TECHNIQUE How to free the winch from a captive line

When you sail as a small crew, or with novices aboard, you are in fact solo sailors, and you must think as such. This is the philosophy that guides Luca Sabiu‘s work as an instructor: “What maneuvers or emergencies at sea cause the most stress when you are alone?” was the question he posed to a sample of more than 80 sailors. He received so many responses, so he decided to address for us all the situations indicated by the responding boaters, showing how to handle them in peace and safety. In this installment he explains what to do if the sheet or halyard gets caught on the winch.


It could happen that one of your boat guests, caught up in the urge to help you makes a “nice mess” by caulking a sheet or halyard in an untidy manner on the winch, and amplifies the problem by continuing to caulk even more in hopes of freeing the sheet.

1. The “omelet” is made. In this case to be caught on the winch is the genoa halyard: the tension has been such that it is not possible to release it by hand.

2. Reassure your friend that the problem will be easily solved, as good commanders steer away from any proposal to cut the line (a solution often advanced by the inexperienced). Use another winch on the deckhouse or in the cockpit and with any free line go and tie a draft knot on your halyard under tension.

3. Doing so will unload the load and thus be able to release the implicated winch: cock the new knotted line over the one in traction with the handle…

4. …effectively discharging the voltage. Now freeing the first winch from the captivated top will be a piece of cake.

– If you are upwind it might be helpful to lean to the slack to maneuver with the boat not heeling

– Show the utmost calmness without taking it out on those who have captivated the top

– Ask the crew to stand back to avoid the risk of clumsy hand attempts to untie the knot (finger accidents are the order of the day in such cases!).

Luca Sabiu, 44, born in Milan, “citizen of the sea by adoption” since the age of 5. Recreational vessel captain, YeM Federazione Italiana Vela (FIV) Federal Sailing Instructor, professional oceanic and solo sailor, and longtime frontline for sea safety awareness. He collaborates with the Living Sail Nautical School(, heading the Master Sail excellence team: his training courses aim to create autonomous and responsible sailors. He will show us, in this and future installments, the secrets of performing even in difficult conditions many maneuvers that are essential for navigation.



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