I was fresh out of the youth classes myself, and didn’t want to spend my whole summer working for a yacht club junior program, so I organized my first big 29er clinic so that I could sail for most of the summer, and then do two intense weeks of coaching with a group in Santa Barbara.
The big draw was a pile of GoPro HD Heros, that we attached to each boat to get the onboard perspective each day.
At the end of the two weeks, we had about 200 hours of GoPro footage, some awesome content, and a much improved group of skiff sailors.
To this day, I’m a firm believer that if you’re serious about pushing your learning curve to the limits, you need an action camera onboard.
Let’s dig into best practices, best equipment, and how to get the most out of your kit.
Go Pro, Bro.
In the beginning GoPro was the way to go - but these days there are a lot of different options when it comes to action cams. Garmin and GoPro are definitely the leaders, but several other company have entered the market giving you a lot of options to choose from.
Newer models include more sensors than ever before, which can make for some awesome data overlays, and the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 in particular has really raised the bar.
As of October 2019, if you’re looking for top performance, check out the GoPro 8 or the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30. The GoPro is still top of the line, but the VIRB is right up there, and the editing software that Garmin has built to use with it makes it super simple to overlay metrics like track, speed, heel, pitch and more.
If you’re on more of a budget, look at the GoPro Hero 5 Black edition. It does a lot of the GPS stuff, has super high quality video, and costs about half of one of the new devices. There are some other, cheaper models that trade off features for price, but for my money, I think that the Hero 5 Black is the best trade off for what we’re doing as sailors and coaches.
I have one 360 camera in my quiver, and when used the right way, it provides an epic data point. Conversations about communication, and tactics can be greatly enhanced with a head or mast-top mounted 360 camera. But it can also be a big distraction. 360 video is generally quite a bit harder to edit, and to capture the important moments. You end up needing to dig into specialty software a lot more, batteries get burned up faster, and card space is a premium.
My recommendation is that unless it’s something that you really want, or know you need at this moment in time, stick with the standard front facing camera.
Quick note on GPS - one way to make your camera remain relevant into the future in my opinion is to invest in versions that record GPS tracks as well as video. The VIRB does this, as do all GoPro BLACK versions down to the GoPro Hero 5 Black Edition. Even with the latest GoPros, if you don’t get the Black edition, it will not have GPS!
Nail The Angle
Once you have your camera, there are a lot of different ways to use it, so we’ll dig into some different mounting ideas, but my number one tip is to just get it on the boat.
Quick and dirty mounting technique number one, which I tend to use 70% of the time, is to just use a standard sticky mount, with a safety line and lots of tape to toss the camera on the back of the boom, hanging underneath to get the chase-cam shot. The value to thought ratio is super high here, so even if you don’t have the perfect setup from day one, get the camera on the boat!!
Looking to set your game up to something a bit cleaner? For me, the most versatile mount has been the handlebar mount, which you can stick on a tiller extension and put just about anywhere. Stick it inside the end of the boom for a good chase came shot, tape it or lash it to the spin pole for some sweet glamour shots, or carry it on a coach boat to get up close and personal.
The head cam mount is a huge asset when discussing tactics, communication, and priorities. Wearing the head cam gives you a good idea of what each teammate is looking at, what the discussion is onboard (watch what you say!) and where you’re focusing your attention (how often do you look at the sail versus the water versus the fleet?).
Pro Tip: Neewer makes a super cheap GoPro mounting kit that gives you basically every mounting option. Check it out here.
Push The Learning Curve
So you have the camera mounted, and you’re ready to film - let’s talk about getting the most out of your tech.
While there are a million uses that we could talk about, I’m going to talk about my two favorite uses for your action cam. Numero uno is benchmarking your boat handling progress.
The Benchmark Video
Benchmark videos are one of the key data points that can be used to evaluate skills including boat handling, speed, race course decision making, and more. By periodically recording the same skills, benchmark videos become a powerful tool for you to track your progress, and for your coaches to provide productive feedback when crafting individualized training programs.
The boat handling benchmark video should be based on two laps around the racecourse at the beginning or end of a practice session. The goal here is to provide a snapshot of your skills around the course, so rather than practicing the drill 30 times, and filming the 29th and 30th laps, a good rule of thumb is that you should only do it once. One shot; two laps; 4-5 tacks and 4-5 gybes per lap - bring your ‘A’ game.
To set the drill up, either get a coach to set a windward-leeward course, or else use marks that are already in the water with enough room to comfortably fit 4-5 maneuvers in between. Ideally you should have about 30-60 seconds between maneuvers so that you have time to do one, get settled, and then roll into the next one.
This can be a super effective tool for working with a remote coach, or just tracking your own progress.
My second favorite use for your action camera, is in dissecting maneuvers to fine tune the details.
Dissect Your Technique
It’s easy to get lost, mindlessly going through hours of video, or to zero in on the fun moments from the day. But I encourage you to narrow your focus to the details of a few maneuvers and really dig in.
If you’re comparing straight line speed, look at mainsheet rhythm relative to the pitch of the boat (the horizon). Are you playing the sheet in sync with the sea state? Is the sheet leading movement or is movement leading sheet? Is heel leading weight or is weight proactively moving to anticipate what’s coming next?
In boat handling maneuvers, who moves first? Skipper? Crew? Hands? Feet? Is it symmetrical from tack to tack? Can you see any cavitation on the foils as you flatten the boat? Are there any bobbles in the heel of the boat?
At the end of the day, there is so much to learn from watching a single maneuver, be sure that you’re rewinding and rewatching each technique to focus on cause and effect relationships whenever possible!
Into the Future
The action cameras on the market today are already loaded with sensors, and it won’t be long before a standard debrief will include GPS replays, onboard video, telemetry data and more within a few minutes of hitting the dock at the end of the day. Making this part of your daily routine will make a big difference in your training and will set you apart from those who aren’t willing to do that little extra work.
The Bottom Line
The truth of it is, 90% of the value in your action cam video is just that it makes you think about your sailing one more time than you might otherwise.
No matter what camera you have, how it’s mounted, or what you focus on when you watch the video later, if you’re serious about getting to the top of the fleet, get on the water with an action cam!
Check out our social media for a lot more tips on how to make the most of your GoPro footage.