What To Do When a Sailboat Is Heeling Too Much (Explained)

Sailing is a fun activity for many people, but it comes with the innate prerequisite of being on the water rather than on stable ground. Aspiring captains must learn how to navigate and operate a boat while it rocks around in the water, which means dealing with things like heeling (i.e., leaning too far to the left or right). What do you do when your boat is heeling more than you can handle?

When a sailboat is heeling too much, you can lower the sails to stop them from catching the wind. This should greatly reduce heel. You can also redistribute weight on the boat to balance it out or use a boat that naturally heels less.

In this article, I will go into detail on some of the things you can do to mitigate how much a sailboat heels, as well as some other related topics. Read on if you’d like more information on sailboat heeling and how to reduce it.

A sailboat heeling: Things to do if sailboat heels too much

How a Sailboat is Made Can Affect Heeling

One of the biggest factors in how much a sailboat can heel is simply how the boat is made. Everything from the shape of the keel to the size of the boat impact how easily and safely it can heel.

If you find that your boat is consistently heeling more than you would like, it may just be how that particular boat is made. Some people actually prefer a sailboat that can heel easily, especially those who compete in boat racing, because it can increase a boat’s speed by allowing the sails to catch more wind.

As such, if you have a choice in the matter, try to look for a sailboat that’s made with stability in mind. Some boats are made specifically to handle heeling better and maintain stability, which will likely be an advertised feature as well as one that’s more in demand for recreational sailors.

The Keel Can Affect a Sailboat’s Propensity to Heel

Even if you don’t have the option of trying a different boat, you should still look yours over, especially the keel, which is the protruding piece at the bottom of the boat. 

The keel can vary greatly in appearance depending on what it’s built for, but some boats have keels specially designed to reduce heeling through means like catching on the water and counterbalancing the vessel.

A sailboat's keel is meant to reduce excessive heeling

You might not be able to easily replace or modify a sailboat’s keel, but you can at least check to make sure it’s working as it’s supposed to. If something important is damaged or broken off, this could impact your boat’s ease of control, especially when it comes to heeling.

Adjust the Sails to Reduce Heeling

The sails are the primary cause of heeling in a sailboat. 

A boat heels when its sails catch enough wind to pull it to the side and make it lean. This is usually fine but can put stress on the mast and risk capsizing your vessel in extreme cases.

The easiest way to stop this is by simply lowering the sails. If there’s nothing for the wind to catch on, your boat shouldn’t heel much, if at all. While this is a temporary solution unless the boat has another form of propulsion, it’s effective nonetheless. 

If the wind picks up while you’re out sailing and it starts causing your boat to lean more than you expected, taking down the sails for a while will let you wait it out.

Man lowering sails on boat: Lower the sails to reduce heeling too much

Use a Motor When the Wind is Too Strong to Reduce Heeling

Speaking of alternative forms of propulsion, it’s a good idea to have a backup for when the weather doesn’t agree with sails. This way, any time a heavy wind starts tugging your sailboat around more than you’re comfortable with, you can just pull the sails in and start up the motor.

A boat being propelled mechanically can also go faster than one powered by the wind in its sails under the right circumstances. If you want more options for fast travel, this is another good reason to consider installing a motor on your boat. 

Just keep in mind that using both the sails and motor at once won’t necessarily make you go any faster.

Redistribute Weight to Lessen Excessive Heeling

Lowering the sails may be the best way to stop a boat from heeling, but this also means you will be going nowhere fast until the wind calms down unless you have another form of propulsion. 

If you want to reduce how much your boat is heeling without slowing down your sailing experience, one easy thing you can do is redistribute the weight on the boat so that it counteracts the wind pulling on the sails.

If your boat is being pulled to one side, have all passengers stand or sit on the opposite side to counterbalance it. If you don’t have any other passengers or this isn’t enough, try moving heavy cargo instead. This is unlikely to completely stop a boat from heeling, but it can mitigate the impact and limit how far the boat will heel.

Will a Sailboat Tip Over?

It can be difficult for passengers to deal with a boat heeling a few degrees more than they’re used to. After all, most people are accustomed to being on solid ground where the floor beneath them doesn’t shift and tilt at awkward angles. However, the concerning part for some is the idea that their sailboat could tip over and capsize.

A sailboat will tip over under the right circumstances. However, this is very unlikely unless the boat is in heavy wind or rough water, and many sailboats are designed to prevent heeling too much. Some sailboats are also able to right themselves when capsized.

A sailboat in the ocean: Sailboats can tip over if they heel too much

Because capsizing is a possibility, a lot of sailboats have safety precautions implemented to help deal with excessive heeling. This doesn’t mean you should sail out into storms with reckless abandon, but it might put your mind at ease while sailing to know that your sailboat is probably made to stay balanced and even flip itself back over in the event of being capsized.

Check out the video below to find out more about reducing the heel angle on a sailboat:

What To Do When a Sailboat Is Heeling Too Much – Conclusion

It’s perfectly normal for sailboats to heel, but this can cause problems in more extreme cases. Not only is it difficult to walk around on a deck that’s slanted sideways, but it can also put the sailboat at risk of capsizing if the boat heels too much.

Fortunately, there are several things that can be done to mitigate how much a boat can heel as well as allow it to heel more safely. The suggestions made in this article are the easiest ways to “right the ship” as it were if heeling too much.

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