Righting Sunfish

Thread starter #1
We recently bought a 1978 Sunfish and as with all my small boats I dumped it to see how easy it would be to right. It immediately went into turtle mode and my 180 pounds could not bring it over. I have righted my capri 14.2 with no problem, my catamaran, but just could not get the sundfish over. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Should not turtle right away unless someone is hanging on and helps pull it over.

How deep was the water where you capsized? Maybe you stuck the gaff in the mud?

How fast are you expecting to right the boat? It comes up slowly, more force will not make it come up faster. Should take about 45 seconds to a minute to right.

Is there water in the mast? Dunk the mast in the lake as see if it is filling up with water.

How much does your boat weigh? Is there water sloshing around in the hull? This should not really have an affect unless there is lots of water in the hull. I use to capsize a 'Water sloshing' Sunfish for fun and it did not turtle.

How did you finally get it upright? The Sunfish is a very easy boat to right which makes is safe for kids as long as two of them pull on the centerboard as a team.
Thread starter #3
We purposefully dumped in deep water, no mud.
The mast did fill with water. Any thoughts to prevent that?
No water in the hull to speak of.

It took a while and 2 other people in kayaks helped to right it with us.
We might not have waited long enough, but the weight was alot, especially with the mast full of water.

Thanks for your help!


Member Emeritus
I dumped it to see how easy it would be to right. It immediately went into turtle mode and my 180 pounds could not bring it over. I have righted my capri 14.2 with no problem, my catamaran, but just could not get the sundfish over. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
You say there is no water in the hull to speak of. There should be none. If it sloshes at all that could be a contributor.

Odd it went turtle so quickly, mine sits at 90* unless there's a lot of chop or a strong breeze pushing against the hull bottom.

Might the trouble righting have been due to the mainsheet being cleated or fouled keeping the sail inline with the hull? Were you using the mainsheet as a righting line?
Which mast do you have, the one where the halyard runs through the top of the mast cap or the old one where the halyard runs through a flagpole pully? You need to remove the caps and apply Marine Sealer then reinstall the caps. Since you're pulling the caps off you might as well replace them with new ones. Should do the same on the boom and gaff caps. If you use 3M 5200 Sealer the caps should be pretty much unremovable after that. 3M 4200 will let you remove them in the future, maybe.
It sounds like the mast full of water was your problem. I had the same problem with a Hobie Holder 14.

I would first drain the mast and then check for any holes and seal them with silicone caulk. Also check to see if the cap at the top of the mast is intact. You can run a small bead of silicone caulk around the cap. Also check the cap at the base of the mast and repair if necessary. Then dunk your mast in water to see if you have sealed all the leaks.

You might also want to add a "float" to the top of the upper boom. I cut a swim noodle tube (available at WalMart) in half (lengthwise) and taped the two halves to the upper boom. If you pick the right color it is barely noticeable.

Hope this helps.

Reno, NV


Member Emeritus
Which mast do you have
Out of curiosity...

What's the dry weight of the mast and spars?

What's the internal volume of the mast and spars?

What's their buoyancy when sealed?

What's their weight when filled with water...

________________in air?

______________in water?
Internal volume of mast. . .

3.1416 X 1.125^ X 10'=39.27

Water = 1 gallon = 4 quarts = 8 pints = 128 fluid ounces = 231 cubic inches

Weight = 1 Gallons [US] = 8.345

My math sucks, I'll let someone more capable figure this out.
My math sucks, I'll let someone more capable figure this out.

Volume of mast: 3.14...x 1.125" x 120"= 477.13 cubic inches

1 gallon = ~ 231 cubic inches


the mast can hold about 2 gallons.

weight of 1 gallon of water = ~8.35lbs

weight of empty mast + 16.7 lbs = full mast.

I'm rusty but that should be it.

For buoyancy, I'd need more information like density of the water it's in, density of the mast, etc and quite honestly, don't feel like calculating it. :p

So at most, we're talking about an extra 40 lbs of water which I would think an 180lb person should be able to overcome.

I think something else is going on. The boat should be able to be brought up on it's side within reason because even if the mast and spars are full of water, the weight of them full of water won't matter up to the surface of the water. And they're not going to weigh so much that you can't right the boat.

The sail can prevent you from pulling it back over. If it turtled quickly then it should be easy to bring it up enough so that the mast and spars are at or near the surface of the water. They are also skinny and should go through water easily enough. If the sail is caught and acting like a large fin underwater, then it'll be tough. I would think the sail, if caught, would prevent it from turtling quickly as well.

Did you climb on top of the hull and start pulling it over that way or just grab the daggarboard and pull while it was turtled?
Or is it possible that it didn't really turtle immediately? Our sense of time elapsed can be off sometimes. And a turtled boat is harder to right than one laying on it's side. Once the sail is in the water, you're fighting much more drag even if it is loose.
I agree that something else might be going on thought there aren't many possibilities.

I still think that water in the mast and booms is probably the problem (once the sail and mast and booms are at the surface of the water). Even though there are only 40 lbs. of water in the mast and booms the weight exerts a lot of downward force due the leverage caused by the length of the mast and booms. This leverage can be very difficult to overcome, even for a 180 lb. person.

Reno, NV


Upside down?
Staff member
I can't put my finger on it, but the proposed scenarios don't smell quite right.

1. If the mast was dry, it takes many (!) minutes to fill up with water (if the water gets in through a small hole)

2. Is the mast sealed at the bottom, or is the cap missing?

I am pretty sure that a (dry, 140 lb) Sunfish with a mast full of water is still easy to right. Did you use the daggerboard for leverage? As others have pointed out, a Sunfish doesn't turtle all that readily.
Thanks for the math Minifish. I have to disagree about the weight of the water being a factor until boat is on it's side. The water filled mast is acting just like a boat that uses a water ballast keel, or the more normal concrete and broken sashcord filled keel. The Sunfish, being shaped much on the top as it is on the bottom, should be much more stable upsidedown with the weight of the mast and rigging than rightside up with the weight of the daggerboard. To wit, if a large wave capsized the boat, what is the chance another large wave would right the boat?
I have a 2007 Sunfish which I dumped, the boat initially went onto it's beam and from there slowly turned turtle, there was no water in the mast, and the mainsheet was free to run. Righting took no more than 30 seconds from the time I grabbed the daggerboard to lever the boat back to being on it's beam, from which point it quickly righted itself, I weigh 230 lb., but at 180 it should still come up fairly easily.

beldar boathead

Well-Known Member
I agree something is wrong:
1) It takes forever for a mast to fill with water in the first place.
2) Water in a mast weighs nothing when it is underwater. The only problem is the loss of buoancy caused by no air in the mast.
3) I have frequently seen 100 lb kids right a turtled Sunfish. Something must be wrong with your technique. Stand on the hull, be sure the board is pulled all the way up so all the board is sticking out of the hull, then grab near the tip, lean back, and pull!

To prove to yourself that water does not weigh anything when it is in the water, take a ziploc baggie, fill it with water, squeeze all the air out, and throw it in the lake. It will float right near the surface and not sink.

I weigh 140 pounds and have no problem righting my sunfish which is a little overweight. I think that the little bit of extra weight from water in the mast would be insignificant and have no effect. I would guess your problem was that the mainsheet was caught on something and you didnt notice. If the mainsheet was caught the sail would make so much resistance you wouldent be able to right the boat. This happened to me once and once I realized the sheet was caught and freed it the boat came up easily.