The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Keeping The Boom Under Control—Boom Brakes

Many years ago I sailed on a French boat equipped with a boom brake. Perhaps due to one of those curious national idiosyncracies, such devices were (and remain) very scarce in the UK, although they were popular elsewhere in Europe, and I was intrigued to see how it performed. Very well it seemed, as far as I could tell from such a short acquaintance, although it did seem a rather clunky and cumbersome design.

So when we first rigged Pèlerin we decided to try a new design of boom brake from Wichard called a Gyb’easy, which had no moving parts and relied solely on friction. And since we’ve sailed a few thousand miles since then with it I feel far better placed to comment on its good and bad points.

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More Articles From Online Book: Sail Handling and Rigging Made Easy:

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  19. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing—Convenience and Reliability
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  30. Amidships “Preventers”—A Bad Idea That Can Kill
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  32. Downwind Sailing, Tips and Tricks
  33. Downwind Sailing—Poling Out The Jib
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Steven Schapera

Hi, I have just bought a Wichard Gybeasy, but haven’t fitted it yet and have no experience with them. You say that a line is lead back to the cockpit, down each side (through blocks at the toenail). Im interested to know if the line can be tied off at say the port chainplate, go through the gybeasy, then through a block on the starboard chainplate, then back to a spare winch at the cockpit? This would be simpler and mean one line less on the deck. Thoughts??

John Harries

Hi Steven,

I have no experience with boom brakes, but as a general rule it is not a good idea to attach items to a chain plate that will exert forces in directions other than those (usually vertical or near vertical and in line with the plate) that the designer intended. A side force could deform the chain plate slightly every time the brake is loaded resulting, I think, in fatigue and possible failure.

Steven Schapera

Thanks for pointing that out – wise advice! As a precaution I have sent an email to Dudley Dix, the designer of my boat, asking him his thoughts. I will be fitting it in the next month and will, in any event, keep your suggestion in mind when I do decide just where to mount the blocks.
BTW, I obviously meant “toeRAIL” above, and not “toeNAIL” in my comment above!

John Harries

Hi Steven,

Glad to help. I will be interested to hear what Dix has to say.

Drew Frye

John, what were your reasons for not installing a boom brake? On a cat I can easily use the traveler to control the boom. I suppose you just haul in the sheet and let it out, using the vang to hold the boom down?

John Harries

Hi Drew,

We have an end boom preventer set up that works very well and so have never felt the need to add a boom brake as well. The point being that we don’t view a boom brake as a substitute for a preventer, so it would be an additional piece of gear and clutter. More here:

And yes, as on pretty much any monohull, the vang controls twist and the sheet angle on our boat. Even if we had a boom brake, it would not really be a good way to control twist.

That said, I have nothing against boom brakes, it’s just that we don’t feel the need of one.

Drew Frye

I played with several brake set-ups yesterday. Yup they work… and I took them back off. They are hardly trouble free; they add clutter and must be adjusted for every jibe. I hate leaving the main out so far, turning way to far to trigger the jibe, waiting for the wind to get behind the sail. I would rather start pulling it in, and then I don’t need the brake! I single-hand most of the time, so I would rather center the main and focus on the genoa during the jibe, avoiding tangles or a backed sail.

For me, it wasn’t an improvement.

Marc Dacey

Yes, this has occurred to me, too, save in very boisterous cross-wave conditions when the boat could be crash-gybed via wave action or a helming screw-up. But then I insist on paying attention in downwind conditions!


I’ve had a gyb’easy on my 32ft Etap for 5 years and many thousands of miles and in my view it doesn’t really work. Its not true to say there are no moving parts. The rope moves through the metal device, and herein lies the problem. The friction produced by this is very variable for any given wind speed, depending on how dry the rope is and how much salt is within it, and how tight the loops are before the gybe starts. I think I’ve only once had a perfect gyb’easy gybe in real life voyaging when the rope glides through the device nicely. Usually nothing glides, and the boom movement has to be controlled by the cockpit winches. Someone might say “you had the device on the wrong setting…bypass one or two of the friction points” but there’s no way of telling whether you should bass one or two before the gybe. You tend not to want to adjust it by guesswork before every gybe. One tends to be pessimistic, and maximize friction, just in case. Especially as I believe the device is only rated for gybes in less than 20 knots of wind. Why have I kept it all these years? I’m still waiting for the perfect gybe. Its bound to happen one day, I keep telling myself. Note that the setup is a useful way of controlling boom movement when NOT gybing, eg after dropping the main, or in sloppy seas in light winds, etc etc. But you don’t need the brake device for this, just a rope from near the vang attachment to the cockpit winches via blocks. NB: my bocks are on the cainplates. Not ideal, but my rigger said it was OK, I’m not sure on what grounds.

Chuck B

Whether used for jibing or not, I’ve found the boom brake to be a valuable safety device. I have the variety where the amount of friction is controlled by line tension, which can be adjusted from the cockpit. It’s fast and easy to “lock down” the boom for any reason — for instance, if a crew member is going on deck. Knowing that the boom is a little more secure during deck work is a big plus for me.