A Couple of Capsize Recovery Tips

Appropriate capsize recovery techniques vary by wind speed, and there are several methods available for righting the boat  in situations where the wind is high and you are unable to keep the boat from re-capsizing. However if you can recover without setting the anchor or having a crew member swim around to the bow to line the boat up into the wind, the recovery will be quicker and easier.

To recover on the first attempt (without re-capsizing) with the least effort in the broadest range of conditions, here are two very useful tips.

First, uncleat the gnav/vang (in addition to the mainsheet & jib), as this will reduce the effect of the wind on the sail when the boat comes back up.

Second, while up on the gunwhale, before stepping onto the centerboard, consider what effect the wind direction will have on the boat once it comes up, and plan the effect the arrangement of your and your crew's weight will have on the boat's balance at that point.

  • If the mast is pointing away from the wind/hull is towards the wind, the crew will be on the downwind side when the boat comes up. Tell the crew to just hang on to the bungees under the gunwhale when the boat comes up, and then come around to the stern to get back in afterwards; when the boat comes up, the person on the centerboard tries their hardest to at least get half way over the gunwhale so as to keep the upwind side weighted down.
  • If the mast is pointed towards the wind (a situation in which a double capsize is very common), the crew will be on the upwind side when the boat comes up. Have them hang onto the hiking straps as the boat comes up so their bodies are draped over the gunwhale. If they  weigh enough--taking the wind's power into account changes the meaning of 'enough'--the person on the centerboard can dry recover, particularly if he/she scrambles quickly across to the upwind side. If the crew is lighter than the person on the centerboard, the person on the centerboard should plan to go down into the water and get back into the boat from the stern (holding on to the boat at all times). 

Under almost all capsize conditions where you're not right by a lee shore or dock, the person on the gunwhale can take as long as they want to consider the situation and to discuss it with the rest of the crew. 

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Comments 7

Yves Parent on Monday, 18 August 2014 23:21

In addition, Seamus's trick to easily board from the stern works very well. In this push yourself down in the water and use the momentum you get while popping back up to help pulling yourself back in.

In addition, Seamus's trick to easily board from the stern works very well. In this push yourself down in the water and use the momentum you get while popping back up to help pulling yourself back in.
Francisco Kattan on Wednesday, 20 August 2014 09:30

Nice post, thank you. What is the ideal position of the outhaul during capsize recovery? Tight or loose? and why?

Nice post, thank you. What is the ideal position of the outhaul during capsize recovery? Tight or loose? and why?
Michael Sherrell on Wednesday, 20 August 2014 10:28

Francisco, never gave the outhaul any thought. It is only tensioned under full sail, of course. If blowing the gnav/vang helps, I would assume that uncleating the outhaul would also help, but adding another task of dubious utility to what the wet, possibly stressed crew has to do strikes me as too much trouble. Not to mention that amid all the hassle of reorganizing the boat upon recovery, recleating the outhaul might be overlooked -- people usually don't notice that the bow painter is trailing, for example.
As far as furling the jib while the boat is over, I find the additional task to usually be an unnecessary refinement -- a blown jib offers no more wind resistance than a furled one. In high wind they do make so much noise after recovery that they can add noticeably to the general stress level, and if reorganization is taking a while and someone can conveniently furl it, I ask them to. Unfurled, it can often get wrapped around the jibstay and be a pain to unwrap, so it's a step not without some value.

Francisco, never gave the outhaul any thought. It is only tensioned under full sail, of course. If blowing the gnav/vang helps, I would assume that uncleating the outhaul would also help, but adding another task of dubious utility to what the wet, possibly stressed crew has to do strikes me as too much trouble. Not to mention that amid all the hassle of reorganizing the boat upon recovery, recleating the outhaul might be overlooked -- people usually don't notice that the bow painter is trailing, for example. As far as furling the jib while the boat is over, I find the additional task to usually be an unnecessary refinement -- a blown jib offers no more wind resistance than a furled one. In high wind they do make so much noise after recovery that they can add noticeably to the general stress level, and if reorganization is taking a while and someone can conveniently furl it, I ask them to. Unfurled, it can often get wrapped around the jibstay and be a pain to unwrap, so it's a step not without some value.
Francisco Kattan on Thursday, 21 August 2014 10:48

Thanks Mike. You wrote: " If blowing the gnav/vang helps, I would assume that uncleating the outhaul would also help." This is not intuitively obvious to me. It would be good to get confirmation. Blowing the gnav/vang normally helps depower the main sail by creating twist at the top, reducing the heeling force. Uncleating the outhaul normally has the opposite effect. It creates more power on the sail, increasing the heeling force.

You have a good point -- it is probably not significant in most situations. But it would be nice to know which is ideal in worst case conditions. For example, I have found that in very high wind conditions furling the jib actually does help (compared to simply blowing it). A furled jib offers less windage and found it easier to upright the boat. I found this out when practicing unconscious man-over-board recovery, when the weight of the victim was also acting to prevent a full upright of the boat.

Thanks Mike. You wrote: " If blowing the gnav/vang helps, I would assume that uncleating the outhaul would also help." This is not intuitively obvious to me. It would be good to get confirmation. Blowing the gnav/vang normally helps depower the main sail by creating twist at the top, reducing the heeling force. Uncleating the outhaul normally has the opposite effect. It creates more power on the sail, increasing the heeling force. You have a good point -- it is probably not significant in most situations. But it would be nice to know which is ideal in worst case conditions. For example, I have found that in very high wind conditions furling the jib actually does help (compared to simply blowing it). A furled jib offers less windage and found it easier to upright the boat. I found this out when practicing unconscious man-over-board recovery, when the weight of the victim was also acting to prevent a full upright of the boat.
Michael Sherrell on Thursday, 21 August 2014 11:23

Francisco, doubtless the club mavens/theoreticians have a clearcut answer to the outhaul issue, but here is my take. First, I believe that loosening the gnav reduces the force of the sail on the boat not so much by spilling wind from the top of the sail, but more by letting the force of the wind raise the boom rather than transferring that force to the mast, and in addition by reducing the cross section of the sail against the wind as the boom rises. I would expect loosening the outhaul would do a little of the same: the cross section of the sail will be a bit smaller as the clew comes in a bit; the loosened sail can absorb gusts a bit more easily; and a bit of wind will escape between the foot of the sail and the boom.
In "worst case scenarios", though, I think these effects would not justify the attention required, as under these conditions people are probably stressed, wet, and tired: typically people resort to these extreme measures only after several re-capsizes have shown that easier moves are insufficient. If more substantial measures are called for, I would think the next move would be lowering the main, which itself requires considerable effort while in the water.

Francisco, doubtless the club mavens/theoreticians have a clearcut answer to the outhaul issue, but here is my take. First, I believe that loosening the gnav reduces the force of the sail on the boat not so much by spilling wind from the top of the sail, but more by letting the force of the wind raise the boom rather than transferring that force to the mast, and in addition by reducing the cross section of the sail against the wind as the boom rises. I would expect loosening the outhaul would do a little of the same: the cross section of the sail will be a bit smaller as the clew comes in a bit; the loosened sail can absorb gusts a bit more easily; and a bit of wind will escape between the foot of the sail and the boom. In "worst case scenarios", though, I think these effects would not justify the attention required, as under these conditions people are probably stressed, wet, and tired: typically people resort to these extreme measures only after several re-capsizes have shown that easier moves are insufficient. If more substantial measures are called for, I would think the next move would be lowering the main, which itself requires considerable effort while in the water.
Francisco Kattan on Friday, 22 August 2014 12:04

Thanks for sharing Mike!

Thanks for sharing Mike!
John Bongiovanni on Sunday, 24 August 2014 20:26

With a sharp enough crew, I've found the following works with the mast downwind. Tell the crew to keep their legs under the hiking straps to scoop them in, but as the boat comes up lean forward into the cockpit.

With a sharp enough crew, I've found the following works with the mast downwind. Tell the crew to keep their legs under the hiking straps to scoop them in, but as the boat comes up lean forward into the cockpit.