This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series 'GOTO' 'HEAVE TO'

When I was in college (yes I went there; after all, that’s where all the pretty girls were) I studied mathematics and computer languages.  I loved the order and structure of math, and computer languages followed that same type of structure. I don’t think I declared a major back then, and I took classes that I had an interest in rather than following a set path (seems like that trend continued through the rest of my life). But, let me get back to the point.

Understanding the language

In those days, computers were still in their infancy, and the computer languages that were king were Cobol, Fortran 77, and the infamous Basic. In allsailing-boat of those languages, one of the key concepts was to keep the computer code concise and compact. One way that “Basic” accomplished that was with a command called ‘GOTO’.

GOTO was the go-to statement because it allowed you to write a small block of code that could be used over and over again and could be referenced by many different functions within the program. It saved space in the computer’s memory because it eliminated having to store multiple lines of code multiple times that did the same thing repeatedly.

I think that sailing has its very own GOTO command. It’s called “Heave-To”.  Heave-To is a maneuver that allows the skipper to stop the boat’s substantial forward progress nearly instantly. It is fast, simple, and requires no crew participation except for the helmsman’s. In the midst of chaos, the skipper can halt the insanity going on around him or her and bring order back to the boat.

How to Heave-To

To perform the Heave To maneuver, the helmsman simply tacks the boat without calling for the jib to be released. Next, he attempts to sail the boat on the new tack, close-hauled. Because the helmsman has not called for the jib to be released, it fills backwards (called “backed”) and forces the bow to leeward. The helmsman, trying to sail close-hauled, is forced to apply more and more windward rudder to counteract the turning force of the backed jib.

Consequently, the helm will be hard-over (turned all the way to the stops) to windward. In short order the boat will have run out of steam, the jib and rudder become “balanced”, and the boat’s attitude will be near a beam reach. Once the boat is into this Hove-To position the helmsman can call for the mainsheet to be released and lock or lash the boat’s helm.

Here, this boat is hove-to while the crew takes a break and enjoys the morning sun
Here, this boat is hove-to while the crew takes a break and enjoys the morning sun

A second way to position the boat into a Hove-To attitude is to gybe, but don’t bring the jib across tot he other side of the boat.

When the gybe completed (the jib being backed as a result of not being released), the helmsman then steers the boat windward, and again, as in the tacking maneuver discussed earlier, tries to sail close-hauled. The result of the “gybing entry” to Hove-To will be the same as the “tacking entry” discussed above; the helm winds up turned fully to windward balancing the backed jib.

Once the boat is Hove-To the crew, including the helmsman, can tend to anything that they need to do. For example, if there is an emergency on board, they can handle it without having to worry about sailing the boat.

The boat is still moving

It is important to remember that while Hove-To, the boat is not a NUC (not under command –unattached from the earth yet not being propelled or controlled).  It is still making way (intentionally being propelled, in this case by sails), and the skipper is still obligated to assign or maintain a look-out and follow all the navigation rules for a sailboat. The biat may feel like it’s stopped, but its not. Generally, the boat will make progress on the track of a deep broad reach, while obtaining the attitude of a close or beam reach.

The force of the wind, always seeking the path of least resistance, impacts a sailboat with sails raised in several ways. To get a more complete understanding of what these impacts are checkout the article “Blowing in the Wind (How the wind impacts Your Boat),” soon to be published on this site.

Things we can accomplish while Hove-To:

  • Tend to an injured crew member
  • Tend to a crew that has been brought aboard after a crew-over-board incident
  • Tend to a critical boat issue (Can you say “water in the cabin”?)
  • Reef or stow the main sail
  • Eat Lunch
  • Kiss your favorite crew member
  • Pee (Did you know that the majority of male sailors found dead in the water have their zippers down?)
  • Stay put until daylight if you are offshore readying an approach to an unfamiliar inlet in the dark

I’ve left 3,456,743, no wait, 3,456,744 things out. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Man overboard rescue using Hove-T

What if there was a way to recover a crew-over-board that didn’t take you far away from the victim; made it so that the crew didn’t have to do any work other than get ready to get Harold, my resident drunk, back on board; and put the boat in a neutral attitude once we got back to Harold? How awesome would that be? Well, we got just such a thing that very few sailors know about. You guessed it. We can recover Harold very effectively by Heaving-To.

To do so, start by falling off or coming up (depending on the point of sail when the jerk fell over) to a beam-reach, just as you would when starting the classic figure-eight method. (By the way, I like the figure eight method, unlike many sailors).  Rather than sailing away from Harold for six to eight boat-lengths,  at two tack the boat but don’t release the jib.

Now you are Hove-To. Point the bow of the boat directly back at Harold. Pretend you are going to run his ass over. Be mad at the bum; and here’s your chance to settle the score! Just as Harold disappears from your sight below the bow turn the helm sharply to windward. Harold will float nicely right to the leeward side of the boat at the swim platform. EVERY TIME!

Note that the crew, except for the spotter, had little to do during the boat’s maneuvering except set the sails for a beam reach.  Their free time can be utilized getting ready for Harold’s retrieval from the water.  When Harold is at the boat, the boat is already “put away”, so that all crew, including the helmsman, are able to assist in getting him aboard. Well, how awesome is that?

Here are a couple of things to think about when executing a Hove-To Crew-Overboard-Rescue:

  • When Hove-To the boat is unable to sail windward. AT ALL! So, the bow of the boat must be pointed directly at Harold, and cannot be allowed to wander off course. If helmsman finds the boat leeward of Harold then they must call for the jib to passed across, take off on a beam reach, and execute a regular figure eight recovery.
  • Every helmsman’s viewing angle of the water in front of the bow depends on their height and stature, so they have to practice the timing of exactly when to start the final turn to windward.  Shorter helmsmen may need to wait a second or two after Harold disappears before turning and taller helmsmen may need to turn just before he disappears.  The lesson to be learned?  As always, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!
  • It is important, just as with a figure eight method, to get established on a beam reach right away, and stay on it. The Hove-To method will work if the boat is slightly windward of Harold, but if it is leeward the boat will never get back to him.  If the helmsman finds the boat leeward they should abandon the Hove-To and just do a figure eight recovery.
  • Since sailboats pivot on their keel, the final helm turn to windward causes the stern of the boat to rotate to leeward and meet Harold.  That is why he appears at the swim platform. If the turn is late, resulting in Harold being on the windward side of the boat, he may wind up so far away (maybe twenty feet) that the crew will not be able to toss him a line.  Should this occur, return to a beam reach and try again.

There you have it, your own personal GOTO statement sailing style. So what’s my favorite use of Hove-To? I love to sail off to open water with my bride, Heave-To, and practicing my techniques. Hey, get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about tying knots…Hey!

Now go and practice Hove-To, On the Water…With Captain Frank