Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A hinged or pivoted device adapted to fit into a notch of a ratchet wheel to impart forward motion or prevent backward motion.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A pivoted catch designed to fall into a notch on a ratchet wheel so as to allow movement in only one direction (e.g. on a windlass or in a clock mechanism), or alternatively to move the wheel in one direction.
  • v. To stop with a pawl.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A pivoted tongue, or sliding bolt, on one part of a machine, adapted to fall into notches, or interdental spaces, on another part, as a ratchet wheel, in such a manner as to permit motion in one direction and prevent it in the reverse, as in a windlass; a catch, click, or detent. See Illust. of ratchet wheel.
  • transitive v. To stop with a pawl; to drop the pawls off.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A short iron bar acting as a catch or brake to prevent a windlass or capstan from turning back. See cuts under capstan and pattern-chain.
  • n. A bar pivoted to a movable or fixed support at one end, and having its opposite end adapted to fit the teeth of a ratchet-wheel or ratchet-bar, used either for holding the ratchet-wheel or -bar in a position to which it has been moved by other mechanism (as in the case where the pawl is pivoted to a fixed support), or for moving it (as when the pawl is pivoted to a movable support).
  • n. Cross pawl, in ship-building.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a hinged catch that fits into a notch of a ratchet to move a wheel forward or prevent it from moving backward

Etymologies

Probably from Dutch pal, from Latin pālus, stake; see pag- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Perhaps from Low German or Dutch pal. (Wiktionary)

Examples

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  • "... a piece of iron, about two feet in length and four inches square at its largest end, the other end is furnished with a hole, and bolted through the partners of the capstan; in this position it traverses round the bolt, and pawls the capstan, which it prevents from turning back, when it is employed to heave in the cable or hawsers; thus, they say, 'Heave a pawl!" that is, heave a little more for the pawls to get hold of the welps."
    Falconer's New Universal Dictionary of the Marine (1816), 335

    October 11, 2008

  • ...he gradually came to taking the command; ordering us when to heave and when to pawl...

    - Richard Henry Dana Jr., Two Years Before the Mast, ch. 14

    September 6, 2008