Definition of capstan in US English:



  • 1A broad revolving cylinder with a vertical axis used for winding a rope or cable, powered by a motor or pushed around by levers.

    • ‘For simpler tasks of pulling cars through a loading/unloading area a cable and capstan were used.’
    • ‘Another model portrayed a more elaborate method of careening a ship using an enormous floating dock with a set of capstans to pull a hull onto one side.’
    • ‘Helping were a number of Adsteam tugs and a team of ADI dockworkers who, with stout ropes and capstans finally secured the giant ship.’
    • ‘The pirates instantly began winching the cable in with a capstan.’
    • ‘After the top of the barrel has been shaped, the coopers wrap cables around the base of the barrel and use a capstan to cinch up the base.’
    • ‘He makes it fast to the cable - he reeves the jeer-fall through it - the jeer-fall is brought to the capstan, with the standing part belayed to the bitts.’
    • ‘The stern deck itself has a big capstan in the centre, with pairs of small bollards on either side.’
    • ‘You will note mooring bollards and a single capstan with a large winch further behind, and are likely to come across an enormous edible crab which has been there for quite a while.’
    • ‘Towards either side of the deck is another pair of capstans.’
    • ‘Heading back from the bow past three pairs of bollards, the area of deck that would have held the anchor capstans has been cut open to leave a wide hole down into the forecastle.’
    • ‘Immediately beyond the bow, the foredeck capstans and deck winches could be seen.’
    • ‘These features are as just as diagnostic as slipways, docks, capstans, roperies, smithies or other such structural evidence.’
    • ‘The space round the anchor capstans is interesting; it looks as if it was designed for a gang of sailors to work the capstan by hand if the powered mechanism should fail.’
    • ‘At the stern, a single capstan and chain hold the kedge anchor in place against the rear of the hull.’
    • ‘A variation is for a pair of capstans (vertically mounted winches), again more common on warships.’
    • ‘In one design, two or more horses walked in a circle on deck, turning a capstan amidships that was geared to a paddle wheel set between a pair of catamaran-like hulls.’
    • ‘Behind the forward capstan, the wreck becomes an unidentifiable mess but it can be seen that the superstructure had rounded windows rather than portholes.’
    • ‘Near the seabed, an interesting feature is a large power capstan.’
    • ‘To minimise ice formation on the superstructure, all winches, capstans, etc. are placed under deck.’
    • ‘Swimming over and down the foredeck we could see winches, anchor chains and capstans fitted to an intact deck, as if on the day the Justicia was lost.’
    1. 1.1 The motor-driven spindle on a tape recorder that makes the tape travel past the head at constant speed.
      • ‘Helical Scan media, on the other hand, is pulled out of the cartridge shell, then led through a complicated system of guides and capstan rollers before being wrapped around a rotating head.’
      • ‘Any rolling part can do it, but the major flutter-maker in your tape recorder is likely to be the capstan.’
      • ‘After two years in the field, drives without a sealed mechanism experience dust buildup around the media entrance and in critical areas such as the capstan.’
      • ‘But as the tape winds on over the capstans, fragments are lost or dulled, and the music becomes a ghost of itself, tiny gasps of full-bodied chords groaning to life amid pits of near-silence.’
      • ‘For every 30 inches of tape that zips by the heads in one second, the ATR capstan rotates just four times!’


Late Middle English: from Provençal cabestan, from cabestre ‘halter’, from Latin capistrum, from capere ‘seize’.