Sailing Techniques: How to Heave-to Sailing Techniques: How to Heave-to

What You'll Need
Jib sail
Alert Crew and Skipper

When you are sailing in open water and need to stop the boat in order to make repairs, eat or otherwise take a break, heaving-to is the maneuver you and your crew must perform. As with everything in sailing, there is a process to it, but basically heaving to means to position the boat across the wind and slowly drift to leeward–that is, away from the wind. The net result of heaving to is that the boat is steered into the wind while the jib sail catches enough to slowly push back. The two cancel each other out, and the boat makes little progress, giving you and your crew time to make repairs or rest. It is important that you are aware of your surroundings before you attempt the maneuver, for carelessness can be disastrous, especially when sailing.

Step 1: Check for Obstacles to the Leeward Side

Before heaving-to, the most important thing is to check for obstacles down wind. These include other boats, buoys, reefs, docks, land or anything else your boat could drift into. When you are sure there is nothing in your path, begin the process of heaving-to.

Step 2: Give Oral Command

A vital part of sailing etiquette is the commands that are given and responded to by the skipper and crew, respectively. Before heaving to, the skipper will call out ‘ready to heave-to’. Only when ready will the crew call out individually ‘ready’. After every crewmember has indicated their readiness, it is time to perform the maneuver.

Step 3: Hard Alee

The skipper calls out ‘hard alee’ and the helmsman pushes the tiller to the leeward side of the boat. If the wind is blowing from the port or left side of the boat, the leeward side is the right or starboard side.

Step 4: Ease the Mainsail

When the tiller is pushed to the leeward side, the boat’s bow will pass into and eventually through the wind. As this happens, the crew eases the mainsail. This means that the sail is released partially from catching wind. The jib sail, on the other hand, remains sheeted or taut to the wind.

Step 5: Tiller to New Leeward Side

After the bow of the boat has passed through the wind, the jib sail, because it has not been altered, will be blown back towards the stern of the boat. The helmsman turns the tiller to the new leeward side. Now that the wind is coming from the right, the tiller will be pushed to left. With the bow of the boat pointing into the wind and the jib sail backed by the wind, the boat’s movement is all but cancelled.

A successful heaving-to maneuver will cancel most of the boat’s movement. The mainsail can be trimmed a little so the boat moves slightly, but with the tiller and jib sail in their correct positions, you can safely let down your guard a bit and do what you need to do, whether that is eat, relax or make repairs.

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