I don’t remember the first (and last) time I really learned why the boom got its name. I was young, completely oblivious to the fact that we were sailing downwind and much more attentive to a game of “hull tag” with my brothers on the catamaran we and my dad were sailing. Obviously the cockpit and trampolines were hot lava, so I was completely distracted from the horizontal 25-foot aluminum pole that has the oh-so-fitting name.
Most of you could easily guess what happened next, and I still have a little scar in the middle of my forehead that reminds me of the wicked ways of the unexpected jibe.
Situations like that are all too common for those who are not as familiar with sailing. They might not need to know how the spinnaker got its name, but the boom is one thing that anyone stepping on a sail boat should be very familiar with.
Weathered sailors and greenhorns alike used to need to be constantly aware of the doings of the boom. Now though, simple-to-install boom brakes take some of the stress out of downwind sailing. They are rigging or equipment which significantly slows or controls the movement of the boom across the midline of the boat during a jibe. They work by attaching a line towards the end of the boom, running it to a block forward of the mast, and then leading it aft to the cockpit. The line can be adjusted either way in preparation for a jibe, but unless adjusted, the boom stays still.
There are three different kinds of boom brakes available today: friction brakes, drum brakes, and adjustable sheave brakes. Sail magazine said boom brakes “offer considerable peace of mind, especially in crowded waters where constant maneuvering might make it unfeasible to rig a preventer.”
We tested three of the most well-regarded boom brakes in the industry. Judging by their durability, their effectiveness, their ease of set up and their cost, we were able to find a real winner to keep your coconut safe from the dreaded boom during an uncontrolled or unexpected jibe.
The Dutchman Boom Brake is the best way to keep your cabeza safe from an unexpected jibe.
On the Dutchman Boom Brake, essentially, a line weaves between three wheels. The two top wheels are fixed and knob is used to tighten and loosen the bottom wheel which rotates. When the line is drawn out, the bottom wheel resists spinning, and thus the line only gets let out as fast as desired; the boom doesn’t come hurtling toward your head. The knob can be completely tightened down, so the brake acts as a preventer to make the boom stay if desired. If sailing upwind, tension can be completely removed from the brake, and the boom can move freely with each tack.
The Dutchman can be set up to operate with one line, so that the boom and tension on the brake are all controlled by one line, or two lines, where a primary line controls the boom and a secondary line controls tension on the primary line. A basic set-up guide can be found HERE for a single line setup, and HERE for a two line setup. A complete instillation walk-though can be found HERE. The Dutchman brake can be used with different vangs, rigid, soft, or none at all.
Right out of the box, the Dutchman felt like the sturdiest and strongest brake out of the three we tested. It has an anodized coating over its sturdy steel case to prevent rust and corrosion. The price of the unit depends on the size boat and sail you have, but for the most part, they will run you a few hundred dollars.
There are two other industry-leading brakes that we tested, both of them being the “it” product in their respective categories: friction and drum brakes. Let’s first look at the Wichard Gyb’Easy Boom Brake.
This brake is easily the simplest to install, and the least expensive of the bunch, at about $250. Like other friction brakes of this type, there are no moving parts; a line is simply run through the brake, and increased tension on the line leads to increased friction on the brake. They look and work remarkably similar to descending brakes used in rock climbing.
The major downfall of the Gyb’Easy is its lack of friction adjustment. On the Dutchman brakes, a knob is turned to control how fast the line may move through the brake. On the Gyb’Easy, though, the rope is only let out when there is a decrease in tension in the line. The Gyb’Easy may be set-it-and-forget-it, but it is inferior to the Dutchman’s adjustable line-release speed.
The final brake we tested out is the Walder Boom-Brake. It is the highest quality drum brake available on the market. A line is wrapped around a drum within the brake, and like the Gyb’Easy, more tension in the line leads to more friction within the brake. Friction is adjustable within the brake by wrapping the line around the drum either once, twice or three times.
This leaves us with a similar problem as the friction brakes. Sure the line speed might be adjustable, but you have to run the line all the way back through the brake, which is highly inconvenient during mid-sail. Also, the Walder brakes can get pricey: their most expensive brake tops out at $1,200.
The Dutchman Boom Brake are definitely the best combination of all the features we were looking for. Though toughness wasn’t an issue for any of the brakes, the Dutchman is burly and coated with corrosion-resistant finish. It allows the best of all worlds when it comes to boom braking: it can be used as a preventer, it can let line out slowly, or it can be released to sail upwind as if the brake wasn’t even there.
There are a few different sizes of Dutchman brakes, and a sizing guide is included below.
The Mad Dogs, a sailing blog, reviewed the Dutchman Brake. They gave it five stars and said, “With our planned journeys and travels this could be a real life saver!”
Another bright spot about Dutchman brakes is their customer service. Practical Sailor included their customer service in their January 2013 “Where Credit Is Due” section. It says
My brake was four years old, but I called, and was told to UPS them my old boom brake. About two weeks later, the brake was back on board with a first-class repair. Good job, Dutchman!
Champagne, Hunter 456
Newport Beach, Calif.
Dutchman brakes are self-tending, easy to adjust, and offer peace of mind that you won’t get clobbered, especially when under-manned. The Dutchman Boom Brake is the absolute best way to protect your and your friends’ heads from unexpected jibes!