How to duck well

Published on February 9th, 2022

A video presentation by UK Sailmakers highlights the dos and don’ts of being the port tack boat on the upwind leg.


When ducking a starboard tacker, most sailors run into problems waiting too long to duck. They optimistically hold their course too long until it is very clear they will not cross cleanly. As a result, they end up making a sharp turn, which slows the boat and greatly adds to the risk of a collision with the other boat or its rig.

This video shows two segments: one showing a duck done well and the other not so well.

In the clip where the turn is done right, the boat goes from ducking behind to being ahead at the next crossing. Key is how sail number 1701, a GP 42, bore off slightly – not sharply — when she was three lengths away so that she could come up to course as she came around the transom of 9463, a Fast 40 Plus.

Even if 1701 hadn’t legged out after ducking, on the next crossing, she had the starboard tack advantage, which meant 9463 would have to make the decision to tack or duck.

In this case, both boats have the same IRC rating, so either the crew of 1701 caught a wind shift after the duck or they just sailed upwind better, since you can see her go from ducking behind to being several boat lengths ahead at the windward mark. While the telephoto lens compresses the distance between the boats, 1701 is four boat lengths head as 9463 rounds the mark.

In the second video clip, the port tacker waits way too long to set-up for the duck and ends up doing nearly a 90 degree turn to clear the starboard tacker. When crossing the starboard tacker’s transom, the port tacker is still sailing lower than close hauled. Now she is going slow, and in the wrong direction.

Ducking will help you avoid getting into a protest. When you are on port crossing a starboard tacker, you are leading with your chin rules-wise. Basically asking to get protested.

If the crossing is close and the person on the helm of the starboard tack boat gets nervous and bears off to avoid a collision, the port tacker will lose the protest unless it has a good witness. Why take the chance when a good duck hardly costs you any distance and you end up with the starboard tack advantage on the next cross?

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