What is a Chicken Gybe (Jibe)?

Remember in the movie Back to the Future when Michael J. Fox hated being called “Chicken”? Eventually, he smartened up, didn’t take the dare, and changed his future for the good. Well … sometimes in sailing, it’s equally as smart to not take the dare of doing a gybe in high wind.

The safer maneuver is called the chicken gybe (some people spell it “jibe” – more a US term – either way is acceptable).

chicken gybe

A chicken gybe is done when the skipper feels uncomfortable gybing safely because the conditions aren’t ideal (especially if the winds are high). High winds in a gybing maneuver can cause damage to the vessel rigging by the boom SLAMMING across too fast. In a normal gybe maneuver, the boom slam effect can be reduced by pulling in the main sheet and letting it out as the boom comes over to the other side. However, in high winds (15 knots plus), if the boom is not let out fast enough, the wind on the mainsail will round the boat up into the wind and heel the boat way, way over. This is a very uncomfortable situation.

Here’s an animation. Note I’ve included the apparent wind direction and I’d like you to notice how it changes direction through the maneuver — it’s just a little extra to keep you thinking. I also included some Batman cartoon stuff from the old days — sorry it’s just my sense of humor. The little man getting tossed off is no joke, however. I included this as a reminder of how dangerous gybing can be – especially if you don’t prepare your crew. That boom comes across fast (not in a chicken gybe however).

In the animation, click gybe or chicken gybe to see the action.

Many people wisely choose the chicken gybe.

The end result is the same. You are merely tacking the boat from a broad reach on one side over to a broad reach on the other side. Simple, easy, effective, and safe. The only thing to watch out for is that the jib sheets will whip back and around quite violently, so it’s a good idea not to have anyone near the jib sheets i.e. on the foredeck.


Watch this video that we shot in the NauticEd Virtual Reality Course of actually performing a Chicken Gybe (and all of the instruction to go along with it).

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My vision for NauticEd is to provide the highest quality sailing and boating education available - and deliver competence wherever sailors live and go.
Grant Headifen
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Last updated on November 24th, 2022