System Sailing 3.3 - Pre-Race & Start

July 10, 2020

On many boats the start always seems like a new experience and often becomes the most stressful part of the race. Building a system for starting will help calm the nerves and build confidence. Your starting system has to work for your style of sailing and must be repeatable and constantly evaluated. The system starts with boat call and preparing for the race.

Boat Call

  • Prepare the boat for the race
    • Sails (packed & ready to hoist)
    • Electronics (route downloaded & calibrated)
      • VHF charged
      • Batteries in starting instrument
  • Liquid & food
    • Rig sheets for sails
    • Remove unnecessary items
      • Boom covers, dock lines, fenders, sails not in use, crew gear not in use
    • Team meeting
      • Discuss goals, plan, and weather

Leave the Dock

  • Make sure you leave with enough time to arrive at racecourse one hour prior to warning signal
    • Relax
    • Visualize race and role
    • Hydrate

Pre-Race Information

  • One hour prior to warning signal
    • 20 min sailing upwind
    • 20 min sailing downwind
    • 10 min start information
    • 10 min discuss plan

Pre-Start Information

  • 10 minutes
    • Ping boat end slowly with bow at boat flag
    • Ping Pin end slowly with bow at pin mark
    • Mid Line check 
    • Layline check - starboard tack at boat and pin
    • Current check 


  • 10 minutes
    • Make a plan for:
      • Course side
      • Start line section
      • Sail choice

Warning Signal

  • 5 minutes
    • At boat on starboard tack, sailing towards pin
      • Check course distance
      • Number of legs

Prep Signal

  • 4 minutes
    • On starboard tack towards pin, decide when to tack back

Tack Back

  • 3 minutes
    • Boat third
      • 3 boat lengths leeward of line (light air) 
      • 6 boat lengths leeward of line (medium air)
      • 10 boat lengths leeward of line (heavy air)
  • 2 minutes
    • Mid line
      • 2 boat lengths leeward of line (light air)
      • 4 boat length leeward of line (medium air)
      • 6 boat length leeward of line (heavy air)
  • 1 minute
    • Lower third
      • 1 boat length leeward of line (light air) 
      • 2 boat lengths leeward of line (medium air)
      • 3 boat length leeward of line (heavy air)

Final Approach

  • Tack onto starboard
    • Complete your tack
      • Luff when boats to windward of you
      • Aim low at boats trailing and after they tack, luff
      • Tack back to port if room to windward
    • Go time
      • Time and distance to the line
      • Light, medium, and heavy air

The Start

  • Goals
    • Target speed
      • Slow high (get to boats to windward)
      • Fast low (get to side of course)
      • Target (stay with group)

A system for starting will give your team the opportunity to be in the hunt for every race. The start is just the beginning of the race and not the final result. However, it does heavily influence your ability make decisions after the start. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about building a system for starting, please contact Quantum’s Wally Cross. You can check out other episodes of System Sailing here or download the playbook here.

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The Discussion