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Learning to Sail: How to Right a Capsized Boat

By Edited Dec 28, 2015 0 0

If you sail a small sailboat, or are learning to sail a small boat, it is only a matter of time before you capsize. Learning to right a capsized boat is an important skill for a sailor. This article will give a few methods and tips on how to capsize and how to right a small sailboat with a centerboard. You should practice capsizing in calm weather so when it happens by accident, you are prepared.

How to Capsize

To capsize your boat, put your boat on a beam reach or close hauled point of sail (for more information on the points of sail, click here). While steering forward and keeping the sail in tight, shift your weight to the leeward (lower) side of the boat. Do not cleat the sheet as this will make it more difficult to right the boat. Simply shifting your weight may be enough to capsize the boat if there is a little wind. If this doesn't cause your boat to capsize, hold on to the hiking strap or other object in the cockpit and lean your weight over the side of the boat. If this still does not cause your boat to capsize, hold the boom and push down by applying your weight. At this point, your boat will capsize and lie on its side with the mast along the surface of the water, or it will turtle and turn upside down so the mast points straight down. If you are in very shallow water, as soon as the boat starts to capsize get into the water so you don't turtle your boat.

Righting a Capsized Boat

Your boat has now tipped over and you are most likely in the water. To right the boat, swim around the stern of the boat to the centerboard: this avoids swimming over the mast, sail, and lines. Pulling down on the centerboard may be enough to right the boat. If this doesn't work, grab the very end of the centerboard and pull down while putting your feet on the underwater part of the hull. If this still doesn't work, climb onto the centerboard and stand on the very end while pulling on the side of the boat. When the boat rights itself, pull yourself back in using anything you can find.

If there are two people, the second person should remain on the inside of the boat and hold onto the hiking straps or another object on the inside of the boat. As the boat rights, this person will be scooped into the boat.

Righting a Turtled Boat

If your boat is turtled, you will need to climb onto the upside down hull. Hopefully the centerboard is sticking straight up – if it is not, you will need to reach under the boat and put the centerboard back in place. Standing on the side of the boat, pull down on the centerboard. It may take a moment, but the boat should start to right. Once the boat is on its side, follow the directions above.

The Walk-Over Method

Once you have practiced righting your boat, and you can sense when your boat is going to capsize, you can learn the walk-over method so you don't get wet! At the moment your boat capsizes, you should step up and swing your leg over the side of the boat so you are straddling the side of the boat. You will have one foot on the centerboard and the other foot hanging in the cockpit of the boat. If you don't step over quickly, your weight on the boat is likely to turtle the boat. Once you are sitting on the side, you can step over onto the centerboard and right the boat. Just as the mast rises out of the water, swing your leg back over the side of the boat and pull yourself into the cockpit. It may be helpful to hold onto a line to help pull yourself quickly into the boat. This maneuver takes practice and time, so if you get wet the first few times, don't give up.


There are a few things that can go wrong when you are trying to right your boat. Here are some tips and troubleshooting advice.

If your boat won't right even when you are standing on the end of the centerboard:

  • Check that the mainsheet is not cleated or wrapped around something. This can cause the sail to remain filled with water and you will have to pull against this extra weight. If the sail is loose, the boom should loosen as you right the boat and the water should dump out.
  • If your boat still won't right, literally put your toes on the end of the centerboard and lightly bounce.
  • If your boat still won't right, get in the water and position your boat so it is facing into the wind and try to right your boat again.
  • If your boat still won't right, and you are a small person with a heavy boat, you may need more weight or a second person.

If your boat capsizes again as soon as you right it, try the following things:

  • Make sure your boat is pointed into the wind before you try to right it
  • If you are using the walk-over method, try stepping over earlier
  • If you have 2 people, make sure one person is holding onto something inside the cockpit. This persons weight will help to balance the boat.
  • If you are alone, as soon as the boat begins to right, remove your weight from the centerboard either by stepping over or jumping in the water.

If your boat is turtled, turn it onto its side before you right your boat

  • If your boat starts to sail as soon as you right it:
  • Check that your sails are free and are not cleated or caught. Sometimes the mainsheet can get caught around the rudder or tiller.
  • Make sure you are not holding onto the mainsheet
  • Turn the bow of your boat into the wind.

If the centerboard comes out of the boat:

  • Swim around to the inside of the boat and push the centerboard back into the slot.
  • If the centerboard is still in the slot, you can pull it until it is all the way in.
  • If the boat is turtled, locate the centerboard and push it back into the slot. If this doesn't work, you can swim under the boat. The cockpit should provide a pocket of air you can use when you are trying to put the centerboard back in the boat.


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