A small sailboat can capsize fairly easily because it typically lacks a ballasted keel or centerboard to keep the boat upright if a strong wind or a large wave knocks the boat over. (A large cruising sailboat has a ballasted keel and is self-righting if a very strong wind causes a capsize, as long as the cabin does not fill with water.)
A small sailboat may capsize if the crew do not position themselves well on the windward side to balance the boat against the heeling forces caused by wind in the sail. It’s important to shift your weight fast during a tack or gybe to prevent capsizing, as described in Part 4 of this course. A capsize may also occur if the sails are sheeted in too tight for the point of sail (see Part 3 on trimming).
Here’s what to do if you capsize:
- Move around to the mast side of the boat and release the mainsheet and jibsheet so that the sails will be loose when you bring the boat upright.
- Move to the hull side where the centerboard should be sticking out into the water. If you can, turn the boat so the bow faces into the wind.
- Facing the boat and holding on to the cockpit side wall, bring up your knees and place your feet on the top side of the centerboard.
- In one smooth motion, stand on the centerboard while leaning back to pull the cockpit toward you. Your weight will roll the boat back upright.
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