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Old 01-26-2001
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Dan Dickison is on a distinguished road
Racing Roles

Please clarify for me the following roles, mostly in terms of responsibility regarding who calls the shots and when?

  • Owner
  • Skipper
  • Helmsman
  • Tactician
  • Rest of crew

Please assume they are all on board during a typical club race.

Dan Dickison responds:

Thanks for the question. In the scenario you've created—the club race—the owner ordinarily has the final say regarding overall decision making. By virtue of ownership, he or she is the master of the vessel. Often, the owner will defer to whoever has the role of skipper because of that person's experience. If the helmsman is neither the owner nor the skipper, her or she really doesn't enter into the decision making until you're talking about close-quarter encounters with other boats. In that case, it's most expeditious for the helmsman to make his or her own decisions on things like avoiding collisions.

Now the tactician has a fairly specific role on a club racer. He or she conceives, communicates, and executes the strategy. Of course a skipper or an owner can always overule the tactician for any variety of reasons, but the most successful boats are those that give their tacticians the freedom to make and execute strategic decisions.

Among the rest of the crew, you might have someone identified as the crew boss, and it's that person's job to organize the crew for maneuvers. He or she makes sure that each member of the team is ready to go and the equipment they need is in good working order. On many boats, it's the crew boss who calls a particular maneuver like a spinnaker set or the trip of the spinnaker pole on a dip-pole jibe. This is really a matter of organizational preference and varies from crew to crew.

On some boats, with Type A personalities on the helm, that person will more than likely assert him or herself when it comes to commands for maneuvers. On the boat that I race on right now (I'm the tactician), I tell the crew boss that I want to tack, and he counts it down for the rest of the crew. The same thing happens with the jibes, and it's relatively fluid. But I call the spinnaker sets and the douses because I can factor in what's going on around us regarding the proximity of other boats. Regarding the remaining members of the crew, there are certain specific roles (bow person, mast man, pit crew, grinder, trimmers, etc.), who each control their areas of the boat, but should be responsive to the players I mentioned earlier (skipper, owner, tactician, and crew boss). I hope this information helps you in your sailing.

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