Matching the person to the right boat

There are lots of physical attributes that can affect how you sail compared with a ‘standard’ person. As we have seen with the boat, the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) attempts to standardize how well a sailing boat conforms by seeing how it performs in a capsize situation with a standard 75kg (12 stone) sailor. We have many sailors in the OCSG, not all of whom match this 75kg norm. This picture shows similar boats with similar rigs being sailed by different sized people.

The heavier person on the left sits in the middle of their canoe, whilst the lighter person on the right is sitting out on the side deck to counter the heeling action. The lighter person’s canoe is still heeling away from them, showing that they are not quite balancing the force of the wind on the sail.

As the wind picks up, the heavier person will easily keep the canoe upright by moving their weight up onto the gunwale, whilst the lighter person may struggle to move out much further; they will probably need to reef to stay in control of the sail. The good news is that a boat that is less heavily loaded should sail faster than a heavily loaded one, so the lighter person should be able to keep up.

If you are small and lightweight you need to consider how this will affect your canoe compared to your sailing buddy, so be prepared to reef early to keep things even or even consider a smaller sail in the first place.

Mini outriggers

As an alternative, the lighter person could decide to use a set of mini outriggers to help manage the larger sail. The extra righting moment that the mini outriggers provide will more than compensate for the sailor’s lack of weight, so they could sail with their buddy using the same size rig, provided the buddy doesn’t also use outriggers to help them.

More about Mini Outriggers

Righting a canoe with mini outriggers

Another problem for the lighter person arises if they allow the canoe to completely invert in a capsize with mini outriggers. A standard 75kg person can sink one mini outrigger far enough so that the ‘turtled’ canoe can be righted. If you are well under this 75kg weight and/or are short in height, you will start to float sooner and won’t have sufficient weight to fully submerge the outrigger. It is possible to make this easier by shortening the outrigger beam length but this needs to be tested to check that the shorter beam then still allows you to right the canoe.

Benefits and problems for the larger person

Being a larger person can make it easier to hold up a larger sail in stronger winds. Sat on the gunwale, a 14st person will have twice the righting moment of a 7st sailor and will comfortably carry a larger sail. A larger person generally will be stronger to handle and manage a larger sailing canoe, so will more likely be sailing a longer and wider canoe that will have more stability. But this larger canoe and heavier sailor will need more force to drive it through the water, so the advantage over a lighter person is not necessarily that great. The heavier sailor needs to take some responsibility towards a lighter buddy though, perhaps reefing a little earlier as the wind picks up.

capsize recoveryWe have shown that most sailing canoes are capable of being recovered from a capsize by a ‘standard’ 75kg person and that the person can re-enter the canoe. The disadvantage for a heavier sailor is that a sailing canoe has limited stability and that trying to re-enter can easily cause the canoe to capsize towards you as you try and climb back in.



capsize recovery

Removing the rig can help, as the weight of the mast and wet sail tends to tip the canoe over towards you. Having a set of mini outriggers can help to hold the canoe up as you climb back in; if you cannot manage without them then you should use them every time you go out sailing.

The newer SD Shearwaters have a small built-in water-ballast tank in the side tank next to the leeboard. This can be flooded as you right the canoe after a capsize. As you try and re-enter the canoe, the weight of water in the ballast tank on the opposite side will help to counterbalance your own weight as you climb back in. In an open canoe it is possible to recreate this counterbalancing effect by filling a spare dry bag with water and attaching it to the centre yoke on one side, while you are next to the canoe in the water. Then once you are on the opposite side and attempting to re-enter, tipping the canoe towards you, the ‘ballast’ bag will come out of the water and help hold that side down. This allows you to put more of your weight on the nearside gunwale as you re-enter the canoe without having it capsize on top of you. It should be practised beforehand to see if it works for you, then always have the spare dry bag ready at hand in case you need it for real.


For the heavier or less mobile person who finds that they cannot re-enter a canoe after a capsize, it may be better to get a sailing canoe that is very unlikely to capsize. A trimaran with 200+ lbs of buoyancy in its outriggers is very unlikely to be capsized and over the years many of our older and/or heavier members have moved into trimarans. As you get older your physical strength tends to diminish, so climbing back on board can be an issue even if your weight isn’t the problem. The individual parts of a trimaran should weigh less than a decked sailing canoe, so can be easier to load each of them onto a car.