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RMS Queen Elizabeth capsized after a fire.

Capsizing or keeling over occurs when a boat or ship is turned on its side or it is upside down in the water. The act of reversing a capsized vessel is called righting.

If a capsized vessel has enough flotation to prevent sinking, it may recover on its own if it is not stable inverted. Vessels of this design are called self-righting.


Small vesselsEdit

Righting a capsized Laser sailing dinghy by standing on the daggerboard

In dinghy sailing, a practical distinction can be made between being knocked down (to 90 degrees) which is called a capsize, and being inverted, which is called being turtled. Small dinghies frequently capsize in the normal course of use and can usually be recovered by the crew. Some types of dinghy are occasionally deliberately capsized, as capsizing and righting the vessel again can be the fastest means of draining water from the boat.

Capsizing (but not necessarily turtling) is an inherent part of dinghy sailing. It is not a question of "if" but a question of "when".[1] For those who do not want the experience, a keelboat monohull has physics on its side.[1][2] But even yachts can capsize and turtle in extraordinary conditions, so design considerations are important.[2] Such events can overcome skill and experience; boats need to be appropriate for foreseeable conditions.[3]

A kayak roll, after intentional capsizing

A capsized kayak may be righted with a roll or eskimo rescue. As long as the kayaker knows how to react, the water is not too shallow, and the location is not close to dangers that require evasive action by the kayaker – which cannot be taken while capsized – capsizing itself is usually not considered dangerous. In whitewater kayaking, capsizing occurs frequently and is accepted as an ordinary part of the sport.[citation needed]

For sailing vessels, the "capsize ratio" is a commonly published number used as a guideline for safe operation, where a ratio of less than 2.0 is considered suitable for offshore operation. However the only variables that go into "capsize ratio" are a vessel's beam and its displacement, and a thorough assessment of ship stability needs to consider various other factors.

Large vesselsEdit

In a storm, even large vessels may be rolled by being hit broadside by a large wave or "pitchpoled" stem over stern in extreme waves. This is normally catastrophic for larger ships, and smaller yachts can be dismasted (i.e., lose their masts and rigging) due to the drag as the boat is forced to roll over.

Among ship types, a roll-on-roll-off (RORO or ro-ro) ship is more prone to capsizing as it has large open car decks near the waterline. If the watertight car-deck doors fail through damage or mismanagement (as in the partial sinking of MS Herald of Free Enterprise where the doors were accidentally left open), and one of the largest peacetime maritime disasters when MS Estonia sank off of the Finnish archipelago, water entering the car-deck is subject to the free surface effect and may cause a capsize. As a RORO ferry rolls, vehicles can break free and slide down if not firmly secured, adversely altering the ship's centre of gravity, accelerating the roll, and possibly turning an otherwise recoverable roll into a capsize.

A ship that is holed[clarification needed] may capsize.[4] In 2012 the very large cruise ship Costa Concordia was holed, lost its propulsion, and drifted into shallow water where she partially sank, resting on her side with most of her structure out of the water. Technically, this was not a capsize as her bottom was only partly exposed; rather this was a partial sinking.

A vessel which capsizes without being holed may allow water to enter in places normally above the waterline. The ship may not then be able to right itself; stability and safety will be compromised even if the vessel is righted.


A team at the 2005 ISAF Team Racing World Championship narrowly avoids capsizing.

In competitive yacht racing, a capsized boat has certain special rights as it cannot maneuver. A boat is deemed capsized when the mast is touching the water; when it is fully inverted, it is said to have turned turtle or turtled.[5] Good racers can often recover from a capsize with minimal loss of time.

The capsize can result from extreme broaching, especially if the keel has insufficient leverage to tilt the vessel upright.

Motor life boats are designed to be self-righting if capsized, but most other motorboats are not.


Righting a capsized Hobie Cat
Practice: righting a sailing dinghy after a deliberate capsize on Wroxham Broad

Intermediate sailors are encouraged to capsize their dinghies in a safe location with supervision at least once to become acquainted with their boat's floating properties and the capsize process. The boat is then righted, bailed out, and the sails reset, so that in the event of an uncontrolled capsize, the boat and its occupants are familiar with the procedure and may recover.

Most small monohull sailboats can normally be righted by standing or pulling down on the centreboard, daggerboard (or bilgeboard in a scow) to lift the mast clear of the water. Depending on the design of the hull, the boat's righting moment will normally take effect once the mast is around 30 degrees from horizontal and help pull the boat vertical. Righting a catamaran that is lying on its side involves using a righting line fed over the upper hull. The crew stands on the lower hull and pulls back on the righting line. In small catamarans such as the Hobie 16 it is imperative that at least one crew member assumes this task as soon as possible as there is a chance that the boat will turtle and then become extremely difficult to recover without assistance.[6] Some monohulls and catamarans use a small flotation device mounted at the tip of the mast or mainsail to ensure that the craft cannot assume an inverted position, or at least that a fully inverted position is not stable (i.e. it would come to a position where the mast is lying on the surface of the water, which would be preferable to fully inverted).

In both cases, having a crew member lift the end of the mast out of the water may help speed the process, as the greatest challenge of righting a capsized boat is shedding the weight of the water from the sails. A helpful step, where possible (on a loose footed sail), is to disconnect the clew of the sail from the boom, which prevents the sail from scooping up water as the sail lifts out of the water. The bow of the capsized vessel should be pointed towards the wind so that when the sail starts to lift out of the water the wind can catch underneath the sail and help right the boat.

Care is taken not to let the boat swing all the way over and capsize on the other side, frequently with the crew on the bottom. This is more likely if the boat is not pointed into the wind.


There is a wide range of technology that can be installed or strategically placed to prevent or deter a boat or ship from capsizing. The various technologies rely on inflating airbags also known as lift bags which increasing the vessel's buoyancy with the water.


Capsizing in yachts can occur when water is able to infiltrate the hull and decrease the vessels water and buoyancy leading to capsizing. Yachts can be deployed with a flotation system which is a series of strategically placed lift bags within the interior of the hull increasing the vessel's buoyancy and filling void space where water can collect, providing valuable time to remove the water, fix damage or evacuate.[7]

Large shipsEdit

When larger ships such as cargo ships and tankers capsize or sink not only is recovery not possible but great environment damage can occur from spillage of cargo.[8] Larger ships are being equipped with Surfacing System for Ship Recovery which is an inflatable device that is installed in the ballast water tank or within the hull of the vessel and can be deployed within seconds of an accident to stabilize the vessel and give more time for rescue and evacuation.[9]


A vessel may be designated as "self-righting" if it is designed to be able to capsize then return to upright without intervention (with or without crew on board). The angle of vanishing stability, the angle of heel at which a vessel becomes unstable and does not bob back upright, does not exist; a self-righting boat will return to upright from any position, including completely upside-down. A self-righting vessel must be positively buoyant when swamped. There are three methods of making a vessel self-right: careful distribution of stationary weight and buoyancy, inflatable airbags, and movable ballast.[10]

A basic tool for calculating a vessel's stability is a static stability diagram, which plots the angle of heel on the horizontal axis and the righting lever (GZ) on the vertical axis. (see metacentric height for details). If the static stability curve never crosses the x-axis, the boat is not stable upside-down. This is not sufficient to built a boat with good stability at sea, as it neglects the effects of wind, waves, and human occupants, but it is a simple, powerful way to analyze the stability of a vessel.[10]

Self-righting through distribution of weight and buoyancy requires the weight low-down, and the buoyancy high up. It is often accomplished with a self-sealing superstructure, such as the large deckhouses on modern rescue boats.[10]

Most small craft intended as lifeboats with rigid (rather than inflatable) hulls designed since about the middle of the twentieth century are self-righting.[citation needed]

Small radio-controlled boats may also self-right. This is particularly useful for racing.[11]

Notable capsizingsEdit

German battleship Tirpitz lying capsized in Tromso fjord after RAF bombing attacks, attended by a salvage vessel.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Will I capsize?". Discover Boating. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Dashew, Steve (January 8, 2012). "Evaluating Stability and Capsize Risks for Yachts". Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  3. ^ Keilman, John (October 30, 2011). "Report: Boat in deadly accident unfit for Mackinac race — Craft that capsized called too unstable for long competition in area prone to severe weather". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  4. ^ The Telegraph: The EU ignored years of expert warnings on cruise ship safety. Discusses stability issue when large modern ships are holed
  5. ^ Rousmaniere, John. "Tests of Sailor Retrieval, Capsize Recovery and Entrapment". US Sailing. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 3, 2013. Retrieved November 19, 2013.
  6. ^ "Fusion Capsize Manual" (PDF). F-15 dinghy. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 2, 2013. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  7. ^ "Underwater Lift Bags & Yacht Floatation". Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  8. ^ "SuSy - Surfacing System for Ship Recovery". Archived from the original on 2017-04-19. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  9. ^ Munoz, Gabriella. "New Airbags Will Save Ships From Sinking". ScienceAlert. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  10. ^ a b c Akyıldız, Hakan; Şimşek, Cemre (2016). "Self-righting boat design" (PDF). GiDB-DERGi (6): 41–54. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  11. ^ "Best Self Righting RC Boat: Top Picks for 2019". Radio-controlled hobby review. 21 September 2018.
  12. ^ Blueprint for Disaster. Season 2. Episode 3.
  13. ^ Schreck, Adam (July 1, 2009). "Up to 30 feared dead after ship capsizes off Qatar capital Doha in rough Persian Gulf waters". Washington Examiner. Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-07-02.[permanent dead link]

External linksEdit