Monday, July 26, 2010

10 Suggestions For Managing Multi-fleet Regattas

The last three regattas I have attended have had two, three, and four different fleets starting on the same starting line. Sometimes the fleets have different numbers of races, different lengths of courses, and sometimes even different course configurations. It can be quite a juggling act for the Race Committee. Although nobody has asked me, I want to offer my two cents about techniques that can be used to make race management more efficient in these highly challenging conditions. I’m not an expert, but I have been to enough races to see a lot of good ideas and endorse them as if they were my own. The terrific regatta I wrote about a month ago used several, but not all of these suggestions. I think each item makes an incremental improvement, but each also requires some resources, so there is always a trade-off between the two. I’m sure my list is not comprehensive, so please feel free to add your thoughts.

The overriding principle here is to maximize the PRO’s options. In a multi-fleet regatta, the PRO is constantly making judgments about minimizing inter-fleet interference and getting the next fleet started. He needs all the tools he can get to be flexible and agile, and he can’t have his hands tied by unnecessary constraints in the Sailing Instructions. He needs the best committee members or crew that he can find, he needs plenty of mark and rescue boats, he needs to be able to move marks quickly and easily, he needs the capacity to change courses, shorten courses, and have a separate finish boat when required.

1. Get a skilled PRO and a crew who enjoy doing all this.  Some people actually have fun meeting the challenges managing this kind of regatta brings. Some also enjoy sailing as a spectator sport. And who doesn’t like riding around in power boats talking on the radio?

2. Keep the start and finish lines outside the course.  This keeps all those not starting or finishing away from these areas. Lines in the middle of the course or even at marks are subject to traffic from any of the fleets.

3. Use separate start and finish lines.  Having to delay the start of a whole fleet for a couple of stragglers at the end of another fleet wastes a lot of time. A separate finish line solves this problem. One line on each side of the committee boat is the easiest way to do this. A finish line completely separate from the starting area goes even further by allowing simultaneously starts and finishes by different fleets. But it also takes a boat and a skilled crew to set a good finish line and record finishes.

4. Use a short starting sequence.  It is always tricky to determine if there is enough time to get off a start without running the starting fleet into a fleet already racing. The shorter the starting sequence the easier it is to make that judgment. The three minute dinghy start works well.

5. Get enough marks.  Having different marks for different fleets is the ultimate in flexibility. They do need to be very clearly different, like yellow and orange. They can be tied together whenever the same location can be used for multiple fleets. A change of course mark is also good to have so that the new mark can be placed immediately, and the mark boat has more time to remove the old mark.

6. Make the marks easy to handle.  I like marks with a handle on top and a lightweight anchor (a short chain or a sash weight work great where I sail). As I was told in a US Sailing seminar, “You are only anchoring a bag of air.” If marks can be dragable – even better. Placing and moving marks can be relatively difficult or easy and relatively time consuming or quick.

7. Equip all mark boats with change of course and shorten course flags.  All boats also need to be able to anchor and record finishes if called upon. The crews need to clearly understand the procedures for all this. A rule book provides a handy reference for double checking the correct procedures. This gives the PRO tremendous flexibility to deal with radical changes in sailing conditions or weather.

8. Communicate well with the competitors.  The competitors need to understand the actions and intentions of the Race Committee, so the Sailing Instructions need to be very clear about how competitors will be notified of their starts, what marks are to be used for their fleets, and the schedule of races. If the Race Committee makes adjustments on the water, there needs to be a clear procedure (specified in the Sailing Instructions) for notifying the competitors of the changes.

9. Communicate well with all members of the Race Committee team.  This begins before the regatta with the PRO clarifying his expectations and defining roles and duties for all the members of the team. All variables should be anticipated and discussed in advance. Procedures should be reviewed. The language for discussing things should be clarified. Are wind direction and mark locations defined by compass direction, compass bearing, or simple right and left? Are right and left as viewed by the PRO or by who ever is speaking? Radios should be checked both on shore and on the water, and even then, back up radios or cell phones should be in each boat.

10. Practice, practice, practice.  It is great if the entire Race Committee team can work together at least once before the regatta, but any experience with any of the above techniques develops expertise, and every little bit helps.


  1. Good ideas. Nix on the 3-minute starts though.

  2. Three-minute starts are probably fine for mostly-dinghy regattas, I'm sure.

    Tillerman was at the Buzzard's Bay Regatta, which had some controversy about race committee work on their "yellow circle". But, where Derek and his Laser were, apparently things worked well.