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Learn to Sail Like a Pro – Three Nautical Calculations Every Sailing Skipper Should Know!
If you want to learn to sail like a pro, you’ll want to understand nautical terms like overall length, waterline length, and beam width. What do these nautical terms mean and how do they relate to your sailing safety, speed and comfort?
For example, if someone asked you the total length of your boat, what would you say? What about his height on the waterline?
This may sound like Greek to you now, but once you understand the basic language of sailors and sailors, you’ll be able to communicate much better – and sound like a salty sailor!
Here are three simple phrases you’ll hear time and time again if you hang around salty sailors long enough.
Sailing names can be spelled out or just show abbreviations. You may see the acronyms in sailing magazines, at boat shows, or when reading an advertisement. Let’s get started.
Length Overall (LOA)
Use the LOA to determine which Safety Equipment you need
If you measure the boat from the forward point to the stern, this defines her LOA. But before you say that’s too easy consider this:
The LOA does not include any protrusions from the bow or stern. For example, some boats have a bowsprit — a wooden or metal billet attached to the bow to attach sails or carry anchors. Some boats have a similar barrier at the back called a “boomkin.” These extensions are not included in the overall length.
So, you can have a 30 foot bowboat with a 4 foot bowsprit. Some people would say 34 is tall. But her true LOA measures just 30 feet. It is important to understand because
Federal guidelines go by LOA instead of just length. Marinas on the other hand, will charge you by the foot (full length) or put you in a slip for your full length (extra fee!)
But Federal guidelines mandate that boats of a certain LOA must carry a certain amount of safety equipment (fire extinguishers, documents, signaling devices, etc.), so you should familiarize yourself with this term to avoid heavy fines or fees.
Length to Water Line (LWL)
Use LWL to find maximum sailing speed
When you see a boat in the water, it is said to be floating on its waterline, or where the surface of the water touches the hull. Most ships have a bright line around their water lines called a “boot stripe.”
In the photo, notice the blue “boot line” painted above the blue paint. When this boat is at rest in the water, it will float on its boot line, which marks its LWL.
For cruising and large racing boats, the LWL can make a world of difference when it comes to how fast a boat can go. In fact, for most ships you use a formula like this to find their speed: 1.34 X root LWL = maximum speed under sail or power. Remember, this formula only works for cruising boats or large racing boats–not for planning powerboats.
Here is an example. Let’s say you’re looking at the specs on a boat and it says LWL = 20 feet. Now see if you can get the maximum sailing speed. Take the square root of 20, which is equal to 4.47. Multiply 4.47 X 1.34 = 5.99. Add that up and you have 6 knots. That’s the fastest this cruise ship can go.
Use Beam Width to determine Comfort, Pointability, and Seaworthiness
You may already know that the widest part of a boat is called the beam. But there are a few other things to keep in mind. First, multi-beam boats have more space down in the cabin area. In a sailboat, that means there’s plenty of storage space for things like food and water.
But boats with narrow hulls are usually very seaworthy and won’t roll around too much in rough seas. Boats with narrow beams tend to point up when hit (or when towed close). Boats with wide beams tend to have a lower heel than those with narrow beams.
Your best bet would be to find a boat with a medium beam (not too wide or too narrow), and one that has a good reputation (and the facts to back it up) as being seaworthy, safe, and comfortable in rough seas.
Learn how to sail in 1-2-3 small steps like this, and you’ll soon be more confident communicating with sailors around the world. Build your sailing skills one block at a time to become a true master and captain over your little boat!
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