Capsize and Capsize Recovery

A discussion on capsizing and recovering, from the e-mail list

You may also wish to review the Capsizing - and Righting - a 505 article on this web site.

I taught junior sailing for six years. With all of my beginner classes we went through "Capsizing School." This is the scene where twelve or so screaming seven years olds find out there are not vicious sharks in all coastal waters- while capsizing and righting 420's.

Each of the students learn three important things.

  1. As soon as the boat goes over, get the crew in the water- while the skipper climbs over the side and stands on the centerboard- without getting wet. Nothing will turtle a boat faster than clinging to it once it is over.
  2. Don't let the boat turtle. Release all the sails and controls, vang, jib sheet, etc. (In the 505 etc.. get the spinnaker back in the boat, back behind the skipper if necessary) The skipper should stay on the tip of the board, keeping the tip of the mast balanced on the water.
  3. Stay with the boat. The boat may be moving, or in the case of the tip stuck in the mud the water around the boat may be moving.

These three simple things kept my students our of the mud in shallow waters. Granted, the 505 is a bigger beast- and we are better sailors.

When the boat ditches, the skipper falls in and cleans up the boat- quickly! The crew lays down on the rail- unhooking as soon as possible and hold on for the crash to end (you should be way down on the wire for a reach anyway.) Then quickly get out to the end of the board. Now, the board is half up or more so you need to quickly get it out (you can pull it from the rail if you are careful. The "up" should never be cleated) Get to the tip and balance the boat. 160 lbs. does it nicely in the 505, but 185+ is better. The skipper may have to fight a bit to get the kite down, but when you have a rock star on the wire he can right the boat before the kite sinks. When the kite is under control pop her up and get under way with the jib immediately. Bail, plane, set, go.

Now granted this takes practice, and yes, I have bent a D tip in the mud in 25+, due to shearing the centerboard off at water level- but we still managed to right the boat. However, as we taught in junior sailing, practice capsizes on a calm day and get organized! It should be an automatic response to properly right the boat!

Henry McCray
USA 7554

Henry wrote..
"... When the kite is under control pop her up and get under way with the jib immediately. Bail, plane, set, go."

A useful technique in this situation is to have the skipper stay in the water and hang on to the mainsheet horse/traveller while the crew rights the boat. By doing this, the skipper is "scooped up" inside the boat as it comes upright an can then help the crew back in if he should fail to climb in over the rail as the boat comes up under him.

Will Hartje

Capsize recovery, how to avoid turtling, how to get going again ASAP ...

Has anyone mentioned what I call the Eskimo Roll technique, which in some circumstances is an excellent aid to quick recovery?

In strong winds, after a capsize, by the time the two crew members are on the centreboard and ready to right the boat, it often happens that the hull has blown downwind of the mast. If simply righted in the normal way by standing on the centreboard, the wind catches the back of the sail and flips the boat up and over onto the other side. With inexperienced crews, this can happen repeatedly, including greater danger of turtling.

The solution is simple. Whenever the hull is downwind of the mast: Start righting the boat in the normal way by standing or lying on the centreboard. As the mast starts to come up and the wind catches the sail, cling onto the centreboard and go underneath the boat. Both of you. Make the centreboard take you both under the boat and up the other side.

This has several benefits:

  1. You are on the correct side of the boat if/when it flips right over.
  2. Better still, if one of you gets underneath the centreboard as the flip starts, you fetch up on top of the centreboard on the new side, ready to right the boat.
  3. The very fact that the boat has had to drag one or two bodies through the water during the flip slows down the flip, and very often prevents the boat flipping right over. In any case, you are in the best position to right the boat and climb aboard without re-capsizing.

There is no downside. All it needs is a little bit of nerve first time. When you realise how easy and effective it is, it becomes routine.

(Rather more routine that I would wish, but that is another question -how to avoid capsizing in the first place.)

- Rob

When I was taught sailing, the instructor said that when capsized, the crew must immediately swim to the bow and hold on. He acts as a sea anchor so that the boat gets blown such that it faces directly into the wind. The skipper gets onto the center board and rights the boat, gets in and sorts out the sheets and sails. Absolutely no chance of getting flipped over. The crew climbs in and they are on their way again.

Johan Saayman

When I was taught sailing, the helm and crew were both supposed to go in the water, one swim to the bow and one climb on to the centreboard -

personally I will avoid getting wet if possible !!!!

Friend of mine taught me a good way of ensuring nobody is hanging on to the hull and pulling the boat into a turtle. He was crewing, and as we capsized he came in of the wire so he was sitting on the rail, unhooked, and pivoted around backwards, flinging his legs out aft of the crew position. His back foot caught me right under the jaw and fired me backwards into the water, thus ensuring he was on the centreboard and I was in the water to get the kite down etc !!!!!!!

Works extremely well for him, boat doesn't turtle, you are up and sailing again quickly, AND you get your own back on the helm for all those dunkings!!!

Andy Williams

The Eskimo Roll scares me a bit since I once witnessed a 505 sailor drown when his life jacket got caught on an appendage under a barge which ran over his 505. I am not sure what you could get caught on under a 505, but I would certainly look it over.

Practice does improve one's ability to get upright quickly. Once we capsized 4 times in 5 minutes, the first time both went in the water, the second time only the crew, and the third and forth times we both rolled onto the center board as the boat went over, not touching the water. I all cases the boat righted easily and we recovered by sailing out from under the water in the boat as it ran out the openings in the transom. We were not flying a chute at the time. We did note that if you bring the boat up without a lot of weight on it, it certainly comes up dryer, but the boat self-bailed easily.

Jim Willett
-From way back when Dennis Surtees was King of the water-

Sure, Johan - that is the official technique in all the modern books and sailing schools. I do not use it because I have assumed that: (1) in a 505 anyway, all hands can be needed on the centreboard to stop the boat inverting. (2) it is not easy to reach up from the water and hold on to the bow of a 505, and it risks the crew getting detached from the boat. And (3) I think it is quicker to just get on with getting the boat up a.s.a.p. Often, both helmsman and crew can be over the high side and onto the centreboard, with one and sometimes both avoiding getting wet. Andy Williams's colourful system (which may not be easy to replicate perfectly every time; some helmsmen have some sense some of the time) is of course really an elaboration of this get-on-with-it philosophy.

But maybe I am wrong and ought to be following the textbooks. Does the textbook technique really keep a 505 head to wind in a strong blow and waves?

What are others' views?

- Rob

How we do it.

On a capsize to leeward with skipper and crew on the rail (you were just blown over)... anyone who can get to the centerboard without climbing in the boat should do so. That means if you are on the rail when the mast hits the water, step over the rail and get on the centerboard. If you are not on the rail, fall in the water and swim around. If the kite is up, leave it up. The idea is to get back into the race as fast as possible.

With one or both of you on the centerboard, move out towards the tip (while holding onto the rail or a jib sheet) and bounce on the board to jerk the mast and rig out of the water. Have one of the two of you try to climb in over the rail as the boat comes up.

All this works fine if you do it quickly. Once the boat has started to pivot around the rig (hull starts to go downwind), or the mast and rig are below the water, the more conventional (and rather slower) techniques earlier mentioned come into play. I have been there and done most of them, including swimming the bow around (took a long time), taking the kite down (very slow), Eskimo roll (works reasonably well if the boat has pivoted around - so does grabbing what will be the windward shroud - next to the rail - as the boat comes up).

I agree with Rob, having someone swim to the bow is almost a last resort. It is going to take a long time to swim the boat around, and it is very hard to hold on to some 505s there - depends on the shape of the rail... you risk being separated from the boat when it comes up.

As for taking the kite down... only if you cannot get the boat back upright without doing so. However, I have a bag boat, so we would have to stuff the kite by hand, rather than using the retrieval line... by the way, I have torn kites years ago by pulling them into the tube while the boat was turtled... you have no idea what the kite is catching on.

If you go over to windward, or you are not on the rail... DO NOT try to climb over the boat!!! You will simply be forcing the rig under. Get one of you onto the board as quickly as possible. I'm quite comfortable in the water, and have gone under the rail to get to the centerboard (I've also gotten a good adrenalin rush once when I realized I had the spinnaker sheet wrapped around my boot). If you don't want to go underneath (quite understandable), I find swimming aft and around the transom works well.

If you go over to windward and the boom is in the air.... the full sail with both pivot the boat and try to turtle it.. try pulling on the mainsheet (I can do this from the transom having a transom bridle) to gybe the main and get the sail down on the water.

I can remember one race where we capsized twice and still won, beating other teams that did not capsize at all.

All the above really only applies if you are comfortable with the boat and being in the water. This is how we try to right the boat in order to get back into the race as quickly as possible. If you are having any trouble at all, forget the race and be careful!

Ali Meller
5o5s 7200 & 8263

I don't recognize the name but I surely recognize the manoeuvre, having used it more times than I like to talk about. It is a terrific way to stop the 180 degree roll. It's as safe as anything else one does in a 505! Think about it; the boat is only about 3ft wide at water line level with the board. Your head is almost at the surface with both arms wrapped around the centerboard. I do remember, however, that we first practiced it with our boat floating in the swimming pool. Jenny didn't think much of that particular exercise!

Dennis Surtees

Hanging a body round the bow will keep a 5'oh head to wind but it is has some problems.

  1. With the anchor point of the forestay on non bag boats being set back a foot from the stem, it is tough to reach up and over to grab it.
  2. If you link your arm round it so it in the crook of your elbow you can end up with the stem hitting you under the chin as the boat rides a wave.

I think Rob is correct to say that the textbook method is not necessarily correct for as boat such as 5'oh because:

  1. it is lies higher than most when on it's side and consequently is sooner driven upside down by the wind.
  2. But, It is lighter, and can be righted quickly
  3. It is more seaworthy, once righted, and can be got back to fully functioning in about a minute in a good breeze.

The textbook drills relate more to stabilizing an unstable situation then dealing with it at a safe pace. And they assume a worst case such as having to bail the boat with the crew members still over the side (not all boats are self draining). In racing you want to get up and go ASAP. Launching the crew into the water to hang onto the bow does not do this.

Besides, a well practiced team can capsize a 5'oh and right it without either of them going in the water.

Will Hartje

If you end up under the boat with the bailers open, watch out. It's only happened to me once, but an open bailer can cut open your scalp if you come up under it. That particular time the boat didn't roll as forcefully as sometimes, so by the time it was upright it had lost most of it's rotational momentum and I ended up under the boat instead of on the other side. I'm now much more careful to try to judge whether I need to ride the centerboard or not. It's a necessary technique at times, but if you don't need to do it, don't.

US 5759

About two years ago I had my first experience in a twin trapeze asymmetric (Laser-5000). I was the first time for me on the trapeze. Given 15-20 knots wind and driving it, we had more than a fair share of swimming before we mastered that big gennacker.

When capsized and the mast pointing to the wind, the Eskimo roll (we call it --- Death Roll) has plenty of advantages in terms of speed, save energy, and safety:

  1. Your quickly up on the board on the new side
  2. If you roll around the board as you death roll, you come up on top of the board and don't have to climb it (saves energy)
  3. As you are under the boat, there are no lines to get tangled around your feet, arms, etc.

When me and my crew started to use the death roll on that day, doing it, we actually ending up fighting each other during the roll, to push for prime position to get on top of the board on the new side. We had a lot of fun.

Peter has a good point however to cut yourself on the bailers. It never happened to me, but I see the risk. (And there are sharks in the San Francisco Bay too)

Johan SWE-8593

One technique that I have not seen mentioned when bringing a boat up after it has drifted so that the mast is pointed into the wind is a follows:

First the reason why it happens. The boat hull is quite wide; floating on its side it is a pretty good sail. If the wind is quite strong, or the crew too slow, the mast and sail anchor and the boat blows over it. A sudden bear off and capsize to windward will often produce the same result. If the boat is brought up too slowly, even if not turtled, The sail acts as an anchor and the hull blows down wind. Just accept that if you aren't collected and fast, in high wind you will be bringing the boat up with the mast pointed into the wind. Cats tend to do the same thing..

Obviously, if one just brings the boat up in this state, the mast goes over so fast that there is little chance of stopping the roll, and you are quickly in another turtle. One beginning sailor at Hoover, many years ago, managed to complete this maneuver about 25 times and cover the width of the lake. A very exhausting afternoon for that crew.

Instead of immediately bringing the boat up in this state. Wait!! It will actually save you time and energy. As soon as the main has air under it but before the tip is starting to leap out of the water, lean over the rail to push the mast back into the water. The object is just have the tip of the mast in the water. After about 30 seconds, the boat will have pivoted so that the mast is perpendicular to the wind and the boat is head to wind. I know this sounds like black magic but it really works. Obviously, once head to wind,, bring the boat up normally.

The advantage is that you don't have to have anyone in the water (this is a major advantage in the spring with 39 degree or colder water). Don't have to swim very hard to pull the bow into the wind. Don't have to worry about getting nailed with the boom as it slams across on its way to the new leeward side. It takes some self control to wait while the boat pivots, but every time I have seen it tried it works. If someone is in the water have them swim to the submerged shroud and as the boat rolls let that lever themselves into the boat. In that case don't wait quite as long because you would like a little lifting action to get them in (unless the person on the board weighs twice as much as the person in the water.

The method works on flat water, but I also used it at 71 worlds in big waves. with success.

A Tornado cat really dives also in high wind. They have about 100 square feet of tramp. When they finally come out, they can roll so fast that you are not sure both hulls are on the water at the same time. In that case, the crew drop to the hull they are standing on and hang on to the hull, either under water or in front of the tramp on top of the hull.

Graham Alexander
Columbus, Ohio US7685 and US4593

WRT capsizing, a neat trick is to have a line attached under the deck, athwartships to the centerboard, and lead aft to a clam cleat or shock cord take up by the transom. After you dump, a crew member in the water can use this line to pull themselves up and onto the centerboard.

Barney Harris
soon to be capsize free
505 USA 8643
Albacore USA 8011

I am reluctant to admit that when fully clothed wet suited and lifejacketed, I find it very hard to make that climb up onto the slippery board. In the back of my mind is the thought, not to break off that trailing edge. The 505 seems to float very high and it's a hard pull up for me, especially after the 3rd time or so. The line Barney mentions sounds helpful - certainly better than trying to get a toehold on the bailer. It's easy to forget rule # 1 sometimes when you see some gear floating away. Stay with the boat. You feel pretty stupid when you swim away to retrieve something (like I did this Spring when I went stroking away upwind to get my $40. tiller extension), and find that you can't swim as fast as the boat blows downwind - especially with a tiller extension in your hand. Douwgh!

Unlike Ali I'm not so comfortable in the water anymore, and find that a couple of capsizes can be as tiring as a race. The adrenalin rush has physical effects that can leave you strangely fatigued, along with sudden cold water immersion effects. Wear your bouyancy aid, think for a second, before you use up that Rush, give your crew a pull to help him slither aboard, stay with the boat (for anything less than $40.00) and realize your limits as to when to keep racing.

Tom Price

"floating away. Stay with the boat. You feel pretty stupid when you swim away to retrieve something (like I did this Spring when I went stroking away upwind to get my $40. tiller extension), and find that you can't swim as fast as the boat blows downwind - especially with a tiller extension in your hand. Douwgh!"

See below!

"Unlike Ali I'm not so comfortable in the water anymore, and find that a couple of capsizes can be as tiring as a race. The adrenalin rush has physical effects that can leave you strangely fatigued, along with sudden cold water immersion effects. Wear your bouyancy aid, think for a second, before you use up that Rush, give your crew a pull to help him slither aboard, stay with the boat (for anything less than $40.00) and realize your limits as to when to keep racing."

As a windsurfer as well as a 505'er, I find myself very reluctant to wear a buoyancy aid; however when the water even thinks about being cold I always wear a wetsuit. I've found from past experience that in high winds, with a buoyancy aid, I can never swim fast enough to catch up with whatever it was that just dumped me in the water: windsurfer, 505, catamaran. I swim laps for fitness most winters - indoors, so it's not a lack of swimming practice which causes this problem - it's the extra non-hydrodynamic buoyancy aid. With just a wet suit, I can swim fast enough to catch up.

Some years ago, I went out on a hobie 18 in 30+ winds (foolish move there) and I was wearing a wetsuit and a life jacket. Needless to say, the Hobie capsized. It also flipped end-for end and as it did I was forced to bail off the upper hull on the upwind side to avoid jumping onto the skipper. I landed about 3-4 feet upwind of the boat, and was unable to swim fast enough to catch back up to it. I spent about 1/2 hour or 45 minutes swimming to shore, since the boat was going off downwind faster that I could swim after it.

While I'm not advocating folks abandon buoyancy aids, I'm just pointing out that if you don't care about being wet and are used to it (like all windsurfers, I fall regularly in high winds and swim after my board), not wearing a buoyancy aid can be advantageous as long as you are dressed for getting wet for an extended period of time.

I am advocating wearing wetsuits or drysuits instead of those stylish dingy sailing outfits.I see advertized in the magazines.

Chad Price

I've enjoyed the way the discussing moved on.

A far as I can tell both sides of the Atlantic have have been notable for the mostly lack of wind this Autumn / Fall and we are talking about capsizing!!

The Eskimo roll sounds scary to me. I had an inexperienced crew under a inverted hull on the 9th April 1995 (two weeks after the ice melted!). His own fault, I supose, for trying to climb the hull, I got on top with only a wet foot but his major problem after getting untangled (not the trap) was that the lifejacket was so buoyant that he could not push himself down to get below the tank to get out!! he actually got stuck half way!!

There's no way You will get me deliberately going under a hull...

A life jacket is correctly mandatory with cold water 35 deg.+ and /or 15 knots of wind in my local club is it in yours?? By the way My 140 lbs would not have any effect on righting the hull in a hurry!

Swimming to the bow is a waste of time in a "big" dinghy(english spelling dingy means shabby or dirty!) like a 505 as the high windage of the hull at 90 deg is too great a force and it gets you way to far away from an easy place to climb aboard. I prefer to have one person (preperably me) on the board untill the hull is up,I find the hull tends to round up into the wind anyway , then the crew can help raise the boat by pulling carefully on the rudder and the climb in over the transom with my help from inside this is mainly for relativly inexperienced crew as I can keep an eye on them. Another time I had a crew get seperated and she was unable to swim back,every time I righted the hull the boat would start sailing up wind even though the sails were completely free and head to wind. 8" of water made the boat very unstable and impossible to sail around to pick her up on my own. I righted the boat 5 times on my own, not a very clever situation to get my self into!!! In the end I was helped by a passing 505 who picked her up and brought her to my boat. She had a wet suit and a life jacket on so I was not as worried about her ultimate safety as she was but I wanted to illustrate the importance of staying with the boat. Safety is your first priority Although I had coached my crews their lack of experience showed when faced with the unusal. Pratice in resonably conditions is worth a lot. As of course is experenced crew...

My belated thanks to, I think, the Amthor brothers for their help. I hope they made the start as we lost it on the way to the race course!!

getting older,wiser,and heavier!! In eastern PA USA

Hi Jim,

Re. Eskimo Roll, your barge accident sounds like a freak. Was he knocked unconscious first? This is the only 505 sailing fatality I have heard of. When and where was it?

I suppose conceivably a self-bailer could catch a life jacket or clothing, but it has never worried me. (I am wary of slipping and cutting myself on a self-bailer - that has happened, I know; quite nasty.)

Now, getting caught under a sail, or - worse - the spinnaker, that does scare me a bit. Do not panic, and work to an edge, they say. Hmmmm. Stick as close as possible to the boat, I say, preferably the underside, away from the sails!

- Rob. GBR 8429

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