Reserved Buoyancy, Down-Flooding, and Living Off the Grid


David Ryan

David Ryan is a boat builder and USCG licensed master captain. He is the owner of Sailing Montauk and skipper of Montauk''s charter sailing catamaran MON TIKI You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

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19 Responses

  1. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Great piece, Mr. Ryan. This is definitely where this libertarian sees the role of The State; people are terrible at assessing risk, and capitalism pushes towards as low of a freeboard as possible while still afloat. Which is fine in equilibrium but not when the system gets pushed off of it.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kolohe says:

      I’ll second all of Kolohe’s comment. I think the state tries to do too many things, and I think it tries to produce too many things for which it could just act as the coordinator of private producers. But it’s a good source of slack. An imperfect one of course, so it can be critiqued endlessly for its imperfections there, but of course there are no perfect human institutions, and in its absence I think we’d find our degree of slack even more imperfect.Report

    • Avatar Scott in reply to Kolohe says:


      People can be very good at assessing risk however it requires a brutal honesty about ones skills, the environment and the capabilities of one’s machine whether on the water or in the air. I grew up around aircraft and I took flying lessons in college where I quickly learned to be conservative in my estimation of my skills and my craft.

      As far as your statement about capitalism, that is moronic.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Scott says:

        So… you’re saying Kolohe is a member of the moronity here at the LoOG?Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Scott says:

        Capitalism, or really, free markets, have a dynamic where efficiency is rewarded (pretty much above all else). Which, on net, is a good thing. Productivity enables everyone to have more stuff and quality of life, and creates wealth ex-nihilo.

        But if the system is too finely balanced, any perturbation will cause the entire system to fall apart.

        Another nautical design concept is having baffle plates in your liquid tanks. If you have too big of a free surface area, any roll will cause the liquid to slosh over to one side, furthering the roll and potentially creating a feedback where the entire vessel rolls completely over and capsizes. Similarly (I would argue), if you just have supply and demand – or simply just money – ‘sloshing’ around with any barriers, you can get to a point where it’s all built up on one side, puting the entire system at risk (as we saw in the 2008 financial crisis).Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Scott says:

        And when I’m looking for brutal h0nesty on self-assessment, one of the last places I go to find it is the average Homo Sapiens.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kolohe says:

          Do you want to settle for an economic system built for average people?Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

          That’s what I was gonna initially criticize. The idea that “People can be very good at assessing risk however it requires a brutal honesty … i>” is the type of argument I have a really big pet peave about. It’s that since it’s possible that people could these things, there’s no reason for them to not do these things.

          But what does “possible” mean in this context? It’s surely not an epistemic possibility. It’s a metaphysical possibility, which could only be realized if people were different than they in fact are.

          That’s a very prevalent, and entirely nonsensical argument, it seems to me.Report

  2. Avatar Lyle says:

    Well put about slack, it also applies to supply chains where I saw an interesting article saying that the costs of failures due to insufficient slack in supply chains has been taken by insurance companies, who are pushing back. It does raise a question which also relates to the whole idea of disaster preparedness, how much to spend to mitigate things before they happen? Particularly if they may not happen for 30-50 years.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Lyle says:

      There’s an entire branch of mathematics dedicated to this problem, Markov Chains. Classic problem: how many registers should a grocery store open? Let a long enough queue of shoppers form and the store manager should open another register. How long should that queue get before opening that extra register?

      There’s a family of EDI transactions related to this problem. Pfizer sells Listerine to large retailers. When existing inventories of Listerine fall to an agreed-upon threshold, a restocking order is automatically placed. But if product is moving fast enough, the threshold can be automatically raised.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Very nice and thought-provoking piece. I’ve had some unformed ideas about this for a long time now, that amount to

    * The market is very good at micro-optimization
    * There’s no reason to think that the sum of all the micro-optimizations is globally optimalReport

    • Avatar David Ryan in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      In the inquiry into the demise of the Pelican, one of the things cited by the Coast Guard was that when a large wave loomed up on her port side, everyone who could ran to her starboard side.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to David Ryan says:

        There’s a rumor that a bank is in trouble, so people do the sensible thing and withdraw all their money. Guess what, the bank is in trouble!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to David Ryan says:

        when a large wave loomed up on her port side, everyone who could ran to her starboard side.

        When I began canoeing western rivers I had to learn how to lean away from the current. It’s not always intuitive.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

          Bill Cosby on skids:

          “When the car goes into the skid, turn in the direction of the skid …”

          Yeah, right, That’s like telling a guy, ‘When someone throws a punch at you, lean into it.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

          Snowboarding and -skiing both have a couple (and surprisingly, fairly different) counter-intuitive non-instinctive things you have to learn to do. In skiing, you need to resist your natural instinct to lean back – you need to lean downhill, and lower your center of gravity over the center of the skis. Snowboarding requires you to use your front foot in ways that seem downright dangerous, if you ever want to reverse board direction – it took a little while to work up the courage to even attempt.

          I’m an OK skiier but a novice snowboarder, and I have been told that part of my learning curve on snowboarding, is unlearning my skiing habits.Report

  4. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    A very nice essay with your trademark structure, Mr. Ryan. I now grasp the term “freeboard,” and its practical significance, much better.

    Hurricane Sandy’s economic impact will be vitiated by the role of insurance. Worth consideration for the libertarian and the progressive alike is the appropriate–and the feasible extent of–role of the government as a vitiator of risk.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    You touch on two of my favorite subjects here, both of which are deserving of more time.

    US policy on the electric grid since the early- or mid-1990s has been oriented towards squeezing the slack out. Market forces were supposed to get rid of the excess generating capacity that vertically-integrated utilities maintained, and regulators of the monopoly distribution systems have become completely intolerant of excess capacity in any area (eg, crews and equipment for restoring broken lines). Reuters has an interesting story up about the shortage of replacements for broken utility poles hampering efforts to restore power post-Sandy.

    Almost everyone who goes “off the grid” still makes use of gear that requires there to be large cities somewhere that can develop and manufacture most of the stuff they use. One of my favorite pieces that ignored reality was by Doug Fine a few years ago. In designing his post-apocalyptic tribe, an electrician who could maintain the solar panels was high on his list. Not a word about carpenters, blacksmiths, weavers, or any of the other basic skills that a tribe in a self-sufficient village would need.Report