Shooting a sailboat regatta requires a few things. For starters you’ll need a boat to get around the course, a lens with a sufficient focal length, a camera with good auto focus, and some sea legs.
I use a 13′ Avon Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) as my chase vessel for capturing sailing regattas. The RIB fits in the back of my pick up truck when deflated and rolled up. It has an aluminum floor that comes together in three pieces. The RIB is a very stable platform and performs well in calm and rough waters. I use a small 2.5 HP 2-stroke outboard that provides enough power to get up and go but only weighs about 20 pounds.
I don’t recommend taking your primary body with you, unless your on a larger boat with more protection. My current setup is a Nikon D2Xs camera and a Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR AF-S. This is a new setup for me. Previously I used a Nikon D70 and Sigma 28-135mm 4-5.6 AF-D lens (Note: I captured the banner image of this post with this setup). The crop sensor gives you a maximum focal length of 450mm, providing you good reach without getting in the way.
I find myself shooting with a high aperture, fast shutter speed, and the lowest ISO setting possible based on the light. This provides me with the best opportunity to get as much of the frame in focus while freezing the action. As you can see in the following pictures, this approach yields a nice result.
It’s not all sun and fun during a sailboat regatta. Clouds and rain can get in the way of a nice day. A typical race day is about 4 hours long and the conditions can change rapidly.
For autofocus I typically use continuous with a single focus point. The combination of the boats really don’t go that fast and shooting with a high aperture produces a very nice result.
While a chase boat works really well to get some great action shots. Shooting from a boat that is participating in the race, provides you an unique point of view and let’s you get some sailing in too.
Below I’ve included two Flickr albums of recent regattas I’ve had the opportunity to capture. These will provide you additional examples and feature the changing conditions highlighted below. Please follow me on Instagram and Flickr for future regattas.