**Heaving To When Sailing

Heaving to is a useful storm tactic if you are tired or inexperienced. Heaving to is considered a 'passive' storm tactic because you are not actively sailing sailing but instead you are riding out the storm.

Putting the boat into a quick 'hove to' is a useful tactic in a COB (crew overboard) situation, especially where the likelihood losing sight of the COB is great.

On the casual side of sailing, heaving to on a beautiful day is a great way to take a break, enjoy the surroundings and have lunch. You are miles off shore and the water is far too deep to even consider anchoring. Putting the boat in Irons stops the boat temporarily but eventually the boat will want to turn one way or the other, catch wind, and with sails flapping, off you go. The solution - put the boat into a Heave To.

How to Heave To

If you have a choice of which tack you can heave to on, it is probably better to heave to on a starboard tack. Since you are still considered to be a vessel 'under way', you must adhere to the rules of navigation. A sailboat on a starboard tack is the 'stand on' boat for all other sailboats on a port tack so they must 'give way' - stay clear.

To put your boat into a heave to on a starboard take, you will start by sailing on a port tack. The initial phase of Heaving To is like tacking (turning the bow of the boat through the wind). (see Heave To diagram below)

As skipper you will have advised the crew to: “Get ready to Heave To.”

When the crew has advised that they are, “Ready”, the skipper will say, “Coming about to Heave To.”

The skipper will then turn the bow of the boat through the wind. On a Heave to maneuver, it is not as important to maintain boat speed since you intend on coming to a stop anyway. It is however, important to maintain enough boat speed to carry the bow of the boat through the wind.

Unlike Tacking, the crew will leave the foresail (jib or genoa) sheet cleated and not pull the foresail across the face of the mast to the other side of the boat. In other words, the crew will allow the foresail to back onto itself.

It is a good practice to shorten (reef) your foresail before you tack so that when the foresail backs onto itself, it will not be rubbing up against the shrouds (side stays).

As the boat Comes About, the mainsail will be eased out to spill wind. The boat will begin to slow.

Since the foresail is backed onto itself, the wind on the foresail will want to push the bow of the boat Leeward (down wind).

To counter the bow of the boat from turning down wind, the helmsman will slowly turn the bow of the boat to windward (back up into the wind). You are trying to stall the boat but you do not want to tack. This may require feathering the boat (turning into the wind and then slightly down wind) until the boat slows to a near stall.

The wind on the backed foresail will continue to want to force the bow of the boat leeward. To counter this effect, the rudder remains turned to force the bow into the windward (into the wind). Once the boat has settled in it's heave to position, you will need to keep the rudder turned to windward. Tighten the wheel brake or if you are using a tiller, tie a line to the tiller arm and then tie it off to the leeward stern cleat.

In essence, the wind catches the backed foresail pushing the bow down wind and the boat begins to slowly move. The movement of the boat and the angle of the rudder force the bow of the boat back into the wind. The boat then stalls and drifts until the wind is able to force the bow leeward and the whole process to repeats itself.

The finally effect of this is that the boat rests in the water, moving ever so slightly, the constant struggle between the wind on the foresail and the counteraction of the rudder are imperceptible. The foresail remains backed and taught (stretched tightly) so it is not luffing (flapping). The main sail has been eased out so that it catches little if any wind and there is no risk of the boom swinging across the boat.

Heaving To is a very safe position to be in. In fact, Heaving To has it’s origins in heavy weather sailing where sailors would ride out rain, strong winds and high seas in a Heave To position.

You can adjust the position of the bow by changing the position of the mainsail. Tensioning the mainsheet and moving the mainsail in slightly closer to the boat  will cause the boat to head up more into the wind. Easing the mainsheet will move the mainsail more outboard and will cause the boat to lie more across the wind.

In Heavy Weather you will want the bow angled more sharply into the waves - you do not want to be lying broadside to the waves so you will have more tension on the mainsail.

Positioning the boat in a heave to position is all about boat balance. Ideally you want the boat lying at about a 45 degree angle to the wind and waves. Adjust the mainsail so that the boat is not swooping upwind and then being knocked downwind by wind and waves. The boat should hold it's position moves at close to a 45 degree angle.

Different boats require different adjustments of rudder, foresail and mainsail to be properly positioned in a Heave To. Practice the 'Heave To' in different kinds of weather to see how the boat acts differently. If you encounter strong winds and need to Heave To, your practice in moderate winds will be have been a great asset.

Another method of Heaving To is to sail the boat on a tight close hauled point of sail. From a closed hauled position, rather than tacking to back the jib, simply pull on the windward jib sheet (ease the leeward jib sheet) and pull the jib to the windward side of the mast. The helmsman may have to temporarily turn the bow directly into the wind to luff the jib to make it easier to haul the jib to windward.

Once the jib has been hauled to windward, this creates a backed jib, the same as if you had tacked and had not released the windward jib sheet. From this point you would turn downwind, ease the mainsheet completely and then turn windward to slow and place the boat into a Heave To.

The tack and Heave To is great if you are sailing shorthanded. The close haul and pull the jib to windward is more physically demanding but in heavy seas tacking to Heave To may not be the most viable choice.

How to get out of a Heave To position?

To get out of a Heave To the skipper will give the command: “Get ready to get under way.”

When the crew is ready the Skipper will unlock the wheel or untie the tiller. The crew will take up some tension on the mainsail to start the boat moving forward. This forward movement will allow the Skipper to gain control of the steering. (A boat needs forward movement to steer.)

The backed foresail will be allowed to ‘blow through’ by uncleating the windward sheet and by securing the leeward sheet.

The boat is now moving forward and you are no longer in a Heave To position – it’s as simple as that.

Heaving To Diagram

Heaving To Diagram

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Thank you for today's lesson Boatmistress! I used to use this a lot on my old sloop when heading up or down the bay, just me and my dog. It was a good way to stop for lunch. I once was approached by a workboat, asking if I was in trouble by the looks of my sail. I have yet to see how my ketch works out with the mizzen up. I might have to drop the main. We'll see about that soon enough.
Terrific.. this is awesome.... nice.. thanks
This was a very useful tactic to post, Terri, and one that everyone should know. I haven't tried it in very heavy winds or storm conditions, but I used to do it often before I had an autohelm to give myself a respite from the tiller to take care of other tasks. A friend showed me the technique years ago and I was impressed at how still the boat stayed. It's a great way to "pull over" and take a break.
I've always wondered if the type of keel the boat has will have an effect on how well she stays put when heaving to. Also if in heavy wx and reefed is there such a thing as too little canvas up for heaving to? Heard lying ahull is dangerous to do. Anyone know??
Whatever you are reefed to, 1st or 2nd reef, for instance, is the right sailplan for hoving to for those conditions. I've hove fin keels, full keels, and 3/4 keels and they've all responded well. Another good use for heaving to is to pay a visit to the honeybucket. I've had curious boaters circle me when I'm down in the loo wondering what happened to the crew. A right-seaman will know what's afoot by the sail's configuration and continue on their way.
We routinely heave to when the dogs need to go froward to take care of business....I just thought I'd share.

s/v Veranda
Another good reason for knowing this tactic!
I have never heaved to in over 40-years of offshore sailing. In the two Force 10 storms that Paloma has been through, the winds were typical, 50-60, gusting higher and the Coast Guard later told us the seas in the part of the Gulf we were in were 28-30 feet.
We chose to run before both storms, no sails and no motor - just the stern and bimini for sail area and according to the GPS, were making over 10 knots while being shoved along by the seas. The thought of heaving to and somehow getting shoved beam to the seas by an out of kilter wave, was just too great. We also never gave a thought to deploying our parachute droug, because slowing down might well have swamped us.
Great post,
it's something I have to learn and practice .
I plan to try it

Video to help


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