How to Rescue a Capsized Dyer

The objectives are two:

    1) Get the swimmer out of the water into the safety boat;

    2) Get the dinghy to the committee boat. (Normally, you should not have to tow a dinghy all the way into the boatyard.)

Every MFA safety boat operator (and sailor) should learn the following step-by-step procedure! After the swimmer is out of the pool, it takes about five minutes under optimal conditions, but in real life 15 or more minutes, to get a dinghy ready to tow back to the Committee boat.

Step 1

Pull the swimmer out of the water. Approach the capsize carefully, to avoid overrunning any lines, the sail, or the swimmer. Note the location of any floating gear, but don't pick it up until after you  have the swimmer. Bring them to the Committee Boat immediately only if they are in danger of hypothermia. Normally however they will be OK, and will prefer to help retrieve their own boat. Retrieving the dinghy is much easier with two people in the crash boat.

The swimmer may benefit from immediate removal to the committee boat if they've been in the water a long time, if they were frail to begin with, or if not dressed properly, but this is rare. In almost all cases, the sailor will be much better off actively working with you to get the dinghy sorted out.

Step 2

The crash boat will have more windage than the capsize, so it will tend to weathervane downwind. It may save a bit of trouble later if the initial approach is made from downwind.

Step 3

Release the mast and boom. Ordinarily a capsized dinghy will lie in the water with hull on its side and mast and sail upwind. (If the capsized dinghy is completely upside down, someone will have to get their arm wet. Reach down and grab the bow gunwale  and pull hard upwards until it comes above the water. This will take some force, because of the suction effect.) You or the sailor should get a good grip on the dinghy. Make sure the motor is in neutral! Then move the dinghy around until you can reach a shroud pin. Once the pin is undone, the dinghy can be pushed upright. At this point, it will be floating, with its gunwales awash. Sometimes there is a lot of force on that pin, making it hard to pull out. If this happens, pull down on the shroud to create a little slack.

The sailor will be familiar with the lines and fittings in their own boat, so they are best able to undo the vang, shroud, and bow dodger. It's often simplest for them to deal with that stuff while they're right there. Also, they should secure the rudder at this time, before it floats away or breaks something.

Step 4

Arrange the mast and boom down the centerline of the dinghy. This cannot be done until the vang is undone, and it cannot be done quickly when the sail is full of water. So this step can take a bit of time. Tie the bottom end of the mast loosely to the forward thwart with any available line except the painter. Typically, there's plenty of halyard line floating around; the main sheet is also good for this purpose.

Step 5

Empty most of the water from the boat. You (the crash boat operator) will have the strength to do this. The swimmer may be tired at this time, so they should counterbalance the crash boat. Just grab the bow of the dinghy and pull slowly up. The water in the dinghy will run aft and out over the transom. Keep pulling, dumping the water might take longer than you expect. As the water runs out, keep lifting the bow up and over the gunwale of the crash boat. When most of the water has drained out of the dinghy, about two-thirds, push the bow of the dinghy QUICKLY SIDEWAYS off the crash boat. The dinghy will now be empty enough to tow. Try to avoid scratching the dinghy's bottom if possible, some sailors are particular about things that might affect boatspeed.

Step 6

Prepare for towing. Check that the mast and boom are on top of the dinghy, bow and stern. If the sail looks like it will get loose,   you might need to wrap a line around the mast and boom to keep them together so that the sail doesn't have a chance to drag in the water. Pull the centerboard handle of the dinghy forward to bring the centerboard all the way up - you cannot tow a dinghy with the centerboard down. Have the sailor check that the centerboard is all the way up, and have them keep an eye on it during the trip back to the committee. Some boards tend to slip down by themselves – very bad when under tow!

Step 7

Tow the dinghy to the Committee boat. Tie the painter of the dinghy to the crash boat. You can also hip tow the dinghy by holding it at the side of the crash boat. A hip tow is slower so don't do it if you have a long way to go. The sailor or others on the Committee Boat will take charge of the dinghy. You are now done with this rescue.

Note: The committee Boat should stay on station until all capsized dinghies are collected. If they start to leave after racing is over but you have a capsize in tow, hail them immediately and remind them that assistance is required.

This procedure is normally done by one crash boat. A second boat usually can't get in there to do any good, but use your judgment – no two incidents are exactly the same. Call for assistance if you need it. Offer assistance if you can help.

Communicating with the Race Committee: They tend to panic until they see that you are on the case. You can wave at them to acknowledge their hails, but you don't have to stop doing what you're doing to respond. They also tend to get distracted, so when you're on your way back to them (or whenever) you can radio them to tell them to get ready. If your sailor is OK, the committee may ask you to hold up until after a starting signal.

Wind and tides: If you're about to wash up on a rock, throw out an anchor. This should be part of the equipment on every safety boat.

Tracy Kingsley

MFA Safety officer

Last Revised: Jan 2, 2016

Originally Written by Roger Willcox, Jan 1, 2001