How to get out of irons

We’re writing about ‘how to get out of irons’ because we’ve noticed plenty of sailors on boating forums asking about it.

If you’re not sure what the phrase means, well, it’s simply when your sail is up but the boat isn’t going anywhere since wind power has been lost.

This can happen if your boat tacks too slowly, or if it loses momentum heading into the wind – in both cases, your boat will stop and be ‘in irons’.

Getting out of irons isn’t always easy. So, let’s talk about how to get the job done, and find out more about the convict history of the term.

How to get out of irons using your sail

Got a jib?

  • Back up the jib to turn the bow of your boat away from the wind.
  • To do this, hold the jib outwards from the boat in the direction opposite to where you want the boat to head.
  • The wind should then push back against your jib and help to turn your bow around.

No jib?

  • Move the boom forward on the side you’re turning towards in order to back the mainsail.
  • Hold the tiller in the same direction as the boom.
  • When the boat starts to sail backward, the bow should move toward the direction of the boom, pushing away from the wind.

Finally (for jib and no jib)

  • When the wind begins to come over the windward side, release the backed sail and stop the luffing by pulling in the sheets.
  • Pull your tiller in the opposite direction to the boom, and sail on.

Be careful when backing the sails

  • There can be strong wind pushing back against your sails, so always be careful when backing them.
  • For a great YouTube video on how to get out of irons, head here.

* Head to this website for the source on the info above.

How did you get in irons?

According to Paul Ebeling of Live Trading News, it’s vital to know how you got in irons, in order to get out of them (and avoid sailing to a standstill in the future).

Ebeling says there are many situations, which can cause a sailing boat to get into irons, but the most common is not completing a tacking manoeuvre correctly.

“Additional situations could be pinching too hard, attempting to luff another boat, responding to a luff by another boat, broaching, etc.”

Why irons?

The term ‘in irons’ refers to men shackled ‘in irons’ or manacles, unable to move – just like a boat that has lost wind power.

It’s been a little tricky to find more on the origin of the term, but we’ll keep hunting, and keep you posted on what we find!

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