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musolmar 09-19-2004 01:19 PM

water ballast
Is anyone familar with a "water ballast". My understand is that these boats are good in shallow waters because the have small drafts. Once you get the boat launched from its trailer, then you somehow fill the ballast with water. I''m a novice, sailing a sunfish, but now am looking for a larger boat (19-22 ft) so I don''t have to leave my friends and family ashore. I will be sailing in a fairly shallow sound ( lots of shoals and sand bars). So draft is a big concern for me.

Jeff_H 09-19-2004 05:45 PM

water ballast
Water ballast is a bit of a mixed bag. First of all, just to clarify this point because you see some misleading ads, there are two types of water ballast; movable and what I will call fixed position water ballast. Moveable water ballast is the type of water ballast used by the Volvo round the world ocean racers and consists of a tank on either side of the boat and water is shifted from side to side every time the boat is tacked or jibed. This form of water ballast is typically used in conjunction with a fully ballasted boat. I personally would love to see this is the type of ballasting system improved and incorporated in production boats. But that is not the kind of water ballast that you are talking about.

The second type has a tank (or tanks) in the bilge and uses water in conjunction with some small amount of higher density ballast. The issue with this type of water ballast is the same as with all forms of low-density ballast. If you compare water to lead, water is approximately one tenth the density of lead. That means you need ten times more volume of water to equal the weight of lead. This means that you will end up with some combination of either:
- The water being higher in the boat resulting in a higher center of gravity and less stability than the lead,
- More water ballast to overcome the higher center of gravity meaning a heavier boat (Remember weight, in and of itself, does nothing positive for a boat and does have a lot of negatives.),
- Appendages that are shaped to hold water rather than to be efficient as sailing foils,
- More dependence of form stability which means a less comfortable motion and a poorer ultimate stability,
- Less interior storage and/or no sump for bilge water to sit,

The bottom line a well-designed water ballasted boat will always be an inferior sailor when compared to a properly designed fin keelboat or drop keel sailboat. As in all things in sailing there are trade-offs. In my book, even if water ballast reduces towing weight (which is questionable since the retractable bulb keel boats do not have to weight that much more than a dry water ballast boat), I really think its too much of a compromise in performance and safety for my taste. There are people who are perfectly comfortable with water ballast, but having been aboard a variety of boats from 20 to 41 feet that have been knocked down to close to 90 degrees I see water ballast as too much of a risk for my taste.


musolmar 09-20-2004 10:01 AM

water ballast
Thank you for your input, Jeff. I really apprecate knowing that water ballst boats 9 the production kind) are not as stable as a keel boat. Being a novice sailor, I need a "forgiving" boat. I will keep search focus on drop-keel boats. Thanks again

flicker 09-22-2004 04:22 AM

water ballast

flicker 09-22-2004 04:30 AM

water ballast

My 1995 MacGregor 26 is water-ballasted, reasonably stiff, unsinkable, and trailorable. It has never been knocked down. It is self-righting at least to 95 degrees shown in the brochure pictures and has enough positive floatation that it is probably self-righting through 180 degrees, as MacGregor''s promotional claim would imply. They will float and sail (slowly) even when completely swamped.

They have their deficits and I would never expect to race one, but they are very big inside for a 26-footer. There is no standing room until you lift up the pop up cabin top (which the manufacturer says not to raise when under sail) but she does have an aft queen-sized berth under the cockpit and a miniature head compartment suited for a port-a-potty, not to mention a galley sink.

They are easy to rig and to sail and only draw 15 inches of water with the board up. Since the ballast is not in the keel, they lose no stability when you raise the board to beach her, which is something you may not want to do with a ballasted (esp. bulb) keel. Though "stable" can mean a lot of things to different people, I would say my MacGregor is very forgiving and safe to sail.


musolmar 09-22-2004 04:30 AM

water ballast
Chas -
I seems to me that it is really dependent on how the manufacturer designed the boat. I really am looking for a shallow draft as I will be launching from a ramp. I''ll keep the MacGregor in mind as I keep researching. I can see I still have a lot to learn.

gunkhole 09-24-2004 10:55 AM

water ballast
we sail a hunter 260 - a 26'' water ballasted boat. i started on a sunfish, moved to a 17 footer, then onto this boat. she draws, i believe, 18" with the board up and 6'' with it down. the keel and rudder both "kick up".

when you launch the boat, you open the ballast tank. she weighs approximately 3000 lbs. sitting on her trailer and takes on approximately 2000lbs of water. the water tank spans the bottom of the boat under the floor. at least in the pictures i''ve seen that appears to be the case.

imagine holding a bag of water. in the water it doesn''t weigh much at all. take it out of the water and it is much heavier. the same principle applies here. the boat is initially tender, but when she reaches 10-15 degrees of heel she digs in. the water on the "up" side of the boat gets heavier and wants to pull the boat back into the water. we find that she sails quite well. she''s obviously not a speed racer, but for crusing around the sound, not bad at all.

we take week long vacations on her during the summer and spend most weekends (friday night to sunday night) on her.

hunter makes a 24'' water ballasted boat which appears to be similar to the 260, but smaller.

our neighbor has a macgregor 26 which they bought at the same time we bought our boat (4 years ago). they don''t even bother with the mast anymore. they just use her as power boat now.

JeffC_ 09-26-2004 01:48 PM

water ballast

I think it very good that you are looking for a boat 19-22'' for the transition from your Sunfish to your first keelboat. Getting too much boat too soon only flattens the learning curve. It will be quite a different experience sipping sodas with your friends with a dry butt.

Having determined this size range, you will not likely have to concern yourself with water ballast. Hunter has a 24; Catalina has a 25; and you''ve just read about the McGreggor 26. Notice the range? <b>The whole point of water ballast is to make previously untrailerable boats trailerable by adding and jettsoning part of the ballast at the ramp, keeping it off the trailer and off the street. The performance profile is secondary to (a function of) trailering practicality.</b>

(This puts JeffH''s discussion of performance in this context: a water-ballasted boat''s performance is the <em>result</em> of making trailering the priority. If a water-ballasted boat has less draft, it is simply an effect of that goal: trimming several hundred pounds of curb weight).

Since you are not really considering boats in this transitional range, you can avoid the question altogether. There are many great small keelboats in your local market that will provide challenge and enjoyment for several seasons. Most of them have shallow draft and swing-keels, which will simply bump over a sandbar. If you do get stuck, a few cranks on the keel pendant will give you a draft of inches, and you simply float off.

As soon as you are ready for something bigger, you can jump right past those water-ballasted models to something with enough displacement that it lives its life in the water or the yard. (Unless you simply must have a larger, trailerable boat: then these boats become your very narrow range of options).

Good Luck to You

RichardElliott 09-26-2004 04:50 PM

water ballast
Study the rig size on the McGregor 26. To me, it is comparable to most 20 footers on the market, giving a strong hint as to sailing performance. In contrast, the Catalina 25 rig is more representative of boats that size.

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