This man clearly knows his ropes
This man clearly knows his ropes

Modest celebration of sailing performance is encouraged
Modest celebration of sailing performance is encouraged

Age is no barrier
Age is no barrier

One of these might have your name on it
One of these might have your name on it

Introduction to Racing

If you are completely new to the club or sailing, you might want to read 'Introduction to Sailing' in the sailing tab prior to reading this.

The First Race

The thought of going out on the race course and putting you and your boat in the middle of a competitive race fleet can be a bit intimidating, but it’s the quickest way to embed your boat handling skills. The ‘Race Officer’ will gently let you know whether you are sufficiently competent to race and also judge the weather and sailing conditions to ensure you don’t put yourself in danger.

Most novices are concerned about getting in the way, but this is rarely a problem, the better sailors will know to give you plenty of sea room, at least until you start to sail faster than them!

Race Preparation

Like all things that are unfamiliar; you will need plenty of time to prepare the boat and yourself for racing the first few weeks. It’s probably best to turn up about 90 minutes before briefing time.

The Race Officer (RO) is the person that is in charge of that days racing, as a novice you might check with them that they are happy for you to race and ask their advice on the following:

  • The type of races planned for the day
  • The weather forecast and anticipated sea conditions
  • Recommend to you about your suitability to helm in the days’ races.
  • Discuss the suitability of your crew to sail in the prevailing conditions of the day. This is especially important with under 18’s and novice crew.

Remember though: The final decision for any helm to put to sea is always their own.

If you don’t feel you are ready or are unsure of the weather conditions, you probably shouldn’t go, perhaps see if you can crew for someone.

Having made the decision to sail, you need to prepare your boat. You will have learnt ‘the ropes’ by now, but make sure you double check everything before launching. I can’t tell you how many experienced sailors put to sea without putting the bung in (actually I can, it’s about one a week). If in doubt, ask for some advice.

Get into your sailing gear early so you are ready for the briefing, you should have already sailed a few times by now, so you will have sussed out how to dress to keep warm and comfortable.

Signing Out onto the water & Signing In from the water.

Take a couple of minutes before the briefing to sign yourself out of each of the two races: You sign your boat, yourself and your crew out onto the water and back in from the water on your return, these signatures are an important safety feature of keeping a track of returning sailors, so please try to remember to sign both out and in each time. If you sign out for both races at the start of the first race - which is normal procedure - you or your crew may decide to only sail the first race, in this case you should inform the RO or Assistant RO of your change of plans so that they can amend the sign in sheet.

Portsmouth Yardstick and Fast or Slow Fleet

To sign out, you will need to know which fleet you will be sailing in. The PY of your boat will determine whether you sail in the fast or slow fleet. The vast majority of boats have a PY allocated to them when they are introduced to the buying publicand these may be adjusted by the RYA in their annual review, this can easily be researched on line.

  1. Seasalter SLOW Fleet consists of boats with a PY handicap number of 960 and above.
  2. Seasalter FAST Fleet consists of boats with a PY handicap number below 960.



Attendance of race briefing is mandatory. The time of every briefing is published in the programme and the hooter will sound just before briefing to call you back from the beach or out of the changing rooms. Have a good look around to see who you will be sailing with today, make sure you know who the duty team are so that you can direct any questions to them in an emergency. Feel free to introduce yourself to the two people manning the patrol boat and express any concerns you might have about going afloat, they will be happy to keep a special look out for you once afloat.

The RO will address all the sailors at the briefing with the following information:

1.The nature of the races of the day and what series they relate to. Most racing at SSC is Handicap racing, but some are Pursuit races. Many races are approximately 45-60 minutes, some are long distance lasting two to three hours. Races are mostly part of a series of races. Series can last one day or be run over multiple weekends.

2.The times and height of the tide. It’s useful to know how high the tide will rise, when the ‘top of the tide’ is and how fast the tide will flow and ebb.

3.The weather forecast:  It’s important to know whether to expect the weather to change when you are at sea and in the duration of the tide.

4.The race start instructions: The slow and fast fleets will generally start on the same start signal, but may be directed to start on separate signals on occasion. The race is started by a series of lights which take you through the five minutes before the start.  This sequence allows you to time your start, ideally you should be sailing over the start line a second or so after the start signal (well that’s the theory).

5.The race course: This can be different for slow and fast fleet with the fast fleet being longer, in your first few races, it might be useful to draw the course on the back of your hand, but once you start to get familiar with things, you will laugh with the rest of us watching the leader of the fleet sail off to the wrong mark!

6.The number of laps for the slow and fast fleet. The RO will state the maximum number of laps, but will often shorten the course to suit the time/tide available. The course is shortened by displaying a particular flag or board at the tower, so familiarise yourself with the flag that is relevant to your fleet and if it appears on the tower, the lead boat in your fleet will shortly be finishing when he next crosses the finish line (and so will you if you haven’t been lapped by him).

That seems like a bewildering amount of information to memorise at first, but thorough and relaxed preparation will help lessen the stress, this is where regular crewing will help you familiarise yourself with the workings of the racing process.

The Race Start Sequence

So you have thoroughly prepared the boat, checked you emergency equipment, got yourself dressed, signed out and attended briefing. Take that walk from briefing to beach with the other sailors, this is where the adrenaline will start to pump, not just for you, we all experience the feeling of anticipation every time we launch, enjoy it. Check that boat one more time whilst you can still remedy any problems on the beach. But bear in mind what the RO said about start times, don’t get rushed at the start. Launch the boat in good time, sail the boat on various points of sail to make sure everything is working OK. Are the sheets running free, is the rudder fully down?

Now, if the RO has said that they would commence the ‘start sequence’ at a particular time, you should be looking towards the tower at this time. If the RO said that the race would be ‘postponed’, you should look out for the postpone flag being lowered (it is likely to have been raised when you were still on the beach), the raising and lowering will be accompanied by the hooter. The postponement flag will be lowered one minute before the five minute start sequence commences.

Handicap Race Start: Assuming you are racing in a Handicap Race where the fleet all start together; you will want to start your stopwatch at the commencement of the start sequence which should be set to count down five minutes. This is your best aid to getting across the start line ‘on time’ just a second or two after the start signal. As you become a better racer, this ‘on time’ start will become absolutely crucial and you will place almost as much emphasis on this as you will the rest of the race.

If the postponed flag is being used the start sequence at Seasalter is as follows:

  • -1 Minute to Start Sequence.         Postponement flag is lowered.                  Single hoot.
  • -5 Minutes to Start.         Orange lights ON.                                    Single hoot.
  • -4 Minutes to Start.         Orange and White lights ON.                     Single hoot.
  • -1 Minute to Start.           White Lights out. Orange Lights ON           Long hoot.
  • 0 Start.                           ALL Lights OUT.                                      Single Hoot.

If no postponed flag is used, the 5 minute start sequence will start at the advertised time.

It is possible that if one or more boats cross the line too early, there may be an individual or fleet recall signal requiring the culprits or the entire fleet to start again.

As this is handicap racing, your position that you finish on the course will be adjusted by the handicap of the boat to calculate the race results. This can create intense anticipation amongst the competitors as they await the RO’s calculations.

Pursuit Race Start: If you are racing in a Pursuit race; it’s the same start sequence as above, but only the slowest (by PY) boat starts at ‘0 Start’, the other faster boats are held back for a period determined by their PY to allow the slower boats the advantage of getting a head start. At Seasalter the delayed start times for each class of boat competing will be declared at the briefing, a stopwatch is essential here as you need to identify which of the many start signals relates to your boat.  A Pursuit race is of a set duration, often 45 minutes at Seasalter, when the time is up; the race is finished, you don’t need to cross a finish line.

As explained above, there are also shortened course flags or boards to look out for and of course the hoot you should get when you complete the course and finish the race. The wind conditions often make it difficult to hear the hooter, so you will benefit from making best use of all the visual cues.

A lot to think about and you won’t remember all this in your first race, but you will get a bit of help from those sailing close to with advice gently delivered at full volume.

The Course

The course will have been chalked up on the blackboard and the ‘marks of the course’ explained during the briefing. It’s important to understand which permanent marks at sea have been designated ‘marks of the course’ and which play no part in the race (in which case you can choose to leave these on either side of your boat as you pass them). Your task at this point is simple: sail around the course as described in the briefing, as many times as required, as fast as possible whilst abiding by the racing rules.

The Racing Rules

All those racing need to have at least a basic understanding of the Racing Rules. We would recommend that you should read:

  •  ‘Racing Rules 2013-2016 Companion’ by Bryan Willis. Just 23 pages of quick reference rules.
  • ‘The Rules in Practice 2013-2016’ by Bryan Willis. A more comprehensive guide with lots of examples in varying situations, this book has 160 pages.

Seasalter hold various coaching sessions on the rules every season where head scratching is the overriding gesture of the day.

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of all racers out there are still mastering the rules, so if you can only remember the basics to start with, you won’t be alone.

That’s just the start

So after the first race and once the adrenaline has stopped pumping, hopefully you will have started a lifelong love affair with dinghy racing. It’s at this point that you will want to research the best sailing techniques, the racing rules and find the best equipment for you boat. There are numerous books and websites out there to help you and of course the advice you get from the experts at the club bar will be invaluable. Seasalter is an adventurous club and we are always looking for new challenges, many of us travel to TT or National races for our respective class of boat and we also host an annual Sprint 15 TT. We are looking to strengthen our ties with other clubs within sailing distance by cruising to them and racing at their club.

Take some time to look at the rest of the website for latest Events and Challenges. A more active and inclusive sailing club you will struggle to find.

Seasalter Sailing Club,
Faversham Road, Seasalter, Kent, UK, CT5 4BW
Phone: 01227 261022
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