Friday, July 30, 2021
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Why didn't the Observers call it?

observers2How many times have you heard this, or even done it?

As everyone is preparing for the next heat, a competitor uses words like "two boats hit that top mark, why weren't they called?"  or "The mark was spinning like a top and he didn't do a turn!"  or even "What are the observers doing?  Why didn't they call that incident at the gate?"

In making any of those statements, a competitor is admitting that he has not complied with a Fundamental Rule of Sailing. Does that sound harsh or unfounded?  Let's investigate.

From the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS)


Competitors in the sport of sailing are governed by a body of rules that they are expected to follow and enforce. ..."

Notice the 'enforce' part?

To emphasise this, the ARYA Race Management Manual

17.1  Since the primary responsibility for protesting breaches of the rules rests with competitors, the Race Committee will not normally protest a boat.

Then in the RRS

60.1  A boat may

(a)  protest another boat, but not for an alleged breach of a rule of Part 2 or rule 31 unless she was involved in or saw the incident; or

Let's summarise all that.  As a competitor, if you saw (60.1) another boat hit a mark (Rule 31) and not take a penalty, you have the primary responsibility to enforce the rules by protest (Fundamental Rule RRS, ARYA Race Management Manual).  Notice none of these rules have so far mentioned Observers or the Race Officer? 

If you call someone for a breach, the Observer would get out their notepad and quietly record your call.  If it was not resolved when the race ends, she would report that to the Race Officer.  That is how it is designed to work.

Now that we have confirmed that you the competitor are responsible for calling a rule breach, what are the Observers there for? 

It's common to be handed the hi-viz vest and be asked to take your turn as an Observer. Were you briefed and equipped adequately?  Have you read and understood the requirements of being an observer?  From personal experience I'm guessing the answer to at least one of those questions could be no.

The ARYA Race Management Manual has a full description.  I have pasted it in below so that you can be briefed before the next time you have to do this job.  Importantly, it shows that observer directions are not in conflict with the primary responsibility of competitors to enforce the rules.  If you as a competitor do not call a breach, you have not complied with a Fundamental Rule. If an Observer fails to call, she just did not see it happen or was not 100% sure, no rules broken.

In a race with say 15 boats, there are 15 pairs of eyes in the fleet, but sometimes only two pairs for Observers.  I wonder why they do not see some incidents that you do?

If you are a competitor, by the time you get your boat off the water after the heat, it's too late to complain about breaches not being called.  If you are an observer and you are asked why you didn't call a breach, you could consider getting out your notepad and recording a breach of a Fundamental Rule?

Your role could change from one heat to the next, one minute competitor, the next an observer.  It is important that you understand the responsibilites of both.




The Race Committee may appoint race Observers, who may be competitors. They shall remain in the control area while boats are racing and they shall hail and repeat the identity of boats that contact a mark or another boat. Such hails shall be made from the control area. Observers shall report all unresolved incidents to the Race Committee at the end of the heat.


  • 1  Remain within the control area during the race. It is important your position does not hinder the view of the competitors.
  • 2  Do not use binoculars ... you should have the same view of the course and environs as the competitors.
  • 3  Call any contact between boats or between a boat and a marker buoy and note the details.
  • 4  Call all incidents loudly and clearly twice ,
    o “CONTACT Two Three & Three Five, CONTACT Two Three & Three Five” and wait for an acknowledgement.
    o “CONTACT Four Four and MARK, CONTACT Four Four and MARK” and wait for an acknowledgement.
  • 5  Call only if an incident has occurred. If in doubt , do not call.
  • 6  Call promptly, as it is the responsibility of the offending boat to accept a penalty
    immediately and complete the penalty at the earliest reasonable opportunity.
  • 7  Calls must be made so that they are reasonably likely to be heard by competitors (see RRS E2.1a). It is not your responsibility to continuously call, or to chase the offending skipper to let them know.
  • 8  Record the completion of penalty turns. A penalty turn consists of one tack and one gybe in the same direction. The offending boat should attempt to sail clear as soon as possible following the incident and commence their turn. Record the completion of a turn, even if you believe the wrong boat has taken the penalty. If you believe that a boat has gained an advantage despite taking a penalty make a note of the advantage gained and report to the Race Officer.
  • 9  If a boat delays sailing clear to take their turn, make a note of where and when the incident occurred and where and when the turn was started and report to the Race Officer.
  • 10  In the event of a boat sailing on the incorrect side of a buoy without contacting it, you do not alert the skipper – just note down which buoy, which lap of the course and which boat was involved and report to the Race Officer.
  • 11  In the event of a skipper calling “out of control”, note the sail number or the skipper who made the call. That boat is immediately considered to have retired from the race.
  • 12  Use a notebook to record details of any unresolved incidents, incorrect penalty turns or protest calls you observe or hear. Record the sail numbers of the yachts involved and the circumstances of the incident. Add a small drawing if possible, outlining relevant boat positions, mark location, wind direction and time. You will be able to refer to your notes if called to offer evidence in a protest situation.
  • 13  Report any unresolved issues promptly to the Race Committee (immediately at the conclusion of the race/heat).
  • 14  The Observer’s duty is to note the incident, it is NOT your duty to determine guilt, identify any specific rule infringed or suggest any action or remedy but you should be clear in your own mind about these issues as you may be required to give evidence at a subsequent protest hearing.
  • 15  Avoid entering into any argument or conversation with skippers regarding any incident you have observed.
  • 15  Record the use of any foul language or unsportsmanlike behaviour of those competing in the race and report any incidents to the Race Officer.
  • 16  Observe the course for any debris, drifting marks, changing weather patterns or external factors like power boats, sailing yachts, canoeists or other people using the waterway that may affect the fair running of a prescribed race and report those findings to the Race Officer.


Happy Sailing & Observing



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