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Heaving To

Heaving to is a way of essentially stopping your sailboat. The boat quiets down if there is a lot of wind and either stays mostly in one spot or very slowly moves forward in a very slow gentle zig-zag.

Heaving to is very useful anytime you need to take a break, check the gpg or charts, have a sandwitch or deal with an emergency or small repair. It also helps you buy time if there is fog or you would rather wait till daybreak to go forward in an unknown area.

It is also one of the safest ways to weather a storm if you can't make it to port and you have enough room to drift safely. It is not unusual for cruising sailors to heave to when they get caught in a gale.

Lin and Larry Pardey describe in great detail the intricacies of heaving to in difficult conditions. Their book Storm Tactics Handbook: Modern Methods of Heaving-to for Survival in Extreme Conditions is a must read if you plan to go cruising, or just to read for fun.

There is a measure of control as the boat slowly sails forward and it is easy to get underway.

When heaving to, the goal is to have 2 sails working against each other so there is little headway.

Heaving to is a sailing manoever that can be done by a solo sailor.

In order to heave to you usually need 2 sails. A headsail such as a jib or genoa, and a main.

I've heard some people claim that they can balance their single sail and tiller so that it is hove to but I've never seen it and I can't do it with my Skerry with only the sprit sail.

As soon as the jib is up the Skerry can easily heave to and is very stable.

My Tanzer 22 Keelboat was a joy and would sit happily, essentially "parked" while I took a break or had my lunch.

There are 4 steps to heaving to

close hauled

Start out from a CLOSE HAUL. That is, you should be sailing into the wind at a comfortable angle.

My page on the Points of Sail

STEP 1: Make sure your jib is securely cleated as you sail close hauled.


STEP 2: Tack across the wind and allow your main sail to swing over. You don't usually need to uncleat the main. Do not do anything with your Jib. The nose of the boat will cross the wind.


STEP 3: After the boat has tacked, with your jib still backed, bring the tiller over in the opposite direction. Since your boat will not have enough forward momentum to tack it will go upwind slightly and fall back.

Every boat reacts differently at this step so you might have to adjust the angle of the tiller or the set of the sails. Don't let it tack again. If it looks like your boat will go across again use your tiller to keep it from going across and let it fall off wind a bit more.


STEP 4: Lash the tiller in this position.

At this point your boat should be hove to. You might have to adjust the sails to reach a stable position.

What is happening?

path of boat

The tiller tries to swing the boat through the wind again. The jib or head sail is trying to swing the boat so it falls off the wind, fighting the tiller. The mainsail is tring to push the boat forward and trying to bring it across the wind. Essentially the 2 sails are pushing in different directions.

Getting Underway

To start sailing again you simply have to release the jib and let it come across. Unlash the tiller and you are once again sailing.

Heaving to is harder to describe than to do. It's a simple procedure. In practice you come about from a close haul and lash the tiller the opposite way that you used to tack.

In my boats I don't have to loosen or adjust the sails. To take off just release the jib, let it come to the other side and cleat it.

A Warning

In this page I have described one way of heaving to that has worked well in the boats I have sailed. The key to success is to actually try it on your boat and figure out what works best. When you're in trouble is no time to start trying out new tactics. Learn alone and with your usual crew.

Youtube Videos on heaving to.


Small Print

There are many ways of dealing with bad weather. Learn what is best for your boat and your area. Heaving to is only one method and not always the best choice. Practice in safe conditions first.