Capsize Recovery on a Small Sailboat

CAPSIZING is when a boat tips over onto its side or even TURTLES, which means it might flip completely upside down. It is not a big deal on a small sailboat and a lot of my students enjoy an occasional capsize, especially on a hot day.

A Capsized Sailboat that has Turtledt
A Capsized Sailboat that has Turtled

So, if you made a mistake and did not hike to the high side after a tack or jibe, or you did not ease the main after a heavy gust of wind, and you suddenly find yourself in the water, you will need to know how to quickly right your sailboat:

Righting a Capsized Small Sailboat

First of all — STAY WITH THE BOAT. It will float. If you need help, it is easier for rescuers to find a boat than to find a swimmer.Start on the top side of the boat (the side the sail and mast are on) and check the following, from bow to stern after a capsize:

A. Make sure the centerboard or Daggerboard Is Extended All The Way out or down.

B. Make sure the Mainsheet And Jib Sheet Are Released (and not tangled), otherwise once the boat is righted, it will be under power and may sail away or blow over again before you can get back on.

C. Make sure the Tiller Is Not Tangled in the bridle line or traveler at the stern of the boat.

  1. Try to Maneuver The Bow Into The Wind. This will help blow the water off the sail as the boat is righted. The less water on the sail, the easier it will be to right a capsized sailboat.
  2. If your boat has a jib, furl it in, if possible.
  3. While keeping in contact with the boat, swim around to the bottom side of the boat.
  4. Pull Down On The Bottom Tip Of The Extended Daggerboard, using it as a lever to right the boat.  If that does not work, you may have to climb up and stand on the very end tip of the daggerboard to provide as much leverage as needed. With your feet on the end of the daggerboard, reach over to the side of the boat and push your feet down as you pull up on the side to right the boat.

    A small sailor may find it is necessary to climb on top of the daggerboard to use every pound of possible weight. But if you cannot seem to pull yourself up, toss the free end of the mainsheet over to bottom side, next to the side edge of the daggerboard, and use the line to help pull yourself up.
Pull On Daggerboard to Right
Pull Down On Daggerboard to Right the Boat

When the boat pops back up right, pull yourself in. Then for balance, if necessary, quickly make your way to the windward side (the high side) of the boat. Once you are safely in and have the boat balanced and under control, make sure there are no dangerous objects that you may be blown into. Then take a few moments to relax; and look around for any valuable objects that may be floating in the water.

Note: If your sailboat turtles, or turns completely upside down, the process is basically the same. However, you may have to climb on top of the bottom of sailboat and from there, grab the end tip of the daggerboard. If you find it too difficult to climb up, you may use the rudder housing as a step. Once on top of the bottom, slowly pull the tip of the daggerboard to the lee side, until the boat rolls back over and up.

I hope this blog on how to recover from 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