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Old 07-26-2001
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Capsized Boat

Is there an easy way to deal with a capsized boat, i.e. uprighting it and getting it back ashore?

Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for your question. The answer here really depends on what size boat you're talking about and the conditions you're sailing in. Little boats like Lasers, Hobie Cats, and Sunfish capsize all the time and it's not too difficult to get them upright again because their hulls are sealed and they usually don't take on too much water. With beach cats, it's a little more involved, but a technique using a spare line attached to the masthead and the crew on the weather-side hull has proven effective. 

Smaller boats are usually characterized as self-righting and non-self righting. The former you can usually get back up by yourself, and the latter you most often can't. If you've got a small centerboard or daggerboard boat, you can use that appendage to leverage the boat back upright. Usually you start from the hull side and get your feet on the submerged rail and your hands on the board. Doing this, you can use your weight to leverage the boat so that the mast comes to a point parallel the water's surface. At that stage you want to get your body weight (and that of your crew as well if you're sailing with more than one person) on the board and then eventually leverage the boat upright. 

In strong winds, you need to be careful because some boats have the tendency to come upright and flip back over the other way with their momentum. If your mast is to leeward, most boats will simply come upright and you can scramble aboard. Make sure you have the mainsheet and the jibsheet eased as the boat comes up so that it will naturally head into the wind.

Once you scramble aboard, be prepared to grab the helm so that you can keep the boat into the wind until you've sorted everything out and are ready to resume sailing.


I race a lot on an E-Scow, which is a 28-foot boat with twin bilgeboards. What we do when the boat capsizes is immediately get two or three crew out on the weather side bilgeboard. In the mean time, the helmsman runs on the mainsail (that's right runs) out to the tip of the mast and jumps into the water to lift it out. It helps if he or she is wearing a life jacket because the extra buoyancy contributes to the lift.

As the crew on the rail leverage the boat back upright, the helmsman releases the masthead and slides down the shrouds, being careful not to restrain the boat from righting itself. As the boat comes up, the other crew scramble from the board onto the boat. All of this needs to happen quickly on an E-Scow or it will take on too much water and become submerged. That may not be the case for you if you sail a Laser or a Sunfish, but watch out if you've got a Thistle or a Snipe or a Lightning.

Now on most larger boats, like standard keelboats, the vessel should right itself in the majority of capsize incidents. However, the hull characteristics of the boat and the wind and wave conditions at the time are important factors. Occasionally, after a 180-degree capsize, a boat may remain upside down and be stationary in that position.

If you do sail a smaller boat that is likely to capsize, it's always wise to be prepared for such a possibility. I recommend going out on a calm day in some protected water and try to capsize the boat on purpose so that you can familiarize yourself with what you need to do to bring it back upright. Be careful to wear a life jacket when you do this so that you don't put ourself in harm's way, and better yet, have a motorboat standing by to assist. I hope this information helps. Good luck sailing.

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