1 A sailing ship is in irons when, by carelessness or through a fickle wind, it has been allowed to come up into the wind and lose its way through the water so that it will not pay off again. It is in the process of tacking, which entails a vessel coming up head to wind and bringing the wind on the other side, that the most frequent cause of a ship being in irons occurs.
2 A man was in irons when he was shackled to bilboes as a punishment. In the US Navy a man was in double irons when he was both shackled and manacled.
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