Beginners Guide on Starting to Race


This could be you!

Why not give yourself a challenge?




For those who require a little challenge with their sailing, why not join in our

regular racing programme.

With a range of race styles and events to suit all levels and experienced sailors offering advice both on and off the water (including during the race!) It won’t be long before you are enjoying the thrill of competing.


There aren’t any special requirements to enable you to race, other than being confident and having partaken of a learn to sail course.  You could always crew for a more experienced sailor, if you are interested in learning before setting out on your own in a boat to race. Look at the club Noticeboard for crews required, or try a club boat on a non racing day before launching into a race.


Racing takes place on Sundays, with a maximum of three races (dependent on weather, wind conditions and the series being sailed) and during the summer months on Wednesday evenings.  There are some events on Saturdays in addition and the OOD for Saturdays will set simple short courses or you to practice with other sailors.  So, what is stopping you?  Have at look at the fleets racing and our race formats.


Basic Idea of Race Types










































A Beginner’s Guide to Dinghy Racing

(Unashamedly plagiarised from a range of sailing clubs, including NorthamptonSC and ThornburySC, and suitably amended)

When are the races held?


You can find a list of dates and times on the Club Racing page, but generally on Sundays


What boat can I sail?


In a pursuit race, almost any boat can be sailed, from a Topper or Optimist, through to Fireballs.  Find out more about the popular boats sailing at the moment on our Fleet page in order to run as a fleet.  However even in Fleet or Handicap race you can join in.


How good at sailing do I need to be?


So long as you know what happens when you waggle the stick at the back of your boat, you’re good enough! Racing is by far the quickest way of improving sailing skills and every one of us started off knowing very little and we’ve all got more to learn!  If you want to read up a little more, you can try out information below, or find a copy of: Eric Twiname’s Starting to Win.


How do I let people know I’m new to racing?


Often this is indicated with a ribbon (yellow - not red which is for protests!) on your shroud, however as we are a family club most members will recognise that you are new on the water in a race and will offer advice and support as well as allow some leeway to you as a beginner.


What rules do I need to know?


In simple terms:

A boat on port tack (the wind coming from the left, the boom on the right) gives way to one on starboard tack (wind from right, boom on left).

A boat on Starboard tack with right of way may shout ”Starboard” if you are on Port tack and they think you are about to get in their way.

A boat to windward (closest to where the wind is coming from) gives way to a boat to leeward (the boat further away from the wind).

At a mark, the boat on the inside, nearest the mark, will usually need to be given room to round the mark without hitting it or you!


These basic rules should prevent most collisions. There are many more and as you become more experienced it is worthwhile investing in the latest copy of the racing rules book. (e.g. The Rules in Practice by Bryan Willis, pub Fernhurst Books). Rules can be downloaded from ISAF website here.


As stated above, as we know our members, those racing with more experience will generally be prepared for you not to be familiar with the rules to begin with and take this into account.


How do I enter a race?


The officer of the day (OOD), who is in charge of that day’s racing, will put a signing on sheet on the desk by the entrance door to the club (by the changing rooms). Fill in your name and the class and sail number of the boat you’ll be sailing.  Don’t forget to sign off at the end of the race as well!


What course do I sail?


The OOD will set a course and display it on a board at the rear of the Committee boat.  The numbers of the marks will either be red or green.  A red numbered mark should be rounded to Port (the mark on the left of the boat) and a green numbered mark rounded to the Starboard (so the mark is on the right of the board).  The black numbers on the board indicate the time of the race (for a Pursuit Race) or the number of laps (for a Fleet/Handicap race).  


There is a map of the reservoir on the cub Noticeboard, but basically Mark 1 is to the left of the pontoons, with Mark 2 straight in front, moving round the reservoir so that Mark 9 is by the right pontoon  There are two central Marks, east and West in the middle: West is to the right!


Then on the water, follow someone who looks like he (or she) knows where (s)he’s going!


How do I start?


This will be dependent on the race being run.

The times are posted on the Noticeboard of the Club for both Pursuit and Fleet/Handicap racing.  The start will be between the committee boat mast and the last number listed on the course.  Various flags will be raised as part of the start sequence:


What about those horrible crowded start lines?


Particularly when you are just beginning to race, you don’t have to be crossing the line with all those keen racers, getting in each other’s way, showing at each other (don’t worry, it is all in good nature and part of racing).  Hang back slightly and cross the line in clear water… and clear wind - you may get a better start!


How do I finish?


In a Pursuit Race everyone finishes together, at the sound of the OOD from the Committee Boat, who will note everyone’s place on the water.  Be sure to take a note of the sail number in front of you and the one immediately behind, as you will need this when you ‘sign off’.  Technically you should continue to sail but not overtake anyone until the OOD  has noted your position.

In a Fleet/Handicap Race, as the first boat in a Fleet rounds the penultimate Mark from when the OOD has set the finish line, the shortened course (two hoots) will be sounded, indicating the finish line is between the Committee Boat and the Mark it is near to.


How do I find out how well I’ve done?


In a Pursuit race, where you finished will be as it is recorded from the water, as the start times allowed for the different speeds of different boats.

Fleet/Handicap Races will have a time adjustment applied.

However all race results can be found on the Club Results page.


How do I qualify for a series?


In order to qualify for a series, a minimum number of races need to be sailed within that series. 40% of the number of races sailed, rounded UP where necessary - e.g. if 21 races sailed, 9 will count; if 16 races sailed, 7 will count.


The faster Aero and Laser boats are nearly catching the slower GP14 as they round a markFaster boats catching up a slower GP14

Pursuit Racing:


Think of this like a ‘Tortoise and Hare’ race... but without the moral at the end!  

The tortoise starts first… with the premise that the hare will catch up the tortoise by the end of the race! Seriously… This involves the slowest (lowest Portsmouth Yardstick (PY) rated) boats starting first, with the idea being that over the 58 minutes race, the fastest boats will start to catch the slower boats.  Obviously this is dependent on the calibre of the sailor (and if anyone can catch our Tony Hanan in a Solo they deserve a medal!).  Chelmarsh doesn’t run a line finish for pursuit races, but the race ends after the set time with the OOD sounding the signal.


Boats of the same class race against each otherGP14s Racing Against Each other

Fleet/Handicap Racing:


More like a ‘traditional race’.

The fastest boats start together first, racing as a ‘fleet’ and the results are grouped by the fleet (unlike pursuit racing where the ‘fleet’ or class of boat is not relevant as this is taken into account by the start time). Approximate time for the race is 45 minutes, with the shortened course being sounded to indicate the line finish is at the next mark that the lead reaches.

Another glorius day for sailing at Chelmarsh

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Website last updated:  27 March 2020

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