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Improve Communication In A 2+ Person Boat

The thing most of us love about sailing is that even when you think you have all the answers, you get bitten again and realise how little you know. Whether that is on the boatspeed and equipment side, the boat handling aspects or the strategy and tactics front, our sport has endless approaches to how to get it right and it keeps us coming back for more!

Following on from Jeremy’s April Communication blog, I’m going to focus more on communication and a potential avenue of how you can improve your game in a 2 or more handed boat.

Firstly, I would recommend articulating what it is you want to achieve in terms of the bigger picture campaign you are planning on doing together. Is your campaign to win the National Championships, is it to complete the full set of Wednesday evening series, or is it to occasionally turn up and have a nice sail in the sunshine? Getting aligned on time and money commitment, boatwork roles and expectation early on will go a long way in achieving a happy and harmonious team.

The second piece of work is your communication around the race track. In all our teams, individuals join with different experiences and expertise. It’s important for everyone’s enjoyment that individuals get involved in parts of the race that fit with their experience but also a path is created in which team members can grow expertise so the team becomes greater than the sum of its parts. 

Start this process by working through the day’s sailing and jobs that need to be done, that can be from everything to arriving, rigging, who has the water and sandwiches to the more specifics of racing and the observations that need to happen for a decision to be made.  

To give you an idea of the things

Start line - Time, distance to line, boats attacking your leeward gap, wind shift phase, where is the first bit of wind for the race?

First beat - Fleet congestion, percentage of starboard / port sailing, percentage of beat still to sail, compass numbers, where is the next patch of wind? 

Coming into top mark - Wind shift phase, course orientation, best wind for the downwind

Decide who has responsibility for observing and communicating all these elements, you can make that decision based on expertise and available bandwidth at that point in time. Then decide who is in charge of making the final decision based on the information. It’s important to be disciplined within the team that whoever gets allocated the role, gets the opportunity to execute their role. The individuals need to own their roles so that time is not wasted in duplicating a job and other bits of information are not being forgotten.  

In the debriefs you can then work through a process of:

  • was the information there, if not why not? Is that person overloaded at that point?
  • was it accurate?
  • how can we improve the information?
  • was the right decision made? What was needed for the right decision?

This debrief process doesn’t work if people haven’t stuck to their roles and responsibilities, because it becomes impossible to know who was responsible for what information at what time. So, stick to your roles on the water and then discuss in the debrief.  

Off the back of this debrief either breakdown the roles further or reallocate the roles to a team member that has bandwidth or the right expertise. As your team grows into the roles, the importance of timing, accuracy and language will become clear, and you can develop a team playbook that addresses all the complications and nuances of the boat, course, or venue you might be racing at.

Wishing you all success and fun on the racecourse and I hope we cross tacks at some point!


Saskia Clark, Olympic gold & silver medallist

To get more tips from Britain’s most successful Olympic dinghy crew, have a look at her book: Crewing To Win