Yacht racing, sailboat racing, whatever you want to call it, the thrill of competition can be very addictive. The more you race, the more you want to race. But training? Meh. Not so much. Let’s take a look at why so many sailors give training a wide berth, and how it’s possible to start looking at the process differently so that you see the potential for massive improvement on the race course. Do it right and you’ll find yourself actually looking forward to your next training session and getting excited about what you can achieve in the coming weeks and months…

How many top sportspeople do you know who only compete and never train? Any that you can think of? OK, so the professional tennis players seem to compete week in, week out on the ATP Tour, but even they’re still training like crazy in between events. Then there are marathon runners who train every day of every week for just one, maybe two, 26-mile races in a year. A whole year’s training for just five hours of competition.

So in this article we’re going to look at ways of creating a structured training programme that will bring you focus, fulfillment, and better results on the race course. And we’ll show you how to have fun doing your sailing training too!

Perhaps one of the reasons is because we can’t measure progress all that easily. Think about it. In track and field or in the swimming pool, you know what the world record time is. You know your personal best, and you’re motivated to train because you know the more that you train, probably the faster you’re going to get.

Sailing’s not like that, because the race course is never the same, the conditions are always different, so it’s almost impossible to measure progress in any meaningful way.

So, because it’s difficult to measure progress, does this mean we should just not bother trying? Absolutely not. Later on we’ll dig into ways that you actually can measure progress and put a number on your sailboat training efforts.

There are plenty of sailing clubs and sailing centres where you can get formal sail training. Use Google to help you find local sailing centres and call them up to find out what’s in offer. Don’t be shy! You’ll find anyone involved with sailing to be only too enthusiastic to help you out.

But you can also achieve a lot by yourself, by working out sailing training methods that you can practise alone on a small piece of water. Even better if you have a training partner, as this will accelerate your learning immensely. But don’t wait to find a sailing coach or to get formal instruction. You can work this stuff out for yourself, and many of the very best sailors have done exactly that, with no formal sailing instruction ever in their lives.

There are many different types of sailing training you can do. To help identify areas where you might want to focus your training efforts, think back to your last race. Where did you lose the most places on the race course? This might seem a negative way of looking at your performance, but what we want to do is identify our biggest weakness, and then come up with a training plan for turning that weakness into a strength! So, ask yourself, where is the biggest room for improvement? Being behind on the start line, going slow in a straight line, or capsizing during a tack, a gybe, or a mark rounding?

Here’s a few ideas to get the ideas flowing:
– Starts: practise slow boat handling, eg. Hovering at a mark
– Manoeuvres: Figure of 8s – great for practising tacks, gybes and mark roundings
– Speed: Two-boat tuning/ sailing without the tiller.

Let’s look at these in more detail…

Find a training buddy who shares your passion for wanting to sail faster. And who doesn’t want that! Now, get in some open water and line up side by side as if you’re approaching the start line of a race course. Accelerate at the same time until you’re both at full speed, sailing a few boatlengths apart. Make sure start the tuning run on equal terms, giving both boats an even chance of holding their lane without worrying about the effects of dirty air or disturbed water. Eventually, one boat will start to pull out an advantage over the other. Keep going until there’s a clear winner from your tuning run.

Stop and have a conversation with your training partner and share what you just learned. What was different between the two boats? Was it a boat setup difference, or different techniques steering the rudder or the way you’re playing the sails through the gusts and the lulls?

To do it properly, two-boat tuning is an exhaustive process but it can also be very rewarding and becomes more fun the more you do it. Most sailors don’t bother, they just go racing. And the racing environment is the worst place for experimentation, for trying new ideas. There’s too much at stake to risk trying a new rig set-up that you’ve never used before, or completely changing the way you tack or gybe the boat.

Two-boat tuning is your opportunity to test out technical and technique changes, risk free. You can find out more about how to make your boat go faster in 30 minutes of two-boat tuning than you might discover in a whole year of racing.

This is as simple as tying off tiller with some stiff elastic shockcord so that the tiller is centralised and could only move very slightly off the centreline of the boat. Now try to keep the boat moving in a straight line only by moving your bodyweight and varying the sheeting of the sails. To begin with you might be all over the place, and watch out for accidental tacking. But after 10 minutes you’ll start to get the measure of the challenge, and 30 minutes later you’ll be a master.

Now going back to normal sailing, holding the tiller again. Notice how much easier it is to sail the boat flatter, more accurately. Less reliance on tiller steering, greater understanding of boat trim and sail trim, all of these will add up to much better boatspeed.

One of the simplest exercises you can do is to sail the boat in a Figure of 8. Try this until you make yourself dizzy or you capsize! Then try it again. If you’ve got a training partner, see who can be first to complete 10 Figure of 8s in a row! Do this a few times and boat handling around a typical race course or at a busy mark rounding will feel like plain sailing.

The sailboat training exercises we’ve talked about so far are about making the boat go faster in a straight line or through manoeuvres. The best sailors are not only the best at making the boat go fastest, but they can also sail the boat very slowly and still maintain control. Try parking up at a mark, with the bow of your boat almost touching the buoy.

Now see what you need to do to keep the boat there. Notice how the rudder is almost completely useless at low speed. Now you’re going to need to use bodyweight and sail trim to manoeuvre the boat. You’ll stall out plenty of times and find this exercise very frustrating to begin with. So does everyone else who tries it. 

This is why those that practise this exercise on a regular basis find themselves more in control on a busy start line when it seems like the whole fleet is fighting for one end of the line. Being able to control your slow boatspeed is one of the best skills for making a fast start.

These exercises will really speed up your skills much faster than your friends who only go racing and never do any sailing training. There are many more exercises you can try. The important thing is to find something you’re not very good at, and then come up with creative ways to get better at it.

Earlier we suggested that not being able to measure progress can be demotivating. So what if you COULD measure your progress? Put a Sailmon Max on your boat and you can actually see the speed you’re traveling, and your heel angle. Are you really sailing the boat upright? Sailmon will tell you instantly. And when you get ashore you can compare your performance data with your tuning partner. 

With Sailmon’s help, you’ll start to see the real differences between the way you sail your boat compared with others in the fleet. In the International Moth fleet, most of the top 10 sailors in the world use Sailmon Max and this means they share all their data freely across the Sailmon community. Now, when you sail your Moth and you see Kyle Langford breeze past you, it’s possible to see some of the technical reasons why. Maybe Kyle is heeling the boat further to windward than you. Something for you to focus on in your next training session perhaps?

Look out for a lot more ‘go faster’ content coming your way from Sailmon. We’re keen to share more content on various topics that all add up to helping you sail better. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram or subscribe to our newsletter. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on this valuable content! We’re here to make you even better than you are today! 


Check out this webinar!
Setting the right goals is essential to sail better and win races. In our first webinar with Kyle Langford, we take a deep dive into goal setting to sail better. Together with host Andy Rice and our founder and Olympian Kalle Koster, the American Cup winner share shares his thoughts on how to define and set goals for your next race.

Check out the preview below or subscribe here for the full recordings