Sydney to Hobart yacht race 2023 — how to watch and what to look out for

Yacht racing with Sydney Harbour Bridge in background.

The sight of big yachts tearing around Sydney Harbour's blue water with crews scrambling over the deck at the start of the annual Sydney to Hobart race, can be thrilling, if somewhat confusing, watching.

Where is the start line? Are those boats going to crash into each other? What happens if someone falls off?

Do crew members get any sleep during the race? What prizes are they racing for? What do you mean the first over the finish line is not considered the top prize?

Wait, what ... there is a boat called Imalizard?

So many questions!

Let's try and answer them.

The fleet leaves Sydney Harbour following the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

Where do they start?

This year, the 78th running of the Sydney to Hobart, has a fleet of over 100 boats ranging from supermaxis (typically boats over 21 metres) to smaller yachts.

There are two starting 'lines' with the larger yachts on the northern line just north of Shark Island, and the smaller boats on the southern line.

Two rounding marks off Sydney Heads compensate for the distance between the lines, before the fleet heads to sea on the ocean voyage to Hobart, 628 nautical miles (1,163 kilometres) away.

When does it begin?

It's already started!

At 1pm AEDT on Boxing Day (December 26) the ceremonial cannon was fired, marking the start of the race.

A ceremonial starting cannon is fired from a yacht.

How can I watch it?

Race sponsor Rolex says the start will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia and live and on demand on the 7Plus app.

Internationally, the race will be available through YouTube on the CYCATV channel or via Rolex Sydney Hobart's Facebook page.

If you are in Sydney and on the water, spectators who wish to watch the start but not follow the fleet are advised to stick to the "western side of the harbour".

A group of people stand on the shore and look out at Sydney Harbour, as some film the Sydney to Harbour fleet.

Good vantage points for spectator boats include "Taylors Bay, Chowder Bay, Obelisk Bay and North Head on the west and Rose Bay, Watsons Bay, Camp Cove and South Head to the east".

According to organisers, the harbour will be "very crowded and traffic can be chaotic, so stay alert, follow the advice of race officials and remember to keep well clear of the exclusion zone between 12pm and 2pm".

Will there actually be some near misses?

The start is when things can get feisty, with crews trying to get their yachts into the best position before the cannon shot and on the run to get around Sydney Heads and out into the South Pacific Ocean.

This is when near misses and actual collisions can happen, with spicy language occasionally making it onto the live television broadcast thanks to cameras on the boats.

Members of the public watching from boats are told to stay in a "zone" away from race competitors, but that can still make for more potential near misses as the competitor boats weave across the water trying to find their best way into the start line at just the right time.

All in all it can look like chaos and often results in protests being lodged by crews who allege other teams of a wide range of infringements of race rules, across the entire course all the way to the finish.

Sometimes, if protested against, boats can perform "penalty turns" while at sea as punishment. Both Wild Oats XI and Comanche performed penalty turns last year following a scrape in Sydney Harbour.

A supermaxi boat races along Sydney Harbour with at least half of the hull lifted out of the water.

Decision to make — follow the coast or head out to sea

Once out of the harbour, the fleet then begins to make its way down the east coast of Australia, and are faced with a decision — to either stay close to the coast or to go further into open water where the East Australia Current can carry them. The amount of wind dictates this decision.

After navigating the NSW South Coast, it is then into Bass Strait, where the worst conditions are generally found, with strong winds and big waves.

Simply surviving is the key here. Equipment failure and breakage ends many a team's race during this stretch.

Yacht on its side on a beach with waves in foreground.

With Bass Strait successfully navigated, another choice needs to be made — sail close to the coast of Tasmania where they will find better water — or further out where winds are heavier.

Whichever the way, soon boats will be rounding "Tasman Light" and crossing Storm Bay. Then, they'll pass the Iron Pot at the mouth of the River Derwent . 

After a crawl up the often windless Derwent, boats will cross the finish line at Castray Esplanade before eventually settling in Hobart's Constitution Dock.

Sydney to Hobart trophies

What are they racing for?

There is no prize money for the winners. 

Instead, crews race for trophies in a number of categories , the main events for casual observers being Line Honours (first across the line) and Overall (winner decided based on handicap).

The first yacht across the line wins the JH Illingworth Challenge Cup, while the Overall winner on handicap wins the Tattersalls Cup.

The Overall winner is considered a truer indication of sailing skill . The boats are smaller and lighter and therefore not as naturally fast. Getting them to Hobart is tougher. Handicaps (time adjustments) are calculated by a range of factors such as the weight and length of the boat.

Crew of a supermaxi yacht on deck during yacht racing event.

Most of the time, Overall honours are won by a smaller, slower boat, which outdoes its larger opposition when time is adjusted for size and other factors.

The reigning Line Honours victor is Andoo Comanche, which won in a time of 1 day, 11 hours, and 15 minutes, the boat's 4th line honours victory.

The reigning Overall winner is Celestial, which finished 2022's race in 2 days, 16 hours, and 15 minutes.

In 2017, LDV Comanche set a new line honours record, finishing first in 1 day, 9 hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds, beating Perpetual Loyal's record of 1 day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds, set the previous year.

Comanche takes the lead in the Sydney to Hobart on day one

Who can race?

The minimum age to compete in the race is 18 years of age. There is no upper age limit.

Each yacht generally carries between six and 24 crew members, the average across the fleet being 10 to 11.

The head of the crew is the skipper and often the skipper also owns the yacht. Other positions on board include the "helmsperson, navigator, tactician, trimmers and foredeck person, or for'ard hand", race organisers explain.

Two-hander boats (a category introduced in 2020) attempt the voyage with only two crew members.

A team of men surround a silver cup trophy.

After the 1998 race, in which six sailors died, five yachts sank, more than 60 yachts retired and 55 sailors had to be rescued by helicopter, at least 50 per cent of crew members in a team have to have completed a sea safety survival course.

All competitors must have completed an approved "Category 1" equivalent passage. One advertised course for Sydney to Hobart wannabe sailors offers five days of "continuously sailing" across a 500 nautical mile passage off the New South Wales coast, starting at $1,795 per person.

1955 Sydney to Hobart race start

Conditions on board can be cramped and extreme, with very rough seas often battering yachts along the way. If a crew member goes over the side, that means teams have to circle back to collect them.

Winner of the 2022 Two-Handed Division Rupert Henry said for his two-person team, "we only manage around four hours max of sleep each".

"We know when each other needs to crash so we do it then."

As for people who easily get sea sick, perhaps this is not the hobby for you.

Crew members in red jackets race a blue and white yacht at sea

How can I follow the boats online?

You can follow the race on an online tracker , which shows the positions of yachts as they move south, via a GPS device on each vessel. 

As the race goes on, you can see the course charted by crews — unless of course the boat's GPS device gets switched off, rendering it invisible to spectators and other competitors — an accusation that was levelled at Wild Oats XI in 2018 by the owner of Black Jack.

Yachts can also be tracked on the Marine Traffic website .

Sydney to Hobart yacht race tracker.

Imalizard, Eye Candy and Millennium Falcon — what's in a name?

If you are the kind who chooses a favourite yacht based on the name, there are some good ones this year, including Imalizard, Disko Trooper, Millennium Falcon, Lenny, Mister Lucky, Pacman, Toecutter, Extasea, two yachts with Yeah Baby in their names, Chutzpah, Ciao Bella and Eye Candy.

Not among 2023's starters is Huntress, which came to grief last year after breaking a rudder, with the crew abandoning the vessel and it later drifting and  washing up on a remote Tasmanian beach , leading to a dispute over the salvage rights .

A yacht saling on a river with city in background.

Main contenders for the Overall title are Alive (2018 winner, a Tasmanian boat), Chutzpah, Celestial, Smuggler and URM, as well as supermaxis LawConnect, SHK Scallywag, Andoo Comanche and Wild Thing.

Barring disaster, the Line Honours winner will almost certainly be one of the four supermaxis.

This yacht has raced under several names, previously racing as Perpetual LOYAL, Investec LOYAL and InfoTrack.

In 2016, Perpetual LOYAL became the fastest-ever boat to complete the race, setting a new race record of 1 day, 13 hours, 31 minutes, and 12 seconds. That record has since been broken by LDV Comanche in 2017. Investec LOYAL also sailed to victory in 2011.

Previous owner Anthony Bell declared after his 2016 victory that he would be selling the boat. It was picked up by tech entrepreneur Christian Beck, with the boat's name changed to InfoTrack.

Now called LawConnect, conditions haven't suited the heavier yacht in recent years. It is yet to win a Sydney to Hobart under its new name and ownership but is always among the leaders' pack. It recently defeated Comanche in the Big Boat Challenge, a traditional lead-up event to the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

Andoo Comanche

John Winning Junior took over from Jim Cooney as skipper of the newly named 'Andoo' Comanche last year, and had instant success, beating its rivals to a 4th Line Honours victory. In 2017, it defeated Wild Oats for Line Honours, setting a race record in the process, but only after a controversial protest. It also claimed Line Honours in 2019.

Andoo Comanche will enter as hot favourite for Line Honours this year after installing a brand new million-dollar sails package and winning the Cabbage Tree Island race – it did however finish second to LawConnect in this month's Big Boat Challenge .

SHK Scallywag

Scallywag looms as a wild card in this year's race, and on its day can challenge the likes of Comanche. Scallywag is lighter and narrower than Comanche, and is better suited to lighter wind conditions.

It has undergone modifications during the winter and will have a pair of Americas Cup sailors on board in Luke Payne and Luke Parkinson. Scallywag has never won a Line Honours victory.

Wild Thing 100

Wild Thing 100 will be the newest supermaxi to be launched when it makes its debut in this year's race.

Owner Grant Wharrington has modified Stefan Racing, a Botin 80, which he sailed to fourth over the line in 2021 and 6th last year. Under the extension, the yacht has been rebranded as Wild Thing 100. Wharrington took Line Honours in 2003 with his previous Wild Thing, but the following year, whilst leading the fleet to Hobart, she lost her canting keel and capsized in Bass Strait.

Some other Sydney to Hobart race facts:

Thirteen of the last 17 Line Honours victories have been claimed by Comanche or Wild Oats Wild Oats XI is not participating this year, the second time in three years the nine-time Line Honours winner has not raced. Skipper mark Richards said he'd be spending the time "relaxing somewhere with a beer in my hand" There are 21 two-handed crews (two-person team) competing The smallest boats in the fleet are a pair of 30-footers, Currawong and Niksen. Both are two-handers and Currawong is crewed by two women, Kathy Veel and Bridget Canham The oldest boat to enter this year's race is Christina, built in 1932 There are 10 international crews competing in this year's event It is tradition that the skipper of the boat first in to Hobart jumps into the chilly water of the Derwent

Supermaxi LawConnect sails down Sydney Harbour toward the finish line of the Big Boat Challenge.

When does the race finish?

The Line Honours winner is likely to come in around 48 hours after the start, but this is very much dependent on the weather —  especially in the 22.2-kilometre final stretch up the Derwent River to the finish line.

This is when the wind can drop away and it becomes a crawl , with every trick in the book pulled out to make headway.

Yachts can finish at any time of the day or night.

In 2021, Black Jack crossed the line at 1:37am on December 29, followed by LawConnect at 4:11am and SHK Scallywag about 20 minutes after that.

In 2019, Comanche came in at a more reasonable time of 7:30am on December 28, with InfoTrack about 45 minutes later.

"It matters not whether it is in the wee hours of the morning or the middle of the day — a boisterous and enthusiastic crowd is on hand to clap and cheer the winning yacht to its berth," organisers say.

But the cheering was not just reserved for the first finishers.

In the 2022 race, the final yacht — Currawong — timed its finish impeccably, coming in just before midnight on December 31 , to be met with rousing applause from crowds at Hobart's wharf for New Year's Eve celebrations and an accompanying fireworks display.

Four men in black overalls stand on a yacht with arms around each other or clapping.

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2024 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race | Entries Open

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VIDEO | 2023 Rolex Sydney Hobart Official Prizegiving

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VIDEO | Race Update - 31 December Morning

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Official rolex sydney hobart merchandise.

Shop the official clothing range of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in person at the Club in New South Head Road, Darling Point or online below.  

From casual to technical clothing, there is something for all occasions. Be quick as stock is limited!

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