How Sailboats Measure Up
Design ratios tell a story, but to get the real picture about a vessel, sail area, displacement, and ballast deserve a longer look.
The ballast/displacement ratio is simply the ballast weight divided by the boat’s total displacement. Since ballast is there to give the boat stability, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the higher the B/D, the stiffer the boat.
However, B/D doesn’t take into account the location of the ballast.
Take a boat that has a total displacement of 20,000 pounds and put its 8,000 pounds of ballast in the bilge. Now take the same boat and put the 8,000 pounds of ballast 4 feet deeper in a bulb at the bottom of a deep fin keel. Same ballast ratio (0.4), but very different stability.
When looking at B/D, therefore, we must ask about the configuration of the keel: How low is the ballast?
Stability analysis is complex and involves beam, hull cross-section, and length, among other factors, of which B/D is just one.
Since the late 1990s, builders of sailboats intended for sale in the European Union have been required to provide stability data, including a curve of righting arm at angles of heel from 0 to 180 degrees—far more information than anyone can divine from a B/D number and a much more useful measure of a boat’s inclination to stay upside down in the unlikely event (the way most people use their boats) that it exceeds its limit of positive stability.
CW contributing editor Jeremy McGeary is a seasoned yacht designer who’s worked in the naval-architecture offices of David Pedrick, Rodger Martin, and Yves-Marie Tanton and as a staff designer for Camper & Nicholson.