The Secret to Winning the Start

Crowded Laser Start

Having superb timing to the start line, great boat handling and effective defensive tactics are all part of the sequence leading up to the beginning of a race. Failure to execute any of the major components will result in a poor start. However even if perfectly done, it’s not guaranteed that your start will be successful. Something happens during the last 10 seconds of the start sequence that changes everything, and not many people know about it.

The most important aspect of a great acceleration is approaching the line faster than the boats around you. This is not the acceleration; it’s what you do before the acceleration. Even if you don’t have much distance to the line, in the dying seconds of the sequence you must have some movement if you expect your acceleration to be impactful. On a square line the person who is moving fastest at 5 seconds to GO is often the one punched out after the start. Here are 3 reasons why:

  1. You will inevitably create turbulence around your foils if you try to accelerate from a dead stop with maximum effort. Turbulence means drag and drag creates leeway. From a dead stop you are likely losing your hole to leeward
  2. Movement forward is more easily transitioned into full speed. A boat approaching the line at 3/4 speed vs 1/4 speed will have a quicker transition to full speed as the bow crosses the line giving them a slight advantage. The faster you can be going, will make your acceleration quicker, more effective and with little leeway.
  3. If you don’t have movement forward your timing is varied and unpredictable. A boat that is not moving forwards or backwards and is head to wind lacks control. Trying to factor in the time it takes to scull down to your close hauled course to create acceleration is much harder from a stand still and even harder when moving slightly backwards. Even if there’s 2 knots of windspeed different or bigger waves it may take 2 to 3 extra rudder movements than planned, which could lose you one valuable second. Having forward movement means your only variable left to control is speed, angle and timing toward the line.

It would be nice to just make a perfectly timed full speed run at the line then, right? Unfortunately that is not advisable in the Laser fleet as you lose line awareness and clear air if you approach from behind the pack. Sitting bow back also has added complications with boat handling maneuvers as the close proximity between boats is constricting. We recommend to prepare bow even with your competitors. Getting forward movement before the boats around you is crucial but also dangerous. Move too early or move too quickly and you may get called over early or bear away into your hole chewing up that hard earned space. It all comes down to technique and practice.

Book a starting clinic at ISA and we will teach you exactly how the mechanics work, and how to effectively execute the most practical starting skill. Improve your starts dramatically with this easy trick!


Vaughn Harrison

When Vaughn isn't coaching sailors at our week long, all-inclusive Laser clinics in Mexico, he continues his work with countless Olympians, youth and masters sailors. He coached at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and founded ISA in 2008.