Techniques and hardware to deal with broaching : LUSENET : Open-water rowing : One Thread

I entered the Hull Snow Row in 2004 using an Alden Ocean Shell double rowed as a single. I did fine on the upwind leg then blew it of the downwind leg with a following sea. The kayaks just surfed right on past me. Would a skeg help? I saw some dories with rudders any oponions? Anyone willing to explain the theory of broaching and techniques to deal with it?

-- Doug Dahl (, February 07, 2005


Dear Doug,

The subject of broaching is so complicated, involving various aspects of design and boat handling, that it really deserves a lengthy article complete with illustrations.

As I am a boat designer, I’ll deal with that part of this matter first. The longer and leaner your boat and the finer its ends the more likely it is to broach in the conditions you’ve described. Your shell certainly is long and lean, with a flat bottom, firm bilges, little flare and very little hull rocker. That kind of hull in strong winds and steep waves is a classic recipe for broaching. An experienced designer would reduce the chances of broaching by designing in softer tracking characteristics, softer hull sections and making the ends more buoyant. Those features help to keep the boat on top of the waves and give the rower more directional control in confused seas.

The way to counteract the tendency to broach in an existing design is to adjust your speed so that your boat’s ends don’t dig into either forward or following waves and try to hold your craft on a course somewhat perpendicular to the direction of wave motion. Another way to keep the ends from “hanging up” in steep waves is to adjust whatever load you have onboard. If you’re boat is digging in at the bow, shift your load aft somewhat. Waves overtaking from the rear can be very tricky, but moving some ballast might help. An old trick that harbor pilots used to employ in rough going was to tow a stern drogue. A rope trailing over the stern acts as a kind of “soft” skeg by keeping the boat on course.

As I said before, this is a complex subject. I hope my suggestions help. Perhaps some of the better, more skilled rowers out there will want to weigh in on this matter. Yours,


-- Andre de Bardelaben (, February 08, 2005.


I totally agree with Andre. Broaching is a concern in any small boat, especially kayaks and rowing shells. They are both long and narrow and usually built for speed. Kayaks have solved part of their broaching concerns by adding a retrackable rudder or retrackable skeg to be used when needed. The rowing shells have to rely on hull design.

What Andre describes as softer tracking, softer hull sections and buoyancy in the ends give a little less directional stability in flat water, but better handling characterists in crowded harbors or narrow curvy areas. They also add greatly to the handling characteristics in waves and wind. In conjuncton with the above, a small skeg or low profile long keel will increase directional stability as the boat speed increases.

What Andre has described in his design features is exactly what Doug Martin designed in the Echo rowing shell. It has soft hull lines a slight rocker and buoyant ends. There is also the full length low profile keel for directional stability at speed, yet not a hinderance in turning at slow speed.

-- Ted Perry (, February 09, 2005.

Andre and Ted seem to have covered things pretty well. The trick is to be in a boat that goes downwind well...... The only technique I use is to shift a little weight aft. Sometimes I try putting the boat on a little different angle to the seas, sometimes you can increase the distance between waves this way but holding course can be more difficult. When it's really ugly I run straight downwind and slow the boat down by dragging the oars. Broaching is by far the greatest risk when rowing in open water. A few years ago we almost lost a Cape rower who broached in a steep Nantucket Sound following sea and spent too much time in the cold October water.


-- Jon Aborn (, February 09, 2005.

Dear Readers,

In my response to this inquiry, one of the statements I made might be somewhat confusing or misleading. I didn't mean to suggest that you should run perpendicular to the direction of wave motion. What I should have said is that you should try to keep your boat's hull axis and your course roughly perpendicular to the wave face. In other words, in really rough seas try stay square to the waves. Jon described this technique perfectly.



-- Andre de Bardelaben (, February 10, 2005.

The theory of broaching and techniques to deal with it.

I'm glad to read comments about this. So many times with a following sea I think, great, I can surf down some big waves, but what happens is I spend all my energy keeping the guide boat from slewing sideways.

Fitting a rudder will solve the problem? I want to try sailing anyway, so...

thanks, E A Albany NY

-- Ed Atkeson (, February 10, 2005.

Thanks for posting the question, Doug.

For the rest of the list, Doug and I row together frequently on Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes of New York State, and we have discussed this issue in the past.

I usually row either an 18' Merry Wherry, built by Ron Mueller at Wayland Marine (http:// or a 16' Golden Era Stonington Pulling Boat. Both of these have a "wineglass"-shaped stern and are significantly less flat-bottomed than the Alden Ocean double that Doug rows. I seem to have less trouble with broaching than he does. In addition, when out with kayakers in following seas, it sees the more flat-bottomed ones have the worst time tracking and broach and roll quite easily.

I should also say that on Cayuga Lake, we have waves with a very short period. When I have rowed in much larger following waves with longer periods on the ocean, broaching and tracking is much less of a problem.

I've been thinking of adding either a rudder or a drop-down skeg to my boat, to improve this characteristic in my boat. Any thoughts?

Greetings to Ed Atkeson-


-- Kent Diebolt (, February 10, 2005.

Dear Readers,

This message is for anyone who is considering adding a rudder or skeg to their rowing boat. Before risking the possibility of voiding a warranty or compromising the structural integrity of your hull, please ask yourself these questions: Is my boat truly dangerous without this appliance?, Is it a certainty that this modification will improve the handling of my boat?, Could this change render my craft dangerous or unsafe?, Why did the designer/manufacturer choose to omit this feature?, How will this modification affect the resale value of my boat?, Do I have the technical and mechanical skills to perform this operation?

Anyone who is thinking of adding a rudder with the idea that they would like try sailing should bear in mind that rowing and sailing place different demands on a hull. Some very popular and successful rowing designs are inherently unsuited to sailing.



-- Andre de Bardelaben (, February 10, 2005.

Doug, I talked to you briefly Saturday at the Snow Row 2005. I also was at the 2004 Snow Row in an Ocean Shell. My experience on that last leg with the following seas and 25 mhp tailwind was the most fun I had rowing all year. I have a fair amount of experience with rougher water, occassionaly much rougher than that day. I basically buried my bow in every waved and surfed past many boats in the last mile. This wouldn't have worked without my self-bailer sucking water out of the boat as fast as it came. Also I carry a battery operated bilge pump. I managed to keep straight by cranking on whatever oar was necessary at the time, and jamming one oar in to brake as if needed. I think my port oar took twice as many strokes as my starboard! I was happy to see that a safety boat, a substanial lobster boat, seemed to take particular interest in me and shadowed me for half a mile! Normally I avoid those conditions when the water is cold but I have seen worse in warm water. The 2003 Lake Champlain Challenge (the One from North Beach, Burlington) was really Mister Toads wild ride. Wayne Lysobey

-- Wayne Lyosbey (, March 07, 2005.

Doug, One more thing. Consider getting yourself in an Alden single instead of the double rowed as a single. It handles better and is more fun! Wayne

-- Wayne Lyosbey (, March 07, 2005.

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