from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

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

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun 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.
  • noun 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).
  • noun Cross pawl, in ship-building.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • transitive verb To stop with a pawl; to drop the pawls off.
  • transitive verb See under Capstan.
  • noun (Mach.) 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.
  • noun (Naut.) a heavy timber, set abaft the windlass, to receive the strain of the pawls.
  • noun (Naut.) a stationary metallic ring surrounding the base of a capstan, having notches for the pawls to catch in.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun 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.
  • verb transitive To stop with a pawl.

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

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


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

[Perhaps variant of pale or pole, or from French pal (from Old French; see pale).]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Perhaps from Low German or Dutch pal.



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  • ...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

  • "... 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

  • "Your ceaseless search finishes here,"

    Declared the lovestruck engineer.

    "I will be your all,

    Your passion’s pawl;

    My thrusts will brake your spinning gear."

    March 3, 2015