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by Nick Payne September 03, 2020 3 min read

With the passion for watches often connected to the spirit of history and tradition, it naturally makes sense to link such emotion to one of the oldest forms of human and mechanical competition - competitive sailing. Thought to date back to the Netherlands in the 17th century, sailing races (collectively called aregatta) are steeped in tradition including the start sequences that generated the need for a yacht timer.

Starting a Race

Unlike an auto race, or even a foot race, a sailboat can neither stand still on a starting grid nor can it accelerate quickly from a stop.

regatta timers

Instead, yachts will be in motion well before the starting line. One could think of it like a foot race where you are allowed to get a running start. The key to a proper start is crossing the starting line as soon as the starting signal sounds (but not before) and while moving as fast as possible on a good heading.

regatta timer yachtmaster

Unique Needs of a Sailing Watch

The starting procedure of a sailing race involves a series of flags and horns, but in essence, it is a 5-minute countdown (in some rarer instances 10 minutes). For that reason, most regatta timers have timing countdowns of five minutes or increments of five.

yachtmaster watch bandsHeuer Regatta Flyback Ref. 134.601

Here is the breakdown of a start:

5 minutes to start: A flag and horn to signal the start of the countdown. Engage your regatta timer on a five minute countdown.

4 minutes to start: A second flag and horn sounds. This is both a second timing reminder as well as a flag displaying starting rules of the race. If one didn’t start their 5-minute countdown, they can begin a 4-minute countdown now.

1 minute to start: Flag change and final preparatory signal.

0 minutes to start: Starting flag and signal. 

As a member of a sailing crew is likely extremely busy both positioning for a start as well as navigating around other yachts, most regatta timers are designed with high visibility in mind. Looking at both current production and vintage timers, you are likely to see high-visibility color combinations.

rolex watch bands
Vintage Yema Yachtingraf, previously sold on 
analogshift.com

Why the Yachtmaster II

Unlike the standard Yachtmaster, the Yachtmaster II features a unique regatta timing movement which improves upon the process. Our team covered the process of setting a Yachtmaster II in a previous article.

What makes the Yachtmaster II unique is the “sync” button. Let’s use the 5-minute starting process described above as an example.

5 minutes to start: Let’s say that the designated timer on the boat was currently adjusting a sheet at the time of the signal. By the time they hit thestart button on the timer, 10 seconds has elapsed. With a traditional regatta timer, your options are limited and most likely they would just try to mentally adjust the offset.  However with a Yachtmaster II, they can synchronize at the 4-minute mark.

4 minutes to start: The second horn sounds. The wearer presses the sync button, and the YM II jumps  to the nearest minute, thereby putting their yacht on the exact countdown time as the race director.

1 minute to start: They are still in sync.

0 minutes to start: You cross the starting line right as the starting horn sounds.

I Don’t Own a Boat, Do I Still Need a Regatta Timer?

If you’re expecting us to talk you out of a watch purchase, you are clearly in the wrong place. If you need a practical use, we might recommend timing a steak on the grill and thinking about 400+ years of nautical heritage. But first you have to decide: steel or two-tone?

Nick Payne
Nick Payne



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