Race Officer Guidance

See also:

Take with You

  • Flags - class flag, P, S and X (ideally also AP and 1st sub.)

  • A hooter and a back up for sound signals

  • Pencil/paper or other means of recording times, remembering they may get wet Race sheets are here.

  • At least one (preferably two) digital watches, clocks or timers that show normal clock time

  • VHF set to Ch 8 (club communicatons) and dual watch on Ch 16 (coastguard)

  • Course boards in their display pockets - note there are different course boards for yachts and dinghies.

  • All gear necessary for acting as safety boat

Setting the Course

  • Select a course shape, e.g. sausage or triangle for dinghies (see Dinghy Courses) or a yacht course using the fixed marks and some movable marks (see Yacht Courses).

  • Lay the movable marks. Note the wind direction, set the marks that are going to be the spine of the course first, the windward and leeward marks. Use a flag at either mark to make sure that the line between these marks is as close to the average wind direction as you can make it. 

  • Lay the two startline marks so that they are perpendicular to the first leg and downwind of the upwind mark. It's not optimal to have the start/finish line at the midpoint of a leg. The boats need to pass through the startline on every lap and we want to give the boats as much space as possible to spread out and find clean wind or exploit local differences in conditions. Laying the start line relatively close to the leeward end allows for more decision making on the part of the competitors.

  • Where possible, for dinghies specify port rounding of the marks, the racing rules work smoother that way. Starboard roundings may occasionally be useful, e.g. to allow a triangular course to be kept closer to the shore. For yachts, port and starboard mark roundings will both usually be necessary, specify a port rounding of the windward mark if possible.

  • Do not specify any number of laps - we use average laps so that slow boats do not have to do the same number of laps as faster boats. (Yachts will generally do the same number of laps.)

  • Communicate the course to the racing boats, e.g. using course boards on the RIB and/or verbally (hailing or VHF). Course boards are preferred as there can be no miscommunication.


  • Position your committee boat so that you can look precisely along the start line. This is easily done by laying an anchor upwind of one end of the line and adjusting the scope of your anchor line until you are in position. If in the RIB, you should attach a small buoy to the end of the anchorline in the boat so that if you need to quickly cast off to help in an emergency you save the time of retrieving the anchor, the anchor is not lost and you can return to your position easily to take the finishing times.
  • Give a couple of hoots to check the hooter is working and to warn the sailors that something is about to happen.
  • Yachts use a 5 minute sequence and dinghies a 3 minute sequence.
  • At 3 minutes (5 for yachts), raise the class flag and sound the hooter.
  • At 2 minutes (4 for yachts), raise the P flag and sound the hooter.
  • At 1 minute, lower the P flag and sound the hooter.
  • At 0 minutes, lower the class flag and sound the hooter - the race has now started.

  • If any part of any boats are over the line raise the X flag and sound the hooter again. Keep the X flag raised until all premature starters have started correctly. If they don't, lower it after 5 minutes and mark them as OCS (disqualified for being "On Course Side" at the start). 

  • If you can't tell which boats were over the line, call a general recall (sound the hooter and raise the 1st Sub flag, after everyone has returned drop the flag and start the sequence again.)

  • If something goes wrong, e.g. a timing error, and the boats haven't started raise the Answering Pennant to indicate a postponement. When you are ready to go again, lower the AP and a minute later restart the sequence. If the boats have started, do a general recall (raise the 1st sub) and restart the race.


  • We schedule 3 dingy races on a typical race day so you should aim for a dinghy race to finish after say 25-30 minutes making total time on the water around 2 hours. We schedule 2 yacht races on a typical day,  so the yachts races can be longer.

  • Raise the S flag (and keep it raised) and sound two hoots - all boats will now finish the next time they pass through the finish line

  • The best time to raise the S flag is just before the leading boat has rounded the final mark. Don't leave it until boats are close to the finish line as tactics can be different on a final leg.

  • When all boats have finished or retired, lower the S flag

  • An easy mistake to make with the triangle-sausage course is to forget that boats only complete a lap after completing both a triangle and a sausage. After going upwind to complete a triangle, they still need to complete a sausage. This is ensures each lap is the same length for average lap calculations.


  • Always use clock time (civil time), not elapsed time, preferably in 24 hour format.

  • For each race, record the actual start time (and not the time you start the countdown sequence.)

  • For each boat, record the time they pass through the finish line on each lap. If the S flag is flying, mark an X after the time to confirm that this is their finish time.

  • If a boat retires before passing though the finish line with the S flag raised, they are scored Did Not Finish.

  • Take care to specify the size of rig a laser is using and the number of crew in a Pico or Feva as this effects the handicap.

Sternchase Details

Sternchases are summarised here and further details follow.

Sternchase races are designed to maintain the excitement of close racing throughout; instead of the faster boats disappearing into the distance they are given their handicap at the start crossing the line later than the slower boats.

The principle of a sternchase is that boats start at different times, but if they all race to handicap they should cross the finish line at the same time. The finishing positions of boats in the race are exactly as they are on the water at the finish time. We have a one hour and a 90 minute option for the race.

  • Each boat will have a predetermined start time based on its handicap, so that slow boats start before fast boats. The finish time is also predetermined and is the same for all boats. At the finish time, the race places are determined solely by the positions of boats on the water (the computer is not needed!).
  • The RO kit will contain a flip board displaying numbers allowing you to count down the minutes as they pass and display the progress to the fleet.
  • A boat's start time is the time on a count-down clock (actually flip cards) at which it starts.
    • For example in a 60 minute race,a Solo with a handicap of 1143 has a start time of 50 minutes. When the count-down clock registers 50, it starts.
    • An RS200 with a handicap of 1047 has a start time of 46 minutes and when the count-down clock registers 46 it also starts.
    • The race finishes simultaneously for all boats, e.g. 50 minutes after the Solo's start time and 46 minutes after the RS200s start time.
  • The start times for each boat are shown here based on PY numbers for dinghies and FYCA handicaps for yachts. They are calculated (e.g. by the Sailing Committee) by dividing the boat's handicap by the handicap of a base boat with a PY number of 1200 and multiplying it by the maximum race time.
    • The beauty of this approach is you can remind yourself of your start time if you know your boat's handicap. For the 60 minute race, simply divide by 20 and round to the nearest minute. For the 90 minute race, add half on again.
  • At least 5 minutes before the first boat is due to start, the Race Officer raises the class flag and makes a sound signal. They display the count-down time and with every passing minute reduce this by one minute. This means no waiting about for classes that haven't come to the race, the RO can check his list of start times against the classes that are present and start his countdown 5 minutes before the start time of the first boat to go.
  • As each boat crosses the start line, the Race Officer checks that it has not started too early. If it has, the X flag is displayed in the normal way with a sound signal. The boat may restart after coming back across the line.
  • A few minutes before the scheduled end time of the race, boats should converge, typically towards the line between their last mark and their next mark.
  • At the finish time, the Race Officer should lower the class flag, give a sound signal and record the relative positions of the boats on the water.

Attributes of a Good Course

  • Start Line:

    • A fair start line set perpendicular to the mean wind direction

    • Start line length should equal the combined length of the boats in a start plus between 10 to 50% depending on conditions. Our yachts range from 24 feet to 31 feet long so allow approx 30 feet per yacht in the race. Allow 15 feet per dinghy.

  • Mark placement:

    • The yacht marks are arranged to give you a windward leeward axis to base your course around from many different wind directions, however it is still up to you to place your start line and if necessary drop a mark to make the best course.

    • Ideally we want a windward mark directly upwind of the downwind mark and start line if applicable, this allows the fleet to split and tack in different directions, this introduces tactical choices to the race, if all boats go in one direction - only boat speed features. Equally when returning on the run, if the marks are well set, boats have the choice of which gybe to take first and again, split the fleet.

    • Watch the fleet as they sail the course, are they bunching up at the line? Perhaps the end they all started at is favoured, consider moving that mark back away from the windward mark for the next race.

    • Did they split on the windward leg? Is the windward mark in the middle of the directions the yachts on different tacks are pointing in? On the way back downwind are the yachts travelling directly downwind and on different gybes or are they broad reaching? If the latter, your marks could need moving, maybe the wind direction has changed? Is the change temporary or here to stay?

  • Line placement:

    • Keep the start line closer to the leeward mark to allow the boats to split further apart, if you place the line in the middle of the leg, you force the boats to converge and stick closer to the middle line.

  • Leg length:

    • Shorter legs test crew work more often and are arguably more interesting, however a longer windward and leeward leg allows the fleet to split further apart so a balance must be struck.

  • Course Length:

    • shorter courses can make use average laps in case a boat is lagging far behind the fleet, not all boats need to do the same number of laps. Stop the tailender a lap earlier than the fleet so you can restart the next race more quickly.

    • The longest distance between two fixed yacht marks is 1 nm (E-R, E-N, R-N), the distance from any mark to the Inner mark is approximately 0.6nm. This information should allow you to set a course length that will bring the yachts home in the desired amount of time in order to beat the tide or schedule another race.

    • Our yachts would make 4kts in a force 3 up to 6 kts in heavier winds, (remember on a beat the yachts can’t make a straight line from mark to mark and the leg length will be 40% longer.)

  • Port or starboard?:

    • Port rounding of a windward mark is preferred as the rules work better (it’s not as important around the rest of the course). For dinghies, there is seldom any good reason nor to specify port rounding for all marks - the only reason not to is if starboard roundings keep the course closer to shore, when conditions are difficult. For yachts a good course will often require some starboard roundings.

Example 1: D N I E

If the wind is roughly from the North, you may set the course as shown above, displaying :

    D N I E

This gives a true beat to the dropped mark, a rough run downwind from North to Inner, a close reach and a broad reach. Port roundings, a windward start and finish and no hook finish, which we would have if we didn’t use E to round before the line (hook finishes are never allowed). In addition it keeps the RIB close to the dinghy sailing area in case of an emergency with the funsail that the other safety boat requires assistance with.

The course is about 3nm long should take 30 minutes to 45 minutes in a decent breeze.

There are many other solutions and possible courses to set which would also work well from this wind direction.

Example 2: E N d R D

The other example from the yacht course main page is  E, N, d, R, D.


This course would work best with the wind from the NW because of the two beats, from E to N and from D to R, we also get a nice run from R back to D.

In this example the start line isn’t set perpendicular to the wind if it’s from the NW, it is perpendicular to the line from mark D to E. This means the yachts will be reaching at the start and finish which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the danger it will just compact the boats as they all fight to be most windward boat at the start and give a definite advantage to the one boat who wins that fight early on.

(As an aside: if we deliberately staggered the line so the southerly start mark was far ahead of the perpendicular line, that would make the south end of the line more attractive to start from and would reduce the fight for the north / windward end. You’d be giving the boats starting to the south a headstart, to compensate for the fact they would be to leeward of the other yachts and be on the outside on the approach to the first mark. This would make the start fairer for more of the fleet (and better))

This course is between 5 and 6 nm long and will take 1 hour to 1.5 hours depending on the wind conditions, as such it is better suited for a day when only 1 race is scheduled like a sternchase. It isn’t on paper the best course to set, you won’t see it at the Olympics, but many clubs run races like this at their regattas as a different flavour to triangles and sausages.This course it gives a nice orienteering feel to the race and lots of different points of sail. I’d be more than happy with this course on the day.

If the race was taking too long, or if a shift in the wind direction was making the race a procession with no beats and no splitting of the fleet you could stop the race earlier than planned and reset the course for the next race. To do this you would move the RIB to the next mark on the course and anchor. Raise the “S” flag (meaning shortened course) along with 2 sound signals. The finish line will be between the S flag and the mark, perpendicular to a straight line from the previous mark.

(If it is too deep to anchor the RIB and you need to hold station using the engine, take a transit between a landmark and the mark to ensure you are on the same line as each boat finishes)

Further Information

If you want to learn more, there is lots of information on the web and elsewhere e.g.