A Club for All the Family  West Oxfordshire Sailing Club

Please register above.

Racing Guide for Beginners

These notes are intended as an informal supplement to the WOSC Sailing Instructions and Notice Of Race. The Sailing Instructions and Notice of Race (which can be found in the entrance corridor) take precedence over these notes in case of conflict.

The questions and answers deal with “Average Lap Racing” - most, but not all, of the races at WOSC are of this type.

Who can enter a race?

Anyone! No formal qualifications are required. If you can sail a triangular course and know a few basic racing rules then join in.

One or two race series have entry restrictions (e.g. Juniors), but there is a corresponding series for everybody else.

The helm of the boat must be a club member, visitors can crew.

Apart from the “serious” Sunday and Wednesday racing there are various novice race training events to get you started – check the WOSC Events Calendar. If you are new to racing you are strongly advised to take part in one or more of these sessions.

Back to Top

How do I enter a race?

If you wish to take part in a race you must sign-on. The signing-on sheet is usually on the shelf below the course blackboard in the garage – there is a new sheet for each race, make sure you use the correct sheet for each race you sail in.

Make sure you fill in the name of the helm, name of the crew (if you have one), class of boat (e.g. Topper, Laser Radial, etc.) and sail number.

  • Please note that "sail number" means the big numbers on the sail – sometimes club Topper sailors have written down the tiny number on the back of the boat. If you cannot be easily identified you may not get an accurate result.
  • If you are sailing a Laser Radial be sure to enter "Laser Radial" and not just "Laser" on the signing-on sheet. The club Lasers have "Radial" and "Full" rigs available ("Radial" sails have a blue triangle on the rear corner on one side). If taking out a Firefly single handed then enter "Firefly S/H".
  • Please note that club boats must be signed-out and paid for before you take them out – whether racing or otherwise. Also note that club boats should not be taken out if the wind is above Force 4 unless clearance has been given by a member of the Sailing Committee – the wind speed can be checked on the displays at the garage end of the main clubhouse and on the bridge.

At WOSC an entry is determined by the boat (sail number) and the helm. This means that crews can change from race to race.

  • The results system cannot show different crew names for different races in a series, so don't be upset if you crew in a race but your name doesn't appear in the results. The name shown on the results is usually manually adjusted to show the crew who made the most contribution to the boat's overall result – but mistakes can be made. If the helm contacts the “results” email address the crew name shown on the results can be updated.

If you are using club boats then you do not need to sail the exact same boat from race to race, just as long as it is the same class (Optimist, Topper, Laser, Laser Radial, Firefly, Wayfarer).

Back to Top

How do I take part in a race?

Sign-on, write down the course, start the race, sail the course, finish the race, celebrate victory – simple as that.

Joking apart, the simplest way to make yourself familiar with the process is to ask the more experienced sailors what to do – most of them don't bite. People tend to congregate in or near the garage (under the bridge) until the course is announced, so hang around the garage and talk to people. Crewing for someone who knows the ropes is another good way to get started.

When there are several races on the same day take care to check the course board before each start, the course may be changed from race to race. Also check the number and types of start for each race and know which start you are in. Remember to sign-on for each race.

Back to Top

How are races scored?

The winner of the race scores 1 point, 2nd place gets 2 points, 3rd place gets 3 points and so on.

If you start a race but retire part way through you will appear on the results sheet as "RET" ("Retired"). A RET scores 1 point more than the number of boats that started the race.

Back to Top

What is a race series?

Most of the competitions at WOSC are decided by the combined results of several races (a “race series”). The Programme Of Events (Racing Calendar) shows when the races of each series are sailed. A copy of the Programme Of Events is displayed on the Results noticeboard in the entrance corridor of the clubhouse, and the information is also available on the web-site

Back to Top

How do I win a race series?

As a minimum you must compete in enough races to qualify. The Programme Of Events shows how many races are needed to qualify and the length of the series – for example “5 out of 9” means you have to get a result in at least 5 races in a series of 9 races.

A RET (“Retired”) counts as a qualifying result.

Your series score is obtained by adding up your individual race results.

If you have sailed more than the qualifying number of races then your worst results are discarded. For example, if the series is “5 out of 9” and you have sailed 7 races then your 2 worst results are discarded – your series score is decided by your 5 best results. On the results sheets discards are indicated by putting brackets around the discarded result(s).

If you have the lowest combined score when all series races have been sailed then you win the series. If boats have equal series scores there are internationally defined tie breaking methods.

Back to Top

I'm sailing a Topper, how can I possibly beat a Laser?

If everybody sails the same class of boat then figuring out the results is easy – first across the finishing line wins.

When the race fleet is mixed (as with most racing at WOSC) then some handicap method has to be employed to level out the variation in performance of different classes of boat. We use the “Portsmouth Yardstick” handicap scheme. Each class is given a “Portsmouth Number” (faster boats get a smaller number than slower boats).

As each boat crosses the finish line the time elapsed since the start is recorded. A calculation is performed using the Elapsed Time, Portsmouth Number and Laps Sailed to arrive at a “Corrected Time”. Finishing positions are determined on the basis of Corrected Time.

The upshot of this is that a “slow” boat (large Portsmouth Number) can beat a “fast” boat even if the “slow” boat finishes behind the “fast” boat on the water.

So, even if you are at the back of the fleet in a Topper (large Portsmouth Number) don't give up, keep pushing. Race positions are often decided by a few corrected seconds.

Also, when you do your race duty remember to accurately record the finish times of each boat, even if they are not close to other boats on the water – a few seconds of Elapsed Time error could make all the difference to finishing positions determined by Corrected Time.

Back to Top

What does it mean when a series or race is “Fast/Slow” or “Single Handed/Crewed”?

If a series or race is shown as “General Handicap” there will be one start for all boats.

If a series or race is shown as “Fast/Slow” then there will be 2 starts. Essentially there are 2 separate races – one for “Fast” boats and one for “Slow” boats. The split between the 2 race fleets is on the basis of “Portsmouth Number” – if you are unsure if you are sailing a “Fast” or “Slow” boat check with the Officer Of the Day (OOD). The 2 race fleets use the same start line and sail the same course but the starts are staggered in time.

  • Be careful with boats that have different configurations (1 sail, 2 sails, 3 sails) or sub-classes (Laser, Laser Radial) – this can change the Portsmouth Number which could affect which fleet you are in.

“Single Handed/Crewed” is the same kind of arrangement as “Fast/Slow” but the split is a little more obvious.

To avoid embarrassment make sure you know if you are in the first or second start. If you are in the second start it is a good idea to keep clear of the starting area and the first leg of the course while the first start is in progress – unless you like being shouted at.

Back to Top

What do all the hoots and flag signals mean at the start of the race?

All of the signals are explained in the Sailing Instructions, please study these. As a quick reminder the sound signals are to draw your attention to the flag signals, the latter being the true signal. However, in practice, most people react to the hoots.

When there is one start hoots will be sounded 5 minutes, 4 minutes and 1 minute before the start. The next hoot you hear will be at 0 minutes and you should be crossing the start line at maximum speed in the right direction. The start time announced in the Sailing Calendar or Notice of Race is the earliest time that the “0 minutes – start” can be signalled – do not rely on the advertised start time being when the 5 minute signal is made. Starts can be later than the specified time but not earlier.

The starting sequence of flags/hoots is a little more complicated when 2 starts are involved. Basically the 0/start signal of the first start is the 5 minute signal for the second start:-

1st start 5 mins 4 mins 1 min 0 - GO!      
2nd start       5 mins 4 mins 1 min 0 - GO!

After your “0 – GO!” signal you should cross the start line (in the right direction) within 2 minutes.

  • If you are in the vicinity of the start but fail to cross the line within 2 minutes then you will be scored "DNS" (Did Not Start). If you are DNS then you are not racing and should keep well clear of boats that are - maybe sail in for an early tea/beer.

Special sailing watches are available that beep at the appropriate times – you might hear these chirping away before the start.

Sometimes you might hear an extra hoot a few seconds after “0 – GO!”, this means that one or two boats (maybe you) jumped the start and must return behind the start line and then they can start properly and sail on (“Individual Recall”). Flag "X" is flown for Individual Recall (looks like the England flag but has a blue cross instead of red).

If you hear two extra hoots a few seconds after “0 – GO!” it means that loads of boats were over the line and everybody must come back (“General Recall”). There will be a short delay and then the 5-4-1-0 sequence will start again. The flag called "First Substitute" is flown for General Recall (pointy blue and yellow flag).

Back to Top

How do I finish a race?

Races at WOSC generally run for about an hour. As the leading boat of the fleet approaches the penultimate mark of a lap the OOD will sound 2 hoots and raise flag “S” (white flag with a blue square in the middle). When the lead boat crosses the line there will be one hoot and the lead boat will have finished, all other boats finish behind the lead boat and will get a hoot as they finish.

It can happen that a boat crosses the finish line after “2 hoots” but ahead of the lead boat – this boat will not be finished until it has completed another lap and finished behind the lead boat. Sometimes you might see a boat slow down so that it gets lapped by the lead boat and so avoid sailing another lap.


  • The “S” flag means “Shortened Course”. The course board will usually indicate that the race will be 20 or 100 laps long – don't panic! The OOD has written down a large number of laps that they don't expect anyone to complete. This allows the OOD to finish the race after an hour or so, regardless of the actual number of laps that have been sailed, by signalling “Shortened Course”.
  • When a race involves 2 fleets (say “Fast/ Slow”) then there will be 2 “lead boats” (one from each fleet). The OOD can give “2 hoots” on either lead boat, boats from both fleets will then be finished behind this lead boat.
Back to Top

How do I find out my race result?

The Officer Of the Day (Race Officer) and his team will record times, etc. at the end of the race. After calculation of the results the results sheets may be available in the clubhouse. Please take care with the results sheets – if they are lost there is no way to recover the results.

Some time after the race the results will be processed and will be available on the WOSC web-site (you might need to press “refresh” in your browser to get an update). For each race series the web-site shows a series summary and detailed results for each race.

Back to Top

I have a query about the results, what do I do?

If possible, talk to the Officer Of the Day on the day of the race.

If informal communications do not resolve any issue to your satisfaction then fill in a Protest Form.

E-mail “results@wosc.org.uk” - it's possible that the results sheets have been incorrectly entered into the web results. If your name is incorrectly spelt then send an email – and write more clearly on the signing-on sheet next time!

Back to Top

The series summary table shows “DNC” - what does it mean?

“DNC” means “Did Not Compete” - you didn't sail in that race, why on earth not?

Back to Top

The series summary table shows “DNQ” - what does it mean?

“DNQ” means “Did Not Qualify” and may be shown in the first column of the series summary table. DNQ means that the boat in question did not sail enough races to qualify for the series. Note that some boats may be indicated as DNQ before the series completes – this means there are not enough unsailed races left for them to qualify. If you are shown as DNQ in an unfinished series it does NOT mean that you are banned from sailing the rest of the races in that series – you can join in with whatever races you like.

Back to Top

The detailed race results on the web-site are a bit complicated, what do all the numbers mean?

The first column shows race or overall series position.

The next few columns show class, sail number, helm, crew, and “Portsmouth Number” (PN) – this is basically the information on the signing-on sheet which is why it is important to sign-on legibly.

The next 2 columns show the raw race results as recorded by the Officer Of the Day and his team (Elapsed time and Laps sailed).

The Corrected time column shows the result of the Portsmouth Yardstick handicap scheme calculation taking into account PN, Elapsed Time and Laps Sailed. Finishing positions are determined on the basis of Corrected Time.

Usually, for boats with a PN greater than 1000, the Corrected Time will be less than the Elapsed Time. This may not be the case where the boat has been lapped – Corrected Times are modified to give the corrected time as if the boat had sailed the same number of laps as the boat that sailed the most laps.

BCE and BCR are extra columns generated by the results software, they are not used to determine finishing positions. BCE (Back Calculated Elapsed) shows how much time you needed to knock off your elapsed time to win. BCR (Back Calculated Rating) shows what PN you needed to win based on your Elapsed Time and Laps Sailed - the closer BCR is to your boat's PN the better you are doing.

All of the calculations, determination of discards, ranking and publishing are performed by the (wonderful and free) Sailwave software package.

Back to Top

What do I do now?

Get out there racing and have some fun!

Back to Top

Free club management and website trial click here.

© West Oxfordshire Sailing Club

Disclaimer:All information is provided "as is", there is no warranty that the information is correct or suitable for any purpose, either implicit or explicit.
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software