Thornbury Sailing Club

A Beginner’s Guide to Dinghy Racing

(Stolen from Northampton SC and suitably amended)



  1. When are races held?
  2. What boat can I sail?
  3. How good at sailing do I need to be?
  4. How do I let people know I’m new to racing?
  5. What rules do I need to know?
  6. How do I enter a race?
  7. What course do I sail?
  8. How do I start?
  9. What about those horrible crowded start lines?
  10. What’s a Pursuit race?
  11. How do I finish?
  12. How do I find out where I finished?
  13. How do I qualify for a series?
  14. Any other questions?





When are races held?

A program is sent out to all members and is published on the club website and also on the noticeboard in the clubhouse.


What boat can I sail?

Virtually any dinghy may be raced. We use a handicapping system to allow boats of different types to race against one another and still let the best sailed one win!


How good at sailing do I need to be?

So long as you know what happens when you waggle the stick at the back, you’re good enough! Racing is by far the quickest way of improving sailing skills and every one of us started off knowing very little and we’ve all got more to learn!


How do I let people know I’m new to racing?

One idea is to tie a coloured ribbon to your rigging.


What rules do I need to know?

A boat on port tack (the wind coming from the left, the boom on the right) gives way to one on starboard tack (wind from right, boom on left). A boat on Starboard tack with right of way may shout ”Starboard” if you are on Port tack and they think you are about to get in their way.

A boat to windward (closest to where the wind is coming from) gives way to a boat to leeward (the boat further away from the wind).

At a mark, the boat on the inside, nearest the mark, will usually need to be given room to round the mark without hitting it or you!

These basic rules should prevent most collisions. There are many more and as you become more experienced it is worthwhile investing in the latest copy of the racing rules book. (e.g. The Rules in Practice by Bryan Willis, pub Fernhurst Books). Rules can be downloaded from ISAF website[13376].pdf

If you’re displaying your ribbon then the more experienced sailors will be prepared for the fact that you are not familiar with the rules.



How do I enter a race?

The officer of the day (OOD), who is in charge of that day’s racing, will put a signing on sheet on the desk in the Race Box. Fill in your name and the class and sail number of the boat you’ll be sailing.


What course do I sail?

The OOD will set a course and display it on a board at the base of the Race box. The board will display the name of the mark to be rounded and the direction in which it is to be rounded. If marked with a P then pass the mark on the left side of the boat. If marked with S then pass the mark  to the right of the boat. An approximate number of laps will also be displayed.

Take note, most races at TSC require you to sail through the start-finish line at the end of each lap.

There is a large map at the base of the race box showing the approximate position of the marks. If you are still unsure, ask someone to point out the bouys to you from the shore or even on the start line (We’ve all had this done for us at some point!). When on the water, follow someone who looks like he (or she) knows where (s)he’s going!


How do I start?

The start line is a straight line extending from the centre flagpole of the race box through a transit pole on the foreshore. The limit bouy marks the outer end of the line.

The starting sequence goes as follows:

5 minutes to start – hoot of horn and 1st (warning) flag up.              or 

4 minutes to start – hoot of horn and 2nd (preparatory) flag up. This will be a blue flag with a white square in the centre.

1 minutes to start – hoot of horn and 2nd (preparatory) flag down

0 minutes – The start – hoot of horn and 1st flag down and the race is on.


At TSC the fast handicap fleet boats (handicap number lower than 1000) start first. The 5 minute signal for the slow handicap fleet (handicap number higher than 1000) normally occurs with the fast handicap fleet start.

What about those horrible crowded start lines?

When you first start racing, you could hang back a bit at the start, crossing the line after all the keen ones have finished getting in each other’s way.  However there is another way.... Pursuit races.


What’s  a pursuit race?

In the late summer on Saturdays we run a Pursuit series. Pursuit  races are also know as Hare and Hounds races. Using the handicapping system, the boats taking part start in order of speed, slowest go first (e.g. Mirror) fastest go last (e.g. an A-class catamaran) and everyone else is spread out in between. The aim of the race is to overtake the slower boats and to prevent the faster boats from overtaking you.

The race lasts 90minutes for a Mirror.

The starts because they are staggered, are much easier for the beginner. There will probably be only 2 or 3 other boats starting at the same time. The starting intervals are displayed on the notice board at the base of the race box. The list is also available on the TSC website.


How do I finish?

In Pursuit races, everybody finishes at once when the horn hoots, but keep sailing until the rescue boat notes your position. Your position is when the horn goes, so no overtaking afterwards please!

In Handicap racing, the finish line is normally the same as the start line. You’ll either finish after the number laps on the course board, or if the race was going to take too long, after the OOD has sounded 2 long hoots on the horn and put up the shortened course flag (a blue square on a white background). 

Each boat that finishes received a hoot unless they were over the line at the start (OCS), have been seen not to have sailed the correct course, or have received outside assistance, that’s to say you have been rescued!


How do I find out where I finished?

In Pursuit racing the results are as seen on the water – the boat in the lead wins the race.

Handicap races, however, need to have calculations made by the OOD to make allowances for the different types of boat racing. This can usually be done on the day of racing. Results will then be available in the club house after racing. Results will also be made available as soon as possible on the website and usually a printed official copy will be posted on the results board in the clubhouse by the following race day.


How do I qualify for a series?

At TSC completing any race in a series qualifies you to compete for prizes in the series. Other sailing clubs demand that you complete a certain percentage, but we recognise that it is sometimes difficult to commit to 7 or 8 days out of 10. Nevertheless if you can turn up to more races you stand a better chance of winning a prize at the annual dinner dance.


Any other questions?

Paul Craig the sailing secretary is a self confessed sailing geek and can usually answer your questions or ask anyone dressed in sailing kit at the club! They’ll help if they can. Promise!


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Or telephone:  07793 905913