Laser Cruising: Laser 13 capsize drill

Some suggestions about what to do if your Laser 13 capsizes, which is always a possibility in dinghy sailing.

This was done deliberately as a practice –“ at the request of my young crew, who regarded it as good fun –“ on a hot June day so that the water was refreshing, if anything, and the wind light. A club safety boat was just out of the picture.

At other times, being immersed suddenly in chilly water can be a real shock to the system and will take your breath away for a few seconds; it's not quite so bad if you're expecting this.

Apart from anything else, capsizing deliberately is reassuring because you realise just how hard it can be to get the boat to go over! However, once it does reach tipping point ...

Click photos for enlargements
1. Stay dry if you can by climbing onto the top edge. Take your time - everything seems to happen suddenly but the worst thing to do is to rush.

If you do end up in the water, so be it. Prioritise getting free from lines and make your way round to the underside. There is more on this below.

Laser 13 capsize
2. Check everyone is OK. If you look closely at the enlarged image, my crew – who did end up going for a swim – is actually grinning.

But be aware of the risks of entanglement and of the possibility that the boat could go right over.

Laser 13 capsize
3. Get your weight onto the centreboard. If you are in the water you will either have to haul yourself up or at least hang your weight onto the end of the board.

Get crew to check all sheets are free then get themselves into a position to be 'scooped' aboard as the boat comes upright.

Laser 13 capsize
4. Lean back and pull the boat up. You don't need to get it pointing into wind beforehand - if you bring it up gradually, it will tend to corkscrew into the wind anyway.

In fact you can see our mainsheet snagged; the crew – who was alive to the issue and knew what to do from a previous practice – swiftly released it.

Laser 13 capsize

Ideally, climb aboard yourself as the boat flattens. I find this hard to do and usually end up in the water if I wasn't there to begin with ... which is the main reason I have a rope ladder with plastic steps handily stowed under the transom seat   by far the easiest way to get back on board.

Finally, gather your wits and check everything is where it should be before sailing away.

For reference: in this sequence I weighed about 12st (76kg) and my crew about half that; the boat was fully equipped, including wooden oars and, inside the hatch, a 4kg anchor and spare ropes, etc. You can see that the boat on its side floats surprisingly high in the water.


If you do go into the water, hold onto something! In any kind of breeze it is remarkably easy to become separated from the boat, whose hull now presents a large windage area. Life gets harder if you fail to stay dry and end up in the water, because you first have to climb onto the centreboard before you can stand on it to pull the boat upright.

The unfitter and fatter you are, the bigger the challenge this is going to be. A rope slung over the top of the boat will assist enormously: use a jib sheet (if long enough) or mooring warp rather than mainsheet. There is an argument for having a line attached to the centre thwart, just in case.

The Laser 13 has nifty lines slung underneath the gunwale on the outside, which pull down to provide foot steps. These are intended to aid you in getting back aboard but may assist in reaching the centreboard. I have not tried it.


So far all this presumes the centreboard stays down at least far enough to stop the boat inverting completely. In my experience, if the centreboard bangs up into the hull, the boat will go straight over in spite of the flotation pad in the top of the sail.

If it does, you first have to climb onto the upturned hull - use those lines slung under the gunwale as a step - and retrieve the centreboard.

Then stand on the gunwale and lean back, pulling on the centreboard, until the boat comes up. If you are careful and time it right, you can step up on the centreboard and onto the top edge as it does so.

You then have the boat on its side and can proceed as above.

I hope that is useful. Thoughts welcome.

Note: My thanks to the person at Broadwater Sailing Club, whose name I have forgotten, who saw us practising and shot then very kindly offered me this superb sequence of photos.


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