SJ23 Tech Tip B19, (Updated 2021-01-01) Bob Schimmel


COMPANIONWAY DROP BOARDS - Replace, Secure for Storm, Store while Underway, Paint Rails.

TWO DROP BOARDS - The factory configuration was a single fibreglass drop board.  This is perfect for winter or long term storage but pretty difficult to store for day to day sailing.  You are likely to poke something with a corner or drop it on something, like your foot.  A better option is to cut it in two sections so they are easier to handle or use while sailing.  I have two acrylic boards on Panache.  The top of the bottom board is level with the gunwales, which is good enough to keep most of the water out of the cabin.  Although, if the weather is so rough that waves are threatening to swamp the cockpit, both drop boards better be in place with the sliding hatch closed.  Your next option is to find sheltered water so you can rest in a pub to talk about your ordeal!

Drop boards can be made from different material, each with their pros and cons.

  • FIBREGLASS or STARBOARD - Either one is a rough, tough material that is perfect for security and long term exposure to the elements.
  • PLYWOOD - An inexpensive material that is readily available but the edge grain must be sealed with 1/2" (or thicker) solid wood to protect the core.  Problem is, plywood has a tendency to delaminate with exposure to rain or the heat of the sun.  The surface can be sanded but you must be very careful with thin veneer.  Seal with epoxy and coat with varnish.  Dead quiet to handle.  Should be stored in a cloth bag to protect the coating. 
  • SOLID PLANK - A plank of hardwood is more expensive and less available than plywood but can last a long time if maintained lovingly.  It is prone to warping and splitting if not maintained.  The surface can be sanded.  Dead quiet to handle.  Should be stored in a cloth bag to protect the coating.
  • ACRYLIC - Heavy and prone to scratching if not handled carefully but more scratch resistant than Lexan.  If it is smoked it retains privacy while permitting light to flood the cabin.  Noisy to handle.  Looks cool.  Should be stored in a cloth bag to protect the finish.  See photo below. 
  • LEXAN - Heavy and prone to scratching if not handled carefully.  Very shatter resistant. 

The bottom board must be solid to keep cockpit water out of the cabin.  If you want to install a vent, do so through the top of the top board only.  A vent can be inserted as a louvered unit (weaker) or created with a pattern of holes drilled in a downward slope to keep the rain out.   Similarly, slope cut (450) the mating edges of the top and bottom boards.  Remember to cut the slope in the correct direction so water flows into the cockpit!  Round off all corners to 1/4" radius.  It protects the board and minimizes damaging anything you might poke.  You could install a hasp for a lock but I don't like the fact you WILL hit your head on the strap.  There are other creative ways to lock a hatch.

CONSTRUCTION - The easiest and most accurate way to make a drop board that fits the existing tracks is to cut a template from cardboard.  Cut the "bottom" perfectly straight and draw a center line down the middle of the cardboard, perpendicular to the edge.  Write "OUTSIDE" on the cardboard.  Place some alignment marks on the hull (stick masking tape in those spots): center bottom on the hull and center top on the sliding hatch.  Tape makes for easy removal of the marking when the job is done.  Hold the cardboard on the small ledge that supports the bottom board, aligning the cardboard center line to the alignment marks.  Trace out the left edge of the cardboard following the inside of the track.  Cut the cardboard and place in track to check fit.  Similarly trace out the right edge following the inside of that track.  Cut the cardboard and place in tracks to check fit.  If you are happy with the fit, trace the top parallel to the bottom of the sliding hatch.  You must leave a slight gap for the hatch to slide over.  However, if your hatch can be lifted a bit I'd be tempted to cut it higher, for a secure fit.  You can always cut it lower later if needed. 

If you want two boards for easier handling, draw a cut line across the middle, parallel to the top.  Remember to cut at a 450 slope so water flows into the cockpit!   Before cutting the board, consider adding UHMW slides under the sliding hatch as per Tech Tip B04.  Also consider a sectional bug screen of the same size so a drop board can be interchanged with a bug screen.  The board shown here is made of starboard, a product similar to a cutting board.

  • Top width - 32", (81.29 CM)

  • Bottom width - 20 1/4", (51.435 CM)

  • Overall height - 27 1/4", (69.215 CM)

Failing all of this you could trace out the board from another SJ23!  Now why didn't somebody think about this! 

WINTER STORAGE - Depending on the climate you are in, there is merit for having a single board equipped with a large vent.  Its perfect for winter storage.  On Panache I'll make one that fills the top half to rest on the existing bottom acrylic.  The top one will have a tough screen that can stop the squirrels that have shown up recently.  This screen will work in conjunction with a similar one on the forward hatch, all to maintain ventilation.   TOP 

SECURE DROP BOARDS for a STORM - Several SJ23 club members have broached their boats which makes "keeping the fish out of the cabin" a somewhat important consideration.  In the post mortem of the 1979 Fastnet Race, companionways with sloped sides were considered dangerous as it was all too easy for the boards to slide out with the boat lying on her side.  An open companionway makes a boat very vulnerable as a wave can easily find its way below, filling the cabin and sinking the boat.  This is exactly what happened to several of the boats.  The first suggestion was to redesign the companionway with vertical sides but it was soon discovered that it was awkward and time consuming to slide the boards in or out.  This was abandoned in favour of locking the boards down in a sloped companionway track to retain the quick removal/install feature.  On a San Juan 23 you can very easily adopt the same technique. 

Just to give you an idea of how quickly a boat can be swamped, in the spring of 1999 a Holder 20 broached at a regatta in front of Bobby Kawamura.  "The companionway boards were not in place which left a two square foot hole for water to enter the cabin.  The boat was awash in about two minutes and left the crew swimming.  In that short period of time, the hatch sucked in enough water to leave nothing but the stern sticking above the surface.  After seeing the Holder sink so quickly, I put my boards in and closed the sliding hatch.  In future I will be more careful by sailing with the companionway closed in more than moderate conditions.  The Holder design is lighter and more water tight than an SJ23.  In rough weather it would be prudent to: wear a lifejacket, latch the forward hatch and lockers, lock the companionway boards in place and close the sliding hatch as well."  Bobby Kawamura
For more on keeping the fish out of the cabin, see Tech Tip B02.

At least a couple of SJ23 owners on the distribution list have come very close to broaching their boat.  Sail hard and often enough and it may happen to you as well, usually when you don't expect it.  The difference between telling a story at the marina with wet feet versus being rescued from the cold water may be the price and preparation of installing a good lock down system.


Single Cord - Shown here is a diagram of Bobby Kawamura's lock down technique by using a single tether to hold both companionway boards in place.  Drill a 1/4" hole (1) in the upper board, close to the bottom.  Run a 1/4" low stretch line through the hole and tie a figure eight stopper knot on the inside.  Tie the other end of the line (bowline) to a brass trigger snap shackle.  Snap the trigger shackle to an eye strap (2) installed below the bottom board.  The upper board should stay in place by the tension in the line.  The bottom board should not be able to go anywhere as it's held captive by the top board. 

Dual Bungee Cords - An alternative is to hook two strong bungee cords over the top of the upper board with the lower end permanently attached to an eye strap on either side of the companionway.  Panache's have excellent hold down strength and are very secure.  Definitely quick to set and easy to remove, especially from inside the cabin.  I didn't flip Panache upside down to confirm the bungee cords will hold the boards in place!  But I did hang them from the bungee cords to prove they can hold the weight of the boards inside the tracks!  There are also two eye straps close to the top of the molding to store the top hooks, ready for use.  This way I only have to transfer the top hooks from the storage eyes and slip them over the top board.  Quick operation and peace of mind.  I can easily reach them while standing in the cockpit.  I considered a version that would allow me to latch just the lower board but abandoned it with the idea that if the weather conditions are that rough, it merits locking BOTH boards.  A person in the cabin can remove the hooks quite easily for an emergency exit.  The sliding hatch goes right over the hooks without interference.  The bungee cords can be replaced with line tied in place. 
If you prefer to hold the board down with 1/4" line, attach a hook to the top and jam the loose end of the line in a cam cleat at the bottom.  Equip the cam cleat with an eye strap to make the line captive.

Sliding Hatch and a Lock - And finally, if you find yourself bouncing around out there in the slop and you haven't installed a system to secure your drop boards, you should at least close the sliding hatch over the boards!  Then set the hatch lock or use a small karabiner to latch the hatch to the top board.  This holds both boards securely in place, such a simple thing to do yet so often over looked in the panic of the moment. 
Don't lock the escape route for someone in the cabin!  I realize its purely selfish, but that crew could be useful if you have to double reef the mainsail or relieve you!
  Just saying.

  1. See Tech Tip B04 for sealing the front of the sliding hatch. 

If you have another ingenious idea I would appreciate hearing about it.  Please email me.  TOP 

STORE DROP BOARDS WHILE UNDERWAY - Mike Foreman asked, "where does everyone store their boards while underway?  I've tried under a cushion in the cabin but when the boat heels both the boards and the cushions take a hike.  The only place left I can see is the port cockpit locker, which is a catch-all for everything else."

Storing a single drop board while under way is a difficult task, as reported by many.  Thankfully Panache's boards are split in two so I don't have this problem.  While storing a two part board is less of a problem, they are still awkward to handle.  I hate carrying them down the companionway ladder because the passageway is narrow and I'm usually in a hurry for some reason or another.  I have a little rule on board Panache that works well.  It goes like his, "If it's used inside then it must be stored inside.  If it's used outside then it must be stored outside."  The only exception to my rule is the hanked sails stored on the forward berth so they are accessible through the forward hatch.  This has worked pretty well for me in most case as it's stored close to where it is used.  It's a good idea to store things in a convenient place on board a small boat for the times that Mother Nature decides to get a tad nasty.  Anyway the following are good ideas submitted by various people.  Pick the one that suits you best. 

  • D. Wendal - "When I used the split wood companionway boards, I stashed them inside the port cockpit locker, which makes them readily accessible without entering the cabin.  I now use the one-piece fiberglass door and I simply lower it down into the space behind the companionway steps.  It seems to ride just fine there, not noticeable at all until you need it.  Then it's easily positioned from inside the cabin." 
  • My wife made a canvas case for my split teak boards.  They slip in easily.  This keeps them from getting banged up and they don't slide around.  I store them in the galley under the sink.
  • Ron Katz - "I have a set of split boards and I keep them on the port side of the center board cable trunk  I also keep my cooler there under the table.  They both seem to ride well, are easy to get to and never move.  I occasionally use the lower board between the cockpit seats to make a good table by the transom." 
  • Carey Smith - "My original teak plywood boards were split and in bad shape.  I replaced them with a one-piece board I made from high density poly that is impervious to weathering.  A kitchen cutting board is made of the same material.  I store it under one of the forward cabin cushions when underway and it stays put very well." 
  • Betsy and Dave Schultz - "The second owner of our boat made three lovely mahogany drop boards, plus we have the one piece fibreglass cover.  We use the mahogany boards while cruising and I sewed a three pocket storage pouch with extra padding around the latch so they won't scratch each other.  We store them on the cockpit floor standing next to our water tank and box of odd stuff.  They ride safely.  The fibreglass board is used for winter storage." 
  • Bob Schimmel - "For years I stored Panache's two 3/8" thick acrylic drop boards behind the companionway ladder as shown here.  Look closely, they are dark.  Problem is, they are cumbersome to carry down the ladder if its rough in the anchorage.  While the boards don't move, they are in the way when I have to get under the cockpit.  This is the one of the reasons why I added the support stick under the companionway steps (Tech Tip C11).  The rubbing is starting to show its wear on the teak doors behind the ladder.  Then I discovered a new place to store them.  See below."  

DROP BOARD STORAGE - I discovered unused storage space in the starboard cockpit locker that was created when I removed the bottom of the locker as per Tech Tip B02.  I only discovered this in 2018 since it is out of sight.

I also store my wet fenders and guest life jackets in this locker so I fabricated a 1/4" plywood divider to protect and secure the acrylic drop boards.  The divider is hinged at the bottom and is fastened at the top with 2 loops of bungee cord.  When open it provides ready access to the drop boards.  When closed it provides full access to the rest of the locker.  A strip of rug at the bottom protects the edge of the acrylic and a small towel draped over the top board prevents the latch from scraping the adjacent board.

The best part is that its a very protective place for the drop boards and extremely easy to place them there. 


- Shown above is the starboard locker (looking forward) with the drop boards held captive by the plywood divider.   The open space on the inside wall was previously closed off with 3/8" plywood to keep locker stuff from sliding under the cockpit.  The plywood has 1" ventilation holes.

Lastly I installed a vinyl grate on the bottom of the locker to keep things high and dry by promoting ventilation.

- Below is the plywood divider doing a nice job of holding the acrylic drop boards. 


Two bungee cords (hooks on the top and loops at the bottom) hold the plywood snug to the inside of the locker.  The divider hinges are fastened to a hockey stick handle screwed to the locker floor.  This keeps the divider high & dry, the rug from sliding away and the grit out of the hinges.  The stick is coated with WEST epoxy to keep the water out and the plywood is coated with Sikkens Cetol for protection.  The divider is supported in the open position by a single line to keep it upright for placing the drop boards.  Finally a simple effective way to eliminate another piece of cabin clutter.


The perimeter of both locker lids were sealed with foam tape to keep water out.  The hinge side of the lids required a double thickness to close the 1/4" gap.  This may seem like overkill but it also provides support for the lid and relieves the hinges of some undue strain.  TOP 


DROP BOARD RAILS - Panache's original drop board and sliding hatch rails were made of teak.  Unfortunately the teak was pretty beat up when I bought the boat so opted to replace them with aluminum rails painted black to match the factory anodized toe rails.  The overall colour scheme looked good, BUT in a full Alberta sun, they get hot as hell, something I never accounted for.  When I grab around the rails to pull myself out of the cabin, OUCH!  I instantly let go as the metal is way too hot for my fingers.  So at the risk of offending the masses with a sacrilegious act, I lightened the colour to save my skin. 

As usual, roughen up the old paint till dull, wipe with acetone, then spray paint with light even coats to prevent paint wrinkling.  You can achieve a very smooth finish if you sand lightly between coats to remove bumps.  Hang in the sun or a warm furnace room to bake for a few days before installing on the boat.  Seal around the screw holes to keep water out. 

The drop board and sliding hatch rails are now a gloss white that is several shades lighter than the gel coat, looking like this brochure photo.  This is a tough automotive enamel paint (expanding and contracting with temperature) so it will be easy to wash the grime that dirty hands leave.  I'm happy to report they stay cool in the hot sun. 


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