Vintage Watch Wednesday: Yachting Watches

Mar 17, 2014

Everyone knows that pilots, drivers, and divers rely on their timepieces as backup equipment, and for as long as wristwatches have been made, specialty pieces have been designed to suit the needs of these activities.  Specific features, such as rotating bezels for divers or chronographs with tachymeter scales for drivers and pilots, have been incorporated into sports watches to aid in the exact measurements of time required for each specialty user.

Less well-known than the iconic chronographs and divers of the past, however, are an equally cool breed of sports watches designed for an entirely different type of sport – sailboat racing.  Often known as Yacht Timers or Regatta Timers, these unusual timepieces feature unique complications used for timing the countdown to the start of a Regatta.  These watches feature a specially designed chronograph system that measures time in a countdown fashion, most often on a sub dial register.

Unlike most types of auto racing, sailboat racing doesn’t begin from a standing start (the whole wind and water thing kind of makes that difficult).  Instead, sailboats muster in an area behind the starting line and await a signal horn (or, in some cases, a gunshot).  At that time, the countdown begins (some races have a 5-minute countdown, others 10 or 15), and the yachtsmen jockey their boats so that they are as close to the starting line as possible at the end of the countdown period, which is the start of the actual race.

Regatta Timers are incredibly useful for the sporting sailor, and most well-known watch brands have produced them at one time or another.  Popular modern versions have been produced by brands such as Rolex, Panerai, Girard-Perregaux and Alpina, but our favorites are (as always) vintage. The Skipper line of Yachting Timers (example above) were made by Heuer in the 1970s and feature all the hallmark design and construction you’ve come to respect from the most famous name in sports timers.  These large chronographs borrowed cases and utilized modified movements from the Autavia (Auto-Aviation) line, but feature bright, multicolored registers denoting 5 minute countdown increments easy to see with a quick glance to the wrist.  Very rare and hard to find today, Heuer collectors and enthusiasts are clamoring to find the best possible examples.   Have a look at Our Shop to see three awesome variants of these early nautical chronographs.

We’ve also sourced an incredibly cool Certina Chronolympic Regatta Timer  with a distinct multicolored dial and central minutes chronograph register (shown above).

No question, a vintage Regatta Timer is an essential piece of kit for the well-heeled yachtsman, and the season of sailing is upon us.

Visit our our online shop to find a wide variety of vintage watches to suit your particular outdoor interests. Click here.

Words by: James Lamdin - A vintage watch connoisseur and founder of analog/shift (, an online boutique for a curated selection of exceptional wristwatches.

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