A preventer is a line attached to the boom and some point forward on the boat. Its purpose is to prevent the boom from crossing the boat in an accidental gybe and hitting you in the head—hence the name, preventer. Usually, there is one on each side of the boat, and they have to be released and re-tensioned after each intentional gybe.
A boom brake, serves a similar purpose, to reduce the chance of injury from the boom in an accidental gybe, but as it is named, it works by slowing the movement of the boom, rather than preventing it altogether. It is usually a device—essentially a rope clutch of a sort, that is attached to the boom and has a line that is attached forward and outboard of the boom on either side that runs through it. By adjusting the tension of the rope and the clutch mechanism, you can control how much braking force is applied to the boom.
IMHO, a boom brake is a better solution than the preventers, since it requires less user intervention once it is setup than do the preventers. It also has fewer dangers associated with it than do the preventers, which, in certain instances can cause the mainsail to backwind and "pin" the boat down, possibly leading to a capsize situation.
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You know what the first rule of sailing is? ...Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take
a boat to the sea you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps
her going when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.
—Cpt. Mal Reynolds, Serenity (edited)
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