Boom (sailing)

This article is about the spar. For floating barriers to control access to harbours and rivers, see Boom (navigational barrier). For other uses, see Boom.
Location of a boom

In sailing, a boom is a spar (pole), along the foot (bottom edge) of a fore and aft rigged sail,[1] that greatly improves control of the angle and shape of the sail. The primary action of the boom is to keep the foot of the sail flatter when the sail angle is away from the centerline of the boat. The boom also serves as an attachment point for more sophisticated control lines. Because of the improved sail control it is rare to find a non headsail without a boom. In some modern applications, the sail is rolled up into the boom for storage or reefing (shortening sail).

Boom attachment

The forward end of the boom attaches to a mast just below the sail, with a joint called the gooseneck. The gooseneck pivots allowing the other end of the boom to move freely. The clew (back corner) of the sail attaches to the free end of the boom. The entire foot of the sail may be attached to the boom or just the clew. If the foot is not attached to the boom, the rig is known as loose footed.

A boom may be found on small headsails. There the forward end of the boom is attached to the same stay as the sail's luff (forward edge).

Lines on the boom

The control lines (ropes) on the boom act in conjunction with the halyard and leech line to ensure that the sail is trimmed most effectively.

Two primary sail control lines are attached to every boom:

A boom will frequently have these additional sail control lines attached:

Other lines that may be found on a boom include:

Boom material and hardware

Traditionally booms, and other spars, were made of wood. Classic wooden hulled sailboats, both old and new, will usually have wooden spars. When aluminium became available, it was adopted for sailboat spars. Aluminium spars are lighter and stronger than their wooden counterpart, require less maintenance and generally hold up better to marine conditions. Aluminium spars are usually associated with fibreglass boats, although one can still find a few early fibreglass hulled yachts that were equipped with wooden spars. On very large sailing vessels, the spars may be steel. Modern, high performance, racing yachts may have spars constructed of more expensive materials, such as carbon fibre.

Various hardware is found attached to the boom. The hardware could include fairleads, blocks, block tracks, and cleats. For attachment, screws are used on wooden booms and screws or rivets on aluminium booms. If the foot of the sail is attached to the boom, there may be hoops from the foot of the sail, around the boom, or there may be a track on the top of the boom into which fittings on the foot of the sail are slid.

In-Boom Furling

There are quite a few variations of in-boom furling available. Generally the boom is hollow with a spindle in the center upon which the sail is rolled (furled). The techniques for turning the spindle vary, but frequently a line is used to spin the spindle and recover or reef the sail. In most cases the sail can be full battened and has virtually infinite reefing options. Some sailors consider this approach safer than in-mast furling, since the sail can be lowered and flaked in the traditional method, in the case of mechanical failure. In most applications, the sail can be lowered or reefed from the cockpit. Most designs will not accommodate a loose-footed mainsail.

Boom safety concerns

The second leading cause of death on sailboats is directly attributed to the use of booms.[2] Booms can cause injuries directly, sweep people overboard, and their associated hardware and lines represent tripping hazards. On larger boats, sailors tend to stand on the boom to perform sail maintenance and install or take off sail covers. Falls from the boom onto the deck below occur. Even when stationary, booms represent a hazard since on most boats there is insufficient headroom to walk below them without ducking. According to a German study, "boom strikes were the most common cause of sailing injury overall".[3]

When boom injuries occur far from shore they can require expensive rescues. In 2010 the US Coast Guard and Air National Guard utilized a Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft to rescue a man from 1400 miles off the Mexican coast.[4] Deaths and injuries can occur on boats operating upon lakes and coastal waters.[5][6][7][8] Boom related accidents can also imperil the remainder of the passengers and crew aboard when a key member is lost as occurred in April 2011.[9]

As a precaution, any sailboat with a low boom should mandate use of life jackets, and ensure others know how to obtain assistance and operate the craft. In Boston a sailor knocked overboard by the boom died in full sight of the land and other boats and the person left aboard didn't know how to use the radio.[10]

New boat designs to lower boom risks

To address the dangers associated with the boom, some designers have raised the boom higher off the deck or applied padding. However, these raise the center of gravity and increase the chances of capsizing and turtling.[11][12]

Some designers have addressed the issue by eliminating the boom completely. Classic types of sail like the Square rig or the Standing Lugsail have always worked without booms. Modern alternatives without a boom are the Mast aft rig.

Other boom uses

On an open cockpit sailboat at a mooring, a tarpaulin may be run over the boom and tied to the rails to form a tent over the cockpit.

In certain situations on larger boats, the boom can be used as a crane to help lift heavy items like a Dinghy aboard.

See also


  1. MacKenzie, Mike (2005–2012). "Boom". Sea Talk Nautical Dictionary: The Dictionary of English Nautical Language. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  2. Andrew Nathanson; Glenn Hebel. "Sailing Injuries". Archived from the original on September 28, 2011.
  3. Tator, Charles H. (December 27, 2008). Catastrophic injuries in sports and recreation: causes and prevention: A Canadian Study. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division. p. 143. ISBN 0802089674.
  4. "Sailor Injured In Accidental Gibe Rescued In Pacific". Blue Water Sailing. May 16, 2010. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
  5. Richardson, Tom (June 30 – September 9, 2010). "Coast Guard Airlifts Injured Man from Sailboat off Nantucket Coast Guard Airlifts Injured Man from Sailboat off Nantucket". New England Boating. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  6. "Man hit by sailboat boom, critically injured".
  7. "Attorney Advertisement Seeking Clients Owing To Boom Injuries". Friedman & Bonebrake. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010.
  8. Lochhaas, Tom (May 20, 2010). "The Importance Of The Boom Preventer". Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  9. Reynolds, Mark; Bonnici, Tony. "Chris Evans sees friend plunge to death from party yacht". Daily Mail. London.
  10. "Passenger/Crew Orientation". Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  11. "US Sailing Keelboat Course - Design and Stability". Archived from the original on November 27, 2010.
  12. "Discussion thread on height of boom above deck". Yachting and Boating World Forums. Retrieved January 16, 2014.

Further reading

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