Capsizing is Fun!

by Steve and Jan Cornwell #2489 – Boulder, CO

After sailing in a C-15 for several seasons and being terrified of “going over”, we decided to PRACTICE capsizing! What a novel idea. It made all the difference in the world in our attitude toward capsizing and also in our ability to both avoid capsizes and to recover from them quickly. I strongly urge all skipper and crew combos to try capsizing (on purpose) – pick some warm water, and a day with light to moderate breezes for your first practice session. Practice again later in heavy air. It is comforting to know that the C-15 was designed to “self rescue” itself from a capsize with a dry cockpit. Here are some tips we’ve picked up over the years which allow us to HAVE NO FEAR.


1. Before leaving the shore, make sure all your loose equipment (water bottles, spare clothing, beer, etc.) is in the hold or tied down so it won’t float away during a dunking. Many sailors leave a loop of line permanently attached through the drain holes in the transom to use as an emergency ladder just in case.

2. MAKE SURE YOUR HATCH COVER IS VERY SECURELY LATCHED. If your hatch cover pops off during a capsize, a lot of water can leak into the hull and you’ll not be able to right the boat and sail it away. We have a rule to never leave the hatch cover off.


1. Most capsizes are caused by too rapid a change of direction in the boat (esp. letting go of the tiller, jibing or by sheets that are cleated). Sail with the main or jib sheet in your hand, or if cleated, be ready to pop the sheet and let it go any time. Do not leave the jib sheet cleated accidentally while tacking! You can avoid most capsizes by letting go of the sheets, especially if both skipper and crew are able to hike out hard with the sails uncleated and luffing.

2. In a jibe, turn the boat slowly through the circle, letting the aft end of the boom point up into the wind before it swings to the new side. In light air, you can pull the boom across to the new side by yanking on the main sheet or boom vang. But in heavy air leave the mainsail on the “old” side through your turn. It will eventually come over on its own accord with a little yank. By this time your boat is in a position where the mainsail will exert very little force once it swings over. As the main fills on the new side, pull the tiller away from the boom so the boat swings back DOWNWIND, and shift your body weight to the new windward side. This will stabilize the boat. Jibe the boom and stabilize the boat before the jibing the whisker pole.

ENJOY THE CAPSIZE (yes, it’s possible)

If, after your most valiant hiking efforts to keep the boat from going over, it does capsize, here are the things to do to bring it back up quickly:

1. Skipper IMMEDIATELY goes up over the top side and out on the centerboard, grabbing the jib sheet between the cleat and the sail as you go. You will learn with experience that the centerboard should always stay down far enough while you are sailing for you to have something to jump on! Placing your weight out on the centerboard will keep the boat from “going turtle” all the way up side down.

2. Crew immediately sacrificially jumps into the water between the hull and the boom without hanging on to the boat. UNCLEAT the mainsheet, jibsheet, and centerboard (so the skipper can lower the board all the way if it is not already fully extended). Stow the whisker pole if it is rigged.

3. Crew grabs a hiking strap to hold position while floating in the water. Yell to the skipper that you are ready and patiently wait in the water, floating calmly in your life jacket. Do not pull on the hiking strap at this point as the boat will not right itself.

4. Skipper, upon hearing that crew is ready, leans out as far as possible on the centerboard (no more than half way so you don’t crack it), pulling against the bitter end of the jib sheet (on the end coming from the fairlead) to lift the mast out of the water. It may help to lead the sheet forward of the shroud and then pull on it.

5. As the mast SLOWLY rises out of the water, the skipper should move their body in so that the mast doesn’t come up too fast. Both skipper and crew should hold positions until the mast begins gaining altitude. Then after the mast is well out of the water, simultaneously, both skipper and crew climb over opposite sides of the boat using the hiking straps. This weight distribution will stabilize the boat once it’s upright. Be sure the crew catches a ride as the boat rights itself rather than remaining in the water!

6. The sails will be luffing when the boat comes up, so you have a second to catch your breath, grab the tiller and congratulate each other on another “successful” capsize!

Practice this maneuver over and over until you’re good at it. It really adds to your enjoyment of the C-15 to realize it’s meant to capsize. You can relax and master a capsize when it happens to you – and it will!


If you don’t get out on the centerboard soon enough to avoid the mast sinking into the depths, then you will have to get the mast back to the surface before completing the recovery process above. Note: If the boat does turtle (invert completely), Jan reminds us that there is a nice, quiet air pocket under the boat where you can catch your breath and communicate with the skipper through the centerboard slot. We find it takes two people to get the boat from the turtle to the sideways position. Have the crew swim around to the DOWNWIND side of the hull. If one person has hold of the centerboard with one hand and stands on the DOWNWIND inverted side of the hull (or gunnel), they can assist pulling the other crew member up to the same position.

Standing either side by side or one in back of the other, pull back on the centerboard until the mast starts to rise to the horizontal position. As the mast rises toward horizontal, have the centerboard person climb up on top of the centerboard while the other person hangs on to the centerboard. Don’t let go of the centerboard until the person on top has assumed the position described in #4 above.

Once you have completed the above moves, the crew swims around the TRANSOM and assumes the position described in #3 above. If they swim around the bow, they’ll run into the forestay, jib and mast before getting to their station. You’re now just a few seconds from recovery!