How Much do you Heel?

Heeling is a way of life for monohull sailboats. Heeling is, not only natural, but in most cases essential for making good speed under sail. There's a lot physics that go into heeling and determining the proper angle of heel for a given set of conditions, but allow me generalize: Sailboats with narrower beams tend to tolerate larger heel angles than beamer boats. Modern hull designs tend to be faster when sailed flat (heel angles less than about 15 degrees) because they often have less drag with the deep high aspect ratio fin keels and spade rudders. In older designs, heeling increases the waterline length of the hull and helps produce more speed. Again, in general, 15 degrees of heel can be near optimal for many boats. After about 25 degrees of heel on my personal boat, she develops fairly major weather helm. She also has a tendency to want to round-up (turn the bow to windward) from say 20-30 degrees of heel.

So how do I know my angle of heel? I have two clinometers installed on my sailboat that tell me the angle with just a quick glance. A clinometer isn't necessarily essential for sailing, but it does help to know at what angles of heel your boat exhibits certain traits (top speed, weather helm, etc.). I've got a Model 2056 clinometer from Rieker Instruments mounted just below my engine instrument panel in the cockpit and a Lev-o-gage Sr. from Sun Company mounted on a bulkhead in my cabin down below.

Model 2056 Clinometer from Rieker Instruments
Rieker Instruments developed the 2056 clinometer (ball-in-tube type) specifically for the sailboat industry and it is common on many production boats. Its durability and level of accuracy and precision are stand out qualities. It also comes with two separate scales.  The top scale give accurate 1 degree readings that are useful when loading the boat with gear or crew while the bottom scale give 5 degree readings to 60 degrees and is used for determine angle of heel. The gage itself is 6" wide by 3.75" tall. The price for the Rieker is on the high side (~$45-$70), but you're getting a quality clinometer.

Lev-O-Gage Sr. from Sun Company
The Lev-o-gage Sr is also a ball-in-tube clinometer, but it shows a bit less information, albeit at a more affordable price (~$19). The Lev-o-gage Sr has only one scale that reads from 0 to 50 degrees for angle of heal. This gage measures 3.5" wide by 1.5" tall. If you need to measure small side-to-side leveling for loading and want to stick with a Sun Company product, you'll need the Lev-o-gage II, which is similar to the Sr but much smaller and only reads from 0 to 10 degrees.

If you're looking for something fancier without so much plastic, you should consider the Weems & Plath Brass Endurance Clinometer.

Both the Rieker and Sun Company clinometers do their jobs simply and accurately. Even if you don't plan to adjust your sailing based on your known angle of heel, it's still fun to put a number with those moments when you're double reefed and the rails are getting wet!

>> Don't forget to visit SFLF's Gear Review page for more sailing gear reviews/tests. <<


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