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.

  1. Six Reasons To Leave The Cockpit Often
  2. Don’t Forget About The Sails
  3. Your Mainsail Is Your Friend
  4. Hoisting the Mainsail Made Easy—Simplicity in Action
  5. Reefs: How Many and How Deep
  6. Reefing Made Easy
  7. Reefing From The Cockpit 2.0—Thinking Things Through
  8. Reefing Questions and Answers
  9. A Dangerous Myth about Reefing
  10. Mainsail Handling Made Easy with Lazyjacks
  11. Topping Lift Tips and a Hack
  12. 12 Reasons The Cutter Is A Great Offshore Voyaging Rig
  13. Cutter Rig—Should You Buy or Convert?
  14. Cutter Rig—Optimizing and/or Converting
  15. Cruising Rigs—Sloop, Cutter, or Solent?
  16. Sailboat Deck Layouts
  17. The Case For Roller-Furling Headsails
  18. UV Protection For Roller Furling Sails
  19. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing—Convenience and Reliability
  20. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing —Performance, Cost and Safety
  21. The Case For Hank On Headsails
  22. Making Life Easier—Roller Reefing/Furling
  23. Making Life Easier—Storm Jib
  24. Gennaker Furlers Come Of Age
  25. Swept-Back Spreaders—We Just Don’t Get It!
  26. Q&A: Staysail Stay: Roller Furling And Fixed Vs Hanks And Removable
  27. Rigid Vangs
  28. Rigging a Proper Preventer, Part 1
  29. Rigging a Proper Preventer—Part 2
  30. Amidships “Preventers”—A Bad Idea That Can Kill
  31. Keeping The Boom Under Control—Boom Brakes
  32. Downwind Sailing, Tips and Tricks
  33. Downwind Sailing—Poling Out The Jib
  34. Setting and Striking a Spinnaker Made Easy and Safe
  35. Ten Tips To Fix Weather Helm
  36. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 1
  37. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 2
  38. Two Dangerous Rigging Mistakes
  39. Rig Tuning, Part 1—Preparation
  40. Rig Tuning, Part 2—Understanding Rake and Bend
  41. Rig Tuning, Part 3—6 Steps to a Great Tune
  42. Rig Tuning, Part 4—Mast Blocking, Stay Tension, and Spreaders
  43. Rig Tuning, Part 5—Sailing Tune
  44. 12 Great Rigging Hacks
  45. 9 Tips To Make Unstepping a Sailboat Mast Easier
  46. Cruising Sailboat Spar Inspection
  47. Cruising Sailboat Standing Rigging Inspection
  48. Cruising Sailboat Running Rigging Inspection
  49. Cruising Sailboat Rig Wiring and Lighting Inspection
  50. Cruising Sailboat Roller Furler and Track Inspection
  51. Download Cruising Sailboat Rig Checklist
  52. Going Up the Mast—Part 1
  53. Going Up The Mast—Part 2, Fundamentals
  54. Going Up The Mast—Part 3, Our System

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

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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

John
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: https://www.morganscloud.com/2014/03/02/rigging-a-proper-preventer-part-1/

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!

Murray

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.