How to Gybe a Sailing Dinghy - Techniques and Tips

Sections: Training Run Centre Mainsheet Sailboat Aft-Sheeted Sailboat Dead Run Gybe Accidental Gybes Safety Tips

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Changing direction and sailing away from the wind is termed gybing. In gybing or jibing it is the stern, rather than the bow, that turns through the wind with the mainsail staying full of wind throughout the manoeuvre. It is the swing of the boom across the sailboat which can be sudden and violent so good sail control and centerboard control is essential when gybing a dinghy. Here are some dinghy sailing tips on how to gybe a sailboat that will be of help in improving your dinghy sailing techniques.


Sailing Dinghy Gybing or Jibing Roles

The helmsman decides when to gybe or jibe and ensures that the new course is clear and makes sure the crew is ready. A sailing gybe requires a large turning arc to complete the manoeuvre and it is therefore vital to ensure sufficient clear space ahead.

Throughout the sailing gybe, the helmsman changes hands on the mainsheet and tiller, while maintaining control of both while moving across the sailboat during the turn. After gybing, he steers onto the new course and checks sail trim and boat balance.

The crew releases the old jib sheet, picks up the new jib sheet, and then moves across the sailboat sheeting in the jib on the new side as the gybe is completed. He is responsible for balancing the boat throughout the sailing gybe.

Training Run Gybe or Jibe

When learning, starting from a [ training run ] allows more time to prepare and to adjust your weight to balance the boat. Start on a training run with the wind behind at an angle of about 5-10° off a true run. It is vital to keep to this course before turning.

It can be accomplished by choosing a landmark to bow or stern that helps in steering a straight line while preparing to gybe. After gybing the point of sailing will probably a broad reach.

The helmsman watches the mainsail leech for signs that it is about to gybe, being in the middle of the sailing dinghy as the boom comes across, centring the tiller. The sailing dinghy turns through a wide arc and, if the tiller is not straightened quickly enough as the boom swings across, the boat turns onto a broad reach on the new tack.

The sudden application of power in strong winds, against a centralized tiller causes the sailing dinghy to turn slightly away from the wind on the new course. This can be correct by the skipper by gently easing the tiller to leeward and then centralizing it again.

Gybing begins with bearing away until the jib hangs lifelessly behind the mainsail which indicates the course is a dead run. Luff up slightly with the jib just filling on the same side as the mainsail. The point of sailing is called the training run.

Gybing or Jibing a Centre Mainsheet Sailboat

A [ centre-mainsheet system ] requires the helmsman face forwards during the gybe or jibe and change hands on the tiller and mainsheet towards the end of the manoeuvre. This forward-facing position enables the helmsman to watch the course and the mainsail. When competent in gybing, the helmsman initiates the boom's swing by tugging on the mainsheet when a gybe or jibe is pending.

  • The helmsman luffs up from a run to a training run and checks that the course is clear
  • The helmsman sheets in the mainsail bringing the boom just off the leeward shroud.
  • He calls "stand-by to gybe".
  • The crew ensures that the centreboard is no more than a quarter down.
  • The crew checks the course is clear, and replies "ready".
  • The helmsman swings the tiller extension to leeward while moving his aft foot into the middle.
  • The helmsman calls "gybe-oh" and bears away further.
  • The helmsman moves to the middle of the sailboat and ducks under the boom.
  • The crew picks up the new jib sheet, at the same time balances the boat.
  • When the boom arrives at the centre line, the helmsman centres the tiller while moving his weight to the now windward side.
  • The crew adjusts their weight keeping the sailboat upright while trimming the jib.
  • The helmsman swaps hands on the tiller extension and mainsheet.
  • In keeping the boat level, the crew sits on the new leeward side in light winds and in stronger winds, moves to the middle or windward.
  • The helmsman steers onto the new course, as the sailing dinghy will have turned through a wide arc and it is likely to be sailing on a broad reach.
  • The sails are trimmed and centreboard adjusted.

Gybing or Jibing an Aft-Sheeted Sailboat

To carry out a gybe or jibe in an [ aft mainsheet ] sailing dinghy differs from gybing with a centre-mainsheet with the helmsman changing hands on the mainsheet and tiller prior to the gybe and facing aft during the gybe. The helmsman cannot see in front of the boat during the manoeuvre, necessitating the gybe to be completed quickly. The crew crosses the sailboat facing forwards.

The common problem with aft mainsheets is that the falls (loops) of the mainsheet catch on the corners of the transom as the boom swings across. If this occurs, incorporate a flick of the mainsheet into the gybing sequence when the boom moves toward the centre. This flick procedure produces an ‘S’ bend in the sheet lifting it above the corner and requires trial and error to perfect it.

  • The helmsman luffs up to a training run, checks the new course, sheets in bringing the boom clear of the shroud, and calls "stand-by to gybe".
  • The crew checks the course and centerboard position and calls "ready".
  • The helmsman calls "gybe-oh" while changing hands on the mainsheet and tiller and putting his front foot to the centre.
  • The helmsman swings the tiller extension leeward which pushes the tiller to windward.
  • When seeing that the mainsail is about to swing, the helmsman moves to the middle of the boat, pivoting on his feet facing aft.
  • With the boom reaching the centre line, the helmsman centres the tiller while moving his weight to the new windward side.
  • The crew keeps the boat balanced while trimming the jib.
  • With the mainsail filling on the new side, the crew repositions to keep the sailboat level. This involves sitting on the leeward side in light winds but in stronger winds he positions in the middle or on the windward sidedeck.
  • The helmsman can steer onto the new course, once the sailing dinghy is level, from a broad reach resulting from the gybe.
  • The sails are trimmed and the centreboard adjusted.

Dead Run Gybe or Jibe

It is possible to gybe while sailing on a dead run with no course alteration at all, or only a minor one. On a run, the sails are set to their farthest extent. Gybing requires the sail to be rotated through approximately 160° from one side to the other.

Gybing with negligible course change, requires the crew or helmsman to pull the mainsail across to the new leeward side, rather than causing the wind to move it.

The helmsman positions himself in the middle of the sailboat with the crew balancing the boat where necessary. On the helmsman calling "gybe-oh", the crew clutches the boom vang swinging the boom across.

On a centre-mainsheet sailing dinghy, the helmsman grasps the mainsheet tackle using it to swing the boom. When a spinnaker is being used then the control of the boom by the skipper is required while the crew gybes the spinnaker.

Accidental Gybes

Continuing to bear away from a broad reach to a run, sailing further away from the wind, the sailing dinghy eventually gybes on its own with the wind swinging across the stern. This is termed an 'uncontrolled gybe', which can result in capsize because the boat has not been balanced correctly.

Continually check the wind direction whenever sailing downwind to make certain a gybe does not happen accidentally. A warning sign of an unplanned accidental gybe occurs when the jib attempts to blow across to the windward side of the boat meaning that the sailboat is a dead run, so bearing away causes the boat gybe.

Gybing or Jibing Safely

The following dinghy sailing tips should be followed to complete a safe sailing jibe.
  • Ensure the sailing dinghy is level prior to the gybe because if heeled to leeward, gybing will be harder as the sailboat tries to luff up and turn in the wrong direction.
  • Conventional dinghy [ centerboards or daggarboards ] must be a quarter to half way down when gybing, because if any lower, the sailboat tries to luff when the boom swings across resulting in the boat pivoting around the centreboard causing the sailing dinghy to capsize. Experimentation will find the most efficient depth. Some modern skiff designs with narrow foils can generally gybe with the foil fully down.
  • If the sailboat is fitted with a daggerboard, ensure that it does not catch on the boom or vang when the mainsail swings across causing a capsize.
  • Gybing can be hazardous in strong winds so avoid any problems by luffing up to a reach, then tack around before bearing away to the new course.
  • If gybing in strong winds, do so when the sailboat is sailing rapidly such as when surfing down the front of a wave. As the sailboat sails away from the true wind, the apparent wind reduces with the speed of the boat, reducing the forces on the sail, making gybing easier

Gybing Tips

  • Once committed to a gybe, do not hesitate and turn the sailboat smoothly while being prepared to move fast when the boom comes across.
  • To obtain advance warning of when a gybe is imminent, watch the leech of the mainsail one-third up from the boom. Look for where the leech folds back to windward indicating the wind is getting behind the sail.
  • When the boom swings across the centreline, it is important that the tiller is centred and the helmsman and crew are in the middle.
  • To avoid turning the sailboat through a wide arc to make the boom move across the boat, give a sharp tug on the mainsheet when the jib blows across the bow, starting the boom moving earlier.
  • Remember that a heeled sailing dinghy turns away from the angle of heel which is compounded by not having a lot of centreboard in the water, and once the centreboard surfaces the sailing dinghy slides.

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points of sail
centre mainsheet system
aft mainsheet system
centerboard and daggar board