Sailing in really shallow water

Thread starter #1
I'm a complete newbie.

My son got some time in a sunfish this summer at the local YMCA camp and really really wanted to take me out sailing with him. So we rented a sunfish from a local shop at the bottom of the bay near our house and headed out. He set up everything by himself (he's 9) and we headed out on the water. We quickly got stuck and then paddled around like crazy (getting nowhere) for what seemed like 20 minutes. Then my paddle hit the was like 2 feet deep! We later learned that the first mile of the bay is less than 6 feet deep.

We pulled up the centerboard about halfway and tacked about a dozen times trying to get away from the dock. Finally we were able to drop the centerboard and really sail. We had a blast!

My question is how would an experience sailor get out of a very shallow area with the wind pushing them onshore? I think that if we pulled the centerboard out entirely we would get pushed onto the shore when we tacked. How much are we slipping sideways with the centerboard only halfway in?

OK, boatspeed is your friend.

with limited lateral resistance available (board up) it's really easy to stall the foils and cause the boat to slip sideways.

The boat will have a hard time reattaching flow over the foils after a tack as well.

So, the basic rules to get away from the shoal until you can put the board down all the way are:

1. Foot off (bear off) and reach for speed.

2. Never pinch or point.

3. Sail long legs, limiting tacks.

4. Steer gracefully/gently through the tacks, avoid slowing the boat down with radical helm movements.


Upside down?
Staff member
Difficult situation indeed. You ended up doing the right thing, it looks like.

Just in case, here is a possible scenario:
Carefully insert the daggerboard until it hits the (sandy) bottom and pull it up a bit. If the bottom is rocky, one needs to be very careful not to break a piece off the board. In really shallow water, the rudder needs to be (partially) up as well. Then push off and sail away. Paddling, or another means of manual propulsion would help to shorten the agony. Yes, the boat would side slip; try to get the board further down as you sail away by carefully probing the bottom. And don't forget to push the rudder blade all the way down as soon as possible.
Not to be facetious, but in that shallow a water, I would get out and walk the boat toward deeper water.
I tend to do this. Where I sail it is rather rocky - Old slipway is breaking up. I tend to do it all the time when I am coming in, its a lot safer IMHO.


Upside down?
Staff member
Agreed; I would walk until the water reaches my thighs or so.... (make sure you have something on your feet though!)
Then go with the 'method' described earlier.
Thread starter #7
Thanks for all the replies!

I think thigh deep in this section could be pretty far out (maybe 200 yards).

One great thing was that coming back the wind pretty much drove us right into the dock. About 50 yards out we pulled down the sail pulled the centerboard the rest of the way out and just coasted into the dock. I think I paddled maybe 10 strokes just to correct our position.

If the wind was reversed we would have had an easy time getting out and struggled to get back.

I also see why the couple of sailing clubs on the bay are on the other end (much, much deeper over there).

Thanks again,