HLSTC Race Officer Guide

Checklist: Summary of the job

Here's a summary of what needs to be done. (It doesn't mean you have to do it all yourself: there are always other people about, who can offer advice, and sometimes even actual help.)

More experienced racers will be able to help you decide on the course layout;
the Officer of the Day (OOD) can help you if you need to go out in a power boat; and
friendly spectators can often help you with signalling and with recording the finish.

If you need more explanation of what's involved in any of these items, just follow the links to the detail sections.

Get out the equipment

Buoys, flags, hooter, clipboard, race sheets, Race Officer Handbook. (more detail)

Set out the course

Avoid any dead areas, and liaise with other users of the lake to agree which part you can use. Start with a long beat to windward, turn left (port rounding) at the windward mark, follow with a reach or run (or several), go onto another beat, then reach/run(s) again, until you get back to the start. Make sure one of your marks is near the clubhouse, so you can log the boats through on each lap; this mark will also be the finish. (more detail)

Give the race briefing

Draw up the course on the whiteboard, and explain it to the competitors. Tell them how and when you will start the race, and how long it will go on. Get everybody to sign on. If you are running a pursuit race, set out the various start and finish times, and make sure everyone understands. (See the separate explanatory section about pursuits.) Make any necessary announcements. (more detail)

Control the start

Work through the signal sequence (sounds and flags) as shown on the clipboard. If there are any false starters, make sure they return and start cleanly. (more detail)

Record the boats' progress through the race

Every time a boat passes the clubhouse mark, record its running order on the result sheet. Keep track of lap times for the leading boat(s), so you know when to finish the race. (more detail)

Control the finish

For handicap races: as each boat crosses the finish line, sound the hooter and record the boat's finishing time. For pursuit races: see the detailed instructions in the pursuit section. (more detail)

Record the results

Work out the placings and make them available to competitors. (more detail)

End of race

If there's another race, do it all again. At the end of the day, put away the equipment, and get the results sheet(s) to a racing committee member. (more detail)

Pursuit races

If you are running a pursuit race, you must use the Pursuit Schedule in the Race Officer Handbook, to ensure the right start and finish arrangements. (more detail)

Additional notes

This is a collection of odd bits of information that are not covered in the main sections above. (more detail)

Getting out the equipment

The buoys are kept in a locker outside the back classroom (the room behind the office). You will usually work with the OOD when getting these out and placing them. The flags (painted wooden boards on posts) are kept in the small shed nearby. The hooter, clipboard (with official watch) and the race officer's handbook are kept in the back classroom. Check that the hooter and watch are working, and that you know how to drive them. Check that you have enough race sheets for the day, a working pen and also a scrap of paper for impromptu notes.

Setting the course


Above all you will be constrained by the weather. Is there any wind at all, or are you looking at a millpond? On the other hand, is there a howling gale? Is there fog or ice on the lake? Or is a thunderstorm threatening? In several of these cases you and the racers may agree that racing is off.

And then there are other users of the lake. Are there any fishermen to consider? Is the army using part of the lake? Are there other HLSTC activities needing space (training courses, group activities, etc.)? You and the OOD should make contact with the other people, and together work out what is a reasonable area for you to use for the course.

And now the trickiest part of the job. Because of the irregular shape of the lake, we can't use a standard course every time, and you have to set out something that matches the conditions on the day. You want it to be a fair test of sailing skills, with luck playing as small a part as possible. But keep in mind that the wind is changing all the time, and this affects the various areas of the lake in different ways. You don't want some boats to be struggling or even becalmed, while boats elsewhere are making good progress, so try to avoid using the worst affected areas.


What are the things you need to achieve?

First you need to have an adequate start line, at the beginning of a longish beat to windward, then a series of other legs, to test a variety of points of sailing, including reaches, a dead run, and possibly another beat. At turning marks, you should have a reasonable balance of gybes and tacks.

And you need to be sure that you can monitor progress from your chosen station, usually the clubhouse.

So what do you do?

First, consider the wind. Where is it coming from? How steady is it? Is it in line with the forecast? Can you reasonably predict what it will be doing as the race proceeds? Can you see where to set a beat to windward for a useful length? Can you see any areas that should be avoided because there isn't any reliable wind there?

You'd like each lap to take somewhere around 8-10 minutes, so, if there's plenty of wind, make the most of the available area; if it's very light, use a smaller area, and keep away from the wind shadows.

You should set the start line at the beginning of a beat to windward (as nearly as you can make it), and this beat should be as long as practicable. If it's your lucky day, there will be a south-west wind - that is in fact the commonest direction - and you can control the start from the clubhouse, and let the start line double as the finishing line. But for most other wind directions, you will need to go out in a power boat to do the start somewhere else.

The line itself needs to be long enough to give room for the number of boats taking part - a boat-length per boat would be good - and it should preferably have a mark at each end, with ample sailing room around them; so if you are starting at the clubhouse, you need an Inner Distance Mark (IDM) as well as the Outer (ODM); if you are going to be out with a power boat, the boat can serve as the IDM. You also need enough room for sailing about behind the start line. The start line itself should be more or less square to the wind direction (the wind, not the course to the first mark) - but set the port end just slightly forward of the starboard end, enough to encourage people to use all parts of the line.

You want the beat to be long enough to get the boats spread out a bit: you don't want them all arriving in line abreast at the first mark. And if you can manage it, you should make it a port rounding. (Here's why.) But sometimes you don't really have a choice, and it's not the end of the world.

From this point on, you follow up with a succession of reaches and runs, and also another beat if you can manage to fit one in - beats are an important test of sailing skill. You should normally bring the course back to one of the starting marks to complete a circuit. No matter where you made the start, you should aim to set the finish line at the clubhouse, and the course should go through the finish line on each lap, to allow you to record progress.

When you are deciding on the turning marks, try to get a rough balance between the numbers of gybes and tacks - work out which marks will have which kind of turn. Also give a bit of thought to the exact positioning: you don't want to create a lot of conflict between people rounding a mark and people going past it on a completely different leg, especially if the conditions are a bit lively.

And you must NEVER set a course that would involve boats meeting one another rounding the same mark in opposite directions.

Laying the marks

Sometimes you will do all the planning from the shore, and then you or the OOD can set out the marks at the agreed spots; at other times it will be preferable to go out in the power boat, to get a better idea of the wind at each position, or just to fine-tune the settings.

The Briefing

Draw a plan of the course on the whiteboard in readiness for the briefing. (example here) You should aim to start the briefing 15 minutes before the scheduled start time for the race. Sound the hooter several times and announce "Briefing".

When people have gathered around the whiteboard, introduce yourself and give the name of the race that is to be run. Say where the wind is coming from, and describe the course you have set, using the whiteboard. Make sure the start and finish arrangements are clear, and indicate which marks are used on every lap, and which ones only at the start or finish. Point out any restrictions or hazards that people need to be aware of, and explain how you are organising the start and the finish. You should say when and where you intend to give the five-minute warning signal for the start - make sure there is enough time for people to reach the start area. For the finish, one option is to set a fixed number of laps for the race, but we more often leave the number open, and 'shorten course' at a suitable time during the race to give the desired duration. Get agreement on the target duration for the race.

(There are special arrangements for Pursuit races, which you will find in a separate section below.)

Invite questions and clarifications, and deal with any points raised. If there are any special announcements to be made, now is the time to do it. Before ending the briefing, make sure all racers have signed on. (You will previously have made sure there is a sign-on sheet on the clipboard.)

The start

You need to be in the right place, and have with you the clipboard (and watch), the hooter and the flags for the start sequence. The right place may be in front of the clubhouse, or you may have to go in the power boat to the start line elsewhere - either tie up to a point ashore, or anchor offshore. It's usually better to get someone to drive you there -either the OOD or somebody else experienced- that way you'll have enough hands to cope with the flags. (You can see pictures of the flags at each stage, in the additional notes.)

First set up the transit flag (usually orange or red) to mark the inner end of the start line.

Make sure the official watch is set up to the start program, and showing 5:00 (5 minutes).

You should aim to initiate the start sequence at the time previously announced, but be a little flexible if people have difficulty in getting to the start area in time.

Call out a warning, and, after a few (10-20) seconds, start the stopwatch, and begin the signal sequence, detailed here. (It is also summarised on the clipboard.)

As you are getting close to giving the actual start signal, you need to sight along the line; then, if any boat is the wrong side of the line at the start signal, you have to hail it immediately, and give a warning that it is over. That boat must return completely to the start side of the line and then start cleanly, or it will be disqualified ('OCS' - on course side).

If you have a significant number of boats over the line, you have the option to announce a General Recall. In this case, all boats must return, and you rerun the start sequence. (Remember to give people time to reset their watches.)

You should normally remain in the start area long enough to confirm that all boats have started properly. (They can't do that if the transit flag is no longer there.) Next you get back quickly to the clubhouse (if you are not already there), taking the equipment back with you.

If you are running a pursuit race, most of these instructions are still relevant, but the detail is different - see the separate pursuit section.

Progress of the Race

After the start, the watch counts up from 0:00, and you will be using the times to control and record the finish.

Set up the transit flag to mark the finish line, and then start recording the progress of all the boats as they go past you.

The score sheet is marked out with columns - one for each lap - and rows - one for each boat. As each boat passes, you write a figure into its place on the sheet, to indicate its running order on the particular lap: a 1 for the first to pass you; a 2 for the next, and so on. In the later stages of a race, some boats may have lapped others, so you may be filling some places in one column before the preceding column has been completed - proceed with caution!

Keep track of the time taken for each lap: probably the best is to note the running time of whichever happens to be the leading boat at each lap. Also, if the start was not at the clubhouse, it will be helpful if you record the time for a boat to get from the starting mark to the clubhouse mark. (Do this on a later lap, not at the start.)

It is easy to be distracted during the main part of the race, so that you may fail to notice a boat passing if there is a drama going on elsewhere. This can cause problems later on, and you just need to stay on the ball.

Finishing the race

This section applies only to handicap races. For the pursuit race finish, see here.

Deciding when to finish

Even if you declared a fixed number of laps, you still need to make sure the race doesn't go on too long, and for this you use the Shorten Course procedure, described next. Otherwise you start finishing boats as the leader crosses the finish line after completing the set number of laps. If you didn't set a fixed number, you always use Shorten Course.

Whichever option you chose, you need to keep track of how long the laps are taking: this is why you were recording selected running times earlier. So now, as the lead boat comes through the finish line each time, you make a prediction of how many laps will add up to the required total time; your prediction will probably change as the wind rises and falls.

When you get to the point of deciding that one more lap will give the right answer, you prepare to signal the Shortened Course. (This doesn't apply if you had a set number and it's working out right). As the leading boat gets onto the final leg of the last lap (it is passing the penultimate mark), you give two hoots and raise flag S - blue on white.

Finishing the boats

And from now on, starting with the lead boat, as each boat passes over the line, you sound the hooter once, and write down the time of finishing, as well as the position in the running. The hoot should come as the foremost part of the boat crosses the line.

You will find it easier to manage if you have an assistant to sound the hooter, and you concentrate on recording the result. And if several boats are going to go through within a few seconds, don't panic: just jot down the names and times on an odd bit of paper (for instance the back of the race sheet), and then, when there's a slightly quieter patch, transfer them into the proper places on the sheet.

As mentioned above, some boats will be more than a lap behind the leading one. You may choose to finish them on the first time they pass after the leader finishes, or you may require them to complete the proper number of laps. If you finish them early, you need to record the actual number of laps completed as well the measured finishing time, so that the time can be scaled up as necessary. Note that scaling is more complicated when the start and finish lines are in different places, but on the other hand, it may take an unreasonable length of time for the boat to finish the full number of laps. Play it by ear.

Some boats will have retired voluntarily (or otherwise) during the race. Simply write RTD or RET against them in the Corrected Time column, and that's it - you've finished with them.

Recording the results

By now, you've done the important part of the recording, and the final result will be worked out by the Sailwave program later. But people like to have a provisional idea of how they've got on, and for this you use the handicap tables in the Race Officer Handbook.

If there is any scaling to be done, for boats that have not done the full number of laps, do this first. Turn up the Add-a-Lap tables in the book, and find the one that deals with the number of laps the boat has done. Look up the measured time and read off the adjusted time for one lap more, and enter it into the Add laps column on the scoresheet. Occasionally you will have to apply a double adjustment. For example, where the leader has done 5 laps, and this boat has done only three: first use Add-a-lap 3 to 4, and then look up the new figure in Add-a-lap 4 to 5, and enter the 5-lap figure you read out. All these figures are in minutes and seconds.

Now you have an effective measured time for every boat. The next stage is to convert this into a Corrected Time using the handicap tables.

For each boat in turn, turn up the handicap table for that class of boat. (It's easiest to stay on the same page while you do all boats of the one class.) Look up the measured time and read off the corresponding corrected time, and enter that into the corrected time column on the score sheet. These read out times are in seconds only (typically 2000 to 3000 or so).

Finally look through these corrected times. The smallest one indicates the winner, so against this one, write a 1 in the Position Column, then against the next lowest write a 2, and so on. These are the provisional finishing positions. They will usually be confirmed by Sailwave, but there are sometimes slight variations, because of different handicap numbers, or rounding errors, or even (oops!) simple slip-ups.

End of the race

If this is the last race of the day, you need to collect up the marks, and put all the equipment away.

The race sheets should be passed to the racing secretary (or left with the clipboard for later collection). Make sure the sheets are clearly identified with the date and time of the race(s), and marked with your name.

If there's another race, you need to decide whether to use the same course again, or to ring the changes. Take soundings from the racers to help you decide. If you use the same again, you don't necessarily have to go through the full briefing again, but . . . You may still need to deal with pursuit timings, if applicable, and make sure you brief any people who were not involved in the previous race.

The Pursuit Race

Pursuit principles

It helps if you have a good understanding of the basic idea behind the pursuit race.

Instead of starting all boats at the same time, and then correcting each boat's finishing time to deal with differences in boats' designed performance, we start boats at different times, to account for these performance differences. The slowest class starts first, then successively quicker classes up to the fastest, with intervals between classes calculated according to their handicap number. There is a range of nominal times for the race available - giving around 40, 50 or 60 minutes for a boat in the middle of our range. The finish signal is given at an exact time interval after the start, no matter where on the course any boat may be.

By this time, if we have calculated all the start times correctly, and all boats are sailed with the same skill level, then (disregarding wind variations and sheer luck), you would expect all the boats to have covered the same distance, and so arrived at the same point on the course, though we can't predict where that might be. So if, at the finish, boat A is ahead of boat B (after taking account of possible differences in numbers of laps sailed), then boat A has beaten boat B, and so on for all the others. There is no more calculation to be done.

The pursuit course

You use exactly the same ideas in setting the pursuit course as you would for a handicap, except that, if you only have a few boats - say up to three - going off at any one start time, it is not so critical to have an upwind start, and you may choose to run the start near the clubhouse on a different point of sail. (But NOT a dead run; go around the other way!) There is NO finish line for a pursuit race.

The pursuit briefing and start

There is actually a succession of starts, not just the one, and the sequence depends on the particular boats racing. You need to make a list of all the boats taking part, starting with the slowest and running through to the fastest. Turn up the appropriate Pursuit sheet (40 or 50 minutes as decided) in the Race Officer Handbook, and find the column of times that starts with the slowest boat sailing. Copy out the times from this column for each boat sailing, and also the finish time from the bottom of the column. (You need a copy on the whiteboard for the briefing, and you also need to take a paper copy with you for actually running the start.) All these times are exact multiples of half a minute, and are shown as e.g. 0.0, 6.5, etc. with a finish time like 44.5, and they give the time in minutes for each event after the first boat's start time.

Your briefing should describe the course in the same way as for a handicap race, and you also need to ensure that all sailors know the start time that applies to them. You should also remind everyone to keep track of their position, relative to boats near them, at the finishing time.

You set the official watch in the usual way, for a 5-4-1-0 start, and run through the normal start sequence of flags and signals. When the watch reaches zero, the first class is started with the usual signals, and then, for all the rest of the classes, the only signal is a single hoot for each, with no flag signal. For all classes you make an announcement (like 'one minute to the Laser start') at an appropriate time after the start of the preceding class, to give reasonable warning, and again ('Laser start') at the actual start time. Each boat should already be aware of its proper start time, but some may have been out of range when you gave the initial start signal, and thus be needing a bit of help.

Recording pursuit progress

If there is a wide spread of start times, you are quite likely to have slow boats coming around again through the start line before you have started the fastest boats, and you need to keep track of this for recording purposes.

Once you have got everybody started, you keep track of progress in the usual way, paying particular attention to which lap each boat is on, because of the staggered start.

The pursuit finish

Keep an eye on the time as the race goes on. It is important to finish the race at exactly the right time, or the positions will be meaningless. Sound the hooter (one long blast) when the watch reaches the figure you read off the bottom of the column. For many of the boats, you will now be able to determine the finishing order from your own notes, but occasionally there will be two or more boats in close competition and so situated that you cannot see which one is leading; in this case you can only ask the sailors themselves, or sometimes others close by. There may also be occasions when the sailors themselves do not know - if, for instance they are on opposite sides of a beat. In this case they have to sail on until they next come together, or to the next mark, when the position will be clarified.

The pursuit result

Once you have got the tricky cases sorted out, whatever you write down as the finishing order is the official result. There is no further correction or calculation.

Additional notes

Drawing up the course

Show each of the marks as a blob, with its mark number (or IDM/ODM), and if possible its colour (single letter). Draw the start and finish lines as dotted lines, and indicate the path of a boat by direction arrows around each of the turning marks; some people prefer to draw the whole course as a continuous line.

Here is an example, taken from an actual race. Course Diagram

The arrow near the military hard shows the direction of the predominant wind on this occasion - somewhere near due west.

The list under 'Course' says that the start line is between the boat (moored near the island) and mark 5. Then the repeating part of the course goes to mark 1 (near the clubhouse), to be taken to port, then 2 to starboard, 3 to starboard, 4 to starboard, and back to 5 to starboard. This course has two beats: from 5 to 1, and then from 2 to 3. This whole sequence is repeated, as indicated by the brace. (If you choose to fix the number of laps, you will write that number against this brace.) Finally the course goes to the finish line between mark 1 and the transit flag at the clubhouse. Mark 1 must be taken to port at the finish, as on previous laps.

(Taking a mark to port means it is on your port side as you round.)

If this was a pursuit race, you would list the various start times below 'Start'.

The equipment

The clipboard carries the sign-on and score sheets, and also the official watch.

The watch runs a programme for the international standard 5-4-1-0 start. When you select PROG, it sets the time to 5:00; then when you press START, it starts counting down, and gives you special sound signals at the lead-up to each whole minute until 0:00. After that, it counts up, so you can see how long the race has been running. Take care not to press START again, or the watch will stop.

You need to make sure you have enough sign-on sheets, and mark one up with the name of the race and your name and the OOD's.

The hooter is used for sounding signals, and for making announcements. Make sure it is working before you need to use it, and check that you know how to drive it. If there isn't one working, you may need to use a whistle, and be ready to shout.

The 'flags' are actually painted wooden boards on posts. You need:
Flag E (blue/red - Warning)
Flag P (white on blue - Preparatory)
Flag S (blue on white - Shortened course)
Flag B or similar (red or orange - Transit)

The marks are buoys of various colours. Each one has an anchor line and a weight to sit on the bottom. (Remember to wash off the mud as you retrieve them after the racing.)


The start sequence

This is what you need to do with the flags and hooter. (Easier if there are two of you.)

First you call out to alert everyone, then after about 10 to 20 seconds you start the watch, sound the hooter, and raise flag E (blue/red), all simultaneously. This is the official five-minute Warning.
The watch starts to count down from 5:00, and subsequent timings are taken from the watch.

At -4:00: sound the hooter and raise flag P also (white on blue) - Preparatory signal.

At -1:00: make a long hooter sound and lower flag P - one minute signal.

At 0:00: sound the hooter and lower flag E - Start.

(All these signals have special meanings in the rules.)

These pictures show the flags set out at the clubhouse for the various stages of the race.


This is the transit flag alone: the normal state before the start sequence and again after the start, during the course of the race.


Now we have added Flag E. We put this up at -5:00, and it remains up until the actual start. This combination is seen from -5:00 to -4:00, and again from -1:00 to the start.


At -4:00 we raise Flag P also. This combination stays in place until -1:00, when we lower Flag P.


Shortening course


This shows Flag S, together with the transit flag. If we Shorten Course, we raise flag S, and leave it up until all boats have finished.

Why a Port-Hand Windward Mark.

This is about the interaction between several rules.

If you are sailing towards a windward mark on the side that will cause you to tack as you round the mark, and somebody is close behind you, you may not be able to make the tack without impeding the following boat ('tacking in their water'), meaning that you have to take a penalty, or else you have to sail on past the mark until you are clear to tack. This suggests that you would like to approach on the side that allows you just to bear away on the same tack. But at the same time, the port-starboard rule applies at a windward mark, as does the Tacking-in-the-zone rule.

So now we can look at the differences between a port and a starboard rounding.

If you set the course with a port rounding, it all works out nicely. The people who approach on starboard have a clear run through - no tacking, and no need to give way- whilst those who choose to arrive on port tack can expect problems, if there's anybody else around.

If on the other hand you go for a starboard rounding, it's more complicated: if people choose to approach on the port-tack lay-line, they will have to give way to any starboard tack boats they encounter (probably having to tack away from the mark), while the starboard tack boats have a different restriction: they cannot tack in front of either starboard or port tack boats, and may be forced to sail some way beyond the mark. There isn't a guaranteed safe approach on either tack, and you end up with frustration, perverse outcomes and possibly protests.

So make it a port rounding if that's reasonably possible.

Local peculiarities

Starting signals

The international rule book (www.sailing.org/documents/racingrules/index.php) says that the time of each starting signal is governed by a flag movement. This is so that the signal arrives at the same time to boats that may be spread over a large area; this would not be true for the accompanying sound, which is there to draw attention to the visual signal. At Hawley, we don't operate with a large race management team, or over a great distance, and it is simpler to time the sound signal accurately; the flags indicate which phase we are in, and their timing is less critical.

Hook finishes

The rule book says 'A boat finishes when (it) crosses the finishing line from the course side.' If you can draw a more or less straight line from the previous mark until it crosses the finish line, and it is obvious which way you have to go to cross the finish line, there is no problem. But the irregular layout of the lake means that this is often not easy to achieve: we tend to find that the approach to the finish requires a right-angle turn before crossing the line. If you are not careful, a barrack-room lawyer could gain a few yards by crossing the line in the opposite direction to the one you intended, and claim that the crossing was from the course side, and therefore acceptable.

You need to make absolutely clear in the briefing that a boat has not sailed the required course until it has rounded the mark in question in the same direction as on the previous lap, and then, immediately after that, it will come to the finish line.

Signing on

The expectation at most sailing events is that competitors will make their formal entry to the race by signing on, and if they don't do that, they are not in the race. Of course, we try to ensure that people do sign on; but if someone is pressed for time, or even simply forgets to sign on, we tend to help them out by making the entry on their behalf. And actually, if one race follows quickly on the heels of another, with the same boats in both, you may even find it easier as race officer to make all the entries yourself, as you can then choose a more convenient order to put them in (perhaps fastest first, or all of one class together).


If a leg of your course passes close to an island, you should indicate if it is permissible to pass either side of the island. If one side is out of bounds (usually because of people fishing), you should show it as such by hatching on the course map; note that this does not automatically make the island a mark of the course. If you intend to use an island to mark a turning point, you may choose to give the island itself a mark number; but this can lead to confusion with the mark rounding rules (where is the three-length zone?), and it is preferable to lay an ordinary buoy near the furthest side of the island to mark the required route.