Gybing for Lasers

by Jon Emmett

Downwind, there are fewer shifts than upwind because we are sailing away from the wind (not towards it). Still every shift counts and sailing the optimum angle to the wind and waves is crucial to get downwind as fast as possible. Sometimes it is not always obvious why one way works best, for example, port broad reaching and lots of downturns, or starboard by the lee and lots of upturns, but there is always a best way.

Gybing may be done for several reasons:

  • Strategic – the best way to sail around the course in the absence of other boats
  • Tactical – to avoid wind shadow and/or to better place yourself against your rivals
  • Because it is part of the course!

Now, there are many different types of gybe: Run to Beat, Run to Run, Reach to Reach, Reach to Run, and so the list goes on. So, we are going to deal with best-practice principles:

Begin with the end in mind.

You need to exit the gybe at as close to full speed as possible, in the desired direction of the next leg of the course. So, we may need to consider wide entry for a “tight exit” or adjusting some sail controls before gybing, if possible.


We want to be making as much progress as possible during the gybe. This means, for example, gybing on the wave, so we continue to surf while gybing. We need to consider the big picture. If the aim is to make progress directly downwind, we don’t want to turn through a huge angle to gain extra speed if our overall “velocity-made-good” to the next mark would decrease by doing this!


This is true for all boat handling, but the more effort you put in (assuming it is done at the correct time, correct place, and in the correct way!), the better. So, the order is: body, sheet, steer. If, for example, you simply did all of the turn with the rudder, it is much slower than using roll.

  • Body movement is used to roll the boat to windward to initiate the turn, and then to flatten the boat (encouraging it to go in a straight line) when on the new desired course.
  • Sheeting can be used to both help turn the boat and also to accelerate the boat in the second half of the gybe, when the apparent wind kicks in.
  • Steering is used as a precision tool to fine-tune the gybe itself. In general, the rudder should simply follow behind the boat, but a small jerky movement may sometimes be required to ensure the gybe happens at the correct time (relative to a gust, wave, or another boat).

When we think about gybing Lasers, unfortunately, the first thought is about the mainsheet getting caught around the transom. This is so easily avoided: simply keep the sheet tight (no slack) and it cannot be caught. This is achieved by rapidly pulling in the sheet just as the boat gybes.

NOTE: Do not be tempted to flick the sheet, as this can occasionally cause the sheet to loop over the end of the boom, which is often worse than being caught around the back!

Two Types of Gybing

Standard Gybe: easy to do a big roll

Sheet-around-the-back Gybe: easy to steer through a smaller angle

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