All clubs thrive or die by the input of their membership.
Last week, for the first family fun race of the season, no one had volunteered as a race official at my club. With 15 sailors turning up, the perfect mix of sun and winds, there could have been some very disappointed sailors until the club commodore and a potential racer stepped up to the mark to officiate.
There are two groups of people necessary to make a race happen – the race officers and the safety boat crew. These guys will make or break a clubs sailing season.
For both groups there is career progression to be had. You could end up officiating a national class race if you really get into it!
Racing under sail has a load of rules and regulations. It isn’t just a case of the first boat across the finish line.
There are handicap rules that ensure the best crew will be recognised in a race – the crew of an Enterprise could end up beating an International 14 just by crossing the line within the timeframe required under handicap. In the 2014 Sydney Hobart race, though the world’s fastest Maxis were racing (everyone cheered as local hero Wild Oats XI got line honours), the 58th placed, 43 foot Wild Rose actually won the race under handicap!
In order to be a good race official you don’t need to be an amazing racer, though it helps if you have the bug for racing. You should at least have an RYA Dinghy / Multihull / Keelboat Level 3 and a season or two’s experience of racing, though if you show willing the guys in the club race office will always welcome a helping hand while you learn the ropes.
The Royal Yachting Association helps run courses through sailing clubs in getting your certification as a club official, though these are not RYA qualifications in themselves. Have a chat with your club committee about doing the qualifications and courses required, which are detailed on the RYA website.
In the UK, you can then progress to Regional Race Official and National Race Official – at this level you can then consider doing International Sailing Federation courses and perhaps even officiate at the Olympics or other international regattas.
I have covered extensively the risks to be had in yacht and dinghy racing, as well as how to avoid and get out of trouble at sea. I have shown how people I have known have died at sea, despite having years of experience. Ultimately, man’s insignificance to the sea as a metaphysical being, is something that draws many to it in the first place.
Clubs rightly want a safety boat on the water whenever someone is likely to sail, though this can’t always be possible. If you do a safety boat qualification then you can join the club’s pool of safety boat crews and ensure there is more safety cover on the water more often.
There are skills and techniques to be learned in running a safety boat. These are broadly broken down into boat handling and rescue skills.
With regards to boat handling, in the UK you should have the RYA Powerboat Level 2 or international equivalent. The safety boat course focuses on developing your skills so you are a highly competent boat driver. You will also cover the protocols for using a powerboat among sailing craft, as well as racing rules in this regard. In doing so you won’t put sailors at risk while watching out for their safety.
Rescue skills involve a range of techniques to include hauling a wet sailor aboard your boat, helping right a vessel that has capsized, and towing the vessel in as necessary.
It is also helpful to have some basic First Aid skills – you will be really welcomed if you have a marine leisure First Aid certificate as someone knocked out by their boom may well drown if not attended to immediately!
In the UK you can see the full RYA Safety Boat syllabus on this website, that will give you a full picture of what the course entails. The syllabus we’ve linked to should help you get an idea of what you will need to learn if you’re in a different country too.
Even if you’re a dinghy racer it will help to have a VHF license. Where on a small club lake you might get by on a very short range walkie talkie, having the VHF license will enable you to both officiate a race and enable you to call for help when on safety boat duty.
First Aid qualifications are always welcomed! Ultimately, water sports are dangerous and people could be dead even if they capsized 100 metres offshore unless there is intervention.