Recently we received this inquiry about the stability of our boats:

“We are interested in learning more about your small row boats.  We need it to be stable on rough water that we often experience on Priest Lake.  It also must be comfortable for my wife to row at age 78.  The Navigator looks good, but perhaps others are just as good or better.

We look forward to hearing from you.  Thank you.”

First, we need to define the meaning of the word ‘stable’. Without being evasive, we prefer to use the word ‘forgiving’ rather than ‘stable’. Here’s why….

When most people think of stability, they think of a boat that won’t move when they do.  Or they assume that most of what makes a boat “stable” has to do with ballast. There is actually a lot more to it than that, and much of it comes down to the hull design.

Any boat that is actually enjoyable to row MUST have a fair hull with rounded sides so the boat will slip through the water with a nice easy, long glide. It should also have a full length keel so the glide is straight, meaning the rower doesn’t have to make numerous course corrections just to row in a straight line. The counterpoint to rounded sides is that the hull will lean one way or the other if the rowers sits off center.  This can make inexperienced boaters nervous, since it can take some time to get used to balancing your load – but with enough practice, balanced weight distribution becomes second nature.

There are a lot of variations of rounded hulls, ranging from the extremely critical competitive rowing shell to the forgiving type of ‘working rowboat’ hull we recreate. These shapes were designed to allow working boaters to earn a living in the days before the advent of external power, so they had to be efficient enough to work all day, yet carry a reasonable payload in difficult conditions. The forgiving nature means the rower can move around in the boat unless they do something really silly… then the boat will tell them to sit down and pay attention. The hard third chine and high freeboard will let the boat heel and recover without drama.

Compare that to a modern ‘stable’ aluminum rowboat; sure you can stand on the gunwale, but at the cost of efficiency. For example, one pull of the oars on a boat like our 12′ Point Defiance will result in 30 to 40 yards of glide. The same amount of power applied to an aluminum square transom boat will move it about 6 feet. Which is more fun? Which will you row because you WANT to, not because you HAVE to?

Now, specific to the original asker’s question, although the Navigator is a very nice rowboat, the 10′ range falls into the category of ‘dinghy’. Dinghies are primarily used for short term, ship to shore voyages of one or two people. For pleasure rowing, especially for folks who aren’t as flexible as they used to be, the higher seating position of the Point Defiance is more comfortable. The longer waterline and higher freeboard also will feel more assuring when the wind and seas pick up.

For a visible demonstration of just how much it takes to capsize one of our boats, check out the video of our Melonseed buoyancy test. You can also see how in the unlikely event that the boat does capsize, the rounded hull actually makes it relatively easy to right the boat again.

Hope that is helpful!  If you have any other questions about our boats, or which one may be best for you, please get in touch with us at boatshop@ghboats.com –  we’re happy to help!