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Righting a capsized Sunfish


New Member
Hi everyone. I am very new to sailing. The second time I took my sunfish out with my daughter, we capsized it. Needless to say It took a lot of effort to right it. Does any one have knowledge of the best way to right the boat? I tore my sail trying to right it as well :( Any suggestions of where the best nplace is to purchase a new one. If anyone is from NJ and would like to give me some lessons, let me know. Thanks!


First thing is to release the mainsheet from any deck cleat. Cleated it will act like a 20 gallon bucket and yes it will be a real chore to rite the boat. Not to mention if left cleated the boat has a nasty tendency to sail away as soon as it comes upright.
Uncleated the sail falls away as the boat comes up and even a 120 pounder can pull down the daggerboard from even the turtled position. Again not mentioning the sail will luff when rited. It's also best if you can orient the boat so you are on the windward side. That way once the boat comes up the sail is already in position to luff. Bring it up from the leeward side and you run the risk of the sail gybing into you or just coming right over and capsizing to the other side.


This video shows glimpses of sailors straining to not capsize and preparing to capsize, and ultimately going over. To keep your sail uncleated and even let it go as you go over is important. Watch some of these sailors crawl over their boats to keep from turning turtle. The boats are larger than the Sunfish but the technique to get onto the fully extended daggerboard and stand out on it as a lever to upright your boat is similar to the Sunfish. SuperCub, on of our members, posted a series of photos of him capsizing a SF on purpose and righting the boat and sailing off almost like a "Dip" in a tango. Try capsizing on purpose and practice your postions, grips, and weight placement on a lazy wind day. I found some videos at my local library that show a much more understandable presentation of sailing and righting your boat. Good luck.



One more, I just found a post from our member WaveDancer under a post:
Righting a Dumped Sunfish....reply #4.

We all get a bit nervous when the wind pipes up; without that we wouldn't have any stories to tell!

Regarding capsizing, usually there are two stages and I am not sure which one to address here. Let me try to explain two of the possible scenarios.

Once you capsize; the hull will be vertical initially and the sail roughly horizontal in the water. Maybe you are still inside the hull, hanging on to the gunwhale. If so, you can try to recover with the 'dry capsize' maneuver. Assuming (part of) the daggerboard is out, you move one leg out and step on the board with your foot, ever so gingerly. Then you move your weight out to slowly get the boat/sail up. At just the right time you slide back into the hull. Not so easy, but practice makes perfect.
If you have somehow parted company with the boat, the first thing is to get the daggerboard extended, if necessary. Then you swim, or move, around the hull and grab the daggerboard close to the hull. Even with short arms, that should be possible. To increase leverage you move your hands outward until the boat starts to come up. Initially this will be slow because of all the water in the sail. But once the water is dumped, the boat will come up much more quickly. Be aware of that, or the boat will capsize on top of you. Finally, you need to get back into the boat.

Turtleling the boat isn't automatic after a capsize. You can prevent this by tying an empty milk bottle to the top of the gaff. Ugly, but it's supposed to work.
The turtle position can be restful, because you can climb on the hull and figure out what to do. This includes waiting to be rescued. But to get back to normal by yourself, the most important thing is to get the daggerboard out (no surprise). If it isn't , you will need to push the board out from the deck side. But hopefully, tension from the shockcord tied to the board should have kept it in place, more or less. Now grab the board. Easy if you sit on top of the hull; harder if you are in the water. In the latter case, grab the board close to the hull. Then you move your hands outward to increase leverage. At some point the boat should come up (see above).
I agree that short arms and bad shoulders will make some of this more difficult. But the boat doesn't turtle in one swoop normally. Perhaps in a big wave; I don't know.

In higher winds, it's really helpful to first get the boat head to wind. This will prevent the boat from capsizing a second time (and on top of you).


New Member
Thanks for the information. I will practice doing this until I feel comfortable. Again, I appreciate everyone's feedback:)
The first thing I do when teaching anyone to sail is to capsize in shallow (waist deep) water. When my daughter was 12 and 100 lbs or so I did this and she was amazed that she could do it. Try to find a place that has a sandy bottom to practice if you don't want to do it in deep water. Once you practice a few times ,it gets easier. Your daughter should know how as well just in case.

Happy Sailing!

Fred P

I'm assuming no cleated main sheet. A beginner (or any sailor) does not need to have that.
1. The dagger board should be all the way into the trunk to have the most board extending from the bottom of the boat.
2. Get the boat pointing into the wind.
3. Grab the dagger board and try to get your hands to the very tip for the most leverage.
4. Slowly pull on the board and use your weight to right the boat.
5. Watch out when the boat is righted so it doesn't bop you on the head or blow away from you.
6. Always hold on to the boat and never let it get away from you.
7. Practice, practice, practice on purpose!

Where do you sail in NJ? The Hunterdon Sailing Club on Round Valley reservoir has a sailing lesson program.

Fred P