Page banner image
Home > Boats > Sailing > Dinghy

Dinghy Sailing

Overpowered? You're wet! Bad jibe or tack? You're wet! Misjudged that wind, that mark, that wave? Wet, wet, wet!

If you've never tried your hand at dinghy sailing, you should. In fact, many say you shouldn't even consider yourself a sailor unless you can sail a dink, because the bad habits a keelboat may allow just won't cut it on a skiff or even a sailing tender.

It's no coincidence that the world's best yacht racers hold dinghy sailing in such high regard. While those with enough money may surround themselves with a paid crew on a big keelboat and pretend to be great sailors regardless of their own actual skills, you just can't fake it in a dinghy.

A Real Watersport

This is the real sailing watersport, full of wet action and excitement. Small boat sailing can be either competitive, as in collegiate dinghy racing, or purely recreational as when sailing on a lake with family or friends.

As a dinghy sailor, particularly a competitive dinghy sailor, you've likely spent a good amount of time not just "on" but also "in" the water. The speed and responsiveness of skiffs and other planing dinghies comes at a cost, and that cost is stability. Sometimes capsizes are excruciatingly slow, but usually it's over in the blink of an eye.

Dinghy Designs

Small boat sailing can be either competitive, as in collegiate dinghy racing, or purely recreational as when sailing on a lake with family or friends.

Dinghies are commonly made from fibreglass, have wood or aluminium spars, and generally a sloop rig (two sails: a mainsail and a jib).

Racing dinghies tend to be lighter, have more sail area, and may use a trapeze to allow one or both crew members to suspend themselves over the water for additional stability.

Family daysailers tend to be wider with more accommodation space at the expense of speed.

You don't have to be in fantastic physical shape to sail, although there's no doubt that a couple of hours of sailing makes for good exercise.

Is this expensive?

Contrary to popular opinion, dinghy sailing is not an expensive or elitist pastime. Plenty of beautiful second hand boats can be bought for no more than a couple of hundred pounds. The necessary safety gear such as life vests are also not expensive.

Will I get wet?

If you just do social sailing without leaving the jetty or marina, you'll probably stay dry unless it rains. In case of foul weather you can always retreat to the club house.

Only if you practice sailing as an active watersport will you get wet. Always bring a complete change of clothes for each outing. The day you forget your extra clothes is the day you get wet.

Capsize Practice

Capsize training is exciting fun. The initial realisation you're capsizing and entering the water is the biggest thrill, especially when you're still dry. The adrenaline rush is amazing.

While some sailors enjoy it a lot, capsizing is not on everyone's list of favourite things to do when sailing, but knowing what to do and how to recover from a capsize is essential. It should be one of the first things you learn.

A capsize in the shallows may get interesting. You get the mast stuck in the mud, manage to pull the boat up right, climb in and suddenly a ton of mud drops from the mast tip onto your head.

The best advice we can give is to enjoy it. Capsizing is part of sailing and happens to the best of sailors. When it's a blazing hot day with rather slow sailing and not much wind, you may want to capsize on purpose, just for fun.

As with everything in sailing, the more you do it the easier it becomes to do. When you practise the tips below, you'll soon become an expert. Soon you'll master dry capsizing and only get a foot wet.

New sailors are encouraged to capsize their dinghy in a safe location with supervision a few times to become acquainted with their boat's floating properties and the capsize process. For many it is also a new experience to suddenly get all their clothes wet and swim in them.

Learn how to right the boat, bail out any water, and reset the sails. In the event of an uncontrolled capsize you are then familiar with the recovery procedure. Unjam sheets as soon as you realise the boat is about to capsize. This will save you messing with them in the water.

Most small monohull sailboats can normally be righted by standing or pulling down on the centreboard to lift the mast clear of the water.

Depending on the design of the hull, the boat's righting moment will normally take effect once the mast is around 30 degrees from horizontal and the sail clear of the water.

Having a crew member lift the end of the mast out of the water may help speed the process, as the greatest challenge of righting a capsized boat is shedding the weight of the water from the sails.

The bow of the capsized vessel should be pointed towards the wind so that when the sail starts to lift out of the water the wind can catch underneath the sail and help right the boat.

Care should be taken not to let the boat swing all the way over and capsize on the other side, frequently with the crew on the bottom. This is more likely if the boat is not pointed into the wind. Finally, climb back in and repeat.


  1. Unjam sheets
  2. Check crew
  3. Grab mainsheet and swim
  4. Grab centreboard
  5. Talk to each other
  6. Walking the hull
  7. Crew lies in boat
  8. Crew gest scooped in
  9. Crew pulls in helm

Capsize Variations

There are several variations of capsizes to consider:

Plain Capsize: The boat goes on its side and you fall into the water. The usual two causes of capsizes both come down to balance.

Leeward: Either there will be too much wind in the sails or not enough weight on the windward side. The sail falls away from you as the boat flips over into the water and you follow.

Windward: You're sailing along looking good, you're leaning out the windward side to keep the boat upright. All of a sudden the wind dies or changes direction, and the sail comes towards you, taking you for a swim.

Inversion or Turtle: The whole boat goes upside down. A bit trickier to recover from, but unless you're in shallow water, nothing to worry about. The technical term is to "turtle the boat".

Dry Capsize: When you are quick enough to get over the side of the boat and stand on the centreboard or daggerboard, walking as far back on it as possible to bring the boat back upright. It is not that dry, because while you may only get a foot wet during the capsize, the water has to drain off the sail somewhere, and that's usually on your head.

Death Roll: This can happen when sailing dead downwind. If the boat continually gybes from one side to the other as the wind switches, the rocking can be amplified until the boat capsizes, with the boom and sail in the air, still catching wind, which causes the boat to rotate nose first into the water.

Reader Comment: Capsize Training

by Darren and Craig, Poole, England

Dinghy sailing is great fun, especially when we capsize. We sail in the sheltered waters of Poole Harbour. Often we get a fresh breeze, but only small waves, and we enjoy when the spray comes over the boat and soaks us through.

Our overalls are no longer waterproof but breathable and keep the wind off. One-piece fleece suits under our nylon suits keep us warm when we get wet. This outfit is a bit too warm when dry.

On hot days we go for a swim before we sail off, just to get our clothes wet and stay cool. Overalls are easier to swim in than other sailing clothes due to their uncluttered design, not as bulky.

Capzise training is the best part of all. It's a great thrill to see if there is enough wind to push the boat over and we all get wet one more time. We seldom know when the boat tips over and we fall into the water. On calmer days one of us leans out on the leeward side to make the boat capsize faster. He gets dragged through the water for a while before we capsize.

Once in the water, one of us swims to the top of the mast to hold it up, the other climbs onto the centreboard and pulls the boat upright. While we climb back in, a lot of water runs off the sail and showers us.

After each sailing trip, once we've taken the boat of of the water and tidied up, we go for a swim to get fit. Then we go for a long shower to rinse the seawater out of our sailing clothes.

 Safety   Beach   Boats   Hiking   Jobs   Pool   Travel