You may have a great strategy for getting to the finish line quickly, but it won’t help you much if you let other boats push you around. That’s why having good boat-on-boat tactics is so important.

Tactics are the moves you make to stay in control of your race and follow your strategic plan. When you’re approaching a finish line, there are basically two tactical approaches you might take. You can either try to catch the boat(s) in front of you, or stay ahead of the boat(s) behind you (or do some combination of both). This choice depends on which boats are closer (the ones just ahead or the ones just behind), and whether or not you’re content with your position.

Catch the boat(s) ahead.

Of the two choices you have, it’s usually harder to pass boats than to avoid being passed. So before you go on the attack, think about risk and reward. Are you willing to risk your position in order to have a chance to improve it?

If your answer is yes, the basic rule of thumb for playing catch-up is to do something different than the boats you’re trying to catch. If they head for the committee boat end of the line, for example, you should go for the pin (unless the boat is obviously favored!). When you’re getting close to the finish, you won’t usually pass boats by following. It’s too late to catch them with better speed or wait for them to make a mistake.

Your best bet is to split from the boats ahead, hope for a favorable windshift or puff, and try a few high-percentage tactical moves.

• Stay to the right of other boats and don’t converge with them until you have a chance to catch them in a port-starboard situation.

• Look ahead and stay in lanes of clear air as you approach the finish. The best way to avoid bad air may be to avoid the middle. Watch out for the RC boat’s wind shadow.

• Don’t overstand the favored end of the line because you’ll lose distance, get tacked on, and give up your ability to shoot the line.

• Finish right at the favored end and, if it’s close, shoot it!

• Keep working hard until the very end because there is always a chance to pass boats that are bunched up at the finish line.


The definition of “Finish” says that a boat finishes when any part of her hull, crew or equipment in normal position crosses the finishing line. In other words, if a part of your crew or equipment is not in normal position, that part does not count for finishing.   © Stephen R Cloutier

Stay ahead of boats behind.

If you’re happy with your position in the race (or if you feel it’s too risky or difficult to pass boats ahead), try to maintain your current position until the finish. The best way to stay ahead of boats behind you is to keep sailing fast and smart. As they say, a good offense is often the best defense. If you maintain boatspeed, sail to the favored side of the course and finish at the closer end, no one will be able to pass you.

However, predicting the favored side of the course is not nearly a sure thing. That’s why the most important rule of thumb for staying ahead may be to cover, cover, cover. Don’t give the boats behind any leverage they can use to pass you if the wind shifts. Even if you know they are going the wrong way, stay with them because a) you never know for sure; and b) it won’t help to go the right way because you’ll just be farther ahead.

When you’re heading for the finish, identify the boats behind you that are your biggest threats, Cover these boats by staying between them and the finish line. Better yet, stay between them and the favored end of the line. ■

This article originally appeared in David Dellenbaugh’s Speed & Smarts, The newsletter of how-to tips for racing sailors. If you want to sail faster and smarter, log onto

Previous Article