Concise & Clear Sailboat Racing Communications

Milliseconds matter…

“Sting in your main”

That’s what one of my teammates said to me in the middle of a hectic team race. My initial, internal reaction was, What does that mean, and what does he want me to do? He said, ‘sting’ — right? Not ‘bring’, as in ‘bring in your main’ right?

After a few seconds of processing, my spoken response: “Sorry, what?”

Teammate: “Your main was too tight in that puff.”

“Got it. Will ease next time.”

It was a short exchange, but it highlighted some communication styles that impede effective teamwork when competing as a sailing team.

In this case, we lost several feet to our competition since our boat was too heeled. More importantly, I was distracted from my job as tactician to figure out the next step to make in a complex team race.

In a typical race, there can be dozens of such moments of miscommunication. Each of them add up to lost distance on the racecourse, and lost positions on the score sheet.

This post aims to help you fix some of your sailing communication issues so that you can perform better as a team. Let’s dive in.

Be imperative

Simply put, say what you want someone to do, so that you minimize the time between your spoken statement and someone else’s action. Don’t imply, because that slows reaction time. Here’s are examples to illustrate.

Bad: “The jib is strapped.”

Crew member’s interior thought process: Okay, so much does he want me to let it out? What’s been the right amount in the past?

As the crew member processes the statement they just heard, the boat goes slower and slower, with a jib in too tight for the conditions.

Good: “Ease jib two inches.”

This avoids the crew having to think. It’s clear what they need to do. The jib is eased, the boat sails better, and precious speed is maintained.

The underlying principle: shorten the time between statement and action by being imperative — saying what you actually want.

Be minimally explanatory

Back to the example above. Suppose the skipper said: “Ease jib two inches in this lull.”

While this is imperative, in burns up about two seconds of time to say “in this lull”. (Try saying it out loud yourself.) That’s time you could have been sailing with a fuller jib. If you want to teach, the time to do so is after the race: “the reason I had you ease the jib that time was that the wind speed dropped, and an eased sail is faster when that happens.”

However, there are times you want to provide a bit of explanation for your command. Often this is when asking the skipper to alter course: tacks, jibes, upturns, and downturns. These are significant enough that some explanation is needed.

Good: “Tack in two lengths at this header.”

You could say, “Tack in two boatlengths” but then the skipper would wonder what’s going on: Are we layline? Is there a boat converging with us? That’s exactly the confusion we are trying to avoid.

Other examples of good, minimally explanatory comms:

  • “Jibe now on this lift.”
  • “Tack in three lengths for layline.”
  • “Up 5 for puff.
  • “Soak down 5 in this puff.

The principle: give just enough rationale to prevent any confusion, and no more.

Be non-obvious

“Wave in one boatlength!”

When this comment is made while sailing upwind, it bugs the hell out of me. Your skipper is already looking ahead; they can see the wave as well as you can. You’re stealing airtime from others who might have valuable comments.

What is useful is providing input that another teammate might not see.

For instance, a skipper driving upwind is looking ahead through a field of maybe 30 degrees, focused on jib telltales, the waves immediately ahead, heel angle, and perhaps the instruments. What they can’t easily see is what’s abeam to windward and abeam to leeward. For this reason, an effective crew will communicate things outside their field of view, like:

  • “Lifting puff in 10 secs.”
  • “Layline in 5 lengths.”
  • “Pinned by 3 boats.”
  • “Starboard tacker in 6 lengths; unclear cross; prefer to duck.”

Similarly, a skipper can communicate things they see that a crew, focused on what’s abeam, might not see.

One example I’ve used a lot: “runway ends in 5 lengths.” This comes up all the time when racing in a venue where there’s a big wind shadow on the left side of the course, about 20–30 boatlengths into the race. My crew is looking over her shoulder (windward and abeam) to indicate when we’re clear to tack, so she can’t see the wind shadow up ahead.

Last note: what’s obvious to some crew members is not obvious to others, and this is constantly changing. For a new crew, a statement of, “light spot in 5 secs, prepare to ease jib” might be obvious. After a while, just “light in 5 secs” will be enough to say to that crew member.

The principle: airtime is finite; spend it only on high-value comments.

Say, don’t ask

“Do you see the mark?”

This is a huge pet peeve of mine. You’re burning up 5 syllables of airtime with something that did nothing to help the team’s situational awareness. Just call out the location of the mark (buoy).

Most likely, the skipper will be looking all over the place — puffs, other boats, the sales, waves. There’s a lot on their plate. And downwind, there’s often a jib or kite blocking the view of the leeward mark.

So, no — they don’t see the mark. Just call it out! Be a teammate, not a burden.

(Below are some phrases that you can use to call out mark locations.)

If, on the other hand, you call out the mark location and the skipper sees the mark, they can just say “I can see it” (and then you can stop calling out the mark location).

The principle: say relevant facts that you see until you’re told to do otherwise.

Iteratively shorten

Here’s real-life example I like is from the 2013 America’s Cup, where Tom Slingsby on Oracle Team USA said, “My comms are down!” He could have said, “My communications equipment isn’t working” but that would have taken longer — a bad thing on a foiling 75 foot catamaran.

The examples minimize syllables and words:

  • “secs” not “seconds”
  • “lengths” not “boatlengths”
  • “Up 5 for puff” not “Head up 5 degrees for puff”

The principle: you’re not trying to be articulate; always look for ways to shorten what you say.

No rhyming ambiguity

We’ve all heard of times during a close port-starboard crossing where the starboard tack boat says, “no” and the port tacker thinks they said, “go”, leading to a foul.

Or the opposite: “go” is heard as “no”, leading a port tacker to do an unwanted lee-bow on a starboard tacker.

That’s why, in these situations, it’s good to use terms that can’t be misheard, and vary them: “cross, cross, you got it”. A non-verbal, such as a hand wave, also helps reinforce the point to ensure it comes across.

“Sting in your main” and “bring in your main” is another example of rhyming ambiguity. Avoiding this is especially important in windy conditions, and when there are lots of luffing sails at the start.

The principle: scrub out any phrases that can be misheard due to rhyming.

Agree on brevity

Check out around 4:20 of this video of Terry Hutchinson talking to his driver, Bora Gulari, on the TP2 Quantum Racing:

… and his commands “no higher” and “no lower”, which come up over and over in the video. This is a great example of two world champions communicating briefly yet effectively. They’ve worked out before the race that “no lower” means “don’t steer any lower than your current course”.

Another example is around calling tactics. Pre-race, a skipper and tactician can agree that anything the tactician says is merely a suggestion, even if the phrase “I suggest that we…” is left out.

The principle: figure out how to shorten your most common terms. (The glossary below provides a lot of examples.)

Continually acknowledge

As a crew member, especially as a tactician, it’s always challenging when I mention informative statements and there’s no verbal reaction. I’m left cycling through what that lack of reaction means: did he hear me? does he disagree? does he agree? This sucks up mental energy I could be using more productively.

If you’re a skipper and you hear an informative statement like “tack in 5 lengths for header”, say “copy” or “got it” so that the team knows to prepare to tack.

If you didn’t hear clearly, don’t say, “I didn’t hear that”; just say “repeat” — it’s one word and imperative.

And if you, as skipper, disagree with a call, say “disagree”. That tells the crew to not prepare to tack, and keeps them on the rail to keep the boat moving.

When crewing, there are a couple of ways to put your skipper at ease:

First, when your skipper indicates they’re about to tack, jibe, set the spinnaker, or take it down say “standing by”. That lets them know you’ve heard them and are ready to begin your steps in the manuever.

Second, sometimes there is an unavoidable gap between when your skipper issues a request, and when you can fulfill it. For instance, just before the start in a large keelboat like a J/105, your skipper might call for the jib to be eased so they can bear off onto a close reach in order to build speed. They might call “ease jib” — but on a large keelboat, even if you’re holding onto the jib sheet, and have it uncleated and out of the self-tailer, it can take a few seconds to actually ease the sheet. This is because it takes a moment to loosen up the load on the winch drum so that the jib goes out. That can send some skippers — especially those already amped up for the start — into a panic.

What works here is to immediately respond to your skipper’s command of “ease jib” with “easing”. This reassures them that you heard them and are taking action. It’s also more specific than “copy”.

The principle: acknowledge that you’ve heard and agree (“copy”) or disagree (“disagree”) or didn’t hear (“repeat”) or are taking action (“easing”, etc.).

Don’t postmortem

“Why did they move the line? They shouldn’t have done that. That sucks. I’m gonna bring that up.”

That’s the airtime-clogging statement one of my teammates said on our way to the finish. Meanwhile, three boats were on the opposite port tack, in a lift. We could beat them all by tacking to leeward and beating them to the favored right end of the line.

Instead, I couldn’t say, “tack here” since my teammate was rambling away. We crossed behind, turning what would have been a third place finish into a sixth.

By all means review the race… AFTER the race.

If you screwed up, and there’s an item that you’d like to bring up in the postmortem, a simple “sorry” will suffice.

And if someone starts postmorteming during the race, “we can discuss” should be a signal that yes, a discussion is warranted, but not at the current moment. Doing so will most likely lead you to miss the next opportunity to improve your position.

The principle: always keep your comms focused on the here and now; postmortem after the race.

Don’t be creative

“We got some bogeys.”

This is another one I heard from a teammate, in a recent team race where I was tactician. We were sailing upwind on port tack. It was another instance where I cycled through the following thought process:

  1. “Ok, by ‘bogey’ I’m pretty sure he’s not using a golf term. I think he’s referring to a boat… but is he talking about one of our teammates, or the opposing team?”
  2. “If he’s talking about our teammates, shouldn’t they duck us if they’re behind?”
  3. “Or does he mean the two opposing boats on starboard? … I give up.”

It was wasted communications, since it’s ambiguity — there are literally over a dozen potential meanings for bogey — only distracted me from planning our next move.

I didn’t discuss during the race (following the don’t post-mortem principle) but after we finished, I asked, “what did you mean by a bogey?” Turns out he meant a boat from the opposing team, borrowing from the fighter pilot meaning of bogey.

With that explanation, all became clear, and we agreed to use the term bogey from then on in the regatta, following the Agree on Brevity principle. It’s only two syllables, shorter than enemy or competitor.

Be neutral

Tone matters a lot. When you’re giving commands, keep the tone neutral, not exasperated or belittling. The social contract on the boat should be: we’re doing away with pleasantries like please and thank you in the pursuit of brevity. But our tone will express our gratitude for our teammates actions.

Slow it down

“Godown! Godown! Godown! Godown!”

My skipper looked at me quizzically during a team race. What on earth is he saying? his looked seemed to say. I was trying to say “go down” so that we could more effectively set a reaching mark trap for an opponent behind.

I could have been more clear if I had paused a beat between, and mixed up my terms:

“Go down! (pause) Steer down! (pause) Head down!”

I make this mistake a lot when there’s something urgent. Rattling off the same phrase all at once can make it unintelligible. Sort of like Hodor on Game of Thrones, who intends to say, “hold the door” but shortens it to something too short for people to understand.

The principle: don’t machine-gun your statements; you won’t be understood.

A glossary of clear, concise sailing comms

To better work together, here is a sample list of terms that sailing teams should review and agree on. They are short, direct phrases, and thus work well when things are happening quickly on the race course. I call this a sample list since it’s important for every team to find their own style of communications. The point is to document what works so that there’s no confusion in the heat of battle. In the end it will lead to a calmer boat and better racing experience.

A note for new high school or college skippers:

A major challenge for sailors moving from singlehanded dinghies like Optis and Lasers to crewed dinghies like the FJ, 420, 29er, or Vanguard 15 is the fact that a big part of their success is working through a crew, and not doing everything on their own. It can be frustrating to know what needs to happen, but be unable to make it happen.

A note for experienced dinghy crews:

Most of these terms will come as no surprise. The point of this is to more quickly get to a point of fast communications since, as you know, short course racing is a game of seconds and inches. There might be a few new terms that are new, like say “cross-then-tack”, and knowing these can make the difference between a good race and a bad one.

With all that said, let’s dive into what communications make sense on various parts of a race course. These are roughly in sequence that a crew and skipper are likely to use these terms.

Starting sequence

Crew says:

Counts down the time. While there are many ways to approach this, one simple way is for the crew to remember 30–30:

  • Call time every 30 seconds: 2:30, 2:00, and so on.
  • Call out last 30 seconds: 30, 29, 28, and so on to zero.

Starting at/near boat/pin/middle — skipper indicates where on the line they plan to start. Of course, plans often change!

Luff — crew luffs jib

Trim — crew trims jib optimally for point of sail. This usually comes after you’ve been luffing for a while. If you’re sailing close-hauled, this means pull jib so it has 2–3 inches of camber in the foot to help accelerate. If you’re sailing on a reach, this means trim the jib to the middle telltale.

Heel — crew heels boat to leeward to prepare for rock, typically just before start.

Flat — crew flattens boat, typically to accelerate at start.

Hike — crew hikes hard to flatten boat.

Louder — repeat what you just said, only louder, since it wasn’t heard.


Skipper says:

Hike — crew hikes out. This is often the most common thing a skipper (or at least this author) will say. Don’t be offended if this gets repeated multiple times; it’s a reflection that every millisecond matters in terms of getting the boat up to speed in a puff.

All you got — crew (and hopefully skipper) hikes as hard as they can to make a close cross.

Weight low, weight to leeward, weight in — crew moves to leeward. Typically this is because the boat is heeling to windward. If crew is watching heel, the skipper should never have to ask for this.

Flatten, weight high, weight out — crew moves to windward to flatten boat. Again, if crew is paying attention to heel, skipper doesn’t have to call this.

Weight forward — crew moves forward, so that when facing backwards, their backside is up against the mast. Typically done in light air and flat water. Helps the boat point higher.

Hike forward — crew hikes in straps so that they’re up by the shrouds. Often done in Vanguard 15s in moderate air and flat water, to point higher.

Weight together — crew moves weight back so they are close to the skipper in the fore-and-aft dimension. Typically done in wavier conditions.

Watch my hip — crew watches the boat on their hip (windward aft corner) and every few seconds calls out, Not clear to tack, clear to tack, etc. (Full list below). The skipper should ideally never have to ask this, since the crew should report this on their own.

Get ready to tack — crew gets their jib sheets all prepared for a tack. But does NOT yet roll into a tacking maneuver until they hear one of the items below.

Tack in 3–2–1 — crew prepares to tack on 1, and keys into skipper’s tiller movement.

Tack now — crew rolls into an immediate tack, again watching tiller.

Almost out of runway — “runway” means good water to sail in. “Out of runway” means that you’re about to hit a wind hole, shallow water, obstruction, or tideline with bad current. Skipper says this when they’re looking for an opportune time to tack, so crew should be ready for a tack, possibly without a countdown.

X lengths of runway — same as above, but more specific about when the skipper wants to tack.

Bouncing off this puff — crew prepares to tack once boat reaches a puff that’s visible on the water, and then the jib luffs.

Leebowing — Indicates that there’s a boat coming on the opposite tack that the skipper wants to tack under. Crew looks at boat on opposite tack to determine when to roll into tack.

Ducking — crew eases jib, if needed, in the duck. And then pull it back in once you cross behind.

Ease a click, an inch, x inches — crew eases jib sheet out by the amount indicated. “Click” = one quarter inch, the distance one pulls to to get one click on a ratchet block.

Ease to course — crew eases jib so that middle telltales are flying properly. Typically means the jib is too far in, such as when you’ve gotten a big shift and your upwind leg is now a reach leg.

Trim to course — crew pulls jib in to optimal setting. If the skipper says this, it means that the jib is too far out, such as after a duck.

Trim a click, an inch, x inches — crew pulls jib sheet in the amount indicated.

Trim hard — crew pulls jib as tight as they can and hikes hard so skipper can lend a hand. Typically done when up to speed in moderate and heavy wind with flat water.

Double tack — crew rolls into two tacks, one right after the other. Skipper usually calls this to get around the weather mark when shy of layline by more than a few feet, but less than two boat lengths shy. Skipper may sometimes call this when a boat tacks on you in light air, and the skipper wants to do two quick tacks to get your wind while losing a minimum amount of distance to the next puff.

Cross then tack — crew prepares to tack right after crossing a boat. Skipper typically calls this when coming into weather mark on port, and the skipper wants to tack above layline to avoid fouling a starboard tacker that is on the layline. Skipper can also call this when putting a cover on a boat close behind.

Shoot in 3–2–1 — crew prepares to help rock boat on 1, then fully release jib as the boat shoots head to wind. Skipper usually calls this to get around the weather mark when just a few feet shy of layline. Skipper may also call for this when finishing.

Shooting now — same as above, but crew rolls into an immediate shoot head-to-wind.

Copy — skipper acknowledges something the crew has said, such as the items below.

Crew says:

Not clear to tack — indicates that skipper cannot tack without fouling a boat on their hip. Crew should automatically say this, every few seconds after the start, and after every lee bow.

Clear to tack — indicates that skipper CAN tack without immediately fouling a boat

Clear to tack and duck — indicates that skipper can tack without immediately fouling, but needs to duck after tack.

Clear to tack and cross — indicates that skipper can tack, but it better be a good one since it’ll be a close cross.

Crossing — indicates that the crew sees that you’re gaining trees on a starboard tacker.

Not crossing — indicates that the crew sees that have you have neutral trees, or are losing trees, on a starboard tacker.

(Never say, “Do you see that starboard tacker?” That distracts the skipper from making the boat go fast, and might just mess up a close crossing. Crew needs to add more information to their communications, i.e., “crossing” or “not crossing”.)

Layline in X — crew gives skipper a sense of where the layline is, where X is a number of boat lengths. Super helpful since the skipper can factor in other tactical considerations, and better determine where to tack, while still making the boat go fast.

On layline — helps keep skipper from sailing extra distance by going past the layline.

Mark angle x degrees — tells the skipper the angle to the mark. Don’t say this if the mark is more-or-less straight ahead. Only say when the mark is out of the skipper’s normal field of view. So, angles of 35 degrees or more are what we should hear. A typical layline is 80–90 degrees.

(No need to call out things that are straight ahead, like “big waves” or “header coming”. Those are in the skipper’s field of view, they should see them, and they clutter up communications channels for things that matter.)


Skipper says:

Jib reach — crew trims jib on leeward side of the boat. If you’re wing-on-wing in light or moderate wind, crew heels boat to help it turn to windward and get in a legal rock.

Wing — crew works with skipper to wing out jib.

Wing reach — boat will be on the edge of having the jib collapse, so the crew needs to lean a bit further to windward to keep the jib from collapsing.

Blow outhaul — crew eases outhaul all the way out to the stopper knot.

Blow cunningham/downhaul — crew eases the cunningham, also called downhaul, all the way out to the stopper knot.

Ease vang — Indicates that the vang is too tight. Crew eases boom vang anywhere from one to several inches, while looking up at the top batten of the mainsail. When the top batten is parallel to the boom, crew cleats off vang.

Trim vang — Indicates that the vang is too tight. Crew pulls on vang while watching the top batten of the mainsail. When the top batten is parallel to the boom, cleat off vang.

Take it back — the skipper is heading up from wing-on-wing to a jib reach, and the crew should “take back” the jib sheet. Again, crew heels boat to leeward in light and moderate breeze.

Take it back through lead/fairlead/ratchet — same as above, but skipper is doing a big turn to a close reach.

Jibe in 3–2–1 — crew puts board down to prepare to jibe on 1, and keys into skipper’s tiller movement and boat heel.

Jibe now — crew rolls into an immediate jibe, again watching skipper’s tiller and heel.

Jibe to reach, jibe to wing— better than just “jibe”, since crew knows how to exit the maneuver.

Hike — crew hikes out quickly. Typically only required on a windy reach or offset leg. If crew doesn’t move fast, boat can capsize. Often followed by…

Weight back — crew moves back. If in a heavy air puff, crew moves weight back fast to keep bow from digging, which can lead to a capsize.

Weight weight to leeward, weight in — crew moves to leeward. Typically this is because the boat is heeling to windward. If crew is watching heel, the skipper should never have to ask for this.

Flatten, weight to windward — crew moves to windward to flatten boat. On a reach, crew keys into helm, and moves just enough that tiller is in centerline. When winging, crew heels enough to keep jib leaning to leeward.

Weight forward — crew moves forward. Typically done in light air and flat water.

Use lead, use fairlead, use ratchet — skipper is going to head up, and the crew needs to trim jib sheet through the jib fairlead (on Vanguard 15s and 420s) or ratchet block (on FJs).

Ease to course — crew eases jib so that middle telltales are flying properly. Typically means the jib is too far in, such as when you’re on an offset leg or trying to jib reach as low as possible.

Trim to course — crew pulls jib in to optimal setting. If the skipper says this, it means that the jib is too far out, such as when you’ve gotten a header when on an offset leg or reach. It’s common for V15s to accelerate quickly on offset legs, pulling the apparent wind forward and requiring the jib sheet to come in a foot or so.

Talk pressure — a request for the crew to call out, every few seconds, the pressure they feel on the jib sheet when a reach, especially when trying to reach low and avoid going wing-on-wing. Crew responses should be good pressure or low pressure. The skipper should ideally never have to ask this, since the crew should report this on their own.

Crossing behind — skipper is going to sail behind a boat on the opposite jibe. So if it’s a big turn, the crew should be prepared to go from wing to jib reach, or to trim jib in from ratchet.

Crossing ahead — skipper is going to cross just ahead ahead a boat on the opposite jibe. But if the other boat is on starboard, the crew should be ready for a last second jibe without warning.

Outhaul on — crew pulls the outhaul on. Typically this will be the same setting as on previous upwind leg. Ideally, crew takes care of this without skipper input.

Cunningham/downhaul on crew pulls the cunningham a.k.a. downhaul on, typically to the same setting as on previous upwind leg. Ideally, crew takes care of this without skipper input.

Vang on — in preparation for the upwind leg, the crew pulls the vang tighter. Default is to go to the same setting as on the previous upwind leg. Ideally, crew takes care of this without skipper input.

Button up — crew pulls on all the above controls (outhaul, cunningham, vang) to the same setting as on the previous upwind leg. Sequence should be first, outhaul; second, cunningham, and third, vang. Ideally, crew takes care of this without skipper input.

Double jibe — crew rolls into two jibes, one right after the other. Keep the board down between jibes. Typically this happens when approaching the right hand gate initially on port tack, to shake off a boat that would otherwise round inside.

Right gate — skipper plans to go to the right gate, facing downwind.

Left gate — skipper plans to go the left gate, facing downwind.

Hand me jib — this is when the boat is on a jib reach and the crew hands jibsheet to skipper, so crew has both hands free to do sail adjustments before heading upwind. Ideally the crew automatically hands then jib sheet to the skipper, without the skipper having to ask.

Crew says:

Good pressure — the crew feels plenty of pressure on the jib sheet when reaching. Skipper can reach lower if tactical situation allows.

Low pressure — the crew feels the jib sheet go slack. Skipper will typically turn the boat to windward (and heel to leeward in light/moderate wind) to re-enage pressure on the jib.

Mark at 12 o’clock [or some other reference to a clock face] — tells the skipper the bearing of the mark relative to the boat.

Left gate/Right gate at 12 o’clock [or some other reference to a clock face] — this is left or right gate facing downwind. Similar to the above, don’t ask, “Do you see the gate?”

Late gate/Right gate further to windward — this indicates that one gate or the other is further to windward and thus, all else equal, is the better one to round. (All else is rarely equal, however!)

Late gate/Right gate favored — again, calling out which gate is to windward.

Crossing — crew indicates that you’re gaining trees on a starboard boat sailing downwind.

Not crossing — crew indicates that they are seeing neutral trees, or losing trees, on a starboard boat sailing downwind.

(Again, don’t say, “Do you see that boat?” That takes skipper’s attention away from lanes and puffs, which might be just the thing to barely cross ahead.)

On layline — If you’re sailing predominantly wing-on-wing, this is the wing layline. If you’re sailing mostly jib reach, this is the jib reach layline.

(I know some crews call out puffs and lanes downwind. Maybe it’s the Laser sailor in me, but I like to sit backwards to see puffs and lanes. It’s hard to express these subtleties in words.)


All the upwind communications apply, plus the following.

Skipper says:

Watch [boat name/number] — A request for crew to watch a boat you’re closely covering and want to beat to the finish. Shouldn’t be necessary to call out if a crew regularly reports this.

Going for the pin/boat/left end/right end — skipper indicates their plan on where they plan to finish. As with the start, plans change!

Crew says:

[Boat name/number] tacked — indicates that a boat you’re closely covering has tacked, in case the skipper wants to keep the close cover. Often there is little room for passing on the last upwind leg, and the last leg is all about maintaining one’s position. Crew should only report on the 1–2 boats you’re immediately covering; skipper should be looking around for the broader fleet movement.

Pin/boat/left end/right end favored — this indicates which end the crew believes is favored.

Line is even — crew doesn’t see any advantage to either end of the finish line.

Team racing

Team racing is incredibly complex, and thus requires specific phrases that pack a lot of meaning. Here are my favorites to use as a tactician communicating with my skipper:

“Lock them to windward” — if I says this in the prestart, I’m suggesting that the skipper luffs hard so that their opponent’s bow can’t swing past their stern, and are locked to windward . If on a first reach, it’s to sail low and slow so that the opponent’s bow can’t swing to leeward, and we are well-positioned to do a mark trap on them.

“Push past then double tack” — Context: prestart, near pin. The call is to push the opponent past the pin layline, then do two tacks so we can lay the pin.

“Tack and recycle” — Context: prestart. This is where someone has hooked us to leeward. We know that they’re doing to simply luff us hard to keep us from getting a good start, or draw us into a foul, so we immediately tack out and figure out a better place to start.

“Tack then cross or duck” — Context: Upwind, especially right after the start. Here I’m suggesting that it’ll be a close cross, but we should tack, and then we cross if we can, but duck if we can’t. I can add “duck 2” if we’d be ducking 2 boats, “duck 3” if we’re ducking 3, etc.

“Tack then cross or tack back” — Context: Upwind, especially right after the start. Here I’m suggesting that we tack, and then we cross if we can, and tack back if we can’t. Implies that you press a bit more post-tack to speed build for a second tack.

“No-turn jibe” — Context: downwind. Here I’m stating that we’re by the lee, and that we jibe simply by moving the mainsail across. There should be no rudder movement needed; that way we can keep making VMG downwind.

“Slow & trap on the boat behind” — Context: first or second reach. I’m suggesting that we slow down so that we’re maybe half a length or one length ahead of the opponent behind us, then set up a mark trap. This is often in the context of an opponent setting up a mark trap on us, and we want to do unto others. If on a first reach, we want to go low and slow; if on the second, high and slow to preserve inside overlap.

“Slow to lock outside” — Context: second reach. This is we slow down just prior to the leeward mark, so that the boat behind has to commit their bow outside ours on the rounding, and we prevent them from tacking.

“Slow and inside” — Context: second reach. This is to defend against the move above. We want to slow ourselves down, so that we round right behind (not outside) the boat ahead and have the freedom to tack.

Final thoughts

A great example of the type of concise, clear crew communications is in this video. It shows how Terry Hutchinson (tactician) provides guidance to Bora Gulari (skipper) on what to do. Lots of terse comments from Terry like, “No lower” and “No higher”, indicating his guidance to Bora. Both sailors are multi-world champions, so it’s worth listening closely.

A lot of the phrases above try to cut out as many words and syllables as possible, in order to communicate — and thus decide and act — in as short as time as possible. Sailing is a game of seconds, and by continually trying to shave time everywhere you can, you can accumulate large gains. This is especially true when reacting to changes on the racecourse: if you can tack for a wind shift or clear lane before someone else, it can yield a few boat lengths — and sometimes many.

Occasional thoughts on tech, sailing, and San Francisco