What You Need to Know about Sailing Instructions - SailNet Community
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What You Need to Know about Sailing Instructions

From the preparatory signal until the finish line, the rules as outlined by the sailing instructions apply.

Open up a game of Monopoly and you’ll find the instructions on the flip side of the box top. Open up a carton of Pop Tarts, and the heating instructions are printed on the packaging. This is the information age, and just like most pursuits these days, sailboat racing comes with its own set of instructions. Sometimes they’re written in what seems like a foreign language, but in the majority of cases the information is pretty basic. Considering that the most frequent problems that occur on a racecourse happen because a competitor hasn’t read the instructions carefully, it’s easy to see why it's important to understand them. To that end, here’s a step-by-step primer that highlights what you need to know about Sailing Instructions (SIs) for most events.

OK, say you’ve registered for the Bathtub Class Intergalactic Regatta and you’ve just received the skippers’ package from the organizers. What you need to do is to find yourself a quiet place to sit down and read the SIs that were included in the packet—and read them thoroughly. Every regatta has its own flavor, and a race committee in Seattle may have written its instructions in a slightly different manner than one in Annapolis, which is reason enough to go over the instructions carefully. If you're sailing with more than one person on board, (let’s say that the Bathtub is a five-person boat), it’s always a good idea to make sure that someone else aboard the boat is also familiar with the instructions, so you might consider reading them together. If something in the instructions prompts a question on your part, either bring it up at the skippers’ meeting, or track down a member of the race committee and request a clarification.

If you’re new to all of this, don’t be intimidated. The SIs for some events can be 10 pages long, but much of the information is formulaic and with some practice you’ll learn how to use the Evelyn Wood approach to speed-reading them.

Once you've got a clear understanding of the SIs, you can concentrate on getting around the racecourse.

Customarily, the SIs will include an initial statement about the rules that will be in effect for that event. Make sure you’re familiar with whatever rules, if any, apply specifically to your class—in this case the Bathtub Class. Often this section of the instructions will include a phrase similar to "except as altered by these sailing instructions," and this is your clue to know that there may be some special prescriptions within the instructions which you’ll need to understand. Sometimes these special prescriptions are as simple as a requirement for all competitors to honor the government aids to navigation near the sailing area, but it’s just this sort of thing that can trip you up and cause you to be disqualified if you’re not aware of it.

It’s usually within this initial section of the SIs that you’ll discover additional requirements, like whether you’ll need any specified safety equipment aboard or whether there’s a requirement for wearing PFDs during the competition. You’ll want to be aware of these requirements so that you can make arrangements to comply with them.

Pay close attention to the following areas that are generally singled out in the SIs: Notice to Competitors; Changes in Sailing Instructions; Signals Made Ashore; Course Descriptions; Marks; The Start; Recalls; and Changes to the Course After the Start. Each of these areas is relatively self-explanatory, but it makes sense to run through them nonetheless for the purposes of clarification.

  • Under Notice to Competitors the organizers will tell just where to look for any changes or amendments to the SIs. Usually this information is found on a notice board in some central location, but if you’re at an event like the Acura SORC in Miami with multiple host yacht clubs, you’ll want to know specifically where to look for information that will affect your class.
  • You’ll also want to know the details about the Changes to the Sailing Instructions, like when and where they will be posted, and this is where you’ll find that stuff.
  • Knowing where to look for the Signals Made Ashore is also something you’ll need to know. Imagine heading out to the wrong racecourse when the signal flags were telling the Bathtub Class sailors to congregate elsewhere.
  • Of course, knowing the Course Descriptions is a fundamental part of preparing for any event. And it’s a good idea to share this information with everyone on board so they know what course configuration you’ll be sailing.
  • Knowing in advance what the Marks will look like can be a critical factor, particularly if there’s another racecourse adjacent to yours.
  • Understanding the procedure that will apply for the Start is always important. For instance, be certain you know if the various classes will be starting in 10 or five-minute intervals.
  • Understanding on how the committee will handle individual and general Recalls is also important. Will your class rotate to the back of the starting sequence, or will it simply restart in five minutes? Knowing this will be key.
  • If you don’t know what kind of marks and signals to look for when the committee decides to Change the Course After the Start, you’ll end up frustrated and probably get worked by your fellow competitors.

Knowing the correct course and marks comes from reading the SIs.

There certainly are other areas within the SIs that will require your attention, but having a handle on the items listed above will get you off to a good start. You’ll also want to know how the penalties will be applied, for instance whether you’ll be allowed to exonerate yourself by executing a 720-degree turn in the case of a foul. In the SIs, you’ll also find information on the specific requirements for filing protests should you be so unfortunate that you need to do so. And you’ll find an explanation of how the event will be scored, which could be critical if you’re in contention near the end of the regatta and need to start calculating what sort of a finish you need to beat a particular boat.

Remember, this is only a basic introduction to understanding the sailing instructions. You can’t put too strong an emphasis on the need to read the SIs of each event carefully and understand them before setting out to race. Doing that will give you a lot more confidence once you’re out on the racecourse and you begin concentrating on the other matters at hand like boat speed and tactics. Of course the best instructor is practical experience, so the next time you're involved in a regatta make a point of reading the SIs. There's no better way to begin mastering this aspect of the sport.

Dan Dickison is offline  
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