Ocean Racing Club of Victoria
Steb Fisher

ORCV Safety and Training

How fit are you for sailing?

Often we forget that we are just as integral component of the boat as the rigging, which gets Xrayed and the hull, which gets anti-fouled annually. Andrew Verdon is the Australian Sailing Team (AIS Squad) fitness coordinator and he is going to provide us with some information regularly, so as to look after ourselves better. Andrew is currently completing his Masters Degree in exercise and has been the Australian Sailing Team (AIS Squad) fitness coordinator since 2003, including the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Sailing Teams. Should you have any questions? Feel free to contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and if you're in Sydney, make an appointment to see him in person.


We do a lot of maintenance on the boats and gear, but what about the most important component - you? Pic © Steb Fisher.

The off-season is a great time to think about what can be improved for next season. As well as checks and changes to the hull or rig or a new sail design and cut, we should also think about your body.

As part of the off-season steps for all the sailors I work with one on one, I get them to have a check in with a sports physiotherapist, to identify any potential weak areas that could either get injured or limit their performance. These then help to show the sailor what areas of their exercise programs to invest their time into.

Some very interesting and sailing specific research was published last year in the Sports Medicine Journal. The authors conducted a literature review of sailing related injuries, from published research over the last 28 years.

They summarised their finding into four relevant areas for us: Olympic class, recreational, America’s Cup and offshore sailing. The following injury rates were discovered:


Injury rate
Olympic Class Sailing 0.2 injuries per athlete per year
Recreational Sailing 0.3-0.4 injuries per person per year
America’s Cup Sailing 2.2 injures per 1000 hours of sailing
Offshore Sailing 1.5 per person per event for amateurs
Offshore Sailing 3.2 per person per event for professionals

In Olympic class sailing, they found that the spines and knees were the most common injury sites. As elite sailors prepared for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, they discovered that lower back (45%) then knees (22%) and shoulders (18%) combined to be 80% of all the injuries. Another evaluation before the 2004 Athens Olympic Games found that 94% of reported injuries were to the spine or knee. Poor hiking technique and inadequate core and trunk strength, combined with high training loads, led to these injures. Other areas that could be at risk were neck and arms.


We put ourselves through a lot out there - we need to be in shape.

In recreational sailors, the most common injuries were acute in nature, as a result of impacts, especially in heavy-wind sailing. These were all caused by slips, falls, impacts and cuts or abrasions, whilst onboard the vessel.

In the Americas Cup domain, the bow team, including bowman, foredeck and mastman, were the most commonly inured on the water. Grinders were at the greatest risk in their fitness training, due to high training levels and intensities. Many activities whilst onboard can expose the lower back to injury, due to the high loads and prolonged strain.

Offshore sailors were separated into amateurs and professionals and the information gathered from the various round the world races was analysed.

Helmsman often experienced upper limb (arm and shoulder) overuse injuries from steering and the foredeck team are at risk of acute impact injuries. Illness and related complaints accounted for a large proportion of medical situations in these events.


All positions on the boat can cause you harm. Image © Steb Fisher.

The authors concluded, “Sailors of all classes and abilities are at risk of injury. Highly repetitive activities such as hiking, grinding, pumping and steering account for most of these, but acute impacts can cause injury as well. Sailing has seen a progressive elevation in the standard of competition, a rise in professionalism at the elite levels and higher physical demands placed upon sailors.”

So apart from wearing the correct clothing (gloves, knee pads, good quality shoes etc), to minimise the chances of impact injuries, what can we do about the overuse injuries? Simple! If you are going to use a particular part of your body on the water, then get it stronger! Use your local sports physiotherapist or osteopath to help with this. Get them to review where you are at before the season starts and strengthen any weak areas they identify, with a structured strength program. The work capacity of the region of the body at high risk of injury can be improved greatly with strength training. They also suggest incorporating stretching exercises into a training program to ensure good posture and flexibility.

The authors also suggest that sailing and training should be monitored at these higher levels and the intensity and volume be managed, to help with recovery times and avoiding unnecessary fatigue. Nutrition and hydration should also be considered, to prevent fatigue on the water, as this could increase the risk of getting injured.

Summary table of areas to be strengthened:


Areas to strengthen
Olympic Class Sailing Shoulder, spine, core and lower body
Recreational Sailing Balance and core, shoulder, spine
America’s Cup Sailing Arms, spine, shoulders, core
Offshore Sailing Lower body, trunk, arms and shoulders

Text by Andrew Verdon

Dip. Ex Sci

Grad Dip App Sci

Cert IV Fitness

Level One Strength Coach-ASCA


Mobile  0419 690 121

Email 1 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

PO Box 1552 Neutral Bay NSW 2089 Australia

Fax: 61 2 9908 4211

Skype andrew.verdon

Suite 3 Rear 19 Young St Neutral Bay NSW 2089 Australia

Entry via: 1 Cooper Lane

Captions and layout by John Curnow



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