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Starts (racing in dinghies/skiffs)

Can someone please tell me how to start a race properly? Basically everyone I sail with and against started in the junior classes where they get coaching on that kind of thing so they are all really good at it. I never sailed the junior classes & have never had any coaching (our state yachting association doesn't care unless you sail an olympic class).

Therefore I don't have the first clue how to start a race properly. I've read heaps of books etc about it but it never seems to make a difference. I don't know how to choose where to start on the line - I just sail along until it almost time to go and then say 'oh well, here looks good'.

I know the racing rules of sailing but because I don't have a clue what I'm doing when it comes to starting I always wind up in a really bad spot - eg. last weekend I ended up on port tack in the second row of the start, which would have been fine if a skiff hadn't decided to tack onto port underneath us. They then proceeded to push us up, so I went up until I was about to have a head-on with the starboard tack boats coming the other way - obviously I couldn't bear up any more then and I think this would come under Rule 16.1 - the give way boat has to have room to keep clear. I did not. Consequently I copped a tirade of abuse and profanities and a bow-sprit inside our boat. Not really sure where they wanted me to go. They had plenty of clear water underneath them so it wasn't like they were being pushed up as well or anything. They hit us (no damage caused) then I finally saw a gap and tacked (whilst being abused and screamed at to tack by them) and ended up not being able to swap sides after the tack due to their bow-sprit being in our boat again. They then bore up so they were to windward, bore away and hit us again and then sailed off (the gun had gone by then). Didn't protest them because we protested a skiff a week before for attempting to run us over and they basically got away with it (the club is in love with skiffs) so we figured there was no point in wasting our money on the protest fee.

I have lost count of the amount of times I've been abused and screamed at on the start line, simply because I just don't know how to get into a good spot. Every time I try someone pushes me into another boat, across the line or into the start boat, so I just don't understand how you are meant to get a front row start without that happening.

Any tips would be great!

Vaughn Harrison

New Member

See how 047 and 120 hold their place near the boat. Downspeed maneuvering is the most important part of starting in dinghies
You may need to practice a lot with sailing up into the wind, then skulling away from the wind while letting your sail out, then sail back into the wind. Keep your sheet loose so that you never slip sideways. You need to keep the foils working (which means lateral forces on the daggerboard in order to keep control)
skulling (pulling the tiller toward you rapidly is legal as long as it's only down to close hauled and not back into irons)

Starting tactics are a whole other story.
Things to keep in mind:
favored end of the line (which mark is closer to the wind)
favored side of the course (land on the left side of the course provides persistent conditions)
shifty (wind rapidly changing direction and velocity) often times in this condition I recommend starting at either the pin or the boat
Oscillating (wind slowly shifting back and forth, fairly predictably) I recommend having a BIG hole on the line to ensure a good start

Hope this helps!

I do know how to hold my boat on the line, however, no-one does this in the classes I sail - as soon as someone tries it they get pushed into another boat, the start boat/pin or over the line.

Therefore I was hoping for some tips on How to start at speed - ie not holding the boat on the line,instead just sailing up & down the line the whole time

If anyone has any tips for me that would be great!!


New Member
Dear Sailor-gilr:
I empathize with you. It's hard to feel confident when you're getting yelled at by fellow competitors. But don't stop racing - things will improve for you. There are a few simple things you can do to assure a decent start and that's where you should begin. Once you master the basics you'll learn what works for you and the fleet you're sailing in. Then you can start to get a bit more detailed.

1. Sail down the starting line from boat to pin at about half speed and time how long it takes. That way you'll have a gauge for where you need to be when the gun goes off. For example: if the line times out at 30 seconds and you want to start at the pin than you may want to be sailing past the boat with 40 seconds to go. With slowing and luffing you'll pretty much be where you need to be when the gun goes off.
2. Don't worry about which side of the line is favored (although you should know where the pin and the boat laylines are roughly) as much as starting in clear air and with speed. For this I recommend starting somewhere in the middle of the line. That way you'll have some room and options if you decide you need to go to one side of the course or the other.
3. Learn how to control the speed of your boat, you should be able to luff to stall it and be able to trim in and accelerate AND know how much room you need to do this in. It doesn't sound like you're sailing a laser but if you are than it's best to keep your vang fairly loose before a start. It helps to depower the sail if you need to stall. Whatever boat you're sailing - go out and practice pre-start boathandling. Oh and, based on your expereince level NEVER start on port - this is a recipe for disaster that even the best sailors try to avoid.

Good starts take a lot of practice and starting is especially hard because there are so many variables (wind oscillations, current, a skewed line, etc.) but take heart - if you keep it simple and learn your boat you'll improve. Have a plan for starting and know the rules - it's good for you and good for your fleet. Good Luck!


New Member
Thanks tammi5256. Your words of positive-informative-inspiration are just that...positive, informing and... thank you very much...inspiring. I'm working on improving my starts and it's always nice to hear that they will get better... sometimes I wonder. I'll keep your thoughts in mind the next time I'm out on the water.
Thanks again.