How to do rabbit starts in sailing

Rabbit starts are a handy way for setting up a sailboat racing start without much effort.

Why use rabbit starts to start sailing races?

In sailing, rabbit starts can be useful in the following situations:

In this post, I’ll focus on rabbit starts for the first two situations, since they’re much more casual than the third situation, which can get quite complex in terms of process.

No, we’re not talking literal furry rabbits…

What is a rabbit start in sailing?

This video provides an overview of what a rabbit start looks like. Review it first before looking at the tips below.

How to execute a rabbit start

Here are some tips on how to make rabbit starts work for your group:

  • One boat in the fleet of boats is designated as the rabbit, i.e., the boat that everyone ducks to start the race. Why they came up with the term “rabbit” to describe this is beyond me.

Building on the basics

If you have a buoy you can toss in the water, you can do the following to ensure that your rabbit starts consistently get going without a hitch:

  • Have the rabbit luff several boatlengths to the left (facing upwind) of the buoy, on the same ladder rung, to wait for everyone to congregate.

In summary, the buoy serves as a reference point for everyone to get into position, which should lead to a more consistent line up.

Optimizing your rabbit start

Here’s how to optimize your rabbit start as an individual sailor. The end goal is to pass an inch behind the rabbit, while close-hauled and at full speed. Do the following to make this happen:

  • Bear away onto a reach, pointing a boatlength below the rabbit’s path.

Maximizing your time

If you’re running windward-leeward courses, have an agreement that when the last place boat rounds the leeward mark and heads upwind, they become the rabbit for the next race. In doing so, you can bang out more races in less time.

Rabbit starts and barging

What if two boats are next to each other just prior to passing astern of the rabbit, and the windward boat can’t duck the rabbit without leeward boat bearing away — how do we handle this situation?

Remember, this post is focused on casual races — either in a practice, or when there’s no race committee — where we’re simply trying to give everyone an even start without a race committee. This isn’t a world championships where you’d expect cutthroat starting tactics. This colors my recommendations below:

  • First, we obviously don’t want a collision. So, the leeward boat should bear away to let the windward boat duck the rabbit. If they don’t, windward will hit the rabbit, or do a last-second tack into port into the path of starboard boats about to reach off to duck the rabbit — and even more collisions.

There you have it… now you have a way to easily run sailboat starts without a race committee!

Occasional thoughts on tech, sailing, and San Francisco