It was the Age of Discovery, and brave sailing captains gazed skyward in quest of better ways to navigate. Yet, their crews more likely looked down and muttered, “We’ve got to do something about this slippery deck.”
Today, some boaters still look down and wonder how to make decks less slippery. To find some answers, we returned to the Age of Discovery and an ancient, but still relevant, test described in the notes of Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).
Da Vinci contributed immensely to things nautical, his engineering sketches depicting objects we now know as submarines and propellers.
I’m not sure if da Vinci ever thought about slippery decks, but he was the first to conduct quantitative studies on the subject of friction, an inherent attribute of a good nonskid sole.
One of his test apparatuses was a ramp with which he could gradually increase the angle of incline until an object began to slip downward. The greater the angle, the greater the friction between the object and the surface. Based on the results of this experiment, da Vinci also defined the mathematical formula for calculating the coefficient of friction.
If it was good enough for da Vinci, it was good enough for us. Besides, the variable pitch of of his device seems to replicate the heaving deck of a boat on a bad day. And isn’t that when you value good nonskid the most? With this in mind, we built a ramp similar to da Vinci’s and used it to test some of today’s most popular types of deck surfaces.
It’s one thing to test nonskid when it’s dry, but the deck on my boat is rarely that arid. Thanks to mist, spray and liberal use of the raw-water washdown hose, a lubricating film of moisture — not to mention fish slime and spilled coffee — usually coats the deck. So no testing of this sort would be complete without including wet surfaces, as well as dry.
Da Vinci’s experiments were born of a desire to find ways to overcome friction, which in many circumstances can be your enemy. But not when it comes to the deck. Here, friction equals traction, and traction equals safety. That’s my da Vinci code.