good, better, best…

I spend a lot of tie trying to come up with cunning plans where one can build a boat that works for less money which, I’ll admit if something of a frustrating addiction. Made worse as budget building stalwarts like plywood, lumber, and industrial epoxies keep going up in price. 

This last week I’ve been thinking of ballast as a friend is designing an interesting scow trailer sailor with ballasted dagger board/keels which I expect to be fairly expensive to have cast. Of course it’s always possible to cast your own but lead is a very scary medium to work with and I personally don’t want to kill off my few remaining brain cells. Throw in the fact that lead keeps getting more and more expensive and I find myself looking at various alternatives.

Water can be a good ballast and, for all practical purposes it’s free. The downside is that water ballast takes up a lot of internal space when compared to lead. A cubic foot of lead weighs in at 708.06 pounds while a cubic foot of water weighs only 62.43 pounds.

Big difference.

Let’s say we want to build a sharpie that requires a ton of internal ballast what does that look like in various ballast scenarios…

  • Water = 32 cubic feet
  • Sand = 19.61 cubic feet
  • Water filled sand = 15.7 cubic feet
  • Concrete = 14 cubic feet
  • Steel = 4.06 cubic feet
  • Lead = 2.82 cubic feet
  • Gold = 1.66 cubic feet 

Most of us building small boats find the needed space for water, sand and water filled sand take up too much room but they are for all practical purposes free and many boats have been successfully built and cruised using them as ballast.

Concrete is a bit more realistic and I’ve seen a lot of concrete ballasted wood boats that worked just fine. Concrete is cheap and easy to work with so not a bad option for home builders.

Steel also makes a lot of sense and there always seems to be a source of one inch used plate available for not very much that you can cut down to more manageable ballast bits. 

Lead is the top choice for most folks but it is expensive in ingot or shot and a lot more dangerous to work with than prudent.

I included gold for those folks who write me all the time telling me I’d be a fool to go sailing on a boat that does not use the very best components available in its build and that you get what you pay for. I did however omit Uranium which would make awesome ballast except for the fact that the idea of glow in the dark testicles does not really appeal.

So, the question of what sort of ballast is pretty much up to you. For me the most attractive ballast compromise would be a mix of concrete with scrap lead or steel added to the mix. if I build the internally ballasted sharpie design I’m working on or a cast concrete/graphene/lead shot keel if I build the Skrowl 900.

More on building an affordable hull to put the ballast in soonish….


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