Aerial Advantage

Drone specialist Dr Jonathan Johns opens up the world of unmanned aerial imagery and looks at the performance advantages it can deliver

Increasingly the use of drones at sea in a sailing environment has become more popular, but do we truly understand their value, potential and associated risks? Many high-profile racing campaigns are now utilising drones, primarily in a covert way because of the powerful quality data that 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 grand prix sailors are accruing as much data as possible to enhance performance, make adjustments to settings and trim, find the edge on the competition and ultimately win. For some sailors, though, performance and winning are not everything; however, read on as this story has a few twists. 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, lying 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, resulting 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, with guesswork being an overrated commodity in our drive to climb the fleet. Or perhaps not. Drones capable of 70kt are available to provide the next true advantage. They say a picture is worth a thousand words – well, here you can judge for yourself (above). If you agree with the value of a picture, consider how you would value stable HD video footage.


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