The correct emergency procedures when the sailing dinghy capsizes, or man overboard requires a complete understanding of the sailboat, its equipment and the way it sails. Both dinghy sailing capsize recovery and man overboard training, are exercises designed to improve boat handling skills and taught as a sequence. Each exercise should be practised and perfected to where it becomes a reflex action.
The stability of a sailing dinghy depends on crew weight, meaning that a there is a high possibility of capsize. Being a common mishap, it is wise to practice capsize recovery until competent. When failing to right a capsized sailing dinghy, climb onto the hull and wait for rescue. Never try to swim to shore as a capsized sailboat is easier to recognize than a swimmers head.
The common type of capsize is when the sailing dinghy rolls over to leeward. This happens as the power of the wind strengthens, overpowering the righting effect of the crew's weight causing the sailboat to heel, with water flooding in over the leeward gunwale. This type of capsize occurs when the sailing dinghy is gybing and the crew do not quickly react and move their weight to the new windward side, or when the helmsman fails to stop the boat turning further. Once it is inevitable a capsize will result, the helmsman and crew slip into the water between the boom and hull.
A less common capsize is when the sailing dinghy capsizes to windward and usually occurring on a run and rolling heavily towards the wind. When rolling, the section of the hull that is in the water becomes unbalanced making the sailboat turn further away from wind. The sailboat continues to roll tipping over towards the crew. This capsize is quicker and violent than a leeward capsize with the crew unable to react. It occurs just prior to a gybe in strong winds and with the sailing dinghy capsizing on top of them, the crew usually falls backwards into the water.
Right the sailing dinghy with the mast coming up against the wind avoiding another capsize. If you capsized to windward, assist the sailing dinghy to swing around with the mast downwind and keep calm. Becoming trapped under the sail or hull, escape by:
Many single-handers have a tendency to float quite high when capsized making it difficult to climb onto the daggerboard. Wrap the arms over the daggerboard or centreboard and hang your weight on it making the sailboat come slowly upright or alternatively, push the bow deeply into the water, making the boat rotate into its upright position.
In a leeward capsize; the first reaction is to step over the high side as the sailboat rolls over. From a sitting-out position the skipper places the forward leg over the gunwale and sits astride the side. As the sail hits the water, he lowers himself to the centreboard or daggerboard and rights the sailboat by pulling on the gunwale therefore counteracting the weight of the sail in the water. As the sailing dinghy rights itself, he then climbs in the cockpit and sails on.
The standard capsize recovery for a two-man sailing dinghy is the scoop method, where the crew is scooped aboard with the helmsman pulling the sailboat upright. Lowering the sails is unnecessary before righting the boat using this method. The crew's weight in the sailboat prevents a capsize counterbalancing the force of the wind once it is righted. Be aware of not putting weight on the sailing dinghy which may lead to it inverting. During this capsize recovery, the helmsman and crew are out of sight of each other and must keep talking to one another, communicating what is happening.
- If the centreboard is not fully down, the helmsman pulls it down or the crew pushes it down from inside.
- The crew checks the mainsheet is free allowing the mainsail to flap loosely when the sailboat is righted.
- The crew to moves to the [ stern ] and holds then twists the rudder preventing the sailing dinghy inverting.
- The skipper swims around the boat to the base of the [ hull ] grasping the centreboard or daggerboard protruding through and prevents the sailboat inverting by pulling down on the board, or lying on top of it.
- The crew swims into the sailing dinghy, finds the uppermost jib sheet and [ throws ] it over to the skipper. The crew [ lies ] face down inside the flooded sailboat, head facing forward and knees and arms resting on the lower side of the boat and grasps a thwart or toestrap.
- The skipper rights the sailing dinghy by climbing onto the centreboard, using the jib sheet as a climbing aid, and stands close to the hull while grasping the rope firmly.
- The skipper [ pulls ] hard on the jib sheet while leaning well back with knees slightly bent with a jerky motion helping to 'unstick' the sails from the water.
- The sailing dinghy then [ rotates ] to an upright position with the crew scooped up inside it.
- Judging the moment correctly, the skipper climbs in as the boat rights itself, or if he falls back in the water, the crew can haul him in.
- The crew being in the sailboat when it rights itself can take control of the sails and prevent another capsize.
- When the sailing dinghy is upright and both crew are safely aboard, use a bucket to bail or sluice the water out of it.
Modern dinghies have a tendency to quickly turn upside down when capsizing because of a lot of built-in buoyancy distributed along the bottom and sides of the hull. They float high on their sides and easily tip to the inverted position with their decks forming a seal with the water making it difficult to bring them upright.
Righting procedures differ how they are righted with some being pulled upright by both crew standing on a gunwale or kneeling on the hull, or one crew member pushing down on a corner of the transom to break the seal with the other crew member pulling the sailboat upright.
Inversion brings the risk of the mast hitting the bottom. Do not to put any weight on the boat when the mast is touching the bottom as the mast will break. Lying in the water with feet against the hull and pulling on the jib sheet avoids damage, or request a safety boat to tow the sailboat into a normal position.
The capsize recovery technique is to bring the sailing dinghy up to the normal capsized position, lying on its side, before proceeding
with the scoop method recovery making the mast come up against the wind. If the centreboard is retracted when the sailing dinghy turns upside down, stand on the lip of the gunwale instead of the centreboard and pull on the sheet.
- Find the jib sheet on the leeward side and throw it across the hull, near the centreboard.
- The helmsman on the other side grasps the end of the sheet and climbs onto the gunwale.
- The helmsman pulls the centreboard fully down while the crew climbs up beside the helmsman on the gunwale, or kneeling on the hull, leaning back against the jib sheet.
- When the weight of the crew breaks the water seal around the hull, the sailboat will slowly start to come up until the boat lies on its side.
- With the sailing dinghy on its side, the crew holds onto the jib sheet keeping the boat steady as the helmsman climbs onto the centreboard.
- The crew then moves inside the boat to start a scoop recovery.
When capsizing in shallow water the possibility of the mast catching on the [ bottom in mud ] is high. There will be problems pulling it upright using only body weight and a tow from the [ safety boat ] may be necessary.
- With the tow boat on the windward side of the sailboat, take the tow line over the hull down past the gunwale and wind it a couple of times around the base of the mast and hold on to the loose end.
- The safety boat motors slowly at right angles to the sailing dinghy.
- The capsized sailboat then rotates to lie on its side and further towing with the line around the mast helps to right the boat.
- When the sailing dinghy has righted the helmsman releases the towrope and the rope slides safely away from the sailboat.
It is rare for someone to fall overboard from a sailing dinghy but, when it does happen, the person on board needs to know how to sail it alone how to recover the person. A toestrap breaking or coming undone is the common reason for falling into the water so a check should be done each time going afloat. During a trapezing operation there may be complications with the trapezing harness or wire resulting in a man overboard
In a two-person sailing dinghy, the remaining crew needs to act quickly and bring the sailboat under control swinging immediately into a well-rehearsed procedure. The dinghy pick-up sequence entails sailing away and returning on a reach, turning on to a broad reach just prior to turning into the wind to stop alongside the person. This [ manoeuvre ] in practice, can cause considerable difficulty to all but the most experienced sailor.
- Keep glancing back at the person in the water.
- Let the jib sheets go so that the jib flaps to show the direction of the wind and double check that you are sailing at 90° to the wind.
- Control the boat speed with the main while ensuring that the centreboard is between three quarters down and fully down.
- Never go more than 50 metres from the man overboard but sail about ten to fifteen boat lengths giving room to manoeuvre for the next part of the operation.
- Tack firmly so that the sailing dinghy turns through 180° and do not gybe as it is too easy to capsize which causes even more problems.
- From a beam reach, bear away onto a broad reach before luffing up onto a close reach for the final approach. This point of sailing is where there is complete control of speed when making the approach and round up slowly.
- Adjust your course to two boat lengths downwind at a point 45° from the man overboard.
- Approach the person in the water and stop with him on the windward side of the sailboat. Do not pick up on the leeward side as there is a danger of the boat drifting on top of him or a capsize will result when getting him on board.
- Once alongside the man overboard, have him grasp the gunwale at the windward shroud. In this position the sailboat will lie quietly with the sails flapping as he is brought aboard. Bringing him in too far aft will cause the bow to blow downwind and the sailing dinghy will start sailing.
- When he has a firm hold of the gunwale, give the tiller a flick to windward before letting go of it and moving forward to help him aboard
- Grasp the person under the armpits, lean towards him pushing the side of the boat towards the water then lean back and pull. His upper body half is able to be dragged into the boat and from there he can be rolled into the sailing dinghy.
- If there is trouble getting him aboard, tie a bowline in the end of the jib sheet the drop the loop over the side for use as a step.
- If the man overboard is unable to be lifted into the boat or is unconscious tie him alongside the sailboat and sail slowly for shore.
Practice man overboard recovery regularly. Make a substitute using a fender or a large water container or several smaller ones tied together and fill them almost full with water so they have the drift characteristics to a person. Throw the containers overboard on each of the points of sailing and return, bringing the sailboat to a complete stop, with the bottles alongside the windward shroud on every attempt.