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Safe at Sea: Know your boat … terms

By Staff | May 12, 2020

“Port?” Got it.

“Starboard?” Of course.

“Aft?” Yup.

“OAL” or “LOA?” Um. Not sure.

Like any other sportsmen, boaters have a language all their own, some of which may be hard (new) for “outsiders” to understand. Most newcomers to the world of boating cannot tell the difference between “deadrise-at-transom” or the “beam” of a boat. In fact, many people, including boat owners (whether their first or fourth) aren’t familiar with boating terminology, yet it’s important to understand. Boating terminology relates to how boats handle, how they fish, and – most importantly – how comfortable they are in less-than-ideal conditions.

These are the most common acronyms and specialty terms you will encounter when you are considering which features/design you wish for your boat:

– OAL or LOA

Both of these terms mean the same, but caution! The technical definition of OAL (overall length) includes bow pulpits, outboard engines and swim platforms. The term is used by boat builders because it makes the sale more appealing: you are purchasing a “larger” boat, when, in fact, you are not. Think about it: If a boat is 16 feet long from stern (back) to bow (front), that is how long the boat is, but if you include an outboard (or two or three or four) on the boat and the cow (motor hood), 2 feet have just been added to the actual length of the boat. Deceitful? Well, yes. However, it sells boats, so when you’re purchasing, be specific: OAL or LOA.

– Beam

Not a board, nor a light path. To boaters, the beam is the width of your boat. Manufacturers make the beam measurement at the boat’s widest point, which is generally “amidships” (middle). The longer the boat, the greater the beam, and the greater the beam generally equates to greater stability, as well as more interior space, of course. Though, a wider beam may mean a rougher ride in a “head sea” (running into the approaching waves).

– Draft

In the boating lexicon, the draft is (sadly) not a brew or an architectural tool. The draft measures the vessel’s depth below the water’s surface. Generally, the draft is measured with the engine tilted and the true draft should be measured when a boat is fully loaded with its gear.

– Deadrise at transom

Not the name of a ’50s Western. Deadrise deals with cutting the water to get on plane. This is the hull’s angle in degrees, as measured from the aft-most portion of the vessel. Importantly, this is one indicator of how smoothly a boat rides into a “head sea.” The greater the deadrise, the better the ride. As the deadrise angle increases, the hull tends to become less stable when “moored” (parked at the dock). It’s that back and forth movement one gets when he steps into a boat.

– Weight

If there is too much displacement on the boat, the water will go over the “gunwales” (sides, pronounced “gunnels” like tunnels). Then, of course, the boat will sink. Weights for inboard boats include the engine, but for outboard boats, they are generally for dry-hull weight (no engine, fuel or equipment). When calculating the trailing weight, don’t forget to add all of that: engine(s), trailer, oil, fuel and then all the gear.

– Maximum power

The National Marine Manufacturers Association and the U.S. Coast Guard determine what the maximum horsepower should be on a small boat. Stay with the guidelines to be safe.

If you’re going to be buying a boat, we welcome you to connect with the America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva, where you’ll be able to connect personally with an array of boat owners – all of whom are eager to “talk boat” and share their knowledge.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and the courses it offers, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.