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Cap"stan (?), n. [F. cabestan, fr. Sp. cabestrante, cabrestante, fr. cabestrar to bind with a halter, fr. cabestrohalter, fr. L. capistrum halter, fr. capere to hold (see Capacious); or perh. the Spanish is fr. L. caper goat + stans, p. pr. of stare to stand; cf. F. chèvre she-goat, also a machine for raising heavy weights.] A vertical cleated drum or cylinder, revolving on an upright spindle, and surmounted by a drumhead with sockets for bars or levers. It is much used, especially on shipboard, for moving or raising heavy weights or exerting great power by traction upon a rope or cable, passing around the drum. It is operated either by steam power or by a number of men walking around the capstan, each pushing on the end of a lever fixed in its socket. [Sometimes spelt Capstern, but improperly.]
Capstan bar, one of the long bars or levers by which the capstan is worked; a handspike.. -- To pawl the capstan, to drop the pawls so that they will catch in the notches of the pawl ring, and prevent the capstan from turning back. -- To rig the capstan, to prepare the for use, by putting the bars in the sockets. -- To surge the capstan, to slack the tension of the rope or cable wound around it.