Sailing – Learn the limits by capsizing

It happens to all of us and it is not necessarily a bad thing: capsizing.

Most Olympic sailors agree: “if you have never capsized in your life you don’t know where the limits are”! Obviously some boats are not made for capsizing, but most of the dinghies can be easily capsized without any damage. And even thought you might not be interested in races and only sail for fun, it is still very useful to know the limits of your boat. This will increase the joy and safety on the water.


As the biggest part of our followers is sailing in lasers or optimists we will continue to focus on the one-person dinghy. For the one-person dinghy it is normally no problem to capsize. The most important thing is the reaction of the sailor. If you don’t panic and know what to do, you can easily bring the boat upright and keep on sailing.

2 options

In most situations your boat will capsize to leeward. If you’re sailing upwind and get hit by a strong gust, the boat can easily heel over or even capsize to leeward. The same goes for reaching. Especially if the kicker is too tight (laser sailing), your boom can easily hit the water and make the boat capsize.

To bring the boat upright again you need to use the centreboard. Make sure the centreboard is completely down. Than place your feet against the side of the boat and your arms around the centreboard. Keep this position until the boat slowly starts to come upright again. If necessary you can climb on the centreboard to get the boat upright. Make sure you do not stand on the rear side of the centreboard. This part is very vulnerable and can easily be damaged.

When sailing downwind it is possible to capsize your boat to windward. The first time this happens can be a bit scary. It is usually unexpected and you allmost always end up, head first, in the water. Remember, when you fall out of the boat, always hang on to your sheet! If you let go, the sail wil remail full and you will end up swimming after your boat...

The steps to bring the boat upright again are the same:

    1. Swim around to the centreboard
    2. Bring the centreboard all the way down
    3. Place your feet to the side of the boat and your arms around the centreboard
    4. Hold this position until the boat comes upright
    5. Climb on the centreboard if necessary
    6. Get in your boat and enjoy sailing!

Advanced tip

Sometimes, when you're fast enough, you can manage to climb onto the centreboard without getting wet! This of course saves a lot of time and energy, not having to swim and pull yourself up onto the centreboard. Pulling the boat upright again is a bit harder though. Most likely the boat is still heading downwind. And because the sheet was eased during the crash, the boom is out, and the sail full. If you pull the boat upright like that, you'll end up sailing downwind right away, with a full sail and you sitting on the wrong side. Another crash guaranteed...
Before you start pulling the boat upright, grab the sheet on the back of the boat and pull it in so that the boom falls into the water. This stops the boat sailing downwind. You can now pull the boat upright, but watch out... most likely your boat has "gybed" during the capsize. So the top of the mast is heading towards the wind and when you pull the boat upright, you're still on the wrong side. So when pulling the boat upright, try to feel when the mast is coming out of the water and the wind is pushing the mast up. At that point step into the boat, duck under the boom(!) and jump to the other side to prevent the boat from capsizing again.

capsize to windward

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