A strake is a longitudinal strip along the side of a boat, usually constructed by laying panels end to end. Strakes are important structural components of boats of all sizes and can be made from wood, metal, fiberglass, and other building materials. When a ship is designed, the layout of strakes is considered ahead of time to make sure panels of the right size and shape are cut, with the goal of minimal wastage and an even, aesthetically pleasing appearance.
The strake can be seen in two different shipbuilding techniques. On a clinker built ship, panels are overlapped with each other to create the exterior hull. This design was famously used by the Vikings to build very durable ships with minimal weight. A carvel built ship uses an internal frame to support a network of panels laid flush with each other. In each case, the strake consists of a full line of panels from end to end.
Typically, the design narrows and widens strakes along the length of the hull in response to the changing shape. Sometimes, two strakes narrow down to a single panel, called a stealer, if the end of the boat is much smaller than the middle. Many boats have an extra panel at around the height of the dock to absorb impact and prevent damage to the hull during docking procedures.
Some strakes have special names, depending on their position along the hull. The very top strip is known as the sheer strake, while the panel next to the keel is the garboard strake. Boating companies may also use the term “strake” to refer to a strip added to increase control and speed. This is not an integral part of the hull, but an added component that will jut out from the finished boat. These are usually found on the bottom of the boat and can cut down on spray, a concern for some recreational boaters.
Over the coarse of a ship's lifetime, it will be necessary to periodically haul the ship out of water to inspect and maintain the hull. This can include replacing worn and damaged panels along with scrubbing the whole ship down and repainting to keep out water. Poorly maintained boats will eventually start to take on water and lose their buoyancy. Damaged hulls can also be more vulnerable to catastrophic failure in rough seas and collisions due to their increased weakness and lack of structural support.