Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

1024 Merrill St, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(15 April 2021) We take a look at water ballast. The 1 May issue will be about capsize recovery.


Armed with a fresh vaccination I ventured forth again into the world and quickly found an engineering print shop that did very good scans at a good price (alas, a 40 minute drive). So I have started feeding scans to Chuck at the Duckworks catalog, probably several a week. Check it out to see if the one you want is there yet. A big step forward.

...AS FOR REND LAKE MESSABOUT 2021, I think it is still very much wait and see for COVID. Right now the infection rate for this county is running steady at about 200 new cases a week, down from 1400 new cases a week in November and December. This compares to about 150 per week for last June. Anyway, if it happens, as always the messabout would be the weekend before Father's Day, June 11 and 12 this year. I will update as things go along.



... is out now, written by me and edited by Garth Battista of Breakaway Books. You might find it at your bookstore. If not check it out at the....


...which can now be found at Duckworks Magazine. You order with a shopping cart set up and pay with credit cards or by Paypal. Only downloads right now.


Darrin Hallowell's RB42 on a Maine beach, I think. Set up to row two. A pretty picture!



Contact info:


Jim Michalak
1024 Merrill St,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.



Water Ballast


I spent a few hours (days) thinking about water ballast and how it works. In general I was bothered by the comment you will often see that only the portion of the water ballast that is actally raised above the waterline by the heeling of the boat is effective in trying to right the boat.

From my study I concluded that the above statement seems true for external water ballast, but not for internal water ballast. In the study I looked at five different ballast configurations on a very simple "boat" model. Each configuration was run through the Hullform6S program and the righting moment curves from 0 to 90 degrees of heel were determined and compared.


Figure 1 shows a diagram of how to figure the righting moment of a boat at a certain angle of heel. This is a static analysis which is to say the boat is not accelerating. It can be moving, but all the forces on the boat are in balance. If the boat is being pitched and rolled about in angry seas, a much more complex analysis is required. Also, the distribution of the ballast (as opposed to simply the location of its center of gravity) becomes a factor in a dynamic analysis.

What we have here is the wind's pressure on the sail, up high, and a balancing load on the keel or fin, conspiring to tip the boat over. That "moment" or torque, is counteracted by the weight of the boat pushing down and the buoyancy of the boat pushing up. These last two forces are not in line with each other when the boat heels but are separated by a distance called the "righting arm". If the weight of the boat in is "pounds" and the length of the righting arm is "feet", the righting moment is measured in "foot pounds".

To figure the foot pounds of the righting moment, you need to know the weight of the boat and the location of the center of that weight - the "CG". Also you need to know the location of buoyancy of the heeled boat. (The buoyancy itself is the same as the weight in a static analysis.)


The CG is sort of the "average" location of all the weights. To get stated figuring a CG location, you must have a reference line and in these examples I will use the bottom of the boat as the reference. We're only going to figure the vertical (up and down) CG in these simple examples, but in a complex project you might also figure the location laterally (side to side} and longitudinal (along the length) locations.

Let's say our boat only had two elements, the hull and all its contents weighing 500 pounds with that weight centered 2' above the bottom, and let's say 250 pounds of internal ballast centered 3" (which is .25') above the bottom. So the total weight is 750 pounds.

To find the CG, you multiply each weight by its vertical location, add all those pieces, and then divide that sum by the total weight. So the example calculation would be CG = (500x2)+(250x.25) all divided by (500+250 and that equals (1000+62.5) / 750 = 1.42' above the base line.

So the effect of the 250 pounds of ballast was to lower the CG from 2' to 1.42', a difference of 7".

In this calculation the makeup of the ballast is not a factor. The only factors are the weight and location of the ballast. The only way the ballast material could be a factor is if it were of such density that it could be centered closer to the bottom. For example if the ballast were water inside a rectangular tank 6" deep, 4' wide and 2' long, it would amount to 4 cubic feet of water which is about 250 pounds and it would center at 3" above the bottom and provide the above CG location of 1.42". If we switched to lead which is 11 times denser than water, we might have a plate only .54" thick. We could mount it centered .27" (which is .0225') off the bottom instead of 3". The new CG would be ((500x2)+(250x.0225))/750=1.34'. So the CG of this lead ballasted boat is lower by less than an inch.


This is very hard to do by hand. I'm going to use Hullform6S as a tool to do this. To keep lots of variable from getting in the way, I'm going to use the above pictured "boat" as the example. It is just a box, 16' long, 4' wide, 2'deep. It weighs 500 pounds with its unballasted weight centered on the top of the box, 2' above the bottom. I'm going to ballast the box in four different ways, roll each example over at 10 degree intervals to 90 degrees, and record and plot the righting moments as predicted by Hullform6S.


So example A will be the above unballasted 500 pound box.


Example B is shown below. It's the same as A exept it has a 250 pound lead fin with the weight of the fin centered 2' below the bottom. So the CG of this combination is .66' above the boat's bottom. But, the 250 pounds of lead displaces some water, right? Its volume amounts to .36 cubic feet of lead displacing the same amount of water which is 22 pounds of water trying to float the lead back up. So the total ballast effect of the lead while it is under water is actually about 228 pounds. If the boat heels to the point where the lead is totally out of the water, it has 250 pounds of ballast effect.


Example C has the same 250 pound fin configuration as example B except a water filled tank, 2' long, 6" wide, and 4' deep, is used instead oflead. That amounts to 250 pounds of ballast water centered 2' below the hull so the CG of the total boat/ballast combination is the same .66'above the bottom. Again, the 250 pounds of external ballast displaces some water. The water ballast displaces its own weight in water! So the ballast weight is exactly balanced by the buoyancy of the displaced water. So this underwater tank has no ballast effect as long as it is under water. When the boat heels enough to raise it out of the water, it becomes effective.


Example D is really the same as C except the ballast tank has been moved inside the hull. So now it is 6" deep, 4' wide and 2' long. The ballast weight is centered 3" above the bottom of the hull and the overall CG is at 1.42' above the bottom. We don't have a separate external tank displacing water. But compared to example A the hull sinks a bit deeper to float that extra weight so the statics of the Hullforms analysis is a bit different.


Example E has a 250 pound V shaped ballast tank on its bottom. Whether it might be called internal ballast or external ballast is in the eye of the beholder. I included it because I thought it might represent some water ballasted trailer sailers you can buy.

The results of the Hullform6S study are shown below:

Curve A is, I think, pretty typical of a light flat boat with no ballast. The maximum righting moment of about 450 foot pounds is reached quite quickly although I think a real boat would have the peak at about 20 degrees. The boat looks to capsize at about 45 degrees heel. My experiences with Jinni, about this size and weight, were similar. It capsized twice in the time I had it. Both time it went over well before it shipped any water over the rail.

Curve B shows the how effective metal outside ballast can be. Not only is the maximum righting moment about twice that of example A, it still has substantial righting ability at 90 degrees of roll. It will tend to roll upright at any angle of heel up to about 110 degrees.

Curve C, external water ballasted fin, is an interesting one. Until the fin starts to exit the water as the boat rolls, it has no effect. When fully out of the water (about 80 degrees of roll) it is as effective as metal. In between its righting moment goes to about zero. If rolled to about 50 degrees it would stay there until acted upon by an outside force such as a wave or maybe the crew moving about. If rolled to a greater heel angle it will try to return to 50 degrees. If rolled to a lesser degree it will continue to roll fully upright.

Curve D, internal ballast, has about 50% greater maximum righting power than no ballast or the external water fin. It should easily outsail a water fin boat up until it capsizes at about 65 degrees of heel. At that point the water fin boat gets back on its feet while the internal ballast boat flops over.

Curve E, V ballast tank, cuts across about everything as a compromise. It doesn't have the initial stability of the internal ballast boat, but it has positive stability at high roll angles. I've heard water ballasted production boats behave this way.


I can't see any obvious winner here. All have advantages and disadvantages. However, if you had a particular type of boating in mind, the chart may help you make a choice. For blue water sailors, the metal fin seems the way to go. Lots of righting ability. For inshore sailors where a rare capsize won't mean death, perhaps the internal water ballast, with its simple trailering abilities due to light unballasted weight and very low draft, will be to your advantage. The V tanked boat might be best for someone who cares a bit more about ultimate stability. A combination of all of the above might be in order for some folks.




Mayfly16 is large enough to swallow up three men or maybe a family with two kids. She has two benches that are 7' long and there should be plenty of room for all. I would say that her fully loaded maximum weight might be 900 pounds and her empty weight about 350 pounds, leaving 550 pounds for the captain and crew and gear.

At the same time the Mayfly16 can easily be handled solo, although with just the weight of her skipper she will not be as stable as when heavily loaded. The boat also has two large chambers for buoyancy/storage and I can see her used as a solo beach cruiser because the floor space is large enough for a sleep spot. I've made her deep with lots of freeboard.

Mary and George Fulk built the prototype and passed by here with the prototype on their annual migration north for the summer and I had a chance to see and sail in Mayfly16 for a short bit. Weather was hot and the wind light and steady, perfect for testing. She sailed quite well I thought and everything worked as planned. It certainly was roomy and easy to rig and use.

The balanced lug rig sets on short spars and sails very well reefed, in fact can be set up with jiffy reefing. The spars are all easily made and stowed, the mast being but 14' long setting 91 square feet of sail. In addition there are oar ports for those with lots of time and little money and a motor well for those with lots of money and no time. Two horsepower is all that a boat like this can absorb without going crazy.

The motor well is an open self draining well that uses the full width and depth of the stern. It will come in handy for storing wet muddy things you don't want inside the boat, like boots and anchors. I've suggested in the plans that the rudder can be offset to one side a bit to give more room for the motor. We did not use George's little Evinrude since the boat sailed easily in all directions, but George says the sidebyside sharing on the stern of the motor and rudder works fine. There was no interference with the rudder. (As with any outboard on any sailboat, the motor has a desire to grab the sheet with each tack so you usually have to tend the sheet a bit.)

Mayfly16 uses conventional nail and glue construction needing six sheets of 1/4" plywood and two sheets of 1/2" ply.

Plans for Mayfly16 are $35 when ordered directly from with check or cash.


Prototype News

Some of you may know that in addition to the one buck catalog which now contains 20 "done" boats, I offer another catalog of 20 unbuilt prototypes. The buck catalog has on its last page a list and brief description of the boats currently in the Catalog of Prototypes. That catalog also contains some articles that I wrote for Messing About In Boats and Boatbuilder magazines. The Catalog of Prototypes costs $3. The both together amount to 50 pages for $4, an offer you may have seen in Woodenboat ads. Payment must be in US funds. The banks here won't accept anything else. (I've got a little stash of foreign currency that I can admire but not spend.) I'm way too small for credit cards.

We have a Picara finished by Ken Giles, past Mayfly16 master, and into its trials. The hull was built by Vincent Lavender in Massachusetts. There have been other Picaras finished in the past but I never got a sailing report for them...

And the Vole in New York is Garth Battista's of www.breakawaybooks.com, printer of my book and Max's old outboard book and many other fine sports books. Beautiful job! Garth is using a small lug rig for sail, not the sharpie sprit sail shown on the plans, so I will continue to carry the design as a prototype boat. But he has used it extensively on his Bahamas trip towed behind his Cormorant. Sort of like having a compact car towed behind an RV.

And a Deansbox seen in Texas:

Another prototype Twister is well along:

A brave soul has started a Robbsboat. He has a builder's blog at http://tomsrobbsboat.blogspot.com. (OOPS! He found a mistake in the side bevels of bulkhead5, says 20 degrees but should be 10 degrees.) This boat has been sailed and is being tested. He has found the sail area a bit much for his area and is putting in serious reef points.






1may20, Water Ballast Details, Blobster

15may20, Mast Tabernacles, Laguna

1jun20, Underwater Boards, QT Skiff

15jun20, Capsize Lessons, Mixer

1jul20, Scarfing Lumber, Vireo14

15jul20, Lugsail Rigging, Vamp

1aug20, Prop Slip, Oracle

15aug20, Sharpie Sail Rigging, Cormorant

1sep20, Guessing At Weight, OliveOyl

15sep20, Prismatic Coefficient, Philsboat

1oct20, Figuring Displacement, Larsboat

15oct20, Choosing A Design, Jonsboat

1nov20, Balanced Lug Jiffy Reef, Mayfly14

15nov20, Weighing OliveOyl, Piccup Pram

1dec20, New OliveOyl Junk Rig, Ladybug

1jan21, Rowboat Setup, Normsboat

15jan21, Sail Area Math, Robote

1feb21, Bulkhead Bevels, Toto

15feb21, Trailering, IMB

1mar21, Small Boat Rudders, AF4Breve

15mar21, Sink Weights, Scram Pram

1apr21, Sail Rig Spars, RiverRunner


Mother of All Boat Links

Cheap Pages

Duckworks Magazine

The Boatbuilding Community

Kilburn's Power Skiff

JB Builds AF4

JB Builds Sportdory

Hullform Download

Puddle Duck Website

Brian builds Roar2

Barry Builds Toto

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