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2010 Calendar

New Safety Requirements for U.S. Sailboat Racers

As sailboat racers, we’ve traditionally been held to a higher standard than other recreational boaters when it comes to required safety equipment and boat construction standards. This is generally due to the conditions in which we race and the distances sailed far away from rescue services. The world standard for race boat equipment is the Offshore Special Regulations (OSRs) published by the International Sailing Federation, which describes the gear that we’re required to carry in races varying from day races around the buoys to circumnavigations in seven categories of severity. These requirements (and recommendations) used to be published in a thin, pocket-size volume that was a simple list of essential gear: the 1996 version consisted of about 16 pages covering four categories of racing.

However, time has a way of making functional, simple documents into exceedingly comprehensive, complicated, and frequently less useful documents (as evidenced by tax laws, financial regulations, and pre-nuptial agreements). Thus, the OSRs expanded into a 200-page book which included seven categories, multihull requirements, many helpful recommendations, over a dozen appendices, and references to ISO standards which confounded many yacht owners, inspectors, and protest committees.

One of the consequences of having a complicated set of rules is that compliance suffers. This was the case among the Bay Area organizing authorities for races in the Gulf of the Farallones: None of them used the OSRs for Category 2 races, and many used widely varying equipment requirements for what were essentially similar races. This all changed with the loss of the Sydney 38 Low Speed Chase in the OYRA Full Crew Farallones Race in 2012. In the aftermath of this tragedy, the Northern California Ocean Racing Council (NCORC) was created. The NCORC safety equipment working group attacked the issue of widely varying equipment requirements with the goal of creating a compact list of proven gear and yacht design criteria, specifically for races in the Gulf of the Farallones. After numerous meetings and public comment periods, the list of gear was made official for most of the races in 2013.

How do you decide how comprehensive to make requirements? The two ends of the regulation spectrum might be represented by “I love the freedom of sailing, so don’t tell me what to do” and “Every life is precious; make sailing as safe as possible.” It becomes a balancing act between the cost of compliance, the track record of each incremental item, the ability for inspectors to determine compliance, the desire for organizing authorities to accept the requirements, and so forth. An extensive list of detailed requirements is worthless without compliance except, perhaps, in a court of law.

The NCORC safety equipment working group came up with just under 50 items and construction standards for 2013 racing. Some of these items embraced newer technologies like VHF radios with Digital Selective Calling and inflatable life jackets with harnesses. However, most of the items were what we’ve raced with for 30 years: lifelines, cockpits that drain, bilge pumps, and Coast Guard required gear.
It’s important to point out what’s missing from the NCORC Minimum Offshore Requirements (MOR):

  1. It contains only required items, not recommended items.
  2. It avoids references to other documents like ISO standards, which can be pricey and are frequently difficult for non-professionals to understand.
  3. It has no requirements for how to operate your vessel, including when to wear life jackets or harnesses, leaving these issues to the Notice of Race or Sailing Instructions.

With the NCORC MOR as the starting point, a US Sailing working group added two more categories: Ocean, for open ocean races, and Nearshore for races close to shore during daylight hours. The NCORC MOR became the Coastal requirements and completed what is now known as the US Sailing Safety Equipment Requirements or SERs.

With only three categories (Ocean, Coastal, and Nearshore), there will be many races that fall between the categories. The working group realized this, and encourages organizing authorities to pull items from adjacent categories for the conditions of their particular events. For example, a race from San Francisco to Santa Barbara might want to add a life raft requirement to the Coastal category.
Our goal has been to simplify and standardize racing equipment requirements, and, as a result, improve the safety of racing sailboats. We hope you agree. Your are always welcome.

– Chuck Hawley, Chairman, US Sailing Safety
at Sea Safety Equipment Working Group

The working group team members were Chuck Hawley, Jim Quanci, Michael Andrews, Max Crittenden, Andy Newell, and Jim Antrim.

OYRA entries are required to comply with the simplified and standardized Northern California Offshore Racing Council equipment requirements. For more information, see:

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