What do the crew do on Americas Cup boats?

The America’s Cup is the oldest trophy in international sport, dating back to 1851. It is a match race between two sailing yachts competing on behalf of yacht clubs from different countries. The competing yachts are massive high-tech racing machines demanding top performance from both the sailors on board and the team of designers, engineers and shore crew supporting them.


On an America’s Cup yacht there are usually 4-6 grinders whose primary role is to provide the power needed to control the yacht’s hydraulic systems. They do this by turning coffee-grinder looking pedestals, with each grinder able to produce about 300 watts of power. This allows them to generate the pressure needed to control the massive sailing surfaces on the yacht.

During maneuvers such as tacking or gybing it can take around 2000 watts of power to operate the hydraulic systems, so the grinders need to work flat out to supply enough power. Races can last for over an hour, during which time the grinders will be pedaling constantly. As a result they undergo intensive fitness training to build the stamina and power needed.

Typical grinder responsibilities

  • Generating hydraulic pressure by grinding pedestals
  • Providing power for trimming sails, extending foils and powering winches
  • Communicating sail trim settings
  • Helping with sail handling


The helmsman is responsible for steering the yacht using the helm wheel and controlling the yacht’s rudder. The aim is to steer the optimal course to maximize boat speed in the prevailing wind and sea conditions. On an America’s Cup yacht the helm wheel is connected to sophisticated hydraulic systems controlling the rudder angle, so generating sufficient hydraulic pressure is critical.

The helmsman needs excellent situational awareness in order to respond to changes in wind direction and pressure. They need to work closely with the tactician to follow the agreed race strategy and with the trimmers to optimize the sail plan for the conditions.

Typical helmsman responsibilities

  • Steering the yacht on the optimal course
  • Adjusting the helm in response to wind shifts
  • Working with the tactician on race strategy
  • Communicating with trimmers on sail settings


The tactician is in charge of the yacht’s race strategy and positioning on the race course. This requires constantly assessing the wind conditions, tide, destination marks and competitor’s positioning. Based on this evaluation they decide the optimal course for the yacht to sail and communicate this to the helmsman and trimmers.

The tactician also manages the communication between all the roles on board and determines the priorities around whether boat speed or positioning takes precedence. They need excellent situational awareness, analytical skills and the ability to make quick decisions under pressure as races unfold.

Typical tactician responsibilities

  • Deciding optimal race strategy and courses to steer
  • Communicating race strategy to helmsman and crew
  • Monitoring competitor’s position and responding accordingly
  • Managing communication between roles


On an America’s Cup yacht there are usually 1-2 crew members responsible for managing the mast and sails. Their role includes attaching and detaching sails, raising and lowering them up the mast and handling halyards to hoist sails.

The mast man needs to work closely with the tactician and trimmers to raise the optimal sail plan and be able to rapidly change between headsails and spinnakers. They also communicate information from the mast head to the crew such as wind shifts and competitor’s sail settings.

Typical mast responsibilities

  • Raising and lowering sails
  • Attaching and detaching sails from the mast
  • Managing halyards to hoist and drop sails
  • Communicating wind shifts from the mast head


The bowman (or bowmen) are responsible for managing the head sails at the front of the boat and assisting with sail changes. On an America’s Cup yacht this includes trimming and adjusting the jib sail and gennaker/Code 0 when flown from the bow.

During a headsail change the bow team un-hanks the existing sail and hanks on the new sail, as well as attaching and tensioning sheets. The bowman works in coordination with the mast to effect rapid headsail changes when required.

Typical bow responsibilities

  • Trimming and adjusting headsails
  • Managing headsail changes
  • Un-hanking and hanking on new head sails
  • Communicating with mast on headsail changes


The pit role is in charge of managing all the movable sailing controls and hydraulics on the yacht. This includes adjusting the powerful hydraulic winches controlling the headsail and mainsail sheets, in coordination with the trimmers and tactician. They also control extensions and retractions of the hydrofoils and wings between upwind and downwind configurations.

The pit needs excellent understanding of all the yacht’s systems in order to make appropriate adjustments and respond rapidly to commands from the tactician and trimmers. Strong communication skills are also vital to coordinate with trimmers and the helm.

Typical pit responsibilities

  • Managing hydraulic sail winches
  • Adjusting hydrofoil and wing positions
  • Controlling headsail cars and tracks
  • Communicating with trimmers on optimal settings


Due to the physical exertion required by grinders and other roles, Americ’as Cup crews have dedicated runners who can substitute in when needed. Runners rotate in for grinders when they need a break after an intense period of maneuvering or trimming.

Runners also help manage sail handling and perform tasks around the yacht as required. They need to be versatile sailors able to fill in for a variety of crew roles as needed during long races in changing conditions.

Typical runner responsibilities

  • Subbing in for grinders when they need a break
  • Assisting with sail handling as spares
  • Filling in for other roles as required

Shore crew

In addition to the sailing crew, America’s Cup teams have a large shore based support team encompassing designers, engineers, boat builders and more. The shore crew perform essential roles in providing ongoing development and maintenance of the yachts.

Shore crew responsibilities include:

  • Yacht design using fluid dynamics and aerodynamics
  • Structural engineering of hulls, masts and appendages
  • Sail design and construction
  • Building yacht components and assembling yachts
  • Performance analysis using simulations and sensor data
  • Ongoing yacht maintenance and repairs

The complexity of America’s Cup yachts means they require large shore teams providing constant iterations to designs and performance enhancement. This provides the sailing crew with the best possible yacht innovations and reliability.

Training programs

Sailing an America’s Cup yacht places huge physical and mental demands on crew. As a result, team members undergo intensive fitness training programs to build the endurance, strength and agility required. A typical training program will include:

  • High intensity interval training for cardio fitness
  • Weight training to build power and strength
  • Core stability exercises for essential core strength
  • Yoga and pilates to improve flexibility
  • Cycling to develop leg power for grinders
  • On-water fitness training in boats

As well as physical training, teams do mental skills development in areas like communication, coordination and decision making under pressure. Crew debriefs are used to analyze decision making and find improvements.

Fitness levels are continually tested and monitored using benchmarks and combine testing. Training is tailored for each crew role’s specific requirements.

Team coordination

With 6-11 crew racing in a highly dynamic environment, excellent teamwork and coordination is crucial. Crew go through extensive training together to build seamless coordination in maneuvers like tacking, gybing and sail changes.

Effective communication is essential with crew needing to relay information concisely. Codified language is used so that vital information can be communicated rapidly in the heat of racing. Extensive practice in all conditions builds intuition between crew members.

Debriefs are used to identify areas for improvement in team coordination and consistency. Crews also study video footage together to enhance their intuitive understanding.

Race strategy

Americas Cup crews put huge emphasis on race strategy and analysis. Using simulator software, teams can recreate previous races to analyze decision making and outcomes. Different strategies are simulated using digital twins of their yacht and teams race against simulated competitors under variable wind and tide conditions.

During actual racing, performance analysts record huge amounts of sensor data on speeds, loadings, settings and derived performance metrics. This is used to refine decision making and identify optimal configurations for different conditions.

Weather analysis is also crucial, with teams employing meteorologists to best predict likely wind patterns during races. Tidal patterns are also incorporated into race planning.

Yacht maintenance

Keeping America’s Cup yachts in peak condition requires meticulous ongoing maintenance between races:

  • Checking hydraulic systems for leaks and bleeding if required
  • Tuning foil alignment and rake angles for optimal lift and drag
  • Checking sail shape and trim with on-water testing
  • Cleaning salt deposits and marine growth from hulls
  • Tuning rig tensions and alignments aloft
  • Running winch and grinding pedestal maintenance

With races taking place in salt water, corrosion prevention is a constant requirement. Any mechanical or electronic issues need rapid resolution by shore engineers to ensure minimal downtime.


Succeeding in America’s Cup sailing requires a massive team effort both on and offshore. Dedicated sailors need to be trained to the peak of physical fitness while integrating into a coordinated racing unit. The backroom team provides relentless innovation and support through design, technology and analysis. It is this total human and technological package that allows teams to stay at the cutting edge of high performance sailing.

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