View Full Version : bouyancy of wooden boats

ken at sea
06-17-2003, 09:02 PM
I am about to buy an old wooden wayfarer. does anyone know if a wooden wayfarer would have positive bouyancy, or if it can be made to have positive bouyancy?

Bob Cleek
06-17-2003, 09:52 PM
Don't know the design, but if it has a ballast keel, it won't have positive bouyancy. At best, a boat built of just about nothing but wood will have the same bouyancy as the wood it is built of. Generally, that is close to neutral bouyancy, or a bit more. On the other hand, it will not float if it is lignam vitae, rosewood or some of the other heavy woods, which sink. What keeps a boat afloat is its watertight integrity. Like a barrel. If it is empty, it floats. If full, it sinks, or close to it. If you are worried about keeping your boat afloat when it is full of water, you just aren't clear on the concept. In which case you might want to consider another sport. Time was, people who were scared of boats sinking wouldn't get on them. Nowadays, with the government tripping over itself to make laws protecting us from ourselves and everything else, it seems people expect boats to have all sorts of internal flotation like styrofoam and the like so if the skipper is a horse's ass and swamps her, the builder won't get sued when his passengers drown. As a result, a lot of people who shouldn't be driving boats are.

ken at sea
06-17-2003, 10:04 PM
Thanks for your reply. The boat is a mahogany plywood 16-foot open-cockpit centerboard daysailer/racer. I'm a relative novice, perfectly capable of being a horse's ass, tipping, swamping, turtling -- all sorts of things. I'd just like to know that when I'm a horses ass I'll have the opportunity to right the ship, bail, whatever, rather than watch her sink.

06-17-2003, 10:07 PM
Tell us a bit about the boat, Ken. How big? Open or with cockpit and cabin? Is she ballasted? I sypathize with what Bob says. A friend took sailing 'lessons' in one of those unsinkable plastic things and as a result has almost no idea how to sail. S/he thinks it doesn't matter what you do in any boat because if she capsizes all you'll ever have to do is climb onto the side and maybe stand on the centerboard and up she'll come, right? :D

ken at sea
06-17-2003, 10:15 PM
Hi Jim -- I grew up in Edmonton (now live in Toronto). Where do you sail in Turner Valley? As for the plastic things, I took my first lessons on a laser and spent a lot of time in the water. That experience led me to believe that sailing involved swimming. I can now sail a hard chine centerboard boat without getting wet and I think I can manage this wayfarer without too much trouble but would like to know that if I have a problem, I can recover.

06-17-2003, 10:23 PM
Sounds like a nice boat, Ken. I'm a relative novice too. My 15 footer is no racing boat. Has a cabin, self draining cockpit, and 300 lbs of ballast. It would be hard to fill her with water but if I ever did she would sink for sure. Doesn't sound like your wayfarer would, tho. At least not very fast. Have you thought of just tying a line of light rope to her with a small floation bouy to the end to mark the spot if she ever does sink? If you really don't want her to sink you'd probably have to build floation compartments in her ends.

06-17-2003, 10:30 PM
I checked the wayfarer web site and they have a nice section on the original wood wayfarers (I'm assuming this is your boat... ignore all that follows if I am wrong)


Interestingly enough, the original designer intended the craft to be built with Cleek's much despised buoyancy tanks (that was apparently some 30 years ago but presumably after the government told him to do so). I quote from the site…

“The built-in buoyancy tanks at each end of the hull provide sufficient buoyancy for a crew of four and the boat is usually easily righted after a capsize. Both tanks have large hatches with water-tight covers so that the tanks can be used for stowage of gear when day-sailing or cruising.”

Incidentally, I believe this boat hull displaces around 300 lbs and has a standard pivoting centerboard. Is this right? At that weight, I’d be quite surprised if the boat didn’t have positive displacement just based on the wood used. Unfortunately, that isn’t quite it. In addition to positive displacement, if you swamp her the boat will need to reach eqillibrium with the water level BELOW the centerboard slot or bailing her will do nothing. On a small boat like this, that’s what the buoyancy tanks basically do; displace sufficient water below the natural openings so that even swamped the boat can be bailed. This, simply adding Styrofoam to a design is sometimes not the answer if you’re not careful where you put it.

A brief editorial. I know this topic touches a sore spot for Mr. Cleek. I tremendously respect his opinion and he is far more knowledgeable than I; but I simply have to differ with him on this topic. I’ve got plenty of positive displacement in my design and when my 13 year old daughter is sailing a boat I designed and built this is going to make me feel a lot better. The government had nothing to do with it.

ken at sea
06-17-2003, 10:31 PM
Did you build or refurbish the boat yourself?

ken at sea
06-17-2003, 10:38 PM
Thanks Dave -- that's very useful information. I'm sympathetic to the argument against regulation, and I also respect the insistence on seamanship by our friends above, but it's good to know the limits of your craft and what you're up against in difficult situations. Thanks to everyone for the input.
I have another stupid question. The boat I'm buying has been out of the water for six years, sitting in some guys garage. It appears, however, to be in good shape. Anything I should do before getting it wet?

06-17-2003, 10:47 PM
From my old 1994 edition of "A Field Guide to Sailboats" (Roger Tory Peterson really started something, didn't he?) comes the following:

There appears to be something about the Wayfarer that makes people want to cruise long distances. It has been sailed across the North Sea, from Scotland to Iceland, and elsewhere. It is particularly popular in Great Britain & Canada, where it is a well-known instructional boat. The boat will plane."


"The double chine provides inherant stability, and there are large buoyancy compartments for & aft that double as watertight storage lockers."

Sounds like floatation has been thought of, as long as the watertight compartments stay that way. If you don't trust these, the boat is listed at a class weight of 365 lbs, so assume your older boat with a few extras weighs in at 450 lbs. If you were to fit 10-lb/cu. ft. floatation foam in the forepeak and lazarette, you would need about 8-1/2 cubic feet.

So much for storage space. :(

Personally, I'd make sure the floatation compartments were watertight and buttoned-up while underway and dispense with the floatation.

Tom Lathrop
06-18-2003, 10:38 AM
MMD has the right idea. The Wayfarer is a well known camp/beach cruiser. Make sure the air tanks are in good condition and you won't have to worry about being able to right the boat after a capsize. You SHOULD practice righting from a capsize so you will know how to do it when it's important. All small wooden boats that do not have ballast that I am aware of are positively bouyant without extra floatation.

Bruce Hooke
06-18-2003, 10:56 AM
While the good seaman will do his best to keep water out of the boat, there are some boat designs and some intended uses (e.g., whitewater canoeing) where swamping the boat is an EXPECTED PART OF THE USE OF THE BOAT. Even the best whitewater paddlers sometimes swamp their boats. If they don't then they are probably limiting themselves to rapids that are well below their skill level. I'd say the same thing is true of many small high-performance daysailers -- if you don't swamp occassionally then you aren't pushing the boat to it's designed capacity. The key is to know whether the boat in question is designed to be swamped and to be prepared for a swamping when it happens. To suggest that no boat should ever swamp is to rule out entire classes of boats and large ranges of boat related activities.

Captain Pre-Capsize
06-18-2003, 12:44 PM
Just got done reading Frank Dye's book about his multiple year journey in a Wayfarer from Florida up to Canada. Quite a cruise in what was a very small boat for such an undertaking. Still available in the bookstore but the title escapes me like a vapor, as will happen to all of you too as you cross the threshold of forty! smile.gif

06-18-2003, 01:03 PM
As I am introducing a new generation of young persons to the joys of gliding about (or klutzing, for which I am justly famed) in small sailboats, I have begun to put more simple flotation in our small armada (canoe flotation bags, large soda bottles, pool noodles, whatever). Main reason - less water to bail out when you make the inevitable miscalculation. I want the kids to fell safe enough to explore what the boat can do. We require swamping drills to get over the anxiety about going over. That is the system I grew up with many years ago and thought was ubiquitous but have since gotten to know sailors in Canada and the Pacific Northwest who are up against different water temps than New England and the mid-Atlantic. Swamp any boat new to you on purpose, where possible.

06-18-2003, 02:48 PM
Since totally water tight compartments or storage spaces are not the easiest thing to build you might also consider installing decidedly non watertight cage-like compartments that can hold other watertight items such as boyancy bags and other watertight personal storage bags

N. Scheuer
06-18-2003, 03:03 PM
My guess is that a Wayfarer is practically guaranteed to float when swamped. They're built much like a Lightning, softwood planks (or Mahogany) with a steel centerboard. I was in a swamped Lightning something like forty-eight years ago at Boy Scout Camp. We swamped the boat on purpose, as I recall.

Moby Nick

Bob Cleek
06-18-2003, 08:59 PM
Oh, okay... I was exaggerating a bit. I was climbing on old John Gardner's shoulders there. Those damn government regulations rule out most all of the really seaworthy small craft which have evolved over the years, leaving us with shoeboxes with pointy ends and big outboards on the back... plus plenty of floatation, because they often need it!

Yes, if it is a light racing dink that is sort of expected to be pushed beyond its limits, it should have floatation (same as my own FJ) and it sounds like her designer figured for that. If those compartments are there, they should serve the purpose fine. Even if they are not absolutely watertight, they will keep enough air in and water out long enough to right her and sail on. If you feel better about it, ship an old inner tube or two. Stuff 'em under a thwart or wherever and then pump 'em up to fit. And, if you are going to turn the kids loose with it, tie them to the boat... people sink faster than boats, most of the time.

06-18-2003, 11:40 PM

One other suggestion. Given the size of the boat; pick a nice warm day and a sandy shallow bottom and swamp her. Once you convince yourself that you can bail her; I really like Johannah’s suggestion. Take her out a bit further; tip her over and convince yourself you can get her back upright. Then take it out in a bit of a breeze and tip her on purpose. Get a feel for how tender she is and how far you can go before losing it. I learned on C scows and the first time they go over (and when you’re 12 which doesn’t help) it scared the living crap out of me. Once you get the hang of it, you’re much less likely to panic and get yourself in the place anyway.

Re the usefulness of buoyancy tanks… it sounds like we are all violently agreeing... Everything has its place. In general, I'll side with Bob and ask the government to stay out of such things... I subscribe to the Darwinian school of natural selection. Those who behave stupidly are less likely to survive to procreate the species. A sort of culling of the gene pool so to speak. I just think there's a difference between behaving stupidly and knowing one’s limits. And the designer has an obligation to assist the novice who might not naturally know their limits. Sailing is a wonderful sport, yet one it can be frightening to learn. That doesn’t mean we should kill the beginners (of which I clearly consider myself). It’s neither reasonable, nor responsible to expect both highly skilled sailors and optimal conditions. Hence, under some conditions, the buoyancy tanks make sense.

As an engineer, I think the test that makes the most sense is “reasonable user – reasonable situation”. In other words, the designer has an OBLIGATION to provide a product that is safe under conditions that a reasonable user might reasonably be expected to encounter. An inexperienced sailor swamping a daysailor during a hard puff passes both the reasonable user and a reasonable situation test. A drunk sailor sailing a 40 foot boat into a dense fog passes neither case - deserves to sink and thus not procreate the species. Back to Darwin.

Even well intentioned people make mistakes while learning (both designers and sailers) and an ounce of precaution can help a great deal. I admire and embrace Ken's honest assessment of where he stands. Frankly, he's a hell of a lot less likely to get in a tough spot than someone without his honest and caution.

Along the same lines, I propose eliminating all positive buoyancy from all jet skis. The alcohol (from which my personal observation concludes is a prerequisite to this so-called sport) would take care of the rest. Back to Darwin.

Good luck Ken.