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HomeRighting a Boat

Righting a Capsized Sailboat



1. Safety of the sailors comes first. Approach slowly and establish voice contact. Ask whether all sailors are OK. Check for signs of injury, fatigue or hypothermia. Rescue anyone in need of assistance.

2. Talk with the sailors about what you are going to do.

3. Ask the crew to un-cleat the main and jib sheets and release the boom vang.

4. Ask the sailors to let go of the rudder and let the boat swing nose into the wind.

5. Ask at least one sailor to stand on the centerboard and as the boat comes up the swings his leg over the side and moves into the cockpit as the boat rights. For sideboard boats and some large sailboats, the sailor should position him/herself to be scooped into the boat as it comes upright. If other sailors stay in the water, they should help keep the righted boat from re-capsizing.

6. Approach the sailboat perpendicular to the mast on the forestay side to keep the powerboat away from sailors near the cockpit and to avoid running over the mainsail.

7. Make contact with the top of the mast or with the forestay near the top.

8. Lift the mast up and move hand over hand down the mast and shroud to bring the boat upright.

9. The skipper takes the tiller and keeps the boat headed into the wind. After the other sailors are on board, in a self rescuing boat, head off the wind slightly and bail if needed. On other boats, drop the sails and pump the water out.


10. If the boat turtles, the centerboard may slip back into the boat. Boards are heavy so be careful when the board moves as the boat is righted. Crew members should stand on the opposite gunwale and lean out using the sheet for support.
When the boat has reached the mast horizontal, right as above.

11. If you are unable to right the boat the sailors should be rescued and, if advisable or necessary, returned to shore. If the sailboat must be left unattended, if possible, anchor it to keep it from drifting. Also, tie a float under the mast tip to prevent the boat from turtling. The recovery of an abandoned sailboat should not be attempted until conditions are favorable.

12. If the mast is stuck in the mud, determine its direction. Without putting any more weight on the boat than necessary, attach a line to the exposed side stay at the deck and have the safety boat carefully pull on that line at right angles to the length of the boat. The forestay should not be used as it may cause the mast to bend before it comes free.





1. If a sailboat has been damaged or if the sailors are not able to sail, it may be necessary to tow it ashore. A safety boat should be prepared with a proper tow line, about three times the length of the boat to be towed.

2. The safety boat crew should determine where the line will be secured to the safety boat, and the preferred point of attachment to the sailboat (either attach it to a strong fitting on the bow of the sailboat or tie it around the mast at the deck).

3. If possible, rig a bridle to reduce the tendency of the towed boat to pull the safety boat to one side or the other. The length of line to pay out varies with the speed of the towing boat. The bow of the towed boat should ride up on the first or second stern wake of the safety boat, so the tow does not wander from side to side.

4. The safety boat should begin to tow slowly as a crew member pays out the line, watching to see that it does not fall in the water and become caught in the safety boat’s propeller. The safety boat should accelerate gradually so there is no sudden strain on either boat. Then, the length of the towline should be adjusted to make the towed boat ride properly. Once the towed boat is positioned, the safety boat can proceed at a suitable and constant speed.

5. It is best to tow a boat with the centerboard fully raised and with
someone in the boat, sitting aft, to steer it behind the safety boat. If no one is in the towed boat, the rudder should be removed.

Adapted from the US SAILING Powerboat Course, Intercollegiate Sailing manual and the Interscholastic Sailing manual. Dave Rosekrans April 21, 2007