A birds eye view of a keelboat (sailing vessel) and three rescue craft alongside each other, on the water, ready for testing recovery techniques
Getting ready to practice keelboat recovery techniques on Carsington Water

Mast head floats

A simple piece of equipment can reduce the risk of inversion, buy yourself time, and make it easier and quicker to recover inverted boats

A team from across the RYA, trainers and safety boat drivers gathered at Carsington Water to spend two days revisiting the best techniques to right an inverted keelboat, video the results and produce some useful resources for anyone involved in safety at clubs and centres up and down the country.

What did we do?

We took a RS Venture Connect (thank you very much RS Sailing), some rescue craft and some mast head floats; we set out across Carsington Water (thank you to Carsington Sports and Leisure and Carsington Sailing Club for their support) and inverted the boat numerous times, practicing the techniques that we thought would work.

Each time we varied something:

  • Engine size - exploring the impact of a 15hp, 50hp and 80hp engine
  • Mast head floats - trying to right the vessel with no mast head float, 14.9ltr, 24ltr and finally 40 ltr at the top of the mast.
  • Techniques and tow points - using the opposite shroud as a tow point, or the bulb at the end of the keel
  • Keel position - righting the boat with the keel in the correct position for sailing and retracted
  • Rib orientation - towing forwards and backwards

And we filmed everything. We are currently pouring over the footage with the aim of putting together a guide to the techniques that were most successful. But while we are doing that there is still lots we can share.

What did we learn?

Self-righting boats can get knocked down and capsize, otherwise they wouldn’t have to be ‘self-righting’, and if they can get knocked down and capsize there is a risk of inversion. Even a boat that has been knocked down but doesn’t capsize increases the risk of entrapment – so it is worth spending the time thinking through what you would do and how, if any of the vessels you use are knocked down, capsize or invert.

It is worth reflecting that if you are in the unenviable position of needing to right an inverted boat, with someone trapped underneath, the biggest thing you are up against is time. You need to get the boat to at least 90 degrees, or upright as quickly as you can so you can attend to the person trapped.


Three things became our friends as far as time was concerned.

  1. Mast head floats - every mast head float combination we used across the three days reduced the risk that the boat inverts in the first place, slowed the speed of inversion and bought us time, and made it much easier (more control, less power needed) and quicker (less time) to tow the boat upright. Our focus on the day was the RS venture, but the same would likely be true for other keelboats, dinghies and boats that can capsize and invert. The mast head floats we used were all rigged in such a way that they were always at the top of the mast. We used a variety of mast head floats  - different construction, size and fitting - but any mast head buoyancy made a significant difference in righting the boat.
  2. Preparation - preparation makes it easier to use equipment under pressure, when you need it most. It takes time to get a tow rope ready to be deployed, so the more you can do to prepare and have it ready for use the better.
  3. Practice - knowing what to do is one thing, knowing how to do it comes with practice. The time it took us to right the boat got quicker as we practiced it more and more, got used to how it felt, the nuances of where to point the engine as the tow came on and got the communication really clear and concise.  Practice gets you familiar with the safety boats you use and the vessels they recover, in the conditions you operate in. Time on the water makes great Olympians, it also makes great safety boat drivers.

Prevention, recovery techniques, and safety boat engine size

The measures you have in place to prevent a knockdown and the subsequent risk of inversion or entrapment remain vital - amongst other things these are likely to include a consideration of:

  • the sailing area; when conditions may limit operation (using the limits described by the manufacturers as a start point);
  • the safety features described by the manufacturers;
  • activity trimming sails rather than cleating them;
  • the level of safety cover and mast head flotation

The video and guidance on recovery techniques will be available in the next few months, but the two days at Carsington confirmed the techniques described in the safety boat handbook were successful - namely attaching a tow rope to the opposite shroud of an upturned boat, taking it across the upturned hull, and towing at 90degress. The RS Venture Connect has a bulb on the end of keel, and we found a slightly quicker method is to loop the tow rope over the keel, attach the loose end to the safety boat and drive away. The looped tow rope will catch on the bulb (both with the keel in the correct position and retracted). You will need to consider the length of the tow rope, as by creating the loop you are halving the effective length of the tow.


It is always important to make sure the safety craft you have are capable of recovering the boats you sail. At Carsington, the 15hp Jaffa was successful in recovering the upturned boat in every scenario, bar one. It wasn't able to right the boat with no mast head flotation when it was towing backwards, but it was successful with a longer tow rope, the Jaffa orientated forwards and towing from a bridle at the back of the boat. 

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