Just yesterday I capsized my Sunfish (a small beginners sailboat), and managed to get back underway, considerably dampened, only a few minutes later. Flipping a sailboat was one of my main fears in learning to sail, so I sought the advice of experts in what to do. Now that I have personally tested their advice and found it sound, I present to you the steps to get back underway as quickly as possible.
As soon as the tip of your mast goes under water, you need to begin the process. A friend of mine claims that he is so quick at righting a Laser (a small, but very speedy sailboat) that he can do it all without even getting wet.
- Ensure that your crew is safe and happy. Anyone who came along with you as a guest may be a bit anxious, especially if this is their first capsize. If they are alright, then go ahead and laugh a little. It is only water after all.
- Get around to what should be the bottom of the boat (the hull) and stand on the centerboard as soon as possible. The centerboard runs straight out of the bottom of the boat, and applying weight to it will start putting the bottom of the boat where it belongs - on the bottom. This will probably right the boat immediately, but if not, it will at least keep the boat from completely flipping upside down (turning turtle). Unfortunately my Sunfish had a daggerboard, and it fell out, which left me with nothing to stand on, and concern for where my daggerboard went to.
- Make sure that all the ropes (sheets) that you had fastened (cleated) to hold the sails in a steady position are now loose. You don't want to be battling the wind to see who is strongest.
- Pump your weight to get momentum working in your favor.
- If the boat is being stubborn, point it directly into the wind to minimize the winds effect.
- As soon as you get the boat back upright, help each other aboard. Let the sails flutter (luff) in the wind. There is plenty of time to get back under sail after everyone has had a chance to laugh at their wet clothing.
And don't worry about sinking. Modern boats are built with positive boyancy, meaning they won't sink even if completely flooded. Certainly, as a beginning sailor, you will either be in a large keelboat (which is practically impossible to capsize) or a small dinghy (which is easy to right).