. It was not uncommon for a man-of-war to double the forestays, connecting each at slightly different points and referring to "inner-" and "outer-" or "upper-" and "lower-main-topmast stays".

The foremast stays run more or less diagonally from the mast to the bowsprit and jibbooms; 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 next mast foreward. 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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