Glenbrook South Year-End Projects

The Physics of Sailboating

Basic Research Questions


Your role as researcher for this project involves acquiring a wealth of technical information about the physics of sailboating. The process of conducting a literature search should yield some basic information about the topics of buoyancy and sailboat control. Some basic topics for research and ultimate discussion have been listed below to assist you in the initial stages of your literature search. The role of this listing is to provide an initial framework for your literature search and not a conclusive list of topics to be discussed. Your group is expected to go beyond these topics, exploring diverse areas of individual interest about sailboating.

  1. State Archimedes' Principle and use it to explain in detail why sailboats (or any object) can float on water.
  2. Describe what a buoyant force is and discuss the factors which effect the amount of buoyant force acting upon a floating object.
  3. Explain why and how the boat bottom shape effects the ability of a boat to float and use diagrams and equations to explain what shape offers both the most buoyant force and the most stability to a floating sailboat.
  4. Identify the forces acting upon a sailboat and describe their origin; depict these forces by a free-body diagram; explain the origin of each force thoroughly.
  5. Discuss how Newton's third law helps to explain how sailboats are propelled through the water and how they are steered through the water.
  6. Discuss vectors and vector resolution and apply basic vector principles to the propulsion of a boat through the water; use some calculations to demonstrate why certain sail angles with respect to the wind allow a boat to maximize its speed through the water.
  7. Explain what water drag is and discuss it in great detail.
  8. Define terminal velocity in general terms (not just for the specific case of a falling object) and apply it to the motion of a boat through the water.
  9. Use Newton's second law, a free-body diagram, and sample values of individual forces to calculate the acceleration of a typical sailboat over time. That is, use physics equations and numerical information to show how a sailboat starting from rest relative to the wind will have varying accelerations until it reaches a terminal velocity.
  10. Use physics to explain how a sailboat can move upwind.
  11. Discuss the application of torques and balanced torque to the stability of a sailboat.
  12. Identify and discuss the purpose of the major components of a sailboat.
  13. Identify and describe the different types of sailboats.
  14. Describe and explain several forms of modern technology used on today's more expensive sailboats.


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The GBS Physics staff invite you to send electronic mail:

Tom Henderson

Howard Jenewein

John Lewis

Neil Schmidgall

Dave Smith

Suzanne Webb

Brian Wegley

Questions and comments can be sent to Tom Henderson.

This page last updated on 4/16/98.