How Does A Yacht Watch Work?

Watches and sports have always gone hand in hand. Whether a particular brand is the official timekeeper for a tournament or a particular model is designed with an athlete in mind, the two have been a longstanding pair, which comes as no surprise, since most sports rely on accurate timing.

The Sailing World Cup

But nothing quite compares to the precise timekeeping required in sailing. Unlike other sports that begin with a simple serve or starting gate, a regatta begins in the elements: on the water and at the mercy of the wind. The moments leading up to the start of a regatta are nerve-racking – each yacht attempts to hold its position in the water at an imaginary starting line, all while enduring the force of the wind. First, a horn signals the countdown to the start of the race, typically around ten to fifteen minutes. Skippers must maintain control of their sailboats until the official starting gun fires or else they can be penalized severely for prematurely crossing that invisible starting line.


What Is a Yacht Watch?

Over the years, countless watch brands have created their own version of a yacht timer with specific functions designed for the needs of the sailing community. Watchmakers recognize how crucial it is for the skipper to be able to measure and anticipate the interval leading up to the start of the regatta, and that’s where the yacht watch comes in.

The key feature of a yacht watch is a display indicating that critical countdown time. From more widely known models, like the Rolex Yacht-Master II, to vintage models, like the Heuer Skipper, most regatta timers share the same basic functions. However, various models have different ways of illustrating this interval, often using a combination of colors and numbers.


The Rolex Yacht-Master II

Rolex Yacht-Master II

The Rolex Yacht-Master II features a countdown function in a horseshoe shape on the interior of the dial at the 12-o’clock position. The display illustrates a ten-minute timer with a red chronograph seconds hand and a flyback function. With the push of a button, this allows the regatta timer to sync with a reference clock to the nearest minute.

To set the regatta timer, unscrew the crown, turn the rotating bezel ninety degrees counterclockwise, and press the pusher at the 4-o’clock position. Next, rotate the crown clockwise to set the timer to the desired interval, anywhere from one to ten minutes. Once you’ve selected the corresponding number of minutes before the race starts, rotate the bezel back ninety degrees clockwise to its initial position. You’ll know you’ve done it properly when the pusher at the 4-o’clock position pops back into its original place. Screw the crown back in to ensure the watch remains watertight. Now the timepiece can be operated like any standard chronograph. Press the pusher at the 2-o’clock position, and the red chronograph seconds hand will begin counting down.


Heuer’s Regatta Timers

Heuer also produced two notable yacht watches back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, which display the countdown feature in a different format.

Heuer Skipper

The Heuer Skipper features a colored and numbered subdial at the 3-o’clock position, which serves as the regatta timer. In this model, the countdown subdial houses a fifteen-minute counter divided into three five-minute segments, each of which is indicated by a different color: red, white, or blue.

Heuer Regatta

The Heuer Regatta illustrates the countdown with five indicator dots at the 12-o’clock position. Each dot represents one minute, clocking five minutes total. Time is measured as the dots change color, typically from white to red or red to blue.

This summer, whether you’re following the Sailing World Cup or enjoying a race at your local yacht club, you’ll have a better understanding of those critical moments leading up to the starting gun’s fire and why it’s worth measuring with a yacht timer. And if sailing isn’t your sport, the countdown function on a yacht watch could be handy in a variety of other ways, and honestly, it just makes a nice-looking watch with slightly different style.


Images ©: Header, 2-4; Crown & Caliber. 1; Sail-World

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