1.1 The Capsize Problem
Back    Forward    Index

        There is a long history of breaking wave capsize of small boats. Accurate and detailed descriptions of many of the events are available in the literature. The greatest number in a single storm occurred in the 1979 Fastnet Race in which 24 boats were sunk or abandoned and 15 lives were lost. Small boats are much more vulnerable than large boats. There are relatively few instances of a vessel over 60 feet being capsized by a breaking wave. In the Fastnet Race where the boats ranged in size from 30 feet to 80 feet, all the capsizes were suffered by boats under 45 feet.

        It does not take a so-called rogue wave to cause capsize. In the Fastnet storm, the 30-foot yacht, Grimalkin, running under bare poles, broached and rolled the mast in the water six times before finally capsizing in the 7th roll. She was dismasted and lay inverted for 1-1/2 minutes before righting. Later she capsized again before being abandoned and ultimately sinking. In such a storm there are many waves breaking with sufficient force to capsize a boat of this size. Most breaking wave capsize accidents have involved small sailing yachts because many such vessels cruise or race offshore. However, small fishing vessels have occasionally been capsized. The 55-foot steel lobster boat Fair Wind was caught in a storm 150 miles off Chatham, Massachusetts. She was lying stern to the sea when she was overtaken by a steep breaking wave and pitchpoled. The boat remained inverted and finally sank.

        Multi-hull vessels are also vulnerable. The 60-foot lightweight trimaran, Gonzo, was running under bare poles in a storm 250 miles of f Cape Cod. She was struck by a wave which broached her and the next wave rolled her over.

        It is important to note that most storms, even severe storms, do not create dangerous breaking waves. Sailors who survive such storms may conclude that the tactics they employ, such as heaving to, lying ahull or running off, are adequate to prevent capsize. This is a serious mistake. There is very compelling evidence to show that while a well found boat will survive a storm in non-breaking waves, none of the above tactics will prevent capsize in a breaking wave strike.

Top