Tacking and Jibing a Keelboat to stay out of Irons! (P3)

So when we first started sailing, we would get stuck in no-sail zone situations. To the point where we would be stuck in a twilight zone state, immovable it seemed. We learned later on that this “in irons” position happens commonly to new sailors.

 Tacking out from a No-Sail Zone- No we are not talking about government imposing no-sail zones!

getting out of irons, get out of irons, in irons, tacking out of irons

Getting out of irons!

What is the underlying reason for not being able to wiggle out of this no-sail zone? This mainly happens because the skipper (sailor at the helm) is not turning sharply enough and it sometimes could be that the turn is happening too slowly while tacking. Here are some steps to help you when you are in irons:

  1. Make sure to undo the cleat and/ let off the mainsail’s sheet. ( make sure it stays released until the sailboat has made a complete turn into close reach POS. You will want to gradually ease out the mainsails’ sheet in order to make the rotation needed to clear the dead-area(no-sail zone).
  2. Push the tiller away from your body. If you don’t have a tiller then keep turning the wheel towards one direction (clockwise or counter). Make sure the helmsman knows that this is very much like a 3 point turn. Make sure to keep at it hard if you are the skipper! To quicken things, try to pushing on the boom to get the mainsail to fill itself from the backside (backing the mainsail) 
  3. When you are done turning and the sailboat is now in clear-reaching POS, make sure to trim the sails and get the tiller or steering wheel to straighten out. 

The biggest thing you can take from this does not, I repeat, DO NOT, steer all over the map if you get stuck in irons and may start to sail backward…Just keep steering hard to one side to a reach heading and eventually, you will be out of irons. Exaggeration is way better than cutting the turn short. Do not do it. It is hard for newbie sailors to grasp this concept and it is natural to try and compensate to the other side when you are in trouble, but do not! We have experienced this headache so trust us!

Add to that, if your sailboat has a rigged jib sail, even better! This sail can be an excellent lifesaver sail so use it to your advantage. Here is how:

  1. Be certain that the jib sail is pulled in firmly and make sure the tiller is on the inverse side of the jib sail. Depending on where your sailboat is in relation to the wind, will determine which sheet to pull. If you are head to wind in irons (no-sail zone), you would be fine to choose whichever side.
  2. Keep the mainsheet released (loosened ) because you do not want the mainsail to gather wind before the sailboat turns towards the direction you eventually want to sail. Make sure the tiller is pushed hard over to the side directly opposing the jib sail. If you are utilizing a steering wheel when you turn it to the side the jib sail is on.
  3. Make sure to let loose the jib sheet, while trimming the main and jib sails on the side the sails are on. Do this right as the boat is accelerating to stay synchronized.
  4. Time for the last step, and that is always going to be straightening the tiller/steering wheel once the boat starts to progress forward in the right direction. You wouldn’t want to steer right go back into the no-sail zone, would you?


There once was a time, and I will never forget it, when I was literally by myself on my small keelboat (was about 17). I was sailing about 200 yards off the shoreline and had my KB under control and cruising along. I was getting cocky about it too, until moments later my boat had just stopped and I was stuck in irons. The boat started to move backward and it was quite a wakeup call. My father was in his keelboat next to me and he yells out ” Get out the ironing board!” I really had no idea what he meant, but I knew it couldn’t be good. As a newbie sailor be prepared to be sailing in the no-sail zone many times until you really figure out how to cruise. It’s a necessary irritation to learn from.

Jibing: Why is it useful and how is it any different from tacking?


Sail Team Jibing

Jibing or gybing is essentially another way of essentially switching tacks (tacks in the sense of what direction your bow is tuned to so that wind is now blowing on the opposing side of the boat, bare with us here!) by turning the bow away from the wind, and sailing at an angle downwind. Now think about the POS diagram? Do you recall seeing a no-sail zone on any zone facing downwind? That’s because it doesn’t exist.

Jibing is useful because no-sail zones are only for the immediate upwind head facing routes. That means you can technically sail every which way when sailing in a jibe and not have to worry about getting stuck in irons. This is way easier than tacking in this sense because wind direction doesn’t play as big a role in terms of getting stuck! Another way that it is easier than tacking is that when you are jibing you only really need to change your route slightly (in degrees about 40°) as opposed to when you are tacking (90°). That being said, jibing is no walk in the park and can be unsafe at times since the boom rotates violently from one side of the boat to the other side. Remember, you are technically broad reaching or running before making a jibing maneuver. Therefore, the sails need to be opened way out there! And so, the boom has a much larger arc to rotate around the boat (it covers more space and is, therefore, more dangerous).




Here are a few steps to follow when you are about to jibe:

  1. Same as tacking as a first step but this time you scream out to your crew ” Time to Jibe!” (You can obviously get creative here).  The point of this step is to remind (in real-time) your crew that jibing is about to happen, which really means to get the heck out the boom’s way because the boom is made to fly across the sailboat in a rotation. You will not be in good spirits if someone in your crew gets knocked out by the boom if it could have been avoided. If your crew is very new to sailing, then be completely clear and tell them to watch out for the boom!
  2. When you are ready, yell out “jibing!” this is when you are in the act of turning the boat in the opposite direction of the wind (away from it..this is called bearing away) and also start pulling the mainsail to the opposite side of the boat..the most common nautical term you will hear would be  “jibe-ho” but we recommend you stay clear with your crew depending on experience. When you are turning, remember that you don’t really need to exaggerate it because, in a run or reach(POS routes when jibing), you can never get stuck in a no-sail zone, so ease and turn with confidence without overdoing it. There may be times where steering a turn isn’t even necessary because there is no head-to-wind. Sometimes you will be at a 6:00 position where you are directly downwind so turning will not be needed if you are to keep sailing on this course. Also, if you are sailing on a bigger sailboat, try getting someone else in your crew (assuming you are at the helm) to pull in the mainsheet since there are lots of lengthy cables at play here when you are pulling and releasing these lines as the boom rotates. Make sure whoever does it, do be careful not getting their shoes/boots caught in the line!
  3. When you cut across the 6:00 path (dead downwind) the mainsail will start to jibe. This only applies when you are turning. While turning, the wind will leave one side of the sailboat and start hitting the other side of the boat, while pushing the mainsail to the opposite side with a force to be reckoned with! If you failed to secure the boom to another side, the boom will do it on its own and it will whip across the boat. Don’t let this happen, you will thank us for this warning 10 times over. So, make sure to be the controlling force in moving the boom and make sure to take extra precaution by getting out of the way or ducking away from any potential boom whips!
  4. Make sure you stop the turn and get straight while you are trimming as you get on the jibe course! If you are utilizing a jib sail, move it to the other side of the sailboat now. (mainsail gets moved over first, then jib sail after you are done turning)
  5. Time to position yourself and crew members onto the other side of the sailboat- If you are crewing on a smaller keelboat -larger boat, make sure you move to the other side whenever it feels right to move! Don’t rush, just get there when you can. However, if you are sailing a small dingy boat, then you should do this as soon as possible, concurrently with the boom rotating sides overhead. You will feel that this is necessary when the boat starts to feel “tippy”.
Jibing, Jibe

Jibing Diagram

Jibing takes only a few seconds to pull off on smaller boats so if it seems like its taking minutes then you are probably doing something wrong. When the elements (weather) aren’t as great, try tacking without having to jibe. What we mean turn toward the wind, then make a tacking maneuver, and finally just head down to the new route. Jibing when done incorrectly can really damage your gear/technology/equipment/sailboat parts on board. Reason being is because of the very sudden load-weight put on to the mainsail while it is rotating across the sailboat. So, as fellow sailors that care about your safety/fun, we would say to tack instead of jibe when there is way too much wind or the weather is not in your favor. You wouldn’t want your fiber battens to get ruined. They aren’t cheap! We like these Osculati Fiber Battens for their performance and affordability if you are looking for replacements.


Sailboat Lines- Pulling Them In

If the weather is on the rough side (heavy winds) maneuvering the boom while gybing or getting a trim just right while you are in any POS can be daunting work. You can get away with some light loaded lines being fairly easy to work, but the majority of the lines will be what I call “load bearing” and this weight is exaggerated even more in windy conditions. We have pulled plenty of muscles and strained ligaments while trying to do too much without the aid of mechanical devices.

The best way we found in figuring out how much load a line has is to literally pluck it like you would with a bass guitar…If the cable feels like cement and won’t move when you are working with a real load bearing line.  You do not want to try and uncleat/pull on it yourself without using a winch. (We really like Andersen or Harken for our winches) If the line flexes without too much rigidity then chances are you may be able to pull on it yourself or with the help of another crew member. (Never feel like you have to pull off a job without the help of someone else if you can help it).  If you are pulling yourself,  make sure you are in an optimal position to get the job done. We really advise on sitting down and pushing off some fixture to really have a solid base for using all of your strength without the dangers of losing the grip while standing and flailing! Try to stretch your arms out as far as you can and make sure to secure the grip with both hands in order to do it with as much ease as possible. 

If you are struggling to pull in the sail yourself, don’t panic because there is always a solution. Get help from your crew! If you are someone who is more inclined to be brave and sail out to sea alone then rest assured there are devices on the market that can take someone with absolutely no strength into a sailor version of Zeus!

Heads Up Sailing- Our Most Valuable Tip For Pullin Lines!

So you are struggling to pull in the lines on your jib sail. Your sailboat is of the larger (let’s say 40 Ft) breeds. What can you do to get things under control?

It may seem contradictory, but the easiest way to get your sails to start doing what you want them to do under crazy conditions is to sail closer to 12:00 upwind onto the close hauled POS. Reason being is when you take this route, your sails will begin to luff, which naturally lessons the load! At this point, we would be inclined to prop bet you that you could probably pull in that jib sail manually at this point. The wind can be a very interesting phenomenon indeed! The no-sail zone (or close to it) can be your last resort solution. Another method we would recommend would turn your boat close to 6:00 downwind. That way the control ropes will be easier to maneuver and your crew will have a much easier time placing the sails in line with the run. 

So the question to ask when the time comes and you are struggling to pull lines is ” Am I sailing at the best angle to get the job done?”. Typically you will need to get yourself in a better position to then easily pull on the lines.

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