Gybing (or jibing) refers to changing the direction of a sailboat by passing the stern through the wind causing the sails to move rapidly from one side of the boat to the other. When sailing downwind (or running), a sailboat can accidently gybe, causing the boom to quickly, and dangerously, fly across the boat, hitting any unsuspecting crew members in the head. For this reason, a sailor should constantly be aware of the direction of the wind, especially when sailing on this point of sail. Whenever possible, a gybe should be done under control with plenty of warning to minimize the dangers to any unwary crew members.
Before you practice gybing, you should be very familiar with How to Tack. Tacking involves passing the bow of the boat into the wind and is far gentler on the novice sailor. Nevertheless, at some point in your sailing career you will need to gybe your boat, so your best bet is to start practicing as soon as you are comfortable with tacking. Here are some basic steps to perform a controlled gybe on your sailboat.
1. Start by positioning your boat on a broad reach or a run (see The Points of Sail). Take a moment to observe any obstacles, keeping in mind that you will be turning away from the wind. It is likely that the position of your sails is blocking your view of the direction you will be turning so be extra careful to look before you turn the boat.
2. Alert your crew of your intentions to gybe by calling out the command: "ready to gybe." When prepared, your crew should respond "ready." At this point your mainsail and boom are likely let all the way out to capture the most wind.
3. You are now ready to gybe. Call out the command: "gybe-ho," and turn the boat gently away from the wind (if steering with a tiller, push the tiller away from the sails). At the same time, quickly pull the mainsheet which will bring mainsail in to the center of the boat. In some conditions, pulling in your sail may stop your boat from turning. If this happens try waiting a few extra seconds before pulling in your sail.
4. As the boat turns away from the wind, your sails will rapidly shift from one side of the boat to the other. If your main sail was not pulled in all the way, this is the point where the boom will fly across the boat, so beware. Once your jib starts to change sides, you can pull in the leeward sheets and ease the windward sheets.
5. After you have passed your sails, straighten out your steering and adjust your sails to your new point of sail. Make sure you are aware of any new obstacles on your new course.
When you tack your boat, you are generally on a close hauled point of sail and your crew must switch sides of the boat to maintain balance. When you gybe, your boat is most likely on a broad reach or a run and the crew is positioned on both sides of the boat to help balance the vessel. Following a gybe it is often necessary for crew to shift to new positions in the boat; however, this does not need to occur as rapidly as when you are tacking.