Cap·stan n. 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.