Roll tacking in a keelboat – two methods to try

Roll tacking in a keelboat is definitely something worth practicing and it takes a little while to get it right. In lighter winds using the crews combined and coordinated weight movements to help roll the boat through the tacks helps keeping the speed through the tacks and minimise lost ground.

Stepwise guide to roll tacking on a keelboat

First method – moving weight to support steering going into the tack

Crew is moving it’s weight in a coordinated at the start of the tack helping the boat steer through the tack without losing too much speed.

  1. All crew gathered at the leeward side
  2. All crew moving across to the old windward side causing the boat to straighten up generating additional airflow over the sails
  3. Helmsman steers the boat through the tack as the crew passes midship
  4. Tack completes and the crew is now all gathered on the new leeward side helping to create an optimal heeling angle

Second method – moving weight to help boat accelerating out of the tack

In this technique the crew is rolling the boat after the tack is completed to help it accelerate coming out of the tack.

  1. Crew on the windward side (this obviously assumes a little more breeze than in the previous example)
  2. Helmsman tacks the boat while the crew is still not moving
  3. The boat is on it’s new tack and crew weight all on the new leeward side creating the boat to heel
  4. The crew now moves in a coordinated way over to the new windward side and the boat accelerates due to the extra flow of wind created over the sails

List of sailing books that could help you further

What does the rules allow?

The main rules relating to roll tacking are specified under section 42 and I have copied an extract here:

42.1 Basic Rule Except when permitted in rule 42.3 or 45, a boat shall compete by using only the wind and water to increase, maintain or decrease her speed. Her crew may adjust the trim of sails and hull, and perform other acts of seamanship, but shall not otherwise move their bodies to propel the boat.


42.3 Exceptions
(a) A boat may be rolled to facilitate steering.
(b) A boat’s crew may move their bodies to exaggerate the rolling that facilitates steering the boat through a tack or a gybe, provided that, just after the tack or gybe is completed, the boat’s speed is not greater than it would have been in the absence of the tack or gybe.

Normally a keel boat roll tacking will not achieve higher speed coming out of the tack than it had going into the tack, although the loss of speed is less when roll tacking. For that reason none of the above mentioned techniques should be in conflict with the rules.

In a dinghy a well executed roll tack will give the boat a higher speed going out of the tack than it did before the tack and hence it’s more sensitive from a disallowed propulsion perspective. This clip shows the roll tacking of a dingy and the technique actually combines the two methods described for the keel boat roll tacking, i.e. the crew weight help accelerate the boat both going into the tack, and also once the tack is completed accelerate again.

Bowman role, foredeck instruction

The following scenarios mainly refer to racing on a medium to large size keel boat. Some of the info would be of use when cruising as well. For a small keel boat, like a J24 e.g, or for a mega large yacht the procedures would be adjusted slightly.

The start

Before the start the Bowman often sits on the front pulpit (if one exists) talking or gesturing to the tactician about other boats and distance to the start line. The position at the very front of the boat gives an excellent view, which the back of the boat doesn’t have.
For the Bowman to correctly assess the distance to the line it’s beneficial to check the transit lines before the start, i.e. sighting some land mark on the extension of the start line.

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Spinnaker sailing – without the pole

Many sailors, myself including, are so used to the “normal” way of working with the pole and spinnaker together that the thought of sometimes working the spinnaker without the pole hasn’t really occurred to us. We keep doing the same setup; first putting the pole up before hoisting the spinnaker, foredeck working frantically on getting the pole reconnected after a gybe, and pole staying up until the spinnaker is safely stored under deck at a drop.

This article is challenging this routine and suggests that in some instances there are better and faster ways of working with the spinnaker.

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Chinese Gybes – and how to avoid them

A “Chinese Gybe” (jibe) also known as a “death roll” is feared by many and we need to know how best to avoid them.

The scenario:

You’re sailing dead downwind in windy conditions, and suddenly the boat starts rolling back and forth with increasing amplitude to the point where the boat actually broaches to windward. As the boat is broaching to windward it is also turning sharply to leeward causing it to gybe uncontrolled – “crash gybe”.

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Heavy wind gybing – fast and safe!

Gybing the boat in windier conditions is always going to be a bit of a challenge and there’s plenty of opportunity for mistakes which can slow you down and even be dangerous. With the right preparations and precaution taken you can significantly improve your chances of safe and fast gybes, even when the wind is above your normal level of comfort. This article is focusing entirely on the main sail aspect of the gybe, genoa and/or spinnaker gybing will be covered in another article.

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Spinnaker gybing


Spinnaker ready to gybe

The following article describes a safe and fast way of gybing (jibing) a spinnaker on a 40 foot yacht. The key aim has been to reduce complexity so that no one in the crew is trying to do several things at once. E.g. it’s quite a common technique, where the spinnaker trimmer tries to trim both sheets at the same time during the gybe, which on this size of boat becomes nearly impossible in a good breeze.

The method requires that you prepare by making a mark on each of the spinnaker sheets for a base trimming position where the spinnaker clews only just clears the forestay when sailing without a pole.

To break down the activities it’s easier to look at the gybing maneuver as a three phase operation:

  1. Preparing for Gybe (Jibe)
  2. Gybing
  3. Post-Gybe

Peel sail change – step by step

Procedure for a peel head sail change, which would apply for a larger type of yacht (30-50 feet) but obviously can be modified for other types as well. By “peel” we mean hoisting a second head sail side by side with an existing one and then once the new sail is in operation we drop the old one. By doing this the impact to boat speed will be minimised.

What this article is also trying to emphasize is the importance of crew weight and working in a smart efficient way to avoid disturbances to the balance of the boat, keeping the crew on the rail as much as possible. It should be possible to change the head sail with only a maximum of two people being away from the rail at any one time.

Assumptions made for the step-by-step instructions below:

  • The boat is on a starboard tack
  • change from no 3 headsail (Genoa) up to a no 2
  • The no 3 is in port track
  • We’ll be hoisting the no 2 on the inside of the no 3.
  • This is a peel only change, ie we will not be tacking
  • There is a spare “change sheet” available on the boat.

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