Sailing Starts: Being On The Line


“All you need to do is win the start and then just extend your lead”

This line is from Buddy Melges’s book Sailing Smart (well worth the read). It demonstrates just how important getting a good start is; echoing the common adage that a good start “is 50% of the race”.

So what makes a good start?

1. Being on the line

2. With speed

3. At the right end

In this article we’ll focus on number 1. Being on the line when the starting gun goes.


Being on the line


You may be at the biased end of the line and going fast when the starting gun fires but if you’re not on the line you’re chances of having a good start are just about zilch.

This is one of the easiest ways to improve your starting – just being on the line. Often beginners (and even more advanced helms) hang back at the start, nervous of getting in the way, or t-boning a fellow competitor.

But if you don’t get involved at the start you’ll never be on the line, which will mean you’ll never get a good start and therefore never able to sail alongside the top sailors which is vital is you want to improve your sailing.

I used to hardly ever be OCS (over the start line). Which, on the face of it, is a good thing. But, as an Australian sailor told me, “if yer not getting some OCS’s yer not trying hard enough mate”.

So the obvious tip here is just to stay closer to the start line in the 5 minutes before the start gun goes. Imagine two start lines. One the actual start line and another drawn parallel to it 5 boat lengths behind. Then all you have to do is practice staying between the 2 lines. If you know your ports and starboards you should be able to avoid collisions.
The above will ensure you’re not too far back when the gun goes but you won’t necessarily be on the line. Unlike running or Formula 1 sailing hasn’t developed visible start lines yet. All you’ve got to go on are the two flags at either end. This may be easy enough for those starting near one of the buoys. But it’s not so easy for those towards the middle of the line.

So how can we see an invisible line? The answer – transits. You get a transit by sailing directly along the line away from one end towards the other. Then observe any notable land features that line up with the two ends of the line. This maybe anything – from a large tree to a house. Don’t use people or cars though. They have this annoying habit of moving around.

Try to get a transit well in advance of the start time and double-check it closer to the time.

That’s it for being on the line. Not too hard eh? Next post we’ll cover how to be on the line with speed, as if you’re not moving, being on the line isn’t going to help you that much!


More articles on starting:

Being On The Line With Speed

How To Work Out The Best End Of The Line To Start