Planing (boat)

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A Contender dinghy planing on a broad reach. Note the typical way the bow lifts up while the stern skims over the water.

Planing is the mode of operation for a waterborne craft in which its weight is predominantly supported by hydrodynamic lift, rather than hydrostatic lift (buoyancy).


The earliest documented planing sailboat was a proa built in 1898 by Commodore Ralph Munroe; it was capable of speeds of more than twice the hull speed.

Planing a sailing dinghy was first popularised by Uffa Fox in Britain. In 1928 Uffa Fox introduced planing to the racing world in his International 14 dinghy, the Avenger. It had been designed with a hull shape which permitted planing. He gained 52 first places, two seconds and three third places out of 57 race starts that year.

Obviously this performance had an impact: other designers took on his ideas and developed them. Over the years, most dinghies have acquired some ability to plane, and there are now many high-performance dinghies (usually called skiffs), which will plane even in light winds, at all points of sail.

Royal Navy World War II MTB planing at speed on calm water showing its Hard chine hull - note how most of the forepart of the boat is out of the water

How planing works[edit]

When it is at rest, a vessel's weight is borne entirely by the buoyant force. At low speeds every hull acts as a displacement hull, meaning that the buoyant force is mainly responsible for supporting the craft. As speed increases, hydrodynamic lift increases as well. In contrast, the buoyant force decreases as the hull lifts out of the water, decreasing the displaced volume. At some speed, lift becomes the predominant upward force on the hull and the vessel is planing.

A simple model of this effect is a solid slab of material which is heavier than water (like a steel plate) but is shaped and oriented to have a positive angle of attack. At rest, the slab will sink because it is heavier than water; the buoyant forces are overwhelmed by the force of gravity. However, if the slab is kept in the same orientation and pulled horizontally through the water, it will force the incoming water downward. This results in a reactionary force upward on the slab. At a high enough speed, this reactionary force (plus any small buoyant force) are larger than the force of gravity and the slab will stay afloat. In this way, the horizontal force (which may be supplied by a motor or a sail) is converted into a vertical force upwards. This is highly analogous to an airplane wing in the air and, as for airplanes, there are many complications to this simplified explanation of planing in boats. See lift on an airfoil.

Although any hull will plane if enough power is provided and enough speed is attained, a hull designed for operation in the planing realm is sometimes distinguished by a flat run aft. In other words, in side view, the bottom is more or less a straight line towards the stern. (Exceptions to this include surfboards and other recreational planing hulls, which utilize rocker throughout for enhanced maneuverability when banking through turns.) In contrast, in a displacement, or non-planing hull, the bottom is curved in side view (the curvature is called "rocker") all the way from bow to stern, in order to minimize wave drag. In front view, the sections in the aft area may be straight, as in a racing hydroplane, to maximize planing forces and speed, but for practical reasons of stability and comfortable ride are often V-shaped, especially in boats intended for offshore use.

To plane, the power-to-weight ratio must be high, since the planing mode of operation is quite inefficient; sailing boats need a good sail area and powerboats need a high-power engine. Most surfboards are planing or semi-planing hulls that utilize the push of the waveform more or less in combination with gravity to achieve planing lift.

Techniques used to promote planing in a sailing boat[edit]

Planing in a sailboat designed for it is promoted by the usual techniques for increasing speed:

  • Sailing on a reach or broad reach to begin
  • Raising the centreboard or daggerboard
  • Loosen, or furl, the foresail
  • Keep the hull level, trapeze if necessary

in addition to these:

  • Moving the crew weight increasingly towards the rear to begin and to sustain planing
  • Flicking or pumping the sails (although there are restrictions on doing this in a race)

While planing, it is important to steer through the waves, avoiding any collision with the wave in front.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]