Originally the name given to a wooden rod attached to a yoke on the rudder of a vessel, by which the vessel was steered. Its original purpose was to replace the tiller, or rather to offset it, so that with a mizzen-mast stepped right aft the rudder could still be moved from side to side. The whipstaff proper was a vertical lever attached by an eyebolt and gooseneck to the forward end of the tiller of a sailing vessel. In all such vessels of any size, the tiller came in along the lower deck, and as ships began to have their sterns built high, so it became necessary to place the helmsman equally high so that he could see the sails and adjust the ship's course accordingly. The whipstaff achieved this, being led up through slots in the decks to the helmsman's position, thus giving a gain in power of about four to one. As the helmsman pushed his end of the whipstaff over to one side, it acted through its fulcrum to push the tiller over in the opposite direction and tiller movement was transmitted directly to the rudder. The maximum amount of helm which could be put on with a whipstaff was about 5° either side of centre. The whipstaff was superseded early in the 18th century with the introduction of the steering wheel, having lasted about 250 years.
Subjects: Maritime History.