Home Lightning Sailing Lightning Race Committee Race Committee Orientation – Running a Good Race
Race Committee Orientation – Running a Good Race Print E-mail
Written by Hank Borchardt   

Introduction: What should PYC sailors expect from the Race Committee.

· Have the committee boats out in the course area early enough to be organized and prepared.

· Set a course with a windward leg as close to straight up-wind as humanly possible.

· Set a starting line that is square with the wind direction.

· Provide a safe racing environment. Marks in sufficiently deep water. Workable wind conditions.

· Start the sequence on time, or as close to it as possible.

· Conduct the race as accurately as possible. Start sequence. Log in boats. Accurate finish positions.

· Don’t be intimidated by racers second-guessing your work. You are absolutely in charge.



Organizing the committee boat:

· A person in charge of wind. “Wind Boss.” Determine wind direction at least 30 minutes before start. Keep track of shifts in wind velocity and direction. Wind building or dying? Steady or wildly oscillating? Educated guess: will there be a decent racing environment during the next hour or so?Decisions to be made: where to place the windward (and leeward) mark. How long a course to set. Whether to start on time or postpone until the situation settles down.

· A person in charge of the Clock. Once the starting sequence has begun, with everybody ready to perform their assigned functions, the clock person is in charge of the starting sequence count-down. Call out time remaining every 30 seconds, down through the 5 minute sequence until the start, continuing at least an additional minute in case there is a rolling re-start due to boats O.C.S. (on course side). Alternatively, get everybody organized to start a new sequence from scratch.

· A person in charge of Flags (the flag takes precedence over horns, which may be late without ill effect). Know which flag signifies what. Have flags accessible, ready to be raised or lowered on instruction of the clock person.

· A person in charge of Horns. Horn to be sounded with or immediately following a flag, never before the flag (if this happens, the RC must abort the starting process and do a re-start, as it will confuse racers).

· A Recorder. This person is to write down sail numbers of boats in the racing area before the start sequence, keep track of boats called OCS and whether or not they cleared the line correctly, keep track of protests noted verbally to the committee boat, and record the order in which boats finish, including the sail numbers of boats which did not finish. Responsible for knowing the status of all boats on the course for safety purposes in the event of a storm, cancellation and the possibility of boats left out on the lake.

· The PRO (Principal Race Officer) What else could possibly be left to do? - 2 jobs. PRO is to make certain all the other tasks are assigned to people who know what they are doing. PRO sights down the starting line to determine whether or not boats are OCS, inform flag and horn people about proper procedure (individual recall or general recall) and inform the recorder of the sail numbers of boats OCS. PRO is also, if possible, to inform the chase boat of OCS boats and call OCS sail numbers on loud speaker (rule states boats themselves are responsible for knowing whether they were OCS, so the notification is optional and advisory).

IF this sounds like a cast of thousands, and the RC has recruited only a limited number of people, jobs may be combined. The Recorder may also be in charge of Flags. The Flag Person may also do Horns, as they are sounded at or after the flags. Because the position of the starting line sight and the horn cord are close together, the PRO could easily do both. During the start sequence the Wind Boss could do almost anything else, as the task temporarily disappears In order to run a race with competence, there must be at least three people on the RC boat, otherwise race management will take on the characteristics of a “Chinese fire drill”.

A note on the organization of the committee boat. (a recommended new procedure in 2006 as a result of HB taking the race management course). In addition to the flag halyards in the cockpit, there will be flags positioned on the bow to signify the OCS re-start procedures, along with a second horn. The normal start sequence flags will operate from the cockpit, the individual and general recall from the bow with the second horn. This permits a prompt notification of the fleet, a more visible position for the fleet to see the flags, and a second horn tone to call attention to it (it will be new, but soon will prove to work better). The Wind Boss, who should be on the bow anyway, may be assigned the bow flag and horn task.

Check list of things to be aboard committee boats and functioning before leaving the docks:

· Buoys with anchor lines and weights, coiled and ready for use.

· Score sheets and writing instruments.

· Watches with stop watch features (at least two)

· Two way radios on both boats that work.

· Depth sounder and loud speaker functioning properly

· Code flags understood and ready for use.

· Sufficient fuel.


Setting the course:

When arriving in the racing area, the first task of the RC is to position the committee boat in a place on the lake which will be the location of the start. Determine the wind direction. Drawing an imaginary line directly up-wind, the boat should be anchored about ¾ of the distance down to leeward along that line (much closer to the down-wind end of the lake). Once the RC boat is anchored, the chase boat should take the windward mark up the course and, in communication with the RC by radio, drop the mark.

· Windward mark should be as close to the windward shore as possible, while remaining in an area where there is still sufficient wind for decent sailing. It is extremely important that the mark be in deep enough water (at least 6 feet) so boats can round it without hitting bottom. Chase boat should sail around the mark to make certain there is adequate water depth all around it.

· Leeward mark should be set in the opposite direction from the RC boat, directly down-wind in sufficiently deep water. The objective is to provide a straight windward to leeward line using as much lake as possible. It might be preferable to set the leeward mark after setting the starting line, as it is not needed right after the start. RC may take its time doing this.


This Windward-Leeward course configuration conforms to the current habits of the PYC. It involves two course marks, rounded to port, sailed twice around with an additional half leg with the RC moving to the windward mark to do the finish at the end of the last or only race. It is not the only course configuration available. RC might choose a Triangle with a wing mark, or an Olympic course, but need not consider that possibility.

Setting the starting line:

Looking up-wind, the pin mark is to the left of the RC boat, on an imaginary line at right angles to the wind. It is important to set a line long enough to allow each boat a chance to start well, but short enough to make it a contest. (Skippers complain about short lines, but never overly long ones!). The rule of thumb is that there be approximately 1 1/3 boat lengths of line for every competing boat. In the case of Lightnings, 26 to 27 feet of line per boat. In light air, a shorter line, in heavy air a longer one.

· The line should be square, at a 90 degree angle to the wind. Some PROs set the pin end slightly to windward of 90 degrees, tempting boats to use the whole line. This gives a slight advantage to the boat starting at the pin end, and avoids the “zoo start” with a huge number of boats clustered near the boat. “Slightly” means no more than 5 deg. A yellow flag in a holder on the port side of the cabin top is the precise :”boat end”.


· A note on anchoring marks. The anchor lines should be coiled well ahead of the beginning of the start sequence to avoid tangles and other screw-ups. It should be clean and ready to be used, in order to avoid communications difficulties between the RC and chase boats over delays to drop. It should be dropped after the RC determines it is in the right place, right when everybody agrees it is in the right place.

· The “scope” of the anchor line is the ratio of the length of the line in proportion to the depth of the water. It should be approximately 3 times the depth. If it is less, the anchor is likely to drag on the bottom. If it is more, boats are likely to snag their centerboards on it while rounding. Those conducting the race management seminar recommend that the yacht club provide mini-weights tied to the anchor lines 6 feet from the mark end to hold the anchor line vertical near the rounding area. PYC will probably do this.







Starting the race:

When all parties are prepared, but not before the published starting time in the race instructions, the sequence may begin.

· Approximately 15 seconds before the sequence begins, the RC will sound a series of horns to notify the fleet that the process is about to begin.

· clip_image010clip_image011Five minutes before the start, the class flag (in Lightnings a white flag with a red lightning flash) is raised, accompanied by one short horn blast. This is called the warning signal.

· Four minutes before the start, one minute after the warning signal, the preparatory signal is raised, accompanied by a long horn blast.

Flag “P”


· One minute before the start, the preparatory signal, flag “P’ is dropped accompanied by a long horn blast.

· 5 minutes into the sequence, the start is signified by dropping the class (lightning) flag.

When one or more boats are OCS:

§ The PRO is responsible for sighting the line and determining whether or not any part of a boat or its crew is OCS. Although communication with a chase boat by radio stationed at the other end of the line is a good idea, only the PRO calls boats OCS. Immediately after the starting signal the PRO may institute one of two courses of action: an individual recall or a general recall.

§ Individual recall: If the person sighting the line can identify the OCS boats, this provision may be invoked. Code flag “X” accompanied by one additional horn after the starting horn. It does not matter how many boats were OCS as long as the PRO can identify all of them. In the event of an individual recall, the recorder writes the sail numbers of all OCS boats. An attempt is made to notify OCS boats by loud speaker or the chase boat approaching them, but it is not necessary. Boats themselves are responsible for knowing whether the signal was for them! The “X” flag stays up until all OCS boats have come back and re-crossed the starting line or until 4 minutes have elapsed since the start (Rule 29.1). When the last boat clears the line, the RC does not say “all clear” or anything to that effect. The lowering of the “X” flag is the proper notification that all OCS boats have started properly.

“ X” Flag


§ General recall: This provision is invoked when the RC cannot identify all OCS boats. It amounts to a complete new starting sequence. Following the PRO’s decision to do general recall, the “First substitute” flag is raised with two horns. This serves to abandon the race and get boats returning to the starting area. Following the general recall, the RC starts a new clock sequence, usually on a one minute roll with the warning signal one minute after the previously aborted start (Rule 29.2). Should the committee not be in a position to move that quickly they should raise the Answering Pennant (AP) with one horn, and lower it one minute before starting the new sequence.

First Substitute Flag


Postponement: It may be necessary to stop the starting sequence and run a fresh start. This can only be done before the starting signal has been raised. It is appropriate to postpone when:

· The R.C. has committed an error it cannot correct before the start

· The wind has shifted so marks need to be moved.

· The wind has dropped to the point where sailing is impossible.

Races are postponed by raising the AP flag accompanied by three horns

Answering Pennant Flag


Abandonment: In the event the R.C. wants to cancel a race after the start, its only option is the N flag which aborts a race in progress: It is appropriate to abandon when:

· Impending weather makes it advisable to get boats off the lake as soon as possible.

· The wind drops and will probably stay that way, making even a shortened course unlikely to finish

Races are abandoned by raising the N flag accompanied by three horns.

“N” Flag


There are occasions when a series of general recalls takes place, giving rise to frustration on the part of RC and racers alike. This may happen because the RC has set a poor starting line with one end seriously favored or with a line that is too short. After determining that this is so, the RC should rectify the situation by re-setting the line. AP flag with three horns. If, however, the RC is convinced it has an appropriate starting line, and the general recalls are invoked because of over-eager sailors, a starting penalty may be instituted to secure their proper behavior. The R.C. has two practical remedies: The Round the ends rule and the 20% penalty

The “round the ends” (Rule 30.1) on the next start sequence when the RC raises the “ I “flag at the same time as the warning which remains raised until the start. This means that any boat that is OCS during the minute before the start must round either starting mark from the course side to the pre-start side before starting. This means all boats, not just ones that were OCS the last time.

“I” Flag


If the “I” flag penalty didn’t get everybody’s attention, try the 20% scoring penalty which subjects each OCS boat to a lowering of its finish position for that race. During the 20% penalty start, any boat that is inside a triangle made by the two ends of the starting line and the weather mark during the last minute before the start gets the penalty as well as having to return to the non-course side of the starting line. The “Z” flag is raised with the warning Rule 30.2

“Z” Flag


Procedures to be followed during the race: Once the race is under way, eat a sandwich, relax, keep in communication with the crash boat and watch what is going on.

· Wind Boss and others watch for changes in the wind. If it shifts more than 15-20 degrees it is not much of a contest for the racers, which might even be able to lay the mark on one tack. The windward mark should be moved before the boats round it the second time. The chase boat should be instructed to move the mark(s) around to re-establish a square course.

· A course change must be signified to racers before they round the mark previous to the mark about to be moved. The mark itself may be moved after they round the previous mark, but the notification must be at the previous mark. The chase boat should station itself at a point approaching the mark which boats must pass as they round, close enough to be seen without obstructing their sailing. Signal flag “C” is displayed on the crash boat accompanied by a series of horns repeated every time a fresh group of boats arrives at the previous mark. (Rule 33). For long legs on places like St.Clair, the C flag should be accompanied by a green flag if the change is to starboard, red if it is to port. The changed mark itself, of course, must be moved before boats get there

“C” Flag


· If a mark is missing because it sank or is lost, the crash boat may become that mark by displaying signal flag “M” along with repeated horns as boats approach. This signal to racers means “round me. I am now the mark.”

“M” Flag


· If the course is being shortened because of a drop in wind velocity or some other credible reason, a mark previous to the designated finish mark may become the finish mark. That new finish line will be designated by code flag “S” accompanied by two horns from the boat that has become the finish Line.

“S” Flag


The finish:

RC should set a finish line significantly shorter than the one used for the start. It is easier to take down sail numbers and boats do not need a particularly long line. A line of 7-8 boat lengths is appropriate. One person to sight the line and call out sail numbers. Horns are nice but not necessary. At least give a horn to the first place boat. Have two persons write down sail numbers of boats as they finish and compare the lists later to make sure the results are recorded accurately.

· If wind is decent, the RC boat should move from the starting area and use the windward mark to create the finish line. A solid blue flag on the boat indicates “committee boat on station at finish”. The yellow flag indicating the boat end of the line should remain raised as it was during the start sequence. In the event of multiple races on a particular day, this boat movement should take place only on the finish of the final race.

· In addition to order of finish, the recorder should write sail numbers of boats indicating intent to protest, noting whether or not they carried protest flag crossing the finish line, and sail numbers of boats that did not finish. All RC boats should stay out in the racing area to tow boats to shore if necessary and make certain nobody is being left out there, especially with impending bad weather.

· After all these tasks are completed, committee boats should be cleaned up, signal flags returned to their proper places, anchor lines coiled and stowed, and marks returned to the club house. Score sheets should be placed in their proper place in the club house for the scorer’s use. In the event protests have been lodged, the permanent protest committee (not the RC) should be told that protest hearings must be conducted. A written protest must be lodged within one hour of the RC boat reaching its dock. Protest hearings are not the RC’s business unless they are called as witnesses to an incident. RC’s do not file protests on their own initiative.


The flagL” with one horn, “come within hail” instructs sailors to approach the RC boat where verbal changes in race instructions are made. Boats will be close enough to the RC to hear the same message as other boats. Notifying boats OCS may be done, but care should be taken to notify all OCS boats with the same message. It is not necessary! Otherwise the RC should not respond verbally to racers, answer questions or provide information. Such action distracts the committee and creates bad habits among sailors who should read their rule books and race instructions. After the race the PRO might answer questions but not on the race course. Persons offering advice to the RC or harassing them should be told after the race that their behavior was not appropriate. Information given to one should be given to all. Communication during sailboat races is to be done with signal flags and horns. Yelling “all clear” after a start is redundant. If all are not clear, they will be notified with an individual recall or a general recall under the proper flags. Flags and horns constitute the common language in sailing to be used between RC and various sailors.

“L” Flag



It is the skipper and crew of each boat which determines whether the racing environment is sufficiently safe for sailing. If storm conditions exist, it is up to the boat to determine how much it can handle. The race committee, however, also has some responsibility for safe racing. In extreme conditions, it is appropriate to fly the N flag and send them home. In conditions that are dicey but not impossible, the RC may fly the Y flag accompanied by one horn. This signal should be made at the time the warning signal is made, but rule book does not specify. It could be raised later if in a position where all sailors can see it. It means “Personal Floatation Devices (PFD’s) are required”.

“Y” Flag


A note about the Flag “AP”: it is the race committee’s friend. It should be used any time the committee is aware it has made a mistake that could lead to confusion among racers causing some of them to sail a race that would have been better had the race been conducted without the mistake. It could be an error in the clock, use of the wrong flag, a horn ahead of a flag or any other error committed before the start. Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong” applies to RC people as readily as anybody. The trick is to admit it while you can.

Answering Pennant “AP” Flag



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