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twilight-the race


One Sails


Burgenland Sport



We all know that the start is the most deciding factor for the final result of a race.  With a bad start and post-start phase, the race is over. 

With good speed and tactics you might still overtake several boats, but you won't see the leaders until they come back on the downwind leg.  Because the start is so important, we are going to look at all aspects of it in detail.


Preparation for the Start
Collect information, formulate plan
Pre-Start phase
Positioning on the Start line
Make best speed to the planned position, as near to the Start line as possible
Post-Start phase
Gain advantages, recover from a bad start


The individual phases of a start form the headings of this page


Preparation for the Start

This phase begins with arrival at the race location about 10 minutes before the Start. The importance of this phase is under-estimated by many regatta sailors; they often arrive at the Start zone very late, especially when there is stronger wind. The reasons for this are often 'I don't want to wear myself out too soon', or 'Why should I ruin/damage my sails?

Young sailors in particular think its cool to be still standing on theshore, when everyone else is sailing to the Start zone. Watch your role models, the ones who always win races. It can be that even they arrive late at the course, but possibly only because they arent taking the race completely seriously and know that they can beat you anyway. At races where they are not superior and are sailing against others with equal potential, the will be among the first into the water.  This is because there are a lot of things that need to be done, time is short anyway, and unnecessary stress is the last thing you need at a start;  adrenalin levels are high enough there anyway.

So – when should be be in the Start zone? 30 minutes before, 60 minutes before? That's not so easy to answer. As always, it depends. How long before the Start the race organiser normally lays his course, what the starting order is how difficult the area is, whether currents can be expected, whether we have a helper on the water who will collect information and support us, or whether we are relying on ourself alone.

All these factors are important for judging the right moment to run out to the Start.   There's no sense in waiting around in the cold out there if it hasnt yet been decided exactly when you are going to sail.

So when should we be in the Start zone?  The only correct answer is – in time.  In time to be able to collect all necessary information and to formulate a plan for the Start.  We shouldnt forget, we are talking here about tactics.  In the preparation time for the Start we must also adapt our boat to the prevailing conditions and, depending on the boat class we are sailing in, choose the correct sail for them.  That too takes time.


So the first job in this phase is

Collect information

In most cases the marks won't be laid out when we arrive on the regatta course, so we have a little time to occupy ourselves with the weather conditions.

If wind strength and direction agree with the weather forecast generally, what do the clouds look like?  If our observations agree with the weather forecast overall, we can assume with some certainty that the other information we have taken from the forecast will be correct.

For our plan we need further information though:  is the wind oscillating around a constant direction or is it blowing steadily in one direction. Possibly the wind is blowing in one direction, but this constant flow will be overlapped by other deviations. On which side of the course is there most wind?  Are there land influences -  for example covered areas and obstacles caused by the shore formation? How do we get all this information?  Since we seldom have coaches with us on the water, who provide this information, we are obliged to get it ourselves. But even if a coach were to do everything for us, we shouldn't blindly depend on the data provided, but make our own observations and records and compare this in the pre-Start discussion.  The practice of recording the wind direction every 5 minutes has proved itself.  If our instruments are sufficiently well calibrated we can depend on the True Wind Direction they indicate. In most cases it will be most accurate if you position the boat against the wind and work with the compass. If we know the turning angle of our boat in the prevailing conditions, its not necessary to turn the boat against the wind, we simply need to note the course on which we are sailing.

We can test the supposed turning angle if, immediately after noting the course, we make a turn and note the new course afterwards. But be careful; first of all the boat must have reached its target speed for the prevailing conditions. 

WindtabelleOn the right is an example of a record. You can find a blank form in the Download section.  You'll also find an Excel spreadsheet which will automatically calculate the wind direction and a simple diagram. You can see an example of this Excel calculator here:

Musterausdruck Windtabelle

If we have collected this data for some time, all that remains is to turn this data into information. From a simple graphic which one can easily produce, some information can already be gained. For example: main wind direction 20 degrees, oscilating 10 degrees around the main wind direction.  Amplitude circa 4 minutes, strength constant circa 12 knots.

In any case we should now know (or at least believe we know) what we need to do.


With regard to the wind direction:

With regard to the wind strength:

With regard to the current:

That is already quite a lot of information that we have in advance of our competitors, who are just arriving in the regatta area.  Isn't that a great feeling, always to be a step ahead of competitors?

Even if the course is settled, many more challenges await us. How far from land does the course lie? Will we have to reckon with land influences? Can we see all the marks?   If we are unsure about anything, we can ask one of the regatta organisers or another competitor who we are friendly with.

Towards the end of the pre-start phase, we should focus intensively on the situation at the start line.

Determine the favored side of the start line

Now is the time to determine how the line lies relative to the central wind direction. You should know, thanks to your preparation for the start, how the wind is going to develop and the preferable side of the start line depends on that.

As long as the windward mark cannot be reached without tack it doesn't matter whether a direct line from the starting vessel or from the Pin End is shortest.  The deciding factor is how the start line lies in relation to the wind.  If the wind is coming from the left of the start line, the Pin End is preferable.  If it is coming from the right, the starboard side is preferable.

The following diagram shows that the boat starting at the Pin End has an advantage over the one which started by the Start boat.  Just after the start the green boat gains the advantage by a tack and the following turn to the right.  As mentioned before, the position of the windward mark is irrelevant.

Abbildung 101

However, the above only applies if the wind is coming from port in relation to the mean wind direction.  In the following animation we can see a scenario that would fool 90% of participants.  These 90% would be of the opinion that the wind is coming from the left on the starting line, and that therefore it would be an advantage to start from the left hand side of the line.   Abbildung 103



But what is the situation really? 

The wind varies by 20 degrees left or right.  The mean wind direction is 10 degrees to the right of the starting line. Just before the start the wind moves to the left.  Everyone tries to reach the Pin End of the line quickly to benefit from the supposed advantage.  Directly as the starting gun is fired, the wind changes to the mean wind direction. Finally, red will benefit from starting on the right hand side of the starting line and will reach the windward mark before green.

Take bearings to land objects

Because its very difficult to work out, from the middle of the starting line, how far away you are from the line, it makes sense to take bearings to land objects. With a land bearing it is significantly easier to estimate how far away from the line you are. But land bearings are not available at all times. Apart from this land bearings are often concealed by other boats at the critical moment.

Abbildung 106







Pin End bearing

Especially when the Pin End side of the line is favored, it is often sensible to take additional land bearings to enable us to realise whether we are to the right or left of the layline to the Pin End Mark. Normally a battle will develop before the start for the leeward position of the boats which want to start at the Pin End because only one boat can win the optimal starting place.

The following animation shows the typical approach of the boats at the Pin End mark. the port bias is about 10 degrees.

The red boat didnt break off the fight for the optimal position in time and has landed in the so-called death zone, from which there is no possibility to escape.  The green boat took a bearing of the maximum high course to the Pin End starting mark during the preparation for the start.  (Bearing between the anchored dinghy and the pin end mark).  Because green recognised that to defend the last attack by red would result in both boats being under the Layline, green decides not to defend the last attack by red so it can head for the Pin end and cross the starting line from the left with free wind and full speed.  On the other hand, this bearing can also help to recognise that one more attack can be made to reach the optimal position, which without the sounding you wouldn't have dared to do for fear of landing in the dead zone.

Electronic aids

ProstartIf the class rules allow, it is better to reach for electronic aids to work out the distance to the starting line. You have to realise that the accuracy of Smart phones is not sufficient to make them a good start tool, as they do not have a DGPS chip. An example of a reasonably priced instrument which can also be used with dinghies, is the Velocitec ProStart.






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Pre-Start phase

This phase begins about 10 minutes before the start and lasts up until about 1 minute before. It is important in this phase not to be too far away from the starting line.

Controlling the starting line

Are our conclusions which we made about the starting line in the pre start phase still correct?  Would/will the starting line change?  Competition organisers like to change the starting line by extending or shortening the anchor chain.  This can be done very discreetly by remote control of the windlass.  So it is necessary to watch the starting boat and the Pin End very carefully in this phase.  We know that the starting line can be altered up to the time of the preparatory signal, and good competition organisers will use this opportunity.  For larger boats with many crew members it can be a sensible to task one of them with watching to see if the starting line will be changed.

Check plan

Is my plan still correct or has something changed?  Should I modify it?  Is the wind direction still consistent with my notes? Are there other yachts on the course between the starting line and the windward mark?  What kind of wind do they have?  Have the clouds changed?  Is there new information from the coach?  Until the preparatory signal is given it is still permitted to call the coach, who should at this point be somewhere in the middle of the starting point.  He can perhaps give an opinion on how strong the first wind shift after the start will be, and when it should be expected.

If your plan passes this check, or if it needs modifying due to new information, you should now know on which side of the starting line you want to sail.  Is your plan to sail more to the left or the right of the course, or rather to go to the windward mark in the centre of the course.

Where are my opponents?

Usually this question is less important at the beginning of a race., than towards the end, where you     don't have to sail against everyone any more, but only against certain boats.  There will be a special chapter on this on the 'Miscellaneous' page.

Positioning at the starting line

About 3 minutes before the start, you should have a plan for how to approach the starting line.
If the wind is heading roughly straight towards the line, you should on no account think of port tack start.  Because you have decided that you will start on starboard tack, the next thing to decide is how to approach the starting line. There are two variations here, which both have their advantages and disadvantages.  The conventional beginning of an approach to the start position from the right has the disadvantage that you have to decide very early on from which position to move to the starting line.

The approach from the left offers many advantage, especially if you intend to start from the right hand side of the starting line, which doesn't necessarily have to be directly next to the starting vessel..

Abbildung 101

The following diagram shows a typical distribution of boats at the starting line.  We're now going to analyse the starting position of each boat.

Boat 1

Situation:  Boat 1 approaches the Pin End with the wind coming from the left.  Because the starting line lies neutral to the wind, this boat has no chance of passing the starting line. Boat 1 has to keep clear from boats 2 and 3.

Options: Boat 1 cannot pass behind boat 2 without hindering boat 3. The only option for boat 1 is a quick tack and then to pass the pin end mark on the wrong side. Immediately bear down and gybe to restart behind boat 2 and three. However, in this case Boat 1 must keep clear from any latecomers sailing on starboard.

What do we learn from this?  This, or a similar position, must absolutely be avoided. This boat, thanks to a bad approach, has already given up any chance of a good start, way before the starting signal.

Boat 2

Situation: Boat 2 finds itself in the leeward of Boat 6, but below the layline.  Possibly it went a bit too far in the duel with 6 during the approach to the Pin End. Directly to windward, below the layline, boat 6 is right behind boat 7.

Options:  Maybe there is a possibility, to luv in the wind to pass the line on the correct side. However, even if the momentum is enough to cross the starting line, there are two problems. If it is not possible to keep away from the mark and Boat 2 touches it, it is doubtful whether in this case there is a possibility to take a penalty under Rule 44.1a., because Rule 44.1b states that if a boat despite taking a penalty, gaines a significant advantage in the race she has to retire.

The second problem is boat 6, direct to windward.  According to Rule 11, boat 6 is the windward boat and has to keep clear. However, under Rule 16.1, boat 2 is restricted in its freedom to move and shall not make an abrupt change of course, which would be necessary to keep away from the mark. Accordingly, the only option for boat 2 is to break off the start, to pass by ileeward of the pin end mark, to gybe at the first opportunity, make use of the first gap in the starbors starterst, and to sail over the starting line on port tack.

What can we learn from this?  Avoid sailing below the layline to the Pin End at all costs; often you are so focused on the battle for the optimal Pin End start, that you make one more attack or defence to win the Pin End and then you find yourself below the Pin end layine. It is helpful in such cases, to have a Pin End layline bearing to a land object or anchored ship or something other not moving object. Have a look on chapter "Pin End Bearing".

Boat 3

Situation: Boat 3 is a so-called late starter. At the starting signal he is a good two boat lengths behind the line and apart from that is sailing on starboard tack, below the left layline.
There is non boat immediately to windward of him..

Options: Boat 3 can tack to approach the line on port tack. If boat 3 has to keep clear of other boats approaching the line on starboard tack. with right of way boat 3 can try a leeward tack and arrive at the left side of the course with relatively clean air.
Another possibility would be to dive in behind the boats with right of way to look for the way to the starboard side of the course. But I think that if boat 3 had wanted to get on the starboard course side, it would have chosen a starting position near the starting boat.  Also the loss of distance caused by frequent dipping in behind is so great that it would make it impossible to stay in touch to the leading boats.

What can we learn from this?   Definitely avoid sailing beneath the Layline at the Pin End. Nevertheless the options in this case are much better than those of boat 1 and boat 2.  Because  he is two boat lengths too late, more possibilities open up for him than for boats 1 and 2. This doesnt  mean, however, that it's generally better not to be up on the line.

Boat 4

Situation: Boat 4 sails 4 boat lengths behind the starting boat on port tack.
Options:  The only option for boat 4 is to sail behind the field. The skipper of boat 4 is either not knowedgeable about the rules and because of that is trying to avoid all conflict, or he hasn't been involved very long in regatta sailing.

What can we learn from this? Before it gets to a regatta you should get to grips with the matter and practice the approach to the starting line in training competitions. Taking part in regattas with the lack of this knowledge is a waste of time and money.

Boat 5

Situation: Boat 5 has gone too far to windward.  His course on the wind leads direct into the stern of the starting vessel. It is known that on the starting marks normally Part C (At Marks and Obstruction) of the Racing Rules of Sailing does not apply. Therefor boat 15 is the right of way boat under Rule 11. 

Options:  Boat 5 has the possibility of quickly luffing and pass the starting vessel on the wrong side, then a tack and a gybe and a new start.  How far will the good starters then be?  If it is a small and light boat, there's a possibility for it to stop completely and wait until boat 15 has passed and then start. Then you would come away with a black eye.  

What can we learn from this? The start in the optimal place can quickly become a nightmare. Nowhere is it more important to weigh up risks than at the start. Especially with a neutrally laid starting line like this one, it is seldom sensible to want to be the first boat leeward of the starting vessel..

Boat 6

Situation: Optimal timing in pre-start phase enabled this boat to have the perfect Pin End Start. The boat has clean air and the freedom to tack.

Options: Boat 6 can now set its perfect plan in motion, without being hindered in its execution by another boat.

What can we learn from this?  With a perfect start we are halfway there. Things couldn't go better. Even a port wind shift would have been a problem for boat 6 thanks to its freedom to tack.

Boat 7

Situation: Boat 7 starts at the Pin End, but lies immediately behind boat 6.  Boat 7 hat freedom to tack.  Boat 7 abstained from the last duel with boat 6 in order not to end up below the Layline.

Options: Boat 7 has to tack immediately after the start in order to escape from the bad air of boat 6. With an perfect tack lee of boat 9, boat 7 could reach clean air again and get to the left side of the course that he probably prefers.

What can we learn from this?  Because boat 7 broke off from the struggle with boat 6 for the Pin End in good time, he is able to save his start and finally, although not the first boat, reach the side he prefers and can sail in clear after a few seconds after the starting gun.

Boat 8

Situation: Sails on port tack, relatively unbothered but almost two boat lengths behind the line at the end of the left hand third of the starting line.

Options:  Although boat 8 completely slept through the start, a quick tack offers him the possibility of beginning the upwind leg with reasonably free wind and that is more than could have been expected with that starting position. Boat 7 won't bother him for long after his tack. Because boat 6 will tack to avoid the dirty air of boat 6.

What can we learn from this? The important things is to predict the situation and the behaviour at the start and to deal with it quickly and proactively. If boat 8 does not realise that boat 7 will tack immediately to escape the bad air from boat 6, boat 8 would wait with his tack and then for long time will be dealing with bad air from the crowd on the starboard side of the line.

Boat 9

Situation:  Boat 9 starts from about the middle of the starting line, about half a boat's length behind the line. His competitors are neither direct to windward, nor direct to leeward.

Options:   Because boat 9 isn't involved in any kind of duels, it has the opportunity to fully concentrate on the VMG to the windward mark.  No other boats can hinder the execution of his tactical plan.

What can we learn from this?   If the starting line lies neutrally, starting from the middle of it is a good choice. The likelihood of being able to go across the line unmolested and with maximum speed is significantly greater from here than at either end of the line. The gap of half a boat's length arises because its not so easy to judge the distance from the starting line in the middle as it is at the sides.  Diagram 107 shows the typical sagging of a starting line in the middle.  In this case, the yellow boat has split up the slack and has moved far forward.   This encourages the boats in his vicinity also to move further forward. Abbildung 107Die Abbildung 107 zeigt einen typischen Durchhang einer Startlinie in der Mitte. In diesem Fall hat das gelbe Boot den Durchhang geteilt. das gelbe Boot ist weit vorgefahren, Dadurch ermuntert es die Boote in seiner Umgebung ebenfalls etwas weiter vorzufahren.







Boat 10

Situation:  This boat is the one lying furthest to leeward of the group starting on the starboard side of the line. At the start, it lies almost half a boat length behind the line, but has free wind.

Options: Boat 10 can concentrate on his optimal speed.  An attempt to guarantee a windward position of Boat 11 by sailing higher could end with a collision with Boat 11.  A possible attack by by Boat 11 trying  to sail deeper and faster to get Boat 10 into his downwash can easily be countered by bearing away or, equally, acceleration.   Although Boat 10 started leeward of the first third of the starting line, it has no possibility in the immediate future to sail on the right hand side of the course.

What can we learn from this? With a well-designed / laid out line, it is a good idea to start leeward of the windward throng /group,  but, however, only if you want to be on the left of the course, or if you want to cross to the middle and catch the wind currents/gusts.  Due to the fact that you won't know the exact bearings of the boats at the starting line, you won't be so close to the line as the boats starting at the ends.   For this reason, it is not usually possible to sail to the right for some time from this position without having to pass behind several other boats, losing many meters' distance.

Boat 11 and Boat 12:

Situation: Both these boats are hemmed in between Boat 10 and Boat 13. 

Options: There's only one option for these boats; to concentrate fully on their speed.  With excellent boat handling and speed there is a chance to come out of this starting position, without coming up against the boats clamouring around you.

What can we learn from this? No-one should start in a group/throng of other boats unless they know that they have a great fast boat at their disposal.  Its important to know who is starting to windward of you.  In case Boat 12 purposely positioned itself leeward of a weaker boat at the start, Boat 13 will soon land in the 'dirty' air of Boat 12 and quickly fall back.  Boat 12 then has every opportunity.

The fight for the best place by the starting vessel

Apart from the situation of the starting line, the starting place directly next to the starting vessel is the most popular. Most boats try to start on the atarbord end of the starting line. On the one hand this is because its easiest when next to the starting boat to judge the distance from the starting line. On the other hand, its because after a start near the starting vessel, you can more speedily achieve the freedom to tack. This is a great advantage especially if your plan is to sail on the right hand side of the course to the windward mark. 

Its extremely difficult to give tips about starting near the starting vessel, because the most important skill for an optimal windward start is experience, and cannot simply be learned. One has to look ahead and judge how the situation will develop in the next seconds and minutes. However, it can be that competitors do something unpredictable, or even break the rules. Stay cool, don't let yourself be distracted from analysing the situation in a few seconds and coming to the right decision. Experienced sailors already know, minutes before the start, that their position at the approach is not optimal and can still react accordingly, while less experienced sailors fall into the trap and end up in the second row at the start, crowded by boats to leeward and windward. 

The most important thing is timing. Nothing is worse than arriving too soon at the starting line. You often see sailors who approach the starting line from good positions, but simply too early, and are only concerned to decrease their boatspeed in the last seconds before the start, instead of being able to concentrate on accelerating and crossing the line at full speed.

But enough now of mistakes and problems at the start on the starboard side of the line. What can we do to speed up the learning process and to belong to the good starters on the right side sooner? Timing can be practised; you don't even need a partner for that. You don't need anything more than a buoy and a stopwatch to practice it. You set two minutes on the watch and try to get as close as possible to the buoy, and to reach it within those two minutes.  At the end of the two minutes, depending on the size and weight of the boat, you should be 2-20 metres away from the buoy (2 metres for a small boat like a Laser, 20 metres for a heavy yacht). 

In the following animation you can see how important the positioning in the pre-start phase is:


Green positions itself relatively high behind the starting boat and realises too late the threat of danger of red and brown. Because Rule 18 of the RRS does not apply on the starting line, red and brown do not have to give way and can force green to break off his start, to pass the starting boat on the windward side, and to start again, with an additional tack and gybe, behind most of the other boats. It would have been better for green to reduce speed, to cross behind brown and red and to try  to establish an overlap leeward of these boats. Even if red and brown had averted this attack, and green had to abandon it, all three boats would have been further leeward after this manoeuvre, and green would no longer have been positioned above the starboard lay line. Nothing could then prevent a good start for green.

Red finds itself a little above the lay line too, but realises the danger from brown in time. He slows down his boat speed and crosses the stern of brown. He realises that brown has already got to reduce his speed, in order not to cross the line too early. This, together with the additional boost through bearing away helps red to establish a leeward overlap to brown. Unfortunately, with this manoeuvre, red gets to close to yellow. After the start it had to fight against the durty air from yellow. Luckily for red, yellow decides to sail a bit fuller to bring the turquoise boat under his control.

Brown has chosen an almost perfect starting point for the approach to the starting line. Not too high, but high enough to reach the starboard end of the starting line well. No boat to leeward. Already at position 1, one can see that Brown will have a good, if not the best, start. Brown reacts correctly to the attack by red and tries by luffing to win some space from him. Brown doesn't give in to the temptation to give up his optimum position, to prevent being overtaken by red.

Yellow Yellow forgoes from the outset the optimum position as first boat leeward of the starting boat, and positions itself below the lay line. Not very aggressive, but relatively safe.  In this position there is more room to manoeuvre and the opportunity to react to unexpected things is greater here than directly next to the starting boat.  Yellow can also cross the line at full speed, relatively unbothered, at the starting signal.  In fear of coming in a cover from red, yellow bears away a bit, accelerates and stays in clean air. The disadvantage of yellow's position is that it doesn't have any freedom to tack.  Yellow's plan before crossing the start was to sail more on the right hand side of the course. Yellow sticks to his plan and doesn't want to wait until red falls back sufficiently in dirty air before he can make a tack to the right.  Because of this, yellow bears away immediately after the start to gain enough space behind red to cross to the preferred side of the course.

The fight for the Pin End

The main problem with a Pin End start is that only one boat out of the whole field can have an optimum start. The following animation shows a typical battle for the best position at the Pin End. Each of the boats tries to reach the leeward position of the other which results in a typical snake-like course. At red's last attempt to position himself leeward of green, red lands below the port lay line of the starting line.

Green, due to his heading to the anchored dinghy, has recognised in time that another defence of his position no longer makes sense, because he would end up below the lay line at the Pin End.


Starting on port tack

This is really only an option in exceptional situations, and then only if you have good insurance.  One can attempt it in exceptional cases, if the starting line lies extremely badly.


A further criteria for a successful port tack start, as well as the situation of the line, is the width of the boat. With very wide boats, for example catamarans, it is simpler to perform a port tack start from the left at the Pin end, simply because the space from boats approaching the Pin End on starport needs to be significantly larger, in order to keep clear from the pin end mark of the starting line.


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The start phase begins about one minute before the start and lasts until the starting signal.  Our aim in this phase is to cross the line in the planned position with maximum speed.


The most important thing at the beginning of the start phase is to defend our position. It is important to retain the ability of our boat to manoeuvre at all times. Only then can we defend our boat from attacks by the boats around us. Nothing is more frustrating than to have to give up our fought for place to a boat overtaking leeward from behind, just because we couldn't close the gap in time. In this phase, we must also not get too close to the starting line because that means we would have to reduce speed, lose our manoeuvrability, and with it our readiness to defend. We also need space up to the line to be able to accelerate to our target speed. Naturally, all that depends on the boat on which you are sitting; with a Laser you can sail closer to the line than you would with an 8 ton cruiser racer. The more weight our boat has, the further away we have to stay from the line to allow room for the acceleration phase.  The angle to the wind is also dependent on the size of the boat. With a small, light dinghy you can almost place yourself against the wind and still maintain  manoeuvrability, because with a short, abrupt rudder movement the angle of attack of the boat can be changed within seconds. With a heavy yacht without motion, there's no quick opportunity to change the boat's angle of attack to the wind.


According to the weight of the boat, you have to fully accelerate some time before the starting signal. This acceleration phase and the timing at the start can be well practised; all you need for this is a small anchored buoy. You approach this buoy from behind on a fictional lay line.The aim of the training is to get to the buoy with maximum speed within a pre-determined time. You should practice this with every wind strength until the timing becomes instinctive. With a different type of boat, conditions naturally change and you need to train again.


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Post-Start Phase

The post-start phase begins immediately after the start and lasts until one is sailing in clear air to the windward mark. How we behave in the post-start phase depends on how our start went. Let's begin with the worst case; there's an individual recall...and we have a bad conscience. . 

We are on the course side

Now we have a case which though it isn't very comfortable, but is part of regatta sailing. It would be bad to start to think only now whether the race official showed the P or I flag at the prepatory signal. In the start phase we should already consider an escape strategy for the event of an early start. If we start to consider, after the start, how we can get back to the start side the quickest, without hindering the others we are losing further valuable seconds.  Sometimes if an early start appears unavoidable, it is also sensible to break off a start and purposely to sail over the line and so get back to the start side of the race course faster.

Be a devil

Sailing is a gentleman's sport. Often, fair treatment of a competitor pays, because perhaps you may be dependent on their goodwill in a situation later on.  But this doesn't apply for the immediate post-start phase. Her the principle 'eat or be eaten' applies.  If you have the opportunity to cut off a competitor sailing above you, then do it.  If you don't you will regret it in the next squall, if your opponent can accelerate a little earlier and then comes down on you to kill you with his cover. You must do the same if you have an opponent close to leeward.  If there's a chance to fall down on him and to give him dirty air, then do it.  That way a lead of a few centimetres at the start can quickly become a lead of several boat lengths, because your opponent will normally need two additional tacks to escape your cover.

In the following animation, Blue and Yellow are equal at the start.  Yellow makes use of a small speed advantage in the post-start phase (it can be enough there that blue has briefly hit a wave) to fall onto Blue. Blue finds himself in dirty air and can only tack away behind Yellow. If Yellow hadn't immediately used this situation to his advantage, he would then have landed in the dirty air of Blue.  Now that Blue no longer poses any danger, Yellow can fully concentrate on sailing at maximum VMG to the windward mark..


Here, all three boats are all on a par with one another. Green recognises in time the danger which Yellow threatens and uses every opportunity to get nearer to Yellow.  Finally he succeeds in reaching the safe leeward position near Yellow.  Yellow finds himself in dirty air and only has the option to tack and to try his luck on the right hand side of the course. 

Gain advantages

If you started on the good side, you must try to use this track advantage to the utmost. A quick tack brings you in between the main field and followers.  He who waits too long and waits until the wind comes back again has lost his advantage.


Everyone, even a World Champion, can mess up a start. But stay active, try to take action and adapt your plan to the situation. Try to reach free wind as quickly as possible. If your self confidence is right; with some good moves in the post-start phase, you will catch up with the field.

In the following animation Yellow lost the start and finds himself in the dirty air of Green after the start.  With two tacks, Yellow frees himself from this situation and a few minutes after the start finds free wind again.


Stick to your plan

In the pre-start phase you carefully considered how to sail to the windward mark. Your plan is good, so don't abandon it just because your start didnt allow you to put it into action straight away. Usually there's a good opportunity to stick with it without much loss.

I can show you that with the two following animations:

The Violet boat actually has the plan to cover the starboard side of the race course. Because Green started immediately to the right of him, Violet has no opportunity to tack.  If Violet were to stay passive  it would have to sail on with Green on the left hand side of the course, and wait until Green tacks.  Instead of this, Violet actively follows his plan, bears away a little and slows his boat down until the gap between him and Green is big enough to make a tack and bear away behind Green. The loss of not even one boat length is measured against the fact that Violet can now carry on with his plan and, if the plan was justified, could potentially arrive at the windward mark several boat lengths ahead of Green.

But – be careful: its best not to bear away to early. in order to take away the possibility of Green tacking windward and in front of Violet.


In the following case, Violet wants to begin his upwind leg on the left side, but is prevented from carrying out his plan by Green, who had a perfect Pin End start, because the loss of distance and time caused by Green's dirty air would simply be too great. Instead of tacking and giving up his plan, Violet decides to be offensive, bears away behind Green until there is free wind and this way can continue to follow his plan on the left hand side of the course.

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