The beam of a ship is its width at the widest point as measured at the ship's nominal waterline. The beam is a bearing projected at right-angles from the fore and aft line, outwards from the widest part of ship. Beam may also be used to define the maximum width of a ship's hull, or maximum width including superstructure overhangs.
Generally speaking, the wider the beam of a ship (or boat), the more initial stability it has, at the expense of reserve stability in the event of a capsize, where more energy is required to right the vessel from its inverted position.
Typical length-to-beam ratios for small sailboats are from 2:1 (dinghies to trailerable sailboats around 20 ft or 6 m) to 5:1 (racing sailboats over 30 ft or 10 m).
Large ships have widely varying beam ratios, some as large as 20:1.
The beam of many monohull vessels can be calculated using the following formula:
Where LOA is Length Overall and all units are in feet.
As catamarans have more than one hull, there is a different beam calculation for this kind of vessel.
BOC stands for Beam On Centerline. This term in typically used in conjunction with LOA (Length overall). The ratio of LOA/BOC is used to estimate the stability of multihull vessels. The lower the ratio the greater the boat's stability.
The BOC for vessels is measured as follows: For a catamaran: the perpendicular distance from the centerline of one hull to the centerline of the other hull, measured at deck level. For a trimaran: the perpendicular distance between the centerline of the main hull and the centerline of either ama, measured at deck level
Other meanings of 'beam' in the nautical context are: