Avoid Capsizing a Small Sailboat

CAPSIZING is when a boat tips over onto its side or even TURTLES, which means it might flip completely upside down. For a small sailboat sailor, this is often simply part of learning how to sail. You make a mistake and you might get wet. Then you must right the boat, get back in and start sailing again. We’ll cover righting the boat in a future blog. It’s not very hard, and a lot of my students enjoy an occasional capsize, especially on a hot day. So, for now, let’s look at how to prevent a capsize:

  1. Hiking on a WindmillSit Facing The Sail. When the wind blows the sail to one side of the boat, the boat will HEEL or lean in that direction. You should counterbalance this force by sitting opposite the sail. This is especially important when the sail moves from one side of the boat to the other side during a TACK (turning into the wind). If you do not quickly duck under the boom and change sides as the sail moves, there is a chance of capsizing if your body remains on the side the sail is being blown to, on the side that the boat is now leaning.
  2. HIKE or lean out on the high side (the windward side, opposite the sail) if the wind causes the boat to heel too much to one side. Sometimes you have to lean way out, with your head and shoulders out over the water as you balance the boat. It’s fun. Enjoy the ride! You can hook your feet under a hiking strap if it is available.
Hiking Strap Opti
Hiking Strap on an Opti
Hiking Strap Sunfish
Hiking Strap on a Sunfish
  1. When In Doubt – Let It Out! If a sudden gust threatens to knock the boat over, ease out the mainsheet or jib sheet part way, to spill the excess wind out of sail.
  2. Move The Tiller Slightly Towards The Sail to point the bow a little closer to the wind, and let the sail flutter a little to slow the boat down if a sudden gust threatens to knock the boat over.
  3. Do CONTROLLED JIBES. On a jibe (turning downwind to the side the sail is on), the boom travels a longer distance and never slows in the center of the boat, as it does with a tack. Therefore, during a jibe, the boom can come across with a dangerous momentum because the wind is always behind it as the boat turns downwind. So, before jibing, it is wise to reduce the distance the boom can travel by first pulling in your mainsheet, as you slowly turn downwind. Then you can slowly let the sail back out after you complete the turn.
  4. Do NOT Let The Bow Dig Into The Water. If the bow starts to dip too deep into the water, it may PITCH POLE and roll end over end, and then capsize. To prevent this, if you see your bow dip, sit back further in the boat to lift the bow higher, or change your heading to prevent the wind from forcing the bow down.

I hope this blog on how to avoid a capsize has been helpful. If you like the way the information in these blogs are presented, consider buying Learn Sailing Fun and Easy: With Memory Tips and Water Riddles on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Learn-Sailing-Fun-Easy-Riddles/dp/B0892DP7FW