Started Sailing

Handling gusty winds on a sailing dinghy

by Jenny

I already windsurf but about to learn sailboating. How do you handle gusty winds on a boat. On a windsurfer we sheet out - so do you let out the mainsail.

Hi Jenny,

This is an excellent question and it is something that many novices and even intermediates struggle with.

In gusty winds, the boat heels over, which will simultaneously slow the boat down (as the top of the sail is no longer in the wind) and will push the boat sideways. In order to be going at the fastest possible speed, the boat must remain flat.

In gusty winds this is difficult and there is a sliding scale of things you can do to depower the sails and flatten the boat.

The most simple thing to do is simply hike out, which is where you move your body weight further outside the boat, which creates an opposing moment to the wind and in light to moderate winds should bring the boat down.

If the boat continues to heel, you should then yes, let some mainsail out. However the important thing is not to let too much out and when you have let it out and the boat is starting to right itself, pull the main sheet all the way back in. This will not only flatten the boat, but give you an extra pump of speed.

If this still does not flatten the boat, then you must start using some of the other controls on the boat such as the kicker and cunningham. The kicker should be used first followed by the cunningham and should be removed immediately when the wind dies down (otherwise the boat will be too underpowered).

If you have done all these things and the boat is still not easy to control, then the last thing you can do is let out the genoa, which will completely depower the boat.

And if the boat is still unwieldy, you have probably already capsized, because the wind is too strong for you too handle.

Another thing you could do is either get heavier or get a heavier crew.

Start off by going out in light to moderate winds to get a feel for the boat controls and what they do. I have always found self learning is the best type of learning.

I hope this helps you and I wish you the best of luck in your future as a sailor.

Best regards,

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