Sail Calculator

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What Carl’s Sail Calculator Does:

Physicist and sailor Carl Adler developed this online Sail Calculator for comparing sailboats  and its database has grown over a number of years to almost 3000 boats. It should be one of the first places you go on the Web if you want to know the vital statistics about a sailboat, including Length Overall (LOA), Length on the Waterline (LWL), Displacement and Sail Area.

The Sail Calculator will also give you valuable performance numbers for any vessel in its database or any numbers you enter, including the Displacement / LWL ratio, Theoretical Limiting Hull Speed, Sail Area / Displacement ratio, Length to Beam ratio, Motion Comfort value, Capsize Screening value, sailing category and Pounds per inch immersion value.

Naval architects use these values when they design a new boat, and from them you can determine a conventional displacement hull boat’s purpose and predict its performance. Note that planing hulls, catamarans and hydrofoil vessels are not defined in the same way. Here’s what the performance numbers mean:

Displacement/LWL ratio – Heavy boats (D/L above about 300) will carry big loads but require plenty of power to drive. Light boats (D/L below about 150) are generally quicker and more responsive but are affected by loading. Most boats have moderate displacement and they compromise the conflicting virtues of the extreme designs. Contemporary racing boats often have D/L ratios well below 100.

Hull Speed – A conventional hull, which moves through the water rather than rising atop it and planing across the surface, is limited in speed by length of the waves it produces; long waves travel faster. This wave length can be calculated and the top speed of the hull predicted. Long boats make long waves.

Sail Area / Displacement ratio – The SA/D ratio is like the power/weight ratio of an automobile. A high SA/D ratio (> about 18) indicates a powerful rig, while a low ratio indicates a more docile boat.

Length / Beam ratio – A long, narrow hull with limited interior space is easier to drive than a short, fat one with plentiful capacity. Compare L/B ratios to gain insight into the purpose of the boat.

Motion Comfort value – Not as widely used as the previous numbers, the Motion Comfort value tries to predict whether a boat has a quick, motion through the waves or a slow, easy motion. Note that some people get more seasick with a slowly rolling motion than a quick, jerky one. Your mileage will vary.

Capsize Screening number – Developed after the Fastnet Race tragedy, the Capsize Screening number is a quick way to judge if a boat is seaworthy. Values below 2.0 are desirable for offshore yachts. Do not put too much faith in the exact number, as it is an approximation only.

Pounds / square inch Immersion – When you load a boat, it sinks deeper into the water. This Immersion value indicates the weight carrying capacity of a vessel.

There is also a Prop Sizing section which will calculate the optimum propeller to use on any displacement-hull boat, based on noted naval architect Dave Gerr’s formulas.

 To The Sail Calculator

11 Comments on “Sail Calculator

  1. David,
    There’s no simple answer to that. If you enjoy sailing the boat, it’s a good one.
    When you put the numbers into SailCalculator, it will return some basic information that can be very useful, but note that small, lightweight boats like the American 23 are sensitive to loading. The working displacement is actually the “Light Ship” displacement plus the weight of the average crew. Try adding the weights of you and your crew in SailCalculator and see how that affects the performance numbers.
    The people I have known who have the American 23 like it. It looks like a nice, stable daysailer.
    Enjoy!
    — Tom

  2. I have American sailboat 23 ft. sailboat with a displacement 3500 lbs my keel is a 1000 lbs with a beam 7ft and 11 inch just wondering how good is this boat for sailing thanks

  3. Mark,
    Very interesting. I can see why the Length/Beam ratio at the waterline would be the defining characteristic for hull speed. That can be an evasive number, I think. Multis with very narrow hulls will sink deeper into the water quickly as the boat is loaded, so the LWL/BWL could change dramatically. It seems that you’d have to be careful about specifying the displacement that produces a specific LWL/BWL ratio, don’t you think? Is there an issue of one hull being submerged more than the other when the boat is under sail? This seems especially important in trimarans, which often have one hull flying and the other deeply submerged, but a long, narrow cat would have some of the same response to a breeze.
    Keep me posted on your thoughts. I think you’ve hit on a key element here.
    — Tom

  4. Hello, I’m a mechanical engineer and experienced multihull sailor that has long thought multihulls need a better performance parameter for comparison so sales guys can’t hoodwink people! I have some graduate school education from Dr. Marshall Tulin (UCSB) who has published many works regarding high-speed displacement mode for long slender hulls for naval/military applications and I think this work is very applicable to sailing multihulls. The critical parameter as far as hull drag for catamarans is really L/B at the waterline since other parameters as far as hull form go (prismatic coefficient) are generally within a narrow range. It has the benefit of implying displacement and waterline length as well, since a heavy boat must be either fat, or long to carry the displacement. As a result, I’ve been working on a parameter that includes both sail area and L/B at the waterline for performance comparisons. The trouble is Schionning is one of the few designers that cites L/B in all of his designs but it would be an easy measurement to take dockside, when the true displacement isn’t known.

  5. Steve,
    I’ve never seen that formula but would love to have it. The speed of a multihull is largely a factor of the hull shapes, and most multis are not limited by the “Displacement Hull Speed” that determines the maximum speed of most monohulls. The hulls are generally long and narrow and do not create the speed-limiting waves. There are exceptions, and I think any formula that predicts the speed of a cat or tri would have to incorporate prismatic coefficient (“sharpness”). Most boats are not speed-limited by their sail area.

  6. I’m looking for a formula that predicts potential performance of a cruising catamaran, in teh same way that SA/D does for monohulls. I saw teh formula years ago – it uses sail area and the second power (i.e., the square) of a factor, but I don’t recall anything else. Can you help me?
    -Steve

  7. Charlie,
    Thank you for the compliment. I enjoy running the site and meeting so many people who love sailing. Good luck on your boat search; there are many good deals on used, mid-size cruising boats available now in the U.S. because builders flooded the market with 40-footers a few years ago. Now that so many Baby Boomers have finished their lifetime sailing adventures, the boats are for sale.

  8. I’ve just been introduced to your site by a good friend from the US. Im looking for a retirement live aboard that can take me around the world. He gave me a potted history and speaks very highly of Carl Alder in this site in general. What a great tool. I’ll be flying to the states to view some boats that otherwise wouldn’t have even been on my Radar. Thank you Tom, Thank you Carl (Thank you Harvey).

  9. Thanks for keeping Carl’s program alive, Tom. I sent him hundreds of small boat specs over the years and found quite a few errors from other inputs that Carl tried to correct. Between his poor vision, a lot of incorrect input (especially the difference between LOD versus LOA for most people) and the vague info from boat builders it was a long process.
    People should have supported him with far more donations, he was a good guy.
    Les Hall, San Antonio

  10. Thanks for catching that, Paul. Yes, that would be a mighty powerful boat.
    It appears that the displacement should have been 14,500, so I corrected that. The SA/D ratio still looks a bit high, but I don’t know what the submitter used as a source.
    Enjoy the site and please send any other corrections you see.
    — Tom

  11. Cavalier 37, LWL=30, Sail Area to Displacement=2314.05
    Cant possibly be correct
    Great calculator, thanks for keeping it available.
    Cheers

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