Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Observers in Match Race Master de Espana

Today I umpired in Bayone, Spain for the Master de Espana, a grade 2 event.

This is the first time I worked with observers on board of the boats in stead of a wing boat. On the stern of these Beneteau boats an observer stands behind the backstay and signals clear, overlap or contact, using hand signals. An outstretched arm sideways, means clear, a raised arm means overlap and tapping on top of the head, means contact. After a few initial problems this system works well. You don't need to hear the wing, the signal is right in front of you and it is always there.

The observers are all girls/ladies who sail or even have match raced. They stand at the back holding on with one hand and signalling with the other. Some have hooked themselves to the boat, others use a line from side to side behind there backs. They all have an overlay-vest which is yellow or blue - just flip inside out and you have the other color. All have been issued with corrector weights so they are all equal.

Today was a light day with not so much wind so the manoeuvres were fairly slow. All the observers could do there work without a chance they would fall overboard. But what if the wind picks up and one of them would?
They are not part of the crew, so the rules governing a boat not to continue in the race without its crew, do not apply.  I bet however that the other boat - specially when loosing - would request redress. If only because of the weight difference. Also, a boat needs to help anybody in danger... But, most times the observers would probably be picked up fairly quick by an umpire, so how much danger can there be?

We discussed the issue among the umpires and decided we would only deal with this issue when it occured. But a little thinking before hand, is never wasted.

What do you think?

Should redress be granted to the looser, if an observer is missing from the winning boat because she fell in the water. Do the circumstances why she fell play a factor?
Or should we write a Sailing Instruction declaring that the observer should be regarded as part of the crew in reference to rule 47.2?


  1. Observers are not part of the crew, but could be considered as equipment, maybe.
    However, this matter must surely have been resolved elsewhere as I have personal experience of observers replacing wing boats dating back nearly 10 years. Surely some of the competitors must have been in this situation before - so maybe they know the answer?

  2. This is an interesting thought. Is your brother, who came along to watch, part of the crew for purposes of the "Rules"? How about a cameraman that the organizing authority required you to carry? The ride along person on the AC boats?

  3. I have worked with observers at CMRC with the Tom28s. We have railings on the transoms for them to hold on to and have never had a problem. As to your question, a team shouldn't be responsible for the observer falling off and shouldn't be required to go back and get them. However depending on the point in the race when it happened and the positions and type of the boats; having an obs. when your opponent doesn't would be redressable. If I were one of the umps on a match that had this happen and there was a red flag, I would suggest to the RC that the race be abandoned and re-sailed. I wouldn't think the circumstances of why she prematurely disembarked would be an issue (unless the team pushed her off to lighten the load;-)).

  4. Jos,

    I fear you have misremembered rule 47.2. It refers throughout to 'persons', not 'crew'. It's second sentence says:

    "A person leaving the boat by accident or to swim shall be back on board before the boat continues in the race."

    If the observer goes overboard, wither accidentally or to have a swim and the boat continues to race without that person back on board, then the boat breaks rule 47.2.

  5. @Brass. I've looked up the text and you are of course right. It states 'persons' in stead of crew.
    I agree therefore with your conclusion. The boat must pick up the observer before continue racing....
    And any other person placed on board by the OA or otherwise. We will have to revisit this also in the Extreme Sailing Series with the fifth man issue.

  6. Observer should be treated as part of the crew.
    Sent from my iPhone

  7. I agree w/ the last sentence. The observer should be considered as part of the crew. This also brings up the debate of safety tethers, or death straps. Personally, I will never clip on to a moving sailboat. A retired US Coast Guard friend of mine acted as a live ‘dummy’ in a test of tethers and at 6 knots he could not keep his head above water and luckily was able to use a hand signal to stop the test. Most sailboats today are moving faster than 6 knots. I do favour the line clipped behind the observer from side to side. Were there no lifelines on the stern of these boats or were the observers behind the lifelines? – keep up the good work

  8. The lines for the observers were clipped on from side to side. Some of them just stand inside that line, others clipped a belt onto it.
    If attached the fall would be a dozen centimeters before the line was holding them.

  9. One other issue I want to point out about observers. However capable they might be, sometimes they too make mistakes or are unable to keep up with the action - for instance when a boat is fishtailing approaching the start line.
    The sailing instruction here state they are to 'help' the umpires. Although I understand a sailor who depends on what they see on the boat in front, it is still the umpires who decide if there's an overlap or not. It will happen that it can be different then what the observer indicates.
    Or do you think this should be changed?

  10. Signals given to umpires (specifically including by observers) is dealt with in MR Call MR 11.

    At the end of a downwind leg, just as Blue reaches the zone, Yellow hails ‘Overlap’, but Blue has just seen the wing boat signal the umpires that there was no overlap. May Blue rely on the wing boat's signal and thereby decide to deny room to Yellow?

    No. Competitors who use such signals take a considerable risk. Decisions are made by the umpires, not the wing boats, and an umpires' decision may not be based on the wing boat's signals. The same principle applies to signals made by onboard observers.


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