How Do You Use a Sailing Watch

Sailing watches are excellent pieces of equipment that sailors can utilize while at sea. There are many different features that allow sailors to operate at their best and receive the information they need.

So how do you use a sailing watch? Once you have learned all the details, you’ll know how to properly use one and the importance of having one.

As you’ll see, these watches aren’t just fashionable or a sign of status. They provide many different opportunities after you learn more about what they are so you can track important information using specific tools such as a chronograph or GPS.

What Is a Sailing Watch?

Sailing watches, sometimes referred to as a yacht timer or regatta timer, are heavy-duty sport watches that have water-resistance capabilities similar to diving watches. However, they have slightly different functions than one a diver wears and are geared more towards sailors.

Sailing watch display

These are generally equipped with weather data, tide information, timers for racing, a tack assist feature, and even GPS. In short, you don’t want to be without one if you sail.

How Do You Use a Sailing Watch?

When using your watch, you’ll need to pinpoint the exact feature you want to use. This can be as simple as using the display to tell time, track the tide, or monitor GPS coordinates.

With so many different features to handle, it can be overwhelming at first. This is why it would be wise to test out all of your features to make sure they work properly for you. Knowing what makes a good sailing watch is an important first step.


For racing, most quality watches (and thus most regatta timers) are programmed to have a countdown sequence. They also have alarms you can set when the timer works its way down to the final minute remaining during the countdown.

Sailboat racing lineup

If you happen to miss the gun for the start of the race, you can click on the sync button. This will instantly synchronize your time to the race at least to the nearest minute.


A watch with GPS capabilities can help you to search and plan a route. This means you can download information or input data to direct you where you need to go. You’ll never be lost as long as you have your sailing watch, whether you travel locally or around the world.

Day Sailing

When taking your sailboat out for the day, you’ll likely need a variety of features to help out. This is where tide tracking can come in handy.

Your watch can also help with finding the best waves if you plan on surfing. In addition, it could also pinpoint the best fishing spots due to the tide.

Living on Your Sailboat

While living on your sailboat, you need to keep accurate time and follow a schedule. There could be days that go by while out on the water and it’s important to remain on a schedule for fueling, food, and keeping an eye out for your crew.

Live aboard sailboats

5 Unique Needs of a Sailing Watch

Watches used for sailing are not your typical style of watch and should not be treated as ordinary. There are unique purposes for sailing watches that factor into your goals.

Depending on your budget, you could choose one with high-quality, basic features that are better than not having any at all. Knowing what to look for in a good sailing watch is important. If you can afford one with more, this will greatly improve your experience.

1. Keeping Time

When racing, there needs to be someone that can effectively keep time in order to efficiently sail. Whoever that person may be, they need a quality timepiece to ensure they have the best chance at keeping the time before the adventure begins.

While competing in a race, a sailing watch will give feedback on how well you’re performing. Assuming you have tack assistance, this will also allow you to make adjustments under sail.

It should also allow you to keep up with your racing performances. If you’ve been practicing, your watch will track your speed and time so that you know your progress.

2. Tack Assist

Having a watch that can tack assist is crucial to your success in racing or cruising. This feature will help you figure out if your boat is becoming lifted or headed.

When you calibrate your timepiece to the sailboat, it will take the port and starboard course over ground measurements (COG). It’ll use this information to keep you on the right path no matter where the wind is blowing.

Sailors that don’t have this feature, they’re relying solely on experience and luck. The tack assist feature is by far one of the best options for any sailor.

3. Barometer

Barometers measure air pressure changes, which help determine if storms are forming. If you don’t know how to accurately predict the weather, this will at least give you some insight.

Lower pressure in the air could lead to rain or windy weather. This is a useful tool that will help determine whether you should stay out on the water for the day and/or begin your search for another location.

4. Waterproof or Water-Resistant

Some sailing watches are waterproof or water-resistant, which causes some confusion. While both are essential for being around the water, it’s important to know the difference.

Garmin smartwatch underwater

Waterproof doesn’t mean it is 100% impenetrable, but it does offer some peace of mind if it gets wet. As for water-resistant, these have different ratings and can be classified into different groups.

The better the rating, the more you can do with it in the water. However, you’ll need one that isn’t going to die if it becomes wet.

5. Man-Overboard 

Most watches are equipped with man-overboard (MOB) or other safety measures. This means if you were to fall in the ocean, you can click the MOB or emergency button to pinpoint your location on GPS and contact help.

It’s important that you connect it to any devices you may have on board. If you’re alone, this is definitely a feature you can’t live without.

Starting a Race With a Regatta Timer

With a regatta race, sailors are in the elements and must keep their boats steady before the official horn begins. A horn will alert sailors, usually following a 10 to 15 minute countdown before the race, so that they’ll be ready to start.

Regatta racing sailboats

The timing of when to cross the invisible start line is very important, which most regatta timers can help with.

Too early and you’ll be penalized, while too late and you’ll lose time. A watch can sync with the countdown to allow you the best possible start. This type of functionality is also referred to as a regatta timer or yacht timer.

Not Missing Out

Preparing for a race can be nerve-wracking enough. Potentially missing out when the horn sounds is another issue. A regatta timer or yacht timer will most definitely come in handy.

If the conditions are not favorable that day, you’ll likely be spending your time and attention on your sailboat. You can’t allow your boat to move in the wrong direction or risk having a bad race time.

This is something all sailors need as a tool to use in races. These allow you to track the time of when the race will begin. With the countdown feature, sailors can rely on these without having to worry.

Changes in Tack

If you have your watch calibrated to your sailboat, you can see in real-time how your sailboat is performing. This way you can see if adjustments need to be made so you can perform at your best.

Final Thoughts

Quality sailing watches are must-have gear that every sailor should own. Whether you’re racing, cruising, or you live on your boat, there’s a watch designed for you.

Find one that you can comfortably fit within your budget. Do your research, then search and choose the one that best fits your needs.