Increasingly the use of drones at sea in a sailing/ racing environment has become more popular in recent times however do we truly understand their potential?
Many high profile racing campaigns are now utilising drones, primarily in a covert way because of the powerful quality data and imagery they produce. Drones are regularly being flown to amass data in various ways and for a number of uses.
To achieve success at the highest level, today’s top racing sailors are gathering as much data as possible to enhance performance, make adjustments to settings and trim, find the edge on the competition and ultimately win. In simplistic terms we now have the ability to see exactly how a rig and sail function together on any point of sail in almost any prevailing conditions; from more obvious concerns such as sail shape to exactly how a rig reacts, are we using too much rig tension, or not enough?
We have all been there, laying under the boom to take pictures up the main or up the mast to examine rig set-up. We have bounced around on the foredeck looking at headsail luff curve, and leaned to leeward examining the slot. This data is compromised by taking ballast off the rail, and therefore the boat is not sailing to its optimum, this results in consistently poor data and therefore poor results. Next option to get those vital shots is the RIB support, bouncing along camera in hand, the value of which again is compromised. Options exhausted we continue on with guesswork, being an overrated commodity in our drive to climb the fleet. Or perhaps not. Drones capable of 70 knots are available to provide the next true advantage.
Over the last year many top sailors and campaigns have been using aerial cinematography. Rob Greenhalgh, who probably needs little introduction to most readers, is a talented and successful sailor over multiple disciplines from monohulls to multihulls, offshore maxis to foiling Moths. His view after utilising drone footage was, ‘Amazing quality offering a whole new perspective. Used wisely it has immeasurable value; every serious campaign should consider this option in detail.’ For a moment briefly consider other sports and their use of HD video, whether it be a TMO (Television Match Official) in rugby or any sport’s analysis program in fact. The clue lies within the word analysis.
Outside of the racing arena, there is another potentially useful area where drones can be utilised, and that is the looking ahead before entering a new anchorage or harbour for the cruising fraternity. With a range typically of around 800 mtrs, advance planning when entering an unfamiliar harbour, or an area with reefs the feedback is invaluable, and we are sure to see their usage become more commonplace in the coming years.