These are some of the most common mistakes made at the regatta and how to turn them to your advantage

Starting at the wrong end of the Squadron line

Get it wrong and you will spend all day in last place with no hope of winning. The core issue is time. You have to make your decision, then motor before your preparatory signal (engine off at the gun) to the desired end. Remember, it can take five minutes to get from the middle of the line to one end.

Getting out early to the start is essential. And watch the starts before yours so you can gauge the decisions they have made.

Pre-start routine checklist:

  • Identify both ends of the line.
  • Motor or sail directly along the line to help the bowman and helmsman to draw a mental line on the water.
  • After your normal pre-start procedures, wait around the middle of the line – this will allow you to switch ends if there is a major change to the conditions and won’t reveal your plans to your competitors.
  • Don’t rely solely on the sound signals if starting from the outer end of the line – sound takes seven seconds to reach West Bramble from the RYS cannons.

(These four were compiled with the help of Cowes Combined Clubs and all relate to rules issues. Make sure you brush up on the rules, but take particular note of these.)

  • Switch your VHF radio to the correct channel early to be sure of catching the time-check announcement.
  • As soon as the course is announced, you will know if you are starting at the north or south end of the line. Use the engine if necessary to get to your chosen end.

Clangers diag 2

There’s a greater area of tidal relief on the north shore, compared with the fast-running streams off Cowes. Extract from Winning Knowledge. (Please note that the names of racing marks frequently change.)

Sailing the wrong course

As the Cowes Week courses tend to be quite complicated it is vitally important to note the correct course. The courses get texted to a registered mobile phone so there are no excuses for mistakes –although they do happen!

Some crews swear by having a second pair of eyes check over the planned route to ensure the course is being followed to a ‘T’.  It’s also important to know the signals that indicate a shortened course for your class – it’s surprising the number of boats continue ‘racing’ after they have been finished at an earlier mark.

Running aground

Tidal curves are essential and can be found free on These will help with calculating the rise over chart datum. Knowing when to push your luck is essential.


Isle of Wight shores are rocky so they’re not the place to be yachting with 0.5m under the keel, while the mainland is sand or shingle so has a flatter, more consistent profile. Falling tides are also a bad time to push your luck, as you could be there for hours.

See our 5 tips on going aground and how to get off again

Staying in the tide for 30 seconds too long

Clangers diag 1

You really should be hard-nosed when cheating the tide. Sailing into the tide for even a few metres is bound to cost you dearly. It’s important to make the inshore route yours – it may be hard work, but those who grow tired of repeated tacking will make big losses. Rather than duck a competitor, putting you into tide, consider tacking, then calling for water.

Disobeying the sailing instructions

Cowes Week has quite a few navigation restrictions. Those most commonly broken include Black Group boats sailing south of Snowdon and the SM. Make sure you mark up a chart to place in the cockpit as a reminder. Also, after your start, don’t pass between Alpha or Beta and Royal Yachting Squadron (RYS) flagstaff unless it’s your last leg to finish.

Making a downtide leeward mark rounding

Very common and so expensive on elapsed time. A wide mark rounding loses a huge distance over the ground due to the tide. A boat that goes round behind you perfectly will be three lengths ahead and, just to make things worse, they now block you from tacking. Drop your kite early and focus on your rounding – wide in, tight out.

See our 5 tips on leeward mark rounding

Failing to give water at a mark

With numerous marks and multiple headlands, at some point everyone will have to face rule 18.2 when racing in the Solent. A common mistake comes with the difficulty in judging the overlap from two fleets approaching the same mark from different angles, or a large fleet stacking up trying to round a mark.

Cowes Clangers no 3

The standard rule of thumb is for Brown to head for the back of the third boat from the mark; in this way, she is on the right side of the rules. Brown almost has an overlap on Red, but she shouldn’t really push it because part of Rule 18(e) states: ‘If there is reasonable doubt that a boat obtained or broke an overlap in time, it shall be presumed that she did not.’

There is a very important difference, though, when it’s land or a large container ship that you are calling for water on. Rule 18.5 reads: ‘While boats are passing a continuing obstruction, Rules 18.2(b) and 18.2(c) do not apply. A boat clear astern that obtains an inside overlap is entitled to room to pass between the other boat and the obstruction only if, at the moment the overlap begins, there is room to do so. If there is not, she is not entitled to room and shall keep clear.’

Failing to avoid contact

Rule 14 ‘A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible.’ Yacht racing is not a contact sport. But, if you keep clear too early, your protest will not stick. Overall, it’s best to sail around the infringer and get on with your race. Avoid contact at all costs to stay out of the protest room, where your chances of success are only likely to be fifty-fifty.

See our 5 tips on taking a penalty

Not being aware of shipping

This tip is two-fold, there are the strategic reasons for keeping an eye on shipping, it gives you higher chance of rectifying your route without altering your time in a big way. The second reason should be obvious. Remember the incident with the tanker in 2011?


Not keeping clear when the windward boat

Rule 11 ‘When boats are on the same tack and overlapped, a windward boat shall keep clear of a leeward boat.’ If you are a small boat, don’t luff a larger faster boat. Encourage them to move through you as quickly as possible. It’s a battle you simply cannot win, from an elapsed time point of view. In fact, your best route is to sail deep and even ask them to sail high.

For an even greater understanding of this rule, you have to read Rule 16.1, which states: ‘When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear.’

You can’t simply turn your boat into another without giving them time to avoid you. However, the windward boat be aware: you must keep clear even if the leeward boat doesn’t have rights (you can argue that later). But rights or no, as windward boat you MUST make all efforts to keep clear.

Not giving way

Rule 10: It sounds quite simple – ‘port gives way to starboard’ – but, of course, each boat certainly has its own perspective on the situation, placing Rule 10 at No 1 as most common error at Cowes Week. Make sure you know the RULES!

Port starboard


Forgetting to declare

A busy day on the water, tiredness, hunger and the smell of beer all make it easy to forget to sign off. It’s not so difficult now that you can do it online or by text, but give yourself a reminder.

Failing to pace yourself

Following on from failure to declare, failing to pace yourself can have disastrous consequences in the final push. Keep the crew hydrated and ensure they have sufficient energy levels to keep up the momentum right through the finish line.

Giving up too early

The nature of Cowes Week racing means there’s always to potential to gain places, right up to the finish line – indeed many races are decided in the final mile. This means there’s no point in getting despondent and resigning yourself to a lacklustre result; if you keep pushing right to the end there may be several good opportunities to recover places. However, don’t be tempted to take a big risk for a marginal gain. If you wait for the right opportunity, the chances are you will get one.

This advice also applies when you’re at the head of the fleet – there are plenty of cases where the leading boat has become complacent, or her crew has become tired and therefore let other boats through just before the finish.