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How to Heave-to (And What Does it Mean)

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

Heaving-to is a way to slow down or stop your boat in the water. It's often used in storms as a way to ride out bad weather, alternatively it can be used on calm days when you just want to take a break and eat some lunch!

Heaving-to is a maneuver in which a sailing vessel is turned into the wind so that it lies at rest, pointing into the wind, with both sails aback. It's also used as a way to slow the boat down or even stop it altogether, and it can be helpful in heavy weather or when entering or leaving harbor.

How to heave-to

  1. To heave to you simply tack your boat without releasing the headsail (jib or genoa) sheet. Sail upwind then turn your boat into a nice, slow tack. As you do this, keep your headsail backed (so don't complete the tack as you would normally do by bringing the sheet over to leeward), and leave the jibsheet cleated.

  2. Trim your main for a close reach.

  3. As the boat passes through head to wind, the jib, held by the windward sheet, will set aback and push the bow downwind. Hold the mainsheet on the winch or cleat.

  4. Now steer the boat back toward the wind until the boat is lying on a close reaching heading. The mainsail might or might not need to be luffing.

When to heave-to

The most common time to heave-to is in bad weather. If you're in a storm and need to ride it out, heaving-to can give you some respite from the wind and waves. However, there are other times when heaving-to can be useful. For example, if you're tired and need a rest, or if you need to make repairs on your boat, heaving-to can give you a chance to take a break without having to worry about staying on course.

To come out of heaving-to, simply head up into the wind and sheet in both sails as usual.

Heaving-to is a handy manoeuvre for sailors of all levels of experience. It's simple enough to learn, but can be really useful in a variety of situations.

While heaving-to can be a very useful maneuver, there are a few cautions you should be aware of before trying it:

Always be prepared to gybe quickly if necessary (i.e., turn the boat away from the wind). This is especially important if you're caught in a storm and need to reduce sail area urgently.

Never leave your boat unattended while hove-to—the crew should always be on hand in case something goes wrong.

The next time you find yourself in bad weather, or just need a break, remember how to heave-to and give it a try!


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