What a race committee does
Sailboat racing can’t happen without a race committee to run the races, and the quality of the committee can make the difference between a really great day on the water and a completely horrendous experience. A good committee will make sure that the racing is fair, fun, and safe, while a poor committee may accomplish none of those objectives.
First, a committee must have certain resources to be successful:
· People. A committee can’t operate without volunteers; for each regatta, there will need to be people to run the signal boat and other boats, register participants, set courses, signal starts and finishes, time races, calculate scores, hear protests, arrange related social activities, and more. In a small club, finding people who are willing to help can be a challenge, and one person may find him- or herself doing many tasks. This can result in both burnout and ineffectiveness. It is good to find volunteers and treat them well, so they will keep coming back.
· Boats. Some clubs are fortunate enough to own a few boats that can be used for signal boats, mark boats, safety boats, and other on-the-water support. Other clubs have to rely on borrowed boats. At the very least, there has to be at least one boat for a signal boat, and ideally there is at least one other boat on the course for support functions. As with volunteers, borrowed boats are a precious resource to be treated carefully.
· Equipment. A committee should have a good kit of equipment used to run races: buoys, signal flags, sound-signaling devices, safety equipment, VHF radios, rule books, and more. This equipment must be kept in good condition, and it should be kept in a location where the volunteers for a regatta can easily get it. This can be a challenge for a small club that doesn’t own any facilities.
· Coordination/Communication: If committee members and race participants can’t communicate with each other, major problems arise. It is essential to have a clearly established system to make sure that vital information makes it to those who need to have it.
· Knowledge. At least one person serving on the committee should have a solid grounding in the Racing Rules of Sailing and the procedures for running races, both as practiced universally and the local club’s adaptations of those procedures. It is useful for other volunteers to have at least a basic understanding of the rules and procedures; on-the-water training is good for beginners. In addition, knowledge of local conditions and competitors will help a committee to plan races that are suitable, safe, and enjoyable for all.
Once the committee has the resources, it can work on making regattas successful. While perfection may not be possible, a well organized committee will work to prevent disasters and keep improving the experience for all involved.
· In advance: Work with the organizing authority (usually the local club) to write and publish the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions. These documents are absolutely necessary even for informal “beer-can” races, and they must be in writing. The NOR is officially the responsibility of the club, and the SI is the race committee’s job, but since the two documents need to agree with each other, the club and the committee should work together. Racers count on these documents to spell out how races are to be run; a lack of guidelines can lead to serious misunderstandings and nasty bad feelings.
· Also in advance of the regatta: Coordinate with other groups that use the same water you do. Make sure you don’t schedule a big event at the same time as a big fishing tournament or jet-boat race meet.
· At the beginning of the regatta: Register participants. Make sure all participants pay any fees that are due. Make sure all participants have a copy of the SI and any related documents (course maps, etc.). Check weather forecasts and be prepared to make changes in plan should conditions be unsuitable; communicate those changes clearly to all involved.
· For the racing: Set the starting line, finish line, and any other marks that you need to set for the course. Run the starting sequence for races. Time starts and finishes. Keep track of boats on the course and be able to help those who have problems. Change courses and move marks as necessary to adapt to changing conditions. Remain in the racing area until all boats finish racing for the day and return to harbor; make sure all boats return safely.
· After the races: Retrieve all marker buoys. Inspect all equipment; clean what’s dirty, fix what’s broken (if possible), make note of what’s missing, and point out to the committee chair any broken or missing items that you couldn’t take care of. If the committee borrowed a boat or boats, make sure they are clean and in good condition before returning them.
· Scoring: Calculate corrected times for mixed fleet racing; determine finishing positions; calculate overall scores; post preliminary results. Arrange for a protest committee to hear protests; adjust scores to reflect protest committee rulings.
· At last: Attend the awards ceremony. Present awards. Eat, drink, be merry, and if all of the participants are happy, pat yourself on the back for a job well done.