Gybing a Laser

Most sailors will gybe an average of 3-4 times per race, so the toll a bad gybe might take on your overall result is usually minor to an overall performance, however there are gains to be made by performing a good gybe.

What are the reasons for gybing? In a laser heading downwind, the main factor to dominate which tack you will sail on should be boat speed. Since it is possible to sail by the lee taking shifts is practically irrelevant, sailing into pressure however is of great importance to your overall downwind VMG. Other factors that dominate your boat speed will be wave angle relative to the wind angle (as if to allow you to better surf the waves) and sometimes current. For a boat to go fast the sailor is required to surf waves for as long duration as possible on each run, of course that is dependent on each sailor’s technique, but the principle remains the same, stay with more wind and surf waves longer than others.

As previously discussed regarding tacks, the focus during a gybe is to maintain as much boat speed as possible, for that there are a few factors that needs consideration and we will discuss them based on the different types of gybing.

In most boats (in our case the Laser) gybes should be differentiated according to wind speed or more to say the mode of sailing. We discuss 3 main tacking modes:

  1. Light wind gybing = Roll gybe.
  2. Surfing gybe
  3. Survival gybe


Roll gybe

Roll gybing is mainly done in very light winds that doesn’t allow us surfing the waves, this is a good way to get your boat accelerating. However, be careful not to make it a repetitive manoeuvre as you will be breaking rule 42 and risking getting a penalty from the jury.

There are 2 slightly different variations to a successful roll gybe. Both require very little to no use of the rudder and will also include a minimal angle change of your boat.

The first one is a regular roll gybe, the steps are very easy. To begin the roll gybe the sailor should slightly heel the boat to leeward and luff up to accelerate the boat, sheeting in to bring the boom to roughly 45 degrees off the boat; the next step is to aggressively roll the  boat to a windward heel, this is the first pump of a roll gybe and shouldn’t require any tiller movement since the boat would want to bare away fast caused by the big heel. As the boat crosses the wind, the sailor must then cross the boat while keeping the heel of the boat and upon reaching the other side of the deck roll the boat aggressively back; that second roll should cause the boat to accelerate rapidly. In these type of gybes there are 2 risks:

  • Main-sheet being caught in the transom – can be easily avoided by not allowing the main-sheet to slack under the transom
  • Regybing- may happen at the end of the gybe after the final roll, the only way around it is to allow the boom to stay in the middle of the boat and slowly luff up to complete the gybe while maintaining speed.

The second type is a back-hand gybe, the main purpose of it is to avoid the main-sheet being caught under the transom and to allow the boom to slide back to position at the end of the gybe.

The only difference to a regular roll gybe is that we will catch the main-sheet from above the traveler block (behind us), make sure you hold close enough to the boom so the sail angle to the boat is around 45 degrees; from then on the gybe will be exactly the same only using smaller heels and smaller rolls. This form of gybe allows you to exchange the roll for a strong pump of the sail. Upon completion of the gybe, keep holding the main-sheet for a couple more seconds to allow the boat to properly pump and then gently release the boom back into position; that’s it, very simple.


Surfing gybe

A surfing gybe is possible in any surfing conditions, basically in any conditions that will allow you to catch waves you should be gybing while surfing, again the focus is to maintain as much speed as possible as well as minimally and gently altering your course, this can be achieved by allowing the boom to cross as the boat reaches its top speed on the wave, so timing is very important here.

The steps for gybing are these; (1) you find the biggest wave you can surf. To ensure you can surf it well, prior to catching the wave make sure you luff up enough using some leeward heel and have reached the maximum speed you can whilst still allowing a good enough angle from the wave to allow surfing. (2) Roll the boat to windward and surf the wave, as you do sheet in quickly to avoid slacking the main-sheet (so to not catch the transom), maintain the windward heel and keep baring away until the boom crosses, as the boom cross make sure your tiller is centered and simultaneously with the boom cross to the other side of the boat. (3) Roll the boat back and try to stay on the same wave. It is important to note that there is very little to no use of the rudder the entire gybe; over-use of the rudder would cause your boat to over rotate and you will end up reaching on your new tack, hence sailing out of the wave.


Survival gybe

A survival gybe is very similar to a surfing gybe, the single most important factor is to gybe while in top speed as otherwise the sail will catch a lot of wind on the new tack and you might not be able to keep the boat flat, most of capsizing will take place immediately after gybing as the boat heels to leeward and the boom hits the water.

As already discussed, in the surfing gybe you must ensure you catch the biggest wave around and do so with a lot of speed, as the boat speeds up the pressure on the sail will be significantly reduced and allow your boom to cross the wind with very little pressure once it fills up on the new tack. Simply follow the steps discussed above (for a surfing gybe) with the main difference that you must not roll aggressively, but rather use a small windward heel to allow the boat to bare away. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can take your time crossing, you will still need to jump as hard as you can to the other side and do whatever in your powers to keep the boat flat, you also want to keep surfing the same wave you started the gybe with.

If you want a safer gybe you can always further open the leech prior to gybing (by either dropping more kicker or pulling more Cunningham, or a combination of both) this might allow you more control and less impact at the final stages of the gybe.


The video below shows the variety of gybes discussed, even though these examples are far from perfect try paying attention to the little bits involving each gybe and think what should be done differently in each of them in order for the tack to be better

Feel free to let us know how your gybes have improved.

At Toplevel Sailing we ensure our sailors uses the correct techniques to allow them to sail the quickest around the course and the main part is to maintain as much speed as possible through the entire race. The secret to going fast is to never go slow.


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