Forum: Race Officers

RC Courtesy

Paul Zupan
Nationality: United States of America
  • International Judge
This post is on behalf of Jeff Zarwell. It's an email he felt compelled to send to two competitors in yesterday's Duxbury Lightship race in San Francisco. He gave me permission to share it [lightly edited] to remind competitors about what the RC does, is obligated to do and how you can make the process easier:


I was the PRO (Principal Race Officer) for the Duxship race.

I would like to take a moment to share with both of you what the responsibilities are for not only me, but the entire race committee when managing a regatta, whether it is an event held entirely inside the bay or out in the open ocean.

From the moment you show up in the starting area until you cross the finish line I am to a great extent legally responsible for your safety. To a lesser extent, my entire race committee is bound as well. Before the race even begins it is my responsibility alone to determine if it is safe to even proceed with the event.

Beginning the Wednesday before, I am checking three different professional, subscription based weather websites. Additionally, I’m also looking at several NOAA sites for wave information and the base weather data from which the previously mentioned weather sites receive their data to use in their weather models.

On the day of the event, I am up at 5:30 in the morning taking a final look at all the weather sites mentioned above and review what has transpired the last three days, as well as what is forecast for the day.

At this point I have put in a full 8-hours of my time preparing for your safety and the event has not even begun.

At the beginning of the race I deploy three separate two-person teams to different areas of the race deck to spot and record every sail number that crosses that start line and the time at which they do so (even when over 30 minutes late), so that we have everyone accounted for. We also take note of boats that start outside the designated start line, because We don't know if you did that intentionally or not.

For the duration of the event we are constantly in contact with the Coast Guard, advising them of the status of our competitors (those that have AIS transmitters on their boats), what we are seeing in the way of wind and sea-state, based on what we can see with our eyes, on the various websites and later in the race from competitors who have finished.

I cannot comment on what other PROs do, or how concerned they may or may not be about your safety, but I go to great lengths to ensure your safety as best I can. To a great extent I am your lifeline.

Now that you know what my commitment is to your safety, imagine what is going through my head when you are more than 4 hours later than all the other boats in your division and I cannot make contact with you by radio. At this point, I have no choice but to advise the CG and the YRA that you are unaccounted for. I provide the CG with details of your boat(s) including sail number, they then advise all commercial traffic to be on watch for you. The CG is also gearing up their search and rescue teams so that they are ready for deployment if necessary. I am calling the harbormaster at the marina you keep your boat in to see if you have returned. And yesterday, knowing one of you just purchased your boat recently, I called the previous owner of the boat who was racing also, to see if he had heard from you.

All you had to do yesterday was to call me on the radio and let me know you had decided to retire or that you weren’t actually going to race and started outside the start line intentionally. By not being courteous enough (let alone not following the rules) you set in motion all that I mentioned above needlessly. I’m sure it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you or maybe you’re not concerned with your safety, but we are.

What if there was another boat that really was in trouble. Would we have been able to respond in time, when we’re preparing for the worst with you because we haven’t heard from you? How would you feel knowing if someone else had died out there because we committed rescue assets to you, thereby preventing us from responding to them in time?

If you are not going to race, but just sail the course, starting outside the starting line is great, but as a courtesy to me and the rest of the race committee you should advise me of your intentions. Understand too, that if you’re not going to race, but still sail the course I am still going to watch out for your safety and you should still be checking in with me.

I have been managing ocean races for the YRA since 1994. In that time I have had the misfortune of having tragic deaths occur on two different ocean races. I do not make assumptions that you are probably okay. If you are unaccounted for I begin the search process immediately, period.

To refresh your memories:

The sailing instructions require you to monitor the assigned VHF channel during the race.

The FCC requires by law if you have a VHF radio on your boat, that you must monitor channel 16 at all times.

The sailing instructions require you to notify the race committee at the time you retire, not after you have put your boat back in her slip hours later.

These are not fun sails on the local pond; this is open ocean racing. The dynamics of the open ocean are much greater than the energy inside the bay. As much research as I do, I still cannot predict a rogue wave or other conditions not accounted for in the weather models, yet I am still responsible for your safety. The very least you can do is to keep the race committee informed of your actions in a timely manner.

I hope I have successfully communicated my concerns. You may think I’ve gone a little overboard, but remember I’m looking out for you safety. Work with me, please.
Created: 18-May-14 01:40


Jim Saylor
Nationality: United States of America
Well said. Thanks to all PROs.
Created: 18-May-14 04:25
David Brunskill
Nationality: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • International Judge
This is a report of unacceptable conduct which a protest committee could act on.

The whole point of rule 69 and the processes surrounding it are to enable even minor transgressions to be investigated and then, if appropriate hold a hearing.

There is no obligation to go to a full rule 69 hearing or at a full hearing to do anything more than give a verbal warning. But the rule is there and it is under-utilised.

The rule is there. Use it.

Created: 18-May-14 07:26
David Giddings
Nationality: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • Regional Race Officer
Well said. I have run a fair number of long distance races in the UK, mostly for single and double handed boats and for the same reason have been in contact with the coastguard on more than one occasion. I also call the emergency contact and have a conversation which begins 'I am the race officer for xxx. It probably amounts to nothing and I don't want to worry you but.... ' . It's a call I would rather not have to make and they probably do not wish to receive. So far, it has always amounted to nothing. But what if had been a real emergency and I had done nothing?

Out of interest, the Royal Ocean Racing Club includes the following in its Sailing Instructions:
Boats retiring from the race must immediately notify the Race Committee or the Coastguard.
Failure to comply may lead to exclusion from future RORC racing.

Created: 18-May-14 12:09
Beau Vrolyk
Nationality: United States of America

Jeff Zarwell is a great race officer. I have served with him and sailed in events he has run often. He is extremely dedicated and dependable.
That said, I believe that Jeff is wrong about legal liability here. As many of you know, the San Francisco Bay area has had a number of fatal sailing accidents over the years. As a result, all of us who are associated with races take safety very very seriously. However, during recent reviews of the issue of liability we were told by legal counsel that there are significant limits on the liability of the Organizing Authority and the Race Committee.
In the above, Jeff says: "...I am to a great extent legally responsible for your safety." This is simply not true under US law. I applaud Jeff's feeling that he is morally responsible for competitor's safety, but it is not a legal obligation.
First, in all of the entry forms I am aware of in San Francisco and Monterey Bays, the person entering the event agrees that they will race under the Racing Rules of Sailing. As all here know Rule 3 says that competitors will accept the rules and Rule 4 says it is the competitor and the competitor alone who is responsible for choosing to race and continuing to race. The entry form is a binding contract in the US, and while one can sue anyone for anything, legal counsel is not aware of any time when that contract has been broken in the way Jeff is describing. The only exception to this would be gross negligence, which was not present here.
Put simply, the competitor has agreed in a contract that the responsibility for their safety is their own.

Second, while the competitors in question were certainly rude and inconsiderate, from reading Jeff's letter it appears that they did not start the race but hung around and sailed out toward the first mark sailing alongside the race, then went back home without finishing. Jeff doesn't say if these folks were entered (presumably they were) or why they chose not to either start or finish the race. Further, Jeff does not say if the competitors checked in prior to the race. A "check-in" was required under SI 3.1 for this event Sailing Instructions . While the legal responsibility is clearly the competitor's if they checked in and then didn't start or finish and didn't notify Jeff, then they are being truly boorish; if they did NOT check-in, then they may have reasonably believed they weren't under the watchful eye of PRO Zarwell.

I'd respectfully suggest that a competitor might do this for many good reasons; all but the bit about not picking up the radio. For example, they might not have the safety gear aboard to start the race without breaking a rule, they might not feel comfortable with the conditions and rather than muck up the race for others by potentially getting in the way they tagged along for a while to see how they went, or they might be trying new rigging which would violate their handicap rating. We simply don't know.
My take is that Jeff most certainly knows the Rules, if he felt there was a Rule 69 violation he would most certainly have said so. He didn't, he was there, none of us were there, case closed - in my opinion.
However, in our litigious society here in the US, I hate to see someone like Jeff claiming a legal responsibility he actually doesn't have. All race officers and organizers have a moral responsibility to look out for the safety of competitors, but that's where it ends.
Created: 18-May-14 18:22
Lloyd Causey
Nationality: United States of America
  • Regional Judge
  • Regional Race Officer
Jeff Zarwell,
I hear from other posters that you are a wonderful PRO and good to work with. However I feel that this letter was over dramatic.You misstated that you were legally liable for those competitors, and by inference that all PROs are responsible for everyone in all races being safe and never responsible for themselves. If that were true I would quit ever being a PRO for lake races much less open water races in Gulf of Mexico.

Now let me say that I do attempt to put on safe orderly events and I am concerned for safety when making decisions about race course and weather. However I am not responsible in any way for competitor behavior or countless other things I cannot control.

Now competitor check in and check out are an issue in USODA events as well as offshore races and are important. However to say that we are responsible when things competitors do causes issues or that we are not perfect is just not realistic.
Created: 18-May-14 22:40
[You must be signed in to add a comment]