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English Wikipedia has an article on:
A capstan on a sailing vessel.

Alternative forms[edit]


Borrowed into Middle English from either Old French cabestan, from Old Occitan cabestan, from cabestre (pulley cord) or from Spanish cabestran, both of which derive from Latin capistrum (halter), from capiō (take hold of).


  • IPA(key): /ˈkæp.stən/
  • (file)


capstan (plural capstans)

  1. (nautical) A vertical cylindrical machine that revolves on a spindle, used to apply force to ropes, cables, etc. It is typically surmounted by a drumhead with sockets for levers used to turn it.
    • 1851 November 14, Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, 1st American edition, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers; London: Richard Bentley, →OCLC:
      "Man the capstan! Blood and thunder!—jump!"—was the next command, and the crew sprang for the handspikes.
    • 1951, W. I. B. Crealock, Vagabonding Under Sail, Hastings House (New York), page 211:
      We toiled over the capstan, and late in the afternoon slipped out of the harbour.
    • 2013 July-August, Henry Petroski, “Geothermal Energy”, in American Scientist, volume 101, number 4:
      Ancient nomads, wishing to ward off the evening chill and enjoy a meal around a campfire, had to collect wood and then spend time and effort coaxing the heat of friction out from between sticks to kindle a flame. With more settled people, animals were harnessed to capstans or caged in treadmills to turn grist into meal.
  2. (electronics) A rotating spindle used to move recording tape through the mechanism of a tape recorder.

Derived terms[edit]