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Mast and yard colour

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I have observed that often the mast (at maintop level) and the yards are painted with black colour.

Do you know the reason of this rule ?

Is it a whim of the captain or a justified technical reason ?


Thanks for answer



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From what I gather from my own research...is that if the lower main mast was of a composite construction...it would have been treated with varnish or painted white.  Painting at the doubling or at the topmast and yards(in some cases) was also varnished.  But black paint was cheaper to make and was also a good preservative.  Some varnishes didn't hold up as well as black paint.


I'm speaking from a non military perspective, Military vessels had historical and traditional guidelines...but I can assume...the same situations applied.   As vessels progressed the iron mast and yards were painted white as well.  Sometimes certain colors were the privee' of the owner or captain.


I'm sure there are a number of other reasons.



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It depends... what ship?  By depends.. various navies had their own paint schemes which also changed.   Commercial shipping was by the company rules.   The paint was to protect the wood, usually black as it was cheap and abundant. Also red was used using iron oxide as the color.  Some navies did white near the crosstrees and tops (some writers call them "crows nests".)

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Hello Mike;


The black paint was official policy in the Navy, from around the 1780s I believe, although the custom was older. I cannot remember the reason, or the exact date. In 1740, Augustus Fitzroy, the captain of the Orford, wrote from Portsmouth harbour to the Navy Board, requesting them to instruct the port officers to paint the mastheads and yards of his ship black.


In 1777, it was ordered that the lower masts of ships leaving to go to sea were to be painted. Unfortunately, no colour or material is specified. 


All the best,


Mark P

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