Capsizing is easy! Its getting back again that requires a little more thought. Don't worry about capsizing a well maintained modern racing boat in a secure environment like a good club with rescue boat facilities like ours. Everyone does it, especially in the faster boats, and if you never capsize you probably aren't trying hard enough. Because modern fast boats will capsize regularly that's why you should always sail them where there are good rescue facilities. But I digress...
RULE 1: Always stay with the boat, and hold on to something. If you let go the boat will be blown away by the wind faster than you can swim.
RULE 2: Never be under the boat. If it is turtling, make sure you are clear while still holding on. There is virtually no airspace under most modern dinghies.
The easiest method is called the "scoop" method, in which the helmsman pulls the boat up with the crew already in. The crew can then balance the boat so the helm can get in as well.
- When a capsize is inevitable (boat filling up with water, sail hitting the water, still tipping) let yourselves fall into the water. You will then be alongside the boat between sail and hull. If you try and hold on too long then you will pull the boat upside down, which means it will take much longer to right.
- Helm - paddle towards the transom. Untangle your feet from any ropes, make sure the crew is still above the water and talking to you (if the crew thinks it was your fault they may be talking very firmly!). Grab the end of the mainsheet (so you have something to hold on to) and paddle round until you can grab the centreboard.
- Crew - check the helmsman is still above the water and talking to you. Don't blame them for their silly mistake yet, this is best done in the bar post race after they have bought the drinks. Make sure that the centreboard is fully down. Disentangle anything obvious, and go to the transom to steady the boat while the helm gets to the board. When the helm is at the daggerboard get back to the middle of the boat, untangle the jib sheet on the high side of the boat, and throw it over to the helm.
- Helm - using the jib sheet to help if necessary, climb onto the board.
- Crew - lie down in the water, sort of in the boat, but not pulling down on it, holding onto a toe-strap or something handy.
- Helm - stand on the board close to the boat, and lean back on the jib sheet. The boat will start to come up. If you jump on the end of the board it may well break! The boat will start to come upright, with crew in it. As the boat comes right upright you will usually be able to scramble over the deck, otherwise grab the gunwhale and hold on.
- Crew - when the boat is upright balance it and help the helm get in if necessary. On low-transom boats, this is easiest over the back; keep the tiller across so the boat turns into wind, as the helm holding the back will make it bear away otherwise.
- Both - now get sailing again!
Many singlehanded boats float quite high in the water, and those that do can be a little more awkward to right. You also don't have the crew to help you. So techniques change slightly. Most important of all, don't get separated from the boat.
If possible, as the sail hits the water, grab the gunwhale on the high side of the boat, clamber onto the topside of the boat and onto the daggerboard. You've got to be very quick about this, all the boat will go upside-down, but its well worth it!
You are now on the daggerboard, and can pull the boat up. As there is no jibsheet pull on the gunwhale. For obvious reasons don't use the mainsheet!
If you don't get onto the high side then you will need to get round the boat onto the plate, keeping hold of the mainsheet just like you do with the two hander.
Some singlehanders, especially the wider ones, are fitted with "righting lines". These are dead good! Basically there's a rope strung along the gunwhale, usually on a bit of elastic to keep it tidy. You can use this, just like the jib sheet, in order to get more leverage and pull the boat up more easily.Diagram - Lifting the mast to get the sail downwind of the hull.
Before you pull the boat up check the wind direction. If the mast is on the windward side of the boat (as it may be if you've taken a long time getting ready, then when you pull the boat up the wind will catch under the sail and blow it straight over on top of you again, which is irritating. I find the best thing to do - and this takes a little bit of practice - is to pull the boat up until the mast head is just clear of the water - say about a foot. Balance like this(!). The wind will then catch the top of the sail and blow it downwind. Now pull the boat up and the wind will steady the boat, not flip you over.
Many boats have a tendency to go right upside down; some are designed this way so if sailed on the open sea, they won't blow away from you. Most will go upside down if you capsize very quickly and/or stay holding on too long. You've got to get the boat on its side, then continue as normal.
If the boat is going to turtle, you MUST both get clear so you are not trapped underneath where there may be no airspace. Helm should concentrate on getting to the daggerboard and holding it to prevent inversion, and must NOT let go until the crew is clear. If you do feel ropes round you, stay calm and free yourself, then swim to the back of the boat.
Scramble on top of the hull. In a two handed boat find a jib sheet, preferably on the downwind side of the boat. Pull the centreboard right out if it isn't already. Kneel on the boat to one side, pulling on daggerboard and/or jib sheet. The boat will start turning onto its side. Then climb onto the board and continue as normal.Make sure you are pulling the boat up with the mast downwind (as for singlehanded boats).
On our enclosed water, consider using a mast float which will slow inversion.
Finally; I don't want to scare anyone but 'entrapment' is one of the main causes of what few fatalities we have in dinghy sailing. Be aware.
If It’s Really Windy
This was written by well known Australian designer and sailor Frank Bethwaite, it applies to all two handed dinghies, not just the Tasar he mentions. Very many thanks for permission to reproduce it here.
About 1983 the Australian Navy purchased the first eighty of what are now about 160 Tasars, and I worked with their coaches to develop safety drills specifically for the Tasar. This took the form of sailing in extreme conditions (25 to 30 knots) and deliberately capsizing and recovering to prove what worked, and to learn what didn't work, when the chips were down.
We learned that in strong winds even a strong young man cannot swim an Inverted Tasar head to wind. The windage force is too great, and all the crew does is to exhaust himself or herself. So lesson one is to accept that the boat will lie crosswind, and don't try to do anything about it.
Lesson two was that in winds exceeding about 20 knots even two strong men could not right a Tasar "to windward" ie. with the mast downwind. The windage on the inverted hull and the two crew drove the boat downwind at about ¼ to ½ a knot, and the force of this flow of water onto the sails was simply too great for the crew to oppose. Conversely, the slightest righting effort the other way, ie. with the mast breaking out to windward, rolled the boat upright very quickly.
Obviously, any boat righted with the mast to windward in strong winds will flip straight over the other way as soon as the wind gets under the sails unless you do something about it. What to do about it is that in extreme conditions one crew mounts the hull and, when ready, pulls the centreboard to leeward. The other goes first to the bow; then as the mast approaches horizontal moves aft under the jib and grasps the shrouds, and hangs on. As the boat rights this crew member is lifted out of the water outside the hull, and this weight prevents the boat from capsizing again.
- This crew member then acts as a sea anchor and the boat is stable even in extreme conditions for as long as he/she hangs on. This gives time for the other crew member to board. He/she can ride the centreboard under the hull and emerge to windward, or board over the low gunwale from leeward, or swim around to windward and get in from there. The trap here is that when you are on the leeward side in extreme conditions the drift speed of the boat drags your legs and lower body under the boat. Even young sailors proud of their strength could not get in from the lee side in winds stronger than about 20 kts, so in the interests of avoiding exhaustion we recommended swimming around the transom and mounting from the windward side. The person in the boat cleans up as necessary. When ready, the boat can be rolled to windward to lower the windward gunwale for easy boarding of the second crew member.
- My final tip comes from Air Force training with inflatable dinghies. The easiest way to board any raft is to kick your legs horizontal, lunge, and go in head down like a fish. If you try to get in with your spine vertical all that happens is that your legs go under the raft, and you become exhausted. (This technique is known as the 'beached whale' - we are interested in getting on board, not doing it gracefully!)