Learn to heave to.

Being able to heave to effectively is a very valuable skill to develop.

It has many uses:

  • To stop the boat as close to a person in the water as possible.
  • To stop and allow time for navigation if you are not sure where you are.
  • When entering a harbour or estuary, it allows time to ensure that you have correctly identified the navigation marks.
  • To allow someone who suffers from seasickness when under way to go below with a reduced risk of feeling ill. This means that they will be able to navigate, get in to their bunk, prepare food or drinks and even use the heads!
  • In the right boat, it can be a means of surviving in extreme weather. This will not be safe in a modern fin keeled yacht; she would sit broadside the the seas and would probably be rolled over. However, it will often work with a more traditional, long keeled vessel.

The technique varies dependant on the design of the vessel. The following usually works.

  1. Sheet the headsail taut.
  2. Tack hard through the wind until the vessel is on a beam reach.
  3. Immediately attempt to tack back hard.
  4. Most vessels will come up towards the wind then, the head will fall away, indicating that she has stopped (if the headsail starts to flap, pulling the tiller up towards the wind, then away sharply will usually stop her).
  5. Keep the tiller as far over to leeward as possible (you may be able to lash it).
  6. Some vessels (usual high performance craft) may require the main sheet to be eased right off, to help stop the boat.

All boats handle differently, but it is worth practising to find out how yours works best, and do not forget to ensure the crew know how to heave to as well. They may have to do it because you have fallen overboard!

In some small vessels, if you count to 5 seconds after a man over board incident, then heave to, the boat will stop just upwind of the casualty.


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