August 20, 2013

Narrow boats are safer boats

EVERY NOW AND THEN, someone who has become imbued with the idea of going cruising asks me: “Isn’t a wide boat safer than a narrow one?”

The answer is “Not necessarily,” but it’s difficult to explain this to a newbie, who, just by looking at it, must justifiably conclude that a wide hull is more difficult to capsize than a narrow one.

Furthermore, a wide hull offers a lot more accommodation down below for the same overall length, which is something the yacht brokers like to emphasize.  Without stretching the truth too far, they can also tell a prospective buyer that a wide boat has tremendous stability.

But that’s only part of the truth. A boat that is excessively wide has a wonderful amount of initial stability, certainly, but what an ocean-going cruiser has to consider is ultimate stability — the ability of a boat to right itself after having been knocked upside down by a breaking wave.

The point is that a very wide boat is perfectly happy to stay upside down; and while it’s inverted water may pour in everywhere — perhaps enough to sink it in a short time.

The narrower the hull, everything else being equal, the quicker and more surely a boat will right itself from complete inversion. It’s very unstable when it’s upside down, Of course, if you’re looking around for a boat capable of crossing an ocean, the yacht broker is not likely to introduce the subject of capsize in extreme conditions. But that’s precisely what every would-be cruiser should plan around.

Everything on deck and down below should be designed and built with a 180-degree knock-down in mind. The chances of it happening to you are, admittedly, remote. But if it does happen, and you planned for it, the chances of your surviving are increased immeasurably.

Today’s Thought
He that will not sail till all dangers are over must never put to sea.
— Thomas Fuller

“Help, there’s a creature destroying my garden. I think it escaped from the zoo.”
“Try to keep calm, madam.  Can you describe the animal?”
“Well, it’s big and gray, with large ears. It keeps picking my cabbages with its huge tail — and I can’t tell you where it’s putting them.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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