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Forecastle with figurehead
Grand Turk

Forecastle refers to the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast.

The syncope of the word, fo'c'sle (pronounced /ˈfəʊksəl/), is common among nautical terms due to the nature of their pronunciation during the age of sail by sailors with strong accents and varying language skills.

Among defensive troops on battlefields forward of castle walls, the syncope perhaps led to the usage of the homophone foxhole.

Description

The forecastle of the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2

The forward part of a ship with the sailors' living quarters is also called the forecastle. Related to the latter meaning is the phrase "before the mast" which denotes anything related to ordinary sailors (as opposed to a ship's officers).

The term "forecastle" relates to medieval shipbuilding, where ships of war were usually equipped with a tall, multi-deck castle-like structure in the bows of the ship which served as a platform for archers to shoot down on enemy ships and could also be used as a defensive stronghold if the ship was boarded.

A similar but usually much larger structure, called the aftcastle, was at the after end of the ship, often stretching all the way from the main mast to the stern.

Fo'c'sle of the Prince William, a modern square rigged ship, in the North Sea.

Having such tall upper works on the ship was detrimental to sailing performance. As cannons were introduced and gunfire replaced boarding as the primary means of naval combat during the 16th century, the medieval forecastle was no longer needed, and later ships such as the galleon had only a low, one-deck high forecastle.

In addition to crew's quarters, the forecastle may contain essential machinery such as the anchor windlass. On many modern US Naval ships (such as aircraft carriers), the forecastle is the location where boatswain will display their fancy knotwork such as coxcombing.

Some sailing ships and many modern (non-sail) ships have no forecastle as such at all but the name is still being used to indicate the foremost part of the upper deck (although often called the foredeck) and for any crews quarters in the bow of the ship, even if below the main deck.

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