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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Pump your weight to get momentum working in your favor.
  5. If the boat is being stubborn, point it directly into the wind to minimize the winds effect.
  6. 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).

Now...go sailing!

The holy grail of small dinghy sailing is being able to right your boat quickly and without getting soaked. In something as small as a laser, it is not too hard; the procedure is something like this:
  1. As you feel the boat going over, get ready to slide from the edge of the hull where you (well, you should be if the wind is strong enough to capsize you) are sitting to the side of the hull (which will be the highest point on the boat once the (capsize) is complete).
  2. As the boat goes over cast off the main sheet and make sure it is as loose as possible.
  3. Move onto the side of the hull as the boat goes over. Make sure you shift your weight quickly enough that you do not make the boat turn turtle, it is impossible to right an upside down boat without getting wet!
  4. Once you are on the top of the boat, lean over and put your hand on the centreboard and start to shift your weight until you feel the boat start to come up, these are very light boats so it should be possible without having to stand or hang on the centreboard.
  5. As the boat comes up, slide back into the hull, avoiding the water as it flies up to meet you.
  6. Bail out and get back in the race.
There, you should be (mostly) dry and back on your way without losing too much time. I strongly recommend that this is tried in controlled, calm conditions until you get the hang of it.

Most open dinghies are very easy to right however boats that lean towards speed tend to be harder to right. My C-13 is very hard to right without getting wet, It"s so wide that there is a 2 and a half foot drop over the side to stand on the daggerboard instead of the foot or so that a laser has. Hollow masts are common on most boats now and most aren't sealed meaning they fill with water and make it harder for beginners and people in a hurry to right the boat because of the extra weight so far away from the boat. I filled the truck of my mast with about 3 feet of Styrofoam and now the tip is buoyant preventing the boat from turtling. To add Styrofoam to your mast you"ll need:

  • Styrofoam block
  • tools to shape it
  • screwdriver remove the mast cap
  • a hammer and a wooden 2x2 to push in the Styrofoam
  1. Remove the mast cap.
  2. draw the cross sectional shape of the mast onto the Styrofoam block at both ends.
  3. shape the block so it just about matches the shape of the mast. It"s better to be a little big than too small. I used a bandsaw and a surform plane but a hot wire would be better or what ever you have laying around will do.
  4. Push the Styrofoam plug that you made into the mast it needs to fit snugly.
  5. Replace the mast cap.

You're done, go out and sail with confidence. This has the added benefit of making the top of your mast watertight which means that water from your mast won"t drain into your bilge, that means your boat won"t want to capsize because of the water falling to leeward.

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