The Ergonomics of Boat Design

The term Ergonomics is not a recognisably nautical one.

However, the principles are an important ingredient in boat design.

Furniture designers put a lot of effort into optimising the dimensions of a dining chair for the home.

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On an unstable platform, such as a boat it is even more important to design furnishings that are not only comfortable but functional.

The furniture makers designing for the mass market have developed a set of average dimensions so their furniture will suit the average person.

These are a good starting point for anyone fitting out a boat.

However, like most things on a boat there will have to be compromises.


Seating.

Ergonomics
  • Seat depth from the front edge to the back; 13-15inch, 340-375mm.
  • Seat height at the front edge; 15-17inch, 390-430mm. 
  • The backrest should support the middle of the back; 6-7inch, 150-180mm above the seat.
  • Arm rests want to be 8-10inch, 200-250mm above the seat.
  • It will help stop the user slipping off the seat if, it slopes down towards the back by at least 10 degrees.
  • The backrest will be more comfortable if angled by 20-25 degrees

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Cockpit Ergonomics.

  • Cockpit seats should be based on the above seating dimensions
  • The helmsman’s seat should be high enough to allow him/her to comfortably see over the cabin.
  • The cockpit seating particularly on a sailing boat should allow for the occupants to brace their feet.
  • If the foot well tapers from 24inch, 610mm forward to 18inch, 460mm aft this should allow most leg lengths to brace their feet against the leeward seat.
  • Cockpit coamings are there primarily to keep water from the side decks draining into the cockpit. 

However a slope of 20-25 degrees on the inside will increase the comfort for those sitting in the cockpit.


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Hatches.

“Go small, go simple, go now”
(Larry Pardey)

  • To allow for ease of access the minimum size of hatches  needs to be 18inch, 460mm square, but preferably 24inch, 610mm.
  • Sliding hatches should be at least 24inch, 610mm square.

Bunks.

  • The head of the berth should be at least 22inch, 560mm.
  • The foot end can be a narrow as 15inch, 380mm.
  • The average ergonomic length of a berth wants to be about 6ft 3inch, 1905mm. Or three to four inches, 100mm longer than the height of the sleeper.
  • For use at sea bunks need to be narrow with lee cloths or boards. The sleeper must be able to wedge themselves in.
  • There are numerous ingenious ways of building a bunk so that it can be converted from a narrow sea going single, to a spacious double for use at anchor.

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Heads.

Sorry guys, but it will probably be best to sit this one out.

Even if you do have standing head room in the heads, could you guarantee you aim in a moving boat?

Even when sat, using the heads in a small boat at sea can be a difficult maneuver.

Provide convenient grab handles.

The following dimensions are just guidelines.

  • Head room above the seat 36inch, 900mm.
  • Ergonomic elbow room 24-27inch, 600-700mm.

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Galley.

  • For comfortable use the height to the top of the hob wants to be about 36inch, 900mm.
  • Clearance above the hob at least 30inch, 750mm. 
  • If possible allow for a 3inch, 75mm kick space under at floor level.

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Tables.

  • Ergonomic leg room height under a table needs to be about 24inch, 600mm.
  • Knee clearance, horizontally, for comfort should be about 10inch, 250mm.


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