Cockpits should be designed and
built with an awareness of the structural requirements of wood boat
Every structural element of a wooden
boat contributes to its overall
strength and stiffness.
Whatever preferences you have regarding the size, shape or position of your boat cockpit you need to pay serious attention to the deck structure.
The more openings and the larger the opening in the deck the less it will be able to transfer loads and stresses.
While openings such as boat cockpits, cabins and hatches can be partially compensated for by building strong carlines, the longer the carline the less support it will give.
Bulkheads are also an important structural element.
A bridge deck between the cockpit and main hatch is often and rightly, recommended as a means of keeping water from entering the cabin.
However, on a wooden boat it also of structural value.
Not only does it allow for full width deck beams but the bulkheads also add stiffness and strength.
And while we are discussing structure, the strength of the cockpit itself needs to be considered.
Not only should it be strong enough to support the crew but in the event of a swamping, it should also be able to withstand the weight of a full cockpit of water, and that can be quite considerable.
There is a lot to be said for a center cockpit but they only work well on larger boats.
They work best on boats over 40ft, 12M, on anything less than 30ft, 9M, they of more of a complication than they are worth.
On large boats the center cockpit has the advantage of keeping crew weight towards the mid sips area.
As they are usually high this will allow for good visibility from the helm and the effects of motion will be lessened.
The center cockpit is also the ideal solution on ketches and yawls where the cockpit can be sited between the masts.
On smaller boats however, the center cockpit will pose restrictions on the size of the accommodation.
The advantage of privacy afforded by an aft cabin must be weighed against the restriction on size.
And having the helm amidships will require complicated steering gear.
Perhaps it's because I'm a small boat sailor at heart that I prefer an aft cockpit.
I like to be able to sit back and look up at the sails and I prefer the immediacy of tiller steering.
Apart form structural considerations the desirable size of a boat cockpit will depend very much on your style of boating.
There is a lot to be said for a large cockpit with lots of comfy seating where you can stretch out and relax, especially when at anchor.
On the other hand a sail boat at sea needs to allow for the crew to brace their legs comfortably against the leeward side.
And in bad weather the smaller the boat cockpit the less 'green-sea' it will hold.
The feeling of security that a deep cockpit gives is illusory, just imagine what the weight of a cockpit full of water would do to the trim of your boat.
That is why most blue water cruisers opt for a foot-well with a cockpit combing.
However, once they are anchored up they probably all wish they had a huge cockpit complete with a table.
Having a large cockpit on a small boat will mean a reduction of space left for a cabin.
However for those with more modest cruising aspirations, a large dry comfy cockpit can be converted into living space by erecting a cockpit tent.
The size will also have a bearing on how easy it is to reach the sail control lines on a sail boat and the engine controls on a motor boat.
Will there be enough room for crew members to pass each other without having to leave the safety of the cockpit.
And equally as important, does the helmsman/woman have clear visibility forward while sat down.
Every cockpit builder, where possible should incorporate scuppers to drain away rainwater and spray.
There should also be some way for a boat cockpit or any other recess in the deck to self drain particularly in the event of a swamping.
Unfortunately for this to be effective the floor of your cockpit needs to be a minimum of 6inches, 150mm above the waterline to be effective.
And the further the
floor is above the waterline the more effective self draining will
The simplest and probably the most effective arrangement for an aft cockpit with no lazarette is to slope the cockpit sole back to the transom, then cut a large drain hole straight out through the transom above the waterline.
This can then be protected with a skin fitting with a simple non return flap to stop water coming back in.
On a sail boat which is going to spend a lot of time at the heel put a drain at each corner just as they do on sailing dinghies.
Where there is a lazerette a similar arrangement will work simply by piping the water through the lazerette.
Any discomfort caused by the slope of the sole can be compensated for by building up the aft end of the cockpit grating.
Many alternative and ingenious methods of draining have been used on small boats however simple is always the best.
Any piped arrangement will be vulnerable to blockages and will be more expensive requiring non-return valves, sea-cocks and connectors.
Whatever arrangement you choose the most effective way to prevent water from your watertight cockpit getting below is with a bridge-deck.
The most important issue regarding crew safety is ensuring that your boat is sound and strong enough.
With regards to boat cockpit design you should also consider,
I have sailed on a number of plastic production boats which have deep cockpits, on none of them could the helms-person see forward without standing.
On a long 'trick' this can lead to tiredness and a loss of concentration.
And that also means paying attention to the ergonomics of seating design.
Admittedly no one enjoys being exposed to the wind spray and rain but its better than being exhausted.
Judicious use of dodgers and spray hoods can minimize much of this but don't forget that it is imperative that every vessel should keep a constant all round watch when under way.
And before I finish it is also worth considering how someone can get back into the boat cockpit from the water.
Whether they have fallen overboard accidentally or have just gone swimming, a fold down ladder on the transom can be a lifesaver.