July 27, 2014

Seaworthiness of trailer boats

I  SEE VERY LITTLE DISCUSSION in the yachting press about the seaworthiness of trailerable sailboats. But anyone who sails a small boat for any length of time will almost certainly be overtaken by bad weather at some stage. With the wind howling and the waves building, we might be forgiven for wondering: "How seaworthy is my boat?" There is no question that some boats survive bad weather better than others, even allowing for various degrees of experience among their crews. But what makes one boat more seaworthy than another?

That was a question Small Craft Advisor magazine once asked me to consider. I ended up writing articles for them that included a unique quiz.

We can't answer that question, of course, until we define the word "seaworthy." Experts agree it's a nebulous term that does not lend itself to absolute definition.

It's almost easier to define seaworthiness for sailboats intended to cross oceans than it is for boats designed to sail on rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. Seaworthiness for world cruisers means the ability to stay afloat, remain watertight, and keep crew safe in the worst conditions of wave and weather. It includes the ability to beat off a dangerous lee shore in heavy weather.

Seaworthiness for boats that do not stray so far from land is a little different because they can often run for safety and reach land before wave conditions become too dangerous and before fatigue sets in among the crew.

Naval architect Ted Brewer says in his book Understanding Boat Design (International Marine): "Obviously it is unfair to compare the seaworthiness of a family daysailer with that of an ocean racer, and an outboard fishing boat does not need the seagoing ability of a bluewater motoryacht. However, all boats must meet a certain level of seaworthiness to suit their particular purpose, and they can and should be compared with others of their type."

The type we're concerned with here is sailboats displacing no more than 3,500 pounds that are regularly trailered for afternoon daysails or weekends afloat. And what we're looking at is their ability to perform safely in the sea areas and weather conditions for which they were designed. They should be able to cope with the conditions found in the protected and semi-protected waters typically frequented by trailersailors.

The accompanying quiz can't give you a definite verification of your boat's seaworthiness but it will certainly indicate its relative fitness for its designed purpose by comparison with other types of boats. And remember, it's up to you to find out what your boat's designed purpose is, and to sail it within those parameters.

If you have a small trailerable sailboat, you might like to click on these links, courtesy of Small Craft Advisor magazine, and get an idea of how seaworthy your boat is. But the main thing to remember is that the whole idea of this quiz is to alert you to the several characteristics of design that make a boat seaworthy in the first place, as well as those that make it more vulnerable to capsize or sinking in an emergency.

Today’s Thought
Let others seek what is safe. Utter misery is safe; for the fear of any worse event is taken away.
— Ovid, Epistulae ex Ponto

Words of wisdom from Scotland:
“A weel-bred dog gaes oot when he sees them preparing to tae kick him oot.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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