An Inside Look At Race Committee Life

As is often the case, a simple “Sure, I would be happy to help” takes on a life of its own. That is certainly the case where Delavan Lake Yacht Club Race Committee and I are concerned. Beloved Commodore Jack asked if I might be able to help out one weekend afternoon. In the blink of an eye, I found myself as the indispensable First Mate of retired Naval Officer, ocean cruiser and Principle Race Officer extraordinaire, Brian B. Being on the Race Committee is a pretty good second to being on a race boat. The signal boat is a really fun job and a great excuse to get out on the water. Plus, I’m amazed at how much I have learned about racing, tactics, and race courses by volunteering on race committee. Who could ask for more??

Inland Lake Yachting Association (ILYC) rules are a little different than on the Great Lakes. They think in statute miles and miles per hour. My brain struggled with that at first, since I think in nautical miles and knots. There are no triangle courses on inland lakes, strictly windward leewards.

Duties Aboard The Signal Boat

race committee

Image courtesy Greg Gifford.

First Mate duties on the signal boat include prepping the boat; checking wind speed and direction time and time again; and running the iStart machine. Additionally, the First Mate raises and lowers the flags; raises and lowers the anchors (a full time job in itself); and drops and raises marks. We also program the GPS; coil all of the mark lines and anchor lines at day’s end; and act as bow bunny for docking. We Sherpa the equipment back to the club; record the finishes and writing up the final report for PRO approval. The First Mate is the brawn, but the PRO is the brains of the outfit.

The PRO is responsible for making sure the course is square; the legs are of sufficient length to yield a race that can be completed in about the appropriate time; deciding when to call off a race when there is too much or too little wind; making sure the rules are followed to the letter of the law; and entertaining protests. All this is done with the winds doing what they want, when they want. These people take their responsibility very seriously and often do so with the criticism of the participants.

The Race Committee Boats Of DLYC

race committee

Photo courtesy Larry Kmiecik Imagery 2018

Amongst our race committee selves, there’s the signal boat and the mark set boat. The signal boat is where the heavy lifting is done, figuratively and literally. In the case of DLYC, the signal boat is a gamey, temperamental, old barnacle barge pontoon boat and the mark set is the “new”, fast, sleek boat with a Bimini top to protect its riders from sun and rain. I like to ask how I get a job on that cushy mark set boat, but truth be told I wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than where the action is on ol’ Signal.

What The Race Committee Wants You to Know

Around the world, RC is hard work and volunteer work that they do because they want you to have the best experience possible doing what you love. They’ve given up a beautiful day or even worse are working on a cold, rainy, wavy day to do this. Their job is physically and mentally challenging, so please don’t sail by shouting suggestions to them, especially while they’re in starting sequence. Please refrain from being unkind all afternoon, then think saying “Thank you Race Committee” when you cross the finish makes them easily forget this kind of treatment. Please don’t question every decision in an armchair quarterback way. Let’s have room in our heads for the possibility that there may be things we don’t know and that there may be more than one correct way of doing things. Race Committee is doing the best they can with what they have in ever changing conditions. Race Committee are people too. Be kind, always.

It seems to me the world would be a better place if everyone took a turn, even just once, on the Race Committee boat. It’s the right thing to do and a great opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes, to see what’s involved in a thankless job we can easily take for granted as racing sailors. It might prompt us to take a moment to think, before making a judgement on their wisdom. You might even have a little fun. The next time you head out for a race, beer can or otherwise, take the opportunity to hug the Race Committee or at least sincerely thank them.


  1. Patrick Ward on April 24, 2019 at 5:51 pm

    There was a time when each boat had to take a day to aid the race committee! That meant a couple of crew would be at the race committee’s aid. And like you so eloquently noted it was almost always a plus day!

    • Shelly Galligan on April 24, 2019 at 6:13 pm

      I love that! Thanks for sharing Pat! I always value your insight:-)

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