What Is The Bowman In Sailing?

What Is The Bowman In Sailing?

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The term bowman may be a term that many people have heard in sailing, but they are not quite sure what the role of a bowman is as part of the sailing crew.

A bowman is a role for a sailing crew whose main job is to be at the front of the sailboat. The bowman will communicate to the team by speaking or using hand signals to let the crew know their f sailing maneuvers. A bowman will always put the safety of himself, his crew, and the boat first while doing all he can to try to help win the race.

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The Bowman’s Role On The Sailing Crew

The bowman is the person who is in control of all the sail hoists and drops. The bowman will spend most of their time preparing for spinnaker hoists, jibes, and drops at the foredeck.

To some, it may seem like a thankless job as the bowman is not sailing the boat, but the bowman is a significant role in any sailing crew. The bowman must be prepared to understand the wind, waves, water, and direction so that the bowman can give the right calls to the crew.

Here are some ways the bowman helps the sailing crew:

  • Time On Distance – As the bowman is at the front of the boat, they understand when the race may start. Understanding this can give the crew a heads-up in getting started on time.
  • Judgment – A good bowman makes correct judgment calls. A good bowman should have his eyes on the course and the sails and boats around them. A bowman should also understand the wind and maybe even be able to predict wind changes.
  • Communicator – A good bowman is a good communicator. They will know and understand the hand signals and learn how to communicate what is seen up ahead to the crew properly.

In a sailing race, the role of a bowman is critical as the bowman helps to ensure the boat continues to sail smoothly to win the race. No race is won without a good bowman out there doing their job at the boat’s bow for many races and kinds of sailboats.

Qualities Of A Good Bowman In Sailing

To be a good bowman is not an easy job. It requires you to communicate and understand the boat’s direction.

A bowman is not someone who sits at the front of a boat and watches the wind and waves, but a good bowman is highly active and an essential part of the boat’s crew.

Here are some qualities of a good bowman:

A Bowman Is Prepared

A bowman will be prepared and equipped with the right clothes and gear. At the front of the boat, a bowman can get very wet. A Bowman will come with the right clothes, including a jacket with closures at the wrist and waist so that the rest of your clothes remain dry if you get sprayed with water.

Waterproof trousers and shoes that will not slip on the boat deck will keep you dry. A good bowman should never go barefoot. Some bowmen prefer to wear a wetsuit as they feel it is more conducive to the water they may come up against.

A bowman should also consider a harness for safety as being a bowman or bowwoman can be dangerous, especially in high winds and waves, and you need to climb up the mast or sail.

One of the best harnesses is the Spinlock which is made for working at heights onboard a yacht. 

A Bowman Knows And Understands the Sailing Course

A good bowman would know and understand the sailing course. They would have done their homework and had a plan in mind if something came up unexpectedly.

Most pro-level bowmen will spend less than 1.40 seconds on the bow in any windward-leeward race maneuver. A bowman can get quickly and efficiently off the boat’s bow.

A Bowman Puts Safety First

A good bowman will put safety first, including their own life. It is not worth your life to be tossed off a boat in a terrible accident; no race is worth your own life and the safety of your crew.

That is why a good bowman will put the safety of themselves, their crew, and the boat first and ensure that they are doing those sailing maneuvers that make sense while also having all the proper safety equipment, including harnesses.

A Good Bowman Looks Up As Well As Forward

A good bowman will look up as well as forward. A good bowman knows and understands all the halyards on the boat.

A halyard, a halliard, is a line or rope used to hoist a ladder, sail, flag, or yard. The halyards are essential as they can get tangled, stuck, or crossed. A good bowman understands this, so they also understand where all the halyards are and how they should be.

A Bowman Understands That Communication is Key To Their Role

A bowman understands that communication is critical to their role as a crew on the boat. In some boats, the bowman will shout or say the maneuver, but in others, the bowman will use a series of bowman communication hand gestures.

Common Bowman Racing Hand Signals

To help ensure and facilitate communication between the bowman and the crew, there are some standard hand communication signals that the bowman can use to communicate appropriately to his crew.

Below are the standard racing hand bowman hand signals. A good bowman will use this to communicate to the other crew members. (All hand signal photos are credited to Yachting World)

Raised Fingers
  • Raised Fingers – A bowman can raise one finger for every start line at the start line.
Nearly Pinched Finger And Thumb 
  • Nearly Pinched Finger And Thumb – The nearly pinched finger or thumb tells the crew they are nearly inside a boot length and close to the line.
Fanning In A Flat Pattern
  • Fanning In A Flat Pattern – Fanning your entire hand in the flat pattern lets the crew know there is time so they can slow down.
Clenched Fist 
  • Clenched Fist – A clenched fist tells the crew they should hold this course.
Winding The Arms Around In A Circle
  • Winding The Arms Around In A Circle – Winding your arm around in a circle means to speed up or let’s get going.
Pointing With One Finger 
  • Pointing With One Finger – Pointing with a finger tells the crew to change course while pointing and giving them directions.
Hand On Back Of Head 
  • Hand On Back Of Head – The hand on the back of the head lets the crew know that the bowman does not have good visuals, so they may want to revert to using the GPS if possible.
Arm Down And Swinging
  • Arm Down And Swinging – The arm pointed down and swinging lets the crew know that we are apparent from the boat ahead and are not overlapping.
Arm Raised High
  • Arm Raised High – The arm raised high tells the crew that we are not clear to swing on the boat ahead or that they are overlapped.

A bowman on a sailing crew plays a significant role. They need to communicate correctly to the team but also look out for safety and other issues to ensure the staff, boat, and everyone can safely finish the race.

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