The biology and medicine of sailing

Sports Med. 1990 Feb;9(2):86-99. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199009020-00003.


The physiological demands of sailing are highly specific, varying with wind conditions, type of craft, and crew position. In a light wind, the only physiological variable yet shown to influence performance is the resting blood sugar. Under high wind conditions, the skipper should be light (less than 60 kg), but crew members should be heavy (greater than 80 kg). Height does not seem a great advantage to crew, possibly because they then lack the muscular strength to exploit the added leverage. Muscle strength, endurance and a tolerance of anaerobic metabolism are all desirable attributes of crew, and competitive performance can be improved by a winter training programme that develops these aspects of muscle performance in the abdominal and thigh regions. The skipper must meet intense and prolonged cerebral demands in the face of periodic isometric work; performance may thus be helped by ingestion of carbohydrate over the course of a race. The ability to sustain isometric contractions in the 'hiking' position may also be improved if the muscles are preloaded with glycogen. The combination of a heavy body build, above average age for an athlete and sustained isometric contraction probably makes the yachting enthusiast vulnerable to ischaemic heart disease. Advisors to a sailing team must further take account of the risks presented by immersion in cold water, loss of sleep, circadian variations of performance over an event, and problems of motion sickness in rough weather.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Physical Education and Training / methods
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Sports*
  • Water


  • Water