Yacht Race Tactics; 5 Things you Should Know
Yacht Race Tactics; 5 Things you Should Know

Want to make some gains on the race course?

We’ve scoured the web to collect 10 top tips on how to improve your race tactics.

1. Learn to manage risk & return

Sometimes, it may be tempting to do a risky manoeuvre that gains you a place, if it works, but loses you five if it doesn’t. Is it worth it? It might be if it’s the different between winning or losing a major regatta, but in many cases, probably not.

2. Keep your options open

Heading into an area of the course where you might want to make a last-minute decision, such as a gate, you’ll want to keep your options open as long as possible. Communicate to your crew early what the possible options are, so they can be as prepared as possible, and on alert for a last-minute change. Training will help teach crew how to identify and plan for these manoeuvres.

3. Plan your top mark rounding

The decision whether to bear-away set and keep going, bear-away set and put in a quick jibe or jibe set to get over to the other side of the course, can make or lose big gains when rounding a windward mark.

A few things to consider are:

  1. Is the course skewed? If it is, the tack that will take you in the most direct direction to the next mark is generally preferred, as this will minimise the number of jibes required and leaves more options open if there are any wind shifts.
  2. Is there more wind on one side of the course? If so, the manoeuvre that will take you to the side with the wind is likely the best option.
  3. What are the other yachts on the course doing? Check what’s happening with the yachts that are still on their windward beat, as well as those rounding the mark at the same time or ahead of you. This will give you a good indication about what to expect on the downwind leg of the course, as well as help you find a lane with clear air.

4. Assign someone to call the puffs

Knowing when a puff is on the way, its strength, whether it’s a lifting or heading puff and how long it will last, is all valuable information. This information will help your helm and trimmers handle puffs with ease. It also provides a constant stream of information that you, as the tactician can monitor and use to make decisions about your next moves on the race course.

5. Determine your plan B

If your plan A doesn’t work or becomes less favourable due to changing circumstances, it’s good to have a plan B in mind so you can easily switch gears. Try to always think a few steps ahead about what’s happening on the course and what could happen, so you can plan how a change may affect your desired course of action.

6. Minimise losses when ducking another boat

To minimise any losses when ducking another yacht, bear away enough to pick up a little speed and point just below where you’ll need to be to pass safely behind the other yacht. Then, as the other yacht is passing, turn up to get back to your up-wind position and pass just behind its transom. You should be able to point right back on course at speed, minimising any loss. Depending on the weight and manoeuvrability of you yacht, you may need to adjust exactly how this is done.

7. Identify wind shifts

If you’re sailing close to land, you may be able to use land marks to determine wind shifts. If not, your compass or navigation equipment can be helpful tools to know when the wind is shifting, and how. Your competitors or other yachts on the course are also useful indicators of an impending shift; if there are a number of yachts bow up or bow down on you, that indicates they are in a different breeze.

8. Nail the start

There are many things that go into getting a great start. First of all, before the 5-minute gun is a great time to get a transit and ‘run the line,’ to determine if it is skewed one way or another. If the wind is coming more from boat-end, then this side is favoured, if it’s more from the pin-end, then the pin is the favoured side of the line (this assumes the next mark is set in a way that it creates an equilateral or scalene triangle with the two ends of the start line).

If the wind is perfectly square to the line, starting on a starboard tack at the boat end is generally preferred. This gives you right-of-way over any port tack boats as well as clear air.

However, you also need to consider what the other yachts are doing, how crowded the boat end is, your abilities and possible speed compared to the other yachts, etc. For example, if the boat end is too crowded, you may decide that hitting the pin end at speed is favourable.

9. Know the rules

Clear and confident knowledge of the racing rules of sailing will help you make the right decision when you’re in close quarters with another yacht, and be confident in your decision when it comes to dealing with pushy competitors. Click here for our quick guide on the racing rules of sailing.

10. Be confident in your decisions

It’s not easy to decide on a course of action in a high-pressure environment with constantly changing information. However, as the tactician, this is your job! You won’t be able to get it right every time, but often deciding on your next manoeuvre with enough time to carry it out is better than waiting too late for crew to get themselves sorted. If in hindsight you think it was the wrong decision, use it as a learning exercise for your next leg or race.

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