Language: jargon: sailing

Heave-to: Naut.

  1. To stop moving. Esp. to slow down or stop due to heavy weather.
  2. Trimming sails and rudder to reduce the sailboat's movement to near zero.
  3. Specifically, to back the jib, sheet in the mainsail, and tie off the rudder to leeward keeping the boat's head to windward to meet the waves and its movement limited to crabbing across the wind.

One of the many tricks sailors use when the weather gets too wild for comfort. As the wind and waves get higher, the crew might choose to heave-to as a way to slow the boat down and ease the motion through the waves. By slowing or stopping the boat, the crew can gain a chance to rest, to make necessary repairs or adjustments to the rig, or even simply wait for a break in the weather.

There are several other occasions when a boat's crew might wish to heave-to. In a crew-overboard situation, heaving-to stops the boat during the retrieval. When approaching navigational hazards at night or in poor visibility, slowing or stopping until visibility improves can be the safest course of action. And, on a sunny day sail the crew can heave-to so all hands may enjoy a picnic at sea.

The goals of heaving-to are to have the bow pointing into the oncoming waves as much as possible, to prevent the boat from moving backward or making too much leeway, and to reduce the motion of a boat so the crew can rest. (The ultimate goal, of course, is to keep the boat afloat and undamaged!)

The most common method of heaving-to is to come about from port tack without releasing the jib. With the main sheeted in tight, immediately put the rudder down - being careful in the process not to come about again. At this point the boat should be in a stable condition; the main will fill, over powering the jib which is holding the bow down. As the boat begins to move forward, the rudder will turn the bow to windward, luffing the main. As the boat slows, the jib will push the bow down again and the pattern will repeat.

On a reach, a boat can be temporarily slowed or stopped by undersheeting the sails and setting the rudder somewhat to leeward of the course. As the boat accelerates, it will turn into the wind, luffing the sails. The luffing sails will slow the boat and cause it to fall off until they fill again, and the pattern will repeat.

  • Coles, K. Adler; Heavy Weather Sailing, Third revised edition; John De Graff, Inc.; © 1967, 1975, 1980 K. Adlard Coles; ISBN 8286-0086-4
  • Edwards, Fred; Sailing as a Second Language; International Marine Publishing Company; © 1988 Highmark Publishing Ltd.; ISBN 0-87742-965-0
  • Pardey, Lin and Larry; The Capable Cruiser; L&L Pardey Books; © 1995 Lin and Larry Pardey; ISBN 0-9646036-2-4
  • Street, Donald; The Ocean Sailing Yacht; W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.; © Donald M. Street, jr.; ISBN 0-393-03168-3

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