With some of the top professional teams using cutting-edge navigational technology to reach optimum performance around the racecourse, high-performance sailing has been transformed into a science. With superyacht regattas following the trend and becoming more competitive and performance orientated, what technology is being used and what has the impact been on superyacht racing?

“The development in navigational electronics has had a huge influence on the racing of sailing yachts worldwide,” explains Alistair Hall, sales manager navigation at Transas Marine, who was also part of America’s Cup defender Oracle Team USA. “No sailing vessel would be found on a race course today without the minimum of sensors and data available to them for reading speed, wind and heading.”

With much experience in the calibration and set-up of the electronics on board racing superyachts, Russell Whitworth is able to assess how the superyacht industry has adopted the advancements. “Having raced superyachts for a few years, I have seen little change in the type of navigation used for racing, the software has improved but the type of programme has changed very little,” he says. “However, the type of system being used, or having to be used for day-to-day requirements, has moved on. Most of the yachts I sail on have a separate system in place for day-to-day navigation and the racing.”

From a very basic perspective, sailing yachts inherently require more sophisticated technology than a motoryacht, but what about when the requirements move on further and racing performance is taken into account? “You are looking at time on distance making use of current speed, which is possible on some standard bridge software,” responds Whitworth.

“However, racing software can calculate how long the yacht will be able to sail to a point using the wind data in line with the performance polars of the yacht, giving racing level information to the yacht and the after guard. This takes things up a level from, ‘We do a mile in about six minutes’ to, ‘At this wind speed we should be doing a mile in five minutes and 33 seconds sailing at this true wind angle’. That is information your average software is not capable of achieving.”

The above performance packages that come with racing software are also beneficial for sailing yachts on ocean passages as weather forecasts can be used to determine the yacht’s best route using the performance polar files. By setting parameters, the software can decipher the fastest way through weather from ‘point A’ to ‘point B’ via ‘point C’, if required, avoiding areas of no wind, too much wind and large seaway.

The introduction of PC-based software and rugged tablets has allowed navigators and tacticians access to a whole realm of different applications and software packages. “This helps them to make the best tactical decisions on the race course as well as analyse the data post-race to see where it all went wrong,” says Hall. “Being able to measure your performance plays a big part in terms of development and improvement. The actual racing is only part of the process of using your electronics.”

“Being able to measure your performance plays a big part in terms of development and improvement. The actual racing is only part of the process of using your electronics.”

Deckman for Windows is one of the most cited tactical routing software programmes on the market. Used by the Volvo Ocean Race fleet, Deckman allows fastest route calculation including area avoidance, advanced weather routing and use of polar tables for the most accurate solution available. Allowing enhanced starts, it has an inshore start screen giving live updates of boat position, favoured end, gain/loss through line bias and time-to-line features. Expedition is another favoured tactical and navigation software available, and has been in development since the mid 1990s by veteran Volvo Ocean Race navigator and Whitbread winner Nick White.

Learning software is important in today’s regatta scene, meaning a lot more information at the fingertips of the tactician, but more important is having someone on board who knows how to use it. No matter the programme, the information given out can only be as good as the data coming from the instrumentation. If done correctly, this allows for clear decisions to be made earlier, which improves the safe racing.

While superyachts are designed primarily for comfort over performance, they will never truly match, or make full use of, the latest navigational software available on the market, and nor will they need it. However, advancements in technology are not only making superyacht racing safer, but also allowing participants a more competitive perspective to regattas, providing data and analysis to learn from and improve on, which creates a drive to achieve greater performance. 

To read more about how navigational technology is evolving on superyachts, read issue 161 of The Superyacht Report here.


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