If your boat was about to broach what would you do? James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship

How do I get out of a severe broach?

James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship.


Dave is cruising from Port Edgar up the east coast of Scotland.

The boat is a 10m cruiser racer and conditions are ideal; sunny with a Force 4 from the west-southwest.

Dave is a proficient dinghy sailor but has only recently taken up yachting. His crew are keen but have limited offshore experience.

The boat is on a broad reach, and Dave decides that it’s time to hoist the symmetric spinnaker.

After a couple of false starts, with sheets through rather than over the rail, it goes up and their speed increases by 1-2 knots.

An hour or two later, Dave notices the speed has increased by another 1-2 knots, but conditions are still pleasant and the crew are enjoying fast sailing.

Continues below…

The sea state has become rougher and the wind has moved further aft.

The apparent wind is a comfortable 10 knots but when Dave switches the instruments to true wind, it’s gusting 18 knots.

It is now getting difficult to steer, with the sea picking up the stern and accelerating the boat into the wave in front.

The crew are excited by the action but Dave knows the spinnaker has to come down soon.

At that moment a gust and an extra large wave appear and the boat accelerates.

The helm loses control and they round up in a spectacular broach.

The boat is heeling right over to starboard, pinned down with the spinnaker and main boom in the water, the rudder useless and the crew hanging on as best they can.

What does Dave do now?


The first action is to release the kicker and mainsheet to allow the boom to rise and depower the mainsail.


James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

This allows the boat to come upright enough to give steerage.

If the yacht is still on its side the spinnaker halyard can be eased about a third to half down, to take wind out of the sail but not too far.

It is really important not to immerse the spinnaker so the sheet should be tightened, which allows the wind to pass underneath.

The guy or sheet should not be released at this stage or the spinnaker will continue to pull the boat over and be hard to retrieve.

With the halyard eased, the helm can regain control and bring the boat upright by steering towards the spinnaker.

Once the course is downwind, the spinnaker can be dropped.

Taking the lazy guy between the foot of the main and the boom before releasing the guy brings the spinnaker safely into the lee of the main.

Dave must keep calm and the crew will have to concentrate. Finding the right rope is difficult while clambering over the cockpit.

An early reduction in sail would’ve been a good idea.

Enjoyed reading How do I get out of a severe broach?

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