What to buy

We take a look at some of the top watches for dinghy racing

Thursday November 29th 2007, Author: Toby Heppell, Location: United Kingdom
As we hear so often in coaching books or uttered by others in advice columns in magazines, the start is by far the most important part of any race. Many factors go into making the perfect start, but perhaps first on the checklist of things that need to be sorted is your starting equipment. Central to this is a good watch that works for you.

There are many good reasons to buy a watch, it could have an attractive price, a great set of features, it could look good etc. However, it is important that the watch in question works for you. Two essential features of a sailing watch are that it should (obviously) be waterproof and have a countdown feature. It should be noted that while it sounds like an absolute term, there are degrees of waterproof when it comes to watches ranging from watches claiming to be ‘water resistant’ to those specced to be suitable for the diving market. In these days of gadgets and miniaturisation most watches on the market will perform many more than just these simple functions.

A useful feature in many of the sailing watches on the market today is a pre-programmed ‘5, 4, 1, go’ countdown feature which would probably appeal to most sailors out on the water. Also useful for many - but not for all - is a watch that has the option to bleep during the countdown to give an audible warning of how much time is left. This is not necessarily desirable for all sailors, as top team racer and current Endeavour Trophy champion, Steve Tylecote explains: “I find it best not to completely rely on the watch in the last 30 seconds or so of the countdown. For this reason I keep the thing set on quiet so that I can keep a count of the last 30 seconds before the start in my head.”

We spoke to some top dinghy sailors about the favoured choices….

Optimum Time Big Yellow Watch (above):

This proved to be one of the most popular watches among those we spoke to. Principally most people liked the big numbers and the ease of use with this watch. It has a large 65mm case with a 38 x 20mm display size.

Specifically developed for sailing, the watch features a number of useful functions, including 5, 4, 1 countdown followed by count-up to allow you to see how long the race has been going for. Another reason the watch is particularly popular with many of the dinghy sailors we have spoken to is the ability for it to be mounted to a boom or mast, using its large elastic strap.

One person that uses this type of watch is Tylecote. “I wear it on my right wrist so I can see it on a start line. I also wear a standard Casio watch on my left arm so I can keep an idea of what the real time is,” he explains. “We also have another Big Yellow watch on the mast or boom depending on what boat I am sailing, so we both can see what the time is.”

However there are reports that this watch is is not as robust as it could be. Occasionally the screen has been known to take on some water and/or steam up and break. Tylecote, for example, is on his third of these watches.


Ronstan Clear Start (above):

Also similar to the Big Yellow Watch, is Ronstan’s large screened sailing watch. Made by the well known Australian deck gear manufacturer, this watch comes with many of the same functions as the Optimum Time version.

The Clear Start features time of day, a count-up (from zero) timer, and a programmed countdown timer with alarm. Primarily its one big difference over the Big Yellow Watch is that it is waterproof to 50m, and does a slightly better job of not getting the well documented foggy screen on the Big Yellow.


Optimum Time OS225-OS225/ Musto Watch (above):

Makers of the Big Yellow Watch, Optimum Time originally made a small wrist watch for Musto.

This was regularly commented on as a great watch by those we contacted. However, back in 2005 Musto stopped selling the watch, to the disappointment of many. Optimum Time continued to manufacture the time piece and now, three generations on, it takes the form of their OS223-OS225 models.

For many the features in this watch - the same as it’s big brother, the Big Yellow Watch - are its draw. Again it has the 5, 4, 1 countdown and also the syncronise buttons so popular on the two big faced watches. These buttons are used to jump the countdown timer to the next minute down, so you can make your countdown more accurate as time progresses. National Champion, Rick Perkins, uses this watch for sailing on his Musto Skiff. “On the boom I put the big yellow Optimum Time, on my wrist I have the small plastic version of the same. I use the boom one so I can see the time without having to move my tiller hand if I am on starboard; I use the Optimum Time watches as they have the same ‘computer’ inside and I like to keep things as simple as possible,” he says.


Casio Various:

Many of those we spoke to used a Casio watch of some description. The reasons for buying Casio varied greatly. RS200 and Merlin Rocket National Champion, Roger Gilbert, chose his Casio Sea-Pathfinder (above) because it was cheap and so he could afford to lose it.

Top Laser Radial sailor and coach, Jon Emmett, chose his top of the range Casio G-Shock watch – such as the G-Shock Atomic Solar Watch - for a variety of reasons. “Mainly I chose a Casio G-Shock because they are tough. When you are on a high performance boat it is important your watch can take some knocks,” Emmett, who also sails 49ers and Tornados, explains. He adds that he was drawn to his particular Casio as it was solar powered, and as the battery would not need changing it could be more robust and have better waterproofing. Even users in the UK need not worry about the lack of light and the solar panels - a single charge will keep most G-Shocks going for six months, the manufacturer claims.

Interestingly on a few of the solar powered G-Shock watches we looked at there was no countdown function. Emmett says this is not a particular priority for him though. “I tend to use it on count up function anyway,” he says. “Most race committees use a single timer, continuously counting so on count-up I can set it once and it will be correct all day long.”

Obviously Casio offer a very broad range of watches, from the impressively cheap, to the surprisingly expensive and everywhere in between.

Sea Pathfinder - £25.99
Atomic Solar - £99.99

T5e371 Timex Sports Watch (above):

Timex is another brand with a lot of watches in their range. Often the Timex Ironman range is used by sailors, but we felt the uninspiringly named T5e371 Sports Watch would be a welcome addition to some people’s wrist.

Two time Olympic medallist, Simon Hiscocks, does not currently use this watch but explained to us what he was looking for in a time piece. “I want a watch that gives you a countdown, but at the same time has the time of the day with seconds,” he commented. “If the Race Committee is using one timer on loop to start the races – which they usually are – then the clock gives you an idea of when things are going to happen. If the postponement flag is taken down, for example, at 38 seconds past the minute you have already got a countdown to that going on and you can be ready to start your timer at 38 seconds past the next minute. It basically helps you know what is about to happen on the Committee boat before it does.”

We actually struggled to find a watch that exactly matched the requirements put forward by Hiscocks. However, we felt this Timex piece, with it’s analogue watch over the top of the digital display might well do the job. It is water resistant to 100m, has a countdown timer that goes up to 24 hours and has a 50-lap memory recall.


Clearly there are any number of watches out there suitable for the racing sailor. In truth which watch you want depends largely on your needs and wants during the starting sequence and racing day. These watches are just a few of those available as reccomended by some sailors. As ever with these things the best way to work out what is right for you is to head down to a shop and have a play with all the models there.

What watch do you wear and what are you experiences using it? Contact us with your thoughts on batmail@thedailysail.com

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