Dinghy Trapeze Sailing Techniques and Rigging Systems

Sections: Trapeze Sailing Trapeze Systems Swinging Out and In Trapezing Techniques

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Trapeze Sailing

The weight of the crew keeps sailing dinghies upright when they are being sailed and in general-purpose dinghies this is accomplished by the helmsman and crew sitting out as far as possible. With high-performance dinghies with larger sail areas, most times sitting out is not sufficient to balance the power of the sails so sailboat trapeze systems are utilized to increase the righting power.

Some boat classes allow crews not only to use trapezes but also to wear water-filled jackets enabling them to place more weight outside to give greater righting power. These 'weight jackets' have pockets filled with water providing more weight upwind and on reaching legs of a race, but can discard this weight on a downwind leg.

Sailing Trapeze Rigging Systems

Sailing trapeze systems consist of a [ trapeze harness ] attached to a trapeze [ wire ] suspended from the mast at the hounds. The standard trapeze rigging is a single trapeze for the crew but with ever larger rigs, multiple trapezes have become common.

Good communication is essential with trapeze sailing where the helmsman must give the crew sufficient warning of a tack or gybe to allow the crew time to come in off the trapeze. The helmsman must have total control of the mainsheet keeping the boat upright as the crew swings in.

Single Trapeze Rigging Systems

A [ single trapeze rigging ] setup has wires running from just above the hounds either side of the mast, to suspend the crew outside the gunwale. The end of the wire is just aft of the shrouds with a handle and a two-position ring for attachment to the trapeze harness. The trapeze ring can be adjusted to control the height at which the trapeze is held.

A length of shock cord connects both trapeze wires running around in front of the mast and keeps the leeward wire taut when the crew is on the windward trapeze. Some dinghies such as the Flying Dutchman, use continuous trapeze wires that enable the crew to remain clipped on while moving across the boat.

Multiple Trapeze Rigging Systems

Boats with [ multiple trapeze rigging systems ] are fitted with racks extending out from each gunwale. This enables the crew standing on these racks when trapezing to move their weight even further outboard. This trapeze rigging system is the same as on a single trapeze, although the helmsman's trapeze does not have a handle as both hands are full with the mainsheet and tiller.

Sailing Trapeze Harnesses

The secret to being relaxed when trapezing is a comfortable trapeze harness. Choose a sailing harness with a high, broad back to give good support. The best sailing trapeze harness has a high-fitting back support with a tight-fitting, 'nappy'-type lower body support, along with adjustable shoulder straps and front cross-belts.

How to Trapeze When Sailing

How to trapeze when sailing requires practicing getting out onto the trapeze and back into the boat until movements are smooth. A novice to sailboat trapezing will find using the sailing trapeze an aid to sitting out at first, enabling them to further establish the skills of hooking on, sitting out and coming in. Then progressing to tacking where the requirement is to swing in, unhook, move across the boat while trimming the jib, and swing out on the trapeze on the windward side.

In a normal set up, the ring of the trapeze will be about 1 to 2 inches above the side deck, but in the initial stages of learning and to help get back in, it should be raised to 3 to 4 inches.

  • Hook the trapeze to the harness and sit out with the trapeze wire taking your weight. Hold the handle by the front hand for control.
  • Place the front foot on the gunwale and push out, keeping the body at [ right angles ] to the boat while bringing the aft foot up and stand on the gunwale.
  • Lean back fully and fully straighten the body with feet about a shoulder-width apart.

Returning back in is a matter of reaching for the handle then pulling in again while leaning slightly aft taking your aft foot off the gunwale. When unclipping the ring, put a hand inside the trapeze and push down with the palm.  This procedure should be perfected, because in an emergency it enables the release of the ring even with body weight on it.

Sailing Trapeze Harness Fitting and Maintenance

The sailing trapeze harness should fit over your sailing gear along with spreading the load of your weight when trapezing into your back and lower body. The trapeze ring attaches to a hook on a metal plate on the harness which is adjusted to just below the waist. Check the sailing trapeze harness's stitching and wash it in fresh water after each sail.

Sailing Trapeze Techniques

Trapezing techniques when sailing a dinghy involves moving your weight to adjust to changes in boat heel and trim. Effective trapezing is being as low as possible, parallel to the water with the boat upright. In big waves, raise your position keeping clear of the water making it easier to move in and out rapidly.


The trapeze wire leading upwards and forwards from your body will pull you forwards. Counter this tendency by keeping the front leg straight and bending the aft leg to remain balanced.

If the sailing dinghy slows rapidly, be prepared to swing your weight aft, as the force trying to pull you forwards increases. Some boats have foot straps on the aft part of the gunwale allowing the trapezing crew to secure their aft foot thereby avoid being pulled forwards.

Heel and Trim

Heeling adjustments can be made by stretching outwards helping the boat sail through gusts while bending the knees swinging your weight inboard if the wind fades.

Fore-and-aft trim is maintained by moving your weight along the gunwale. When the sailing dinghy bears away, move aft helping the bow lift which is particularly significant when planing under a spinnaker.

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