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This page provides a checklist you can use to prepare for a race, as well as general tips/reminders on how to stay safe, prioritize tasks, communicate effectively, and handle situations when things go wrong.
If you're not familiar with some of the terms or concepts on this page, look them up in the Glossary and review the Sailing Basics page.
Race Preparation Checklist
Here is a suggested list of things you can do to prepare yourself for a race. The list is in rough order of priority – start with the most important items at the top and work your way down. Use the checkboxes to track your progress.
If you haven't sailed in a while, you may also want to review:
- how to tie knots
- how to rig the boat
- how to prioritize tasks & communicate effectively (see the tips below)
Tips For Everyone
- Always use one hand for the boat and one hand for yourself. Keeping yourself safe is your first and foremost concern.
- Be on the lookout for traffic on the leeward side, especially between the 12 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions. The driver can't see through the sails at those positions. All crew members should constantly monitor and call out traffic ahead of us; an ideal call would be something like “Traffic at two o'clock on starboard tack!”
- Think about which job is higher priority.
- If there is one job that is preventing the boat from executing a maneuver or holding up other people from doing their job, that job is normally more important.
- For example, let's say you have two jobs to do: pushing the boom out from the boat when sailing to lee (downwind), and releasing the spinnaker halyard when the spinnaker is doused (lowered). In this example, you should prioritize your jobs as follows:
- During the most of the downwind leg, the first job (pushing the boom out) is higher priority, because that helps the mainsail catch more wind and makes the boat sail faster.
- When the boat gets close to the downwind mark, the second job (releasing the spinnaker halyard) becomes higher priority. This is because if the douse is delayed, the boat will need to sail past the mark before it can turn upwind, and it will lose a lot of time. Thus, as the boat gets close to the mark, you need to stop pushing the boom out, and prepare for the spinnaker douse (find the correct halyard, uncleat it, measure out the line, etc.).
- Think about what you will do next, and when you need to do it.
- Think about what maneuver the boat will be executing next (tacking, jibing, rounding a mark, raising or lowering a sail, etc.).
- Then think about what you need to do during that maneuver.
- Finally, prepare yourself before the maneuver (get into position, grab the appropriate line, etc.), so that you can execute your job the moment the skipper gives the command.
- When you're not working, sit on the windward or leeward side to help the boat heel at its optimal angle.
- Sit on the windward side when sailing to weather (to help the boat heel less), and on the leeward side when sailing to lee (to help the boat heel more).
- While you're sitting down, look around you to spot any potential problems (e.g., are the jib sheets rigged correctly, on top of the spinnaker pole and in front of the topping lift?) If you see any potential problems, work on fixing them or ask another crew member to fix them.
- Work on keeping everything clean. For example, if a sail was just raised, take the tail end of the halyard off the deck and put it down the companionway. Keeping the deck and all the lines clear minimizes the chance of something getting fouled up later.
- Speak loudly.
- It's hard to hear people with the wind blowing and with several people talking at once. If your command/announcement is not heard, you will hold things up – for example, the crew in the cockpit will not start working until they hear the crew on foredeck say “Made” to announce that a hoist is complete or that the pole has been attached to the new afterguy. Speak loudly enough so that the other side of the boat can hear you.
- If you're working mid-deck, relay commands from one side of the boat to the other. For example, relay the “hoist” command from the cockpit to the foredeck, and relay the “Made” command from the foredeck back to the cockpit.
- When you ask somebody to do something, get their attention by saying their name or position before your request. For example: “Console, tension the topping lift.”
- If a command is directed to you, acknowledge that you heard the command.
- For example, if the skipper tells the deck boss, "Prepare to tack!", the deck boss should respond, "Preparing to tack."
- If there is a problem holding things up, you can respond with a statement acknowledging that you are working on the problem, e.g., "Working on preparing the boat to tack."
- When the skipper asks “Is everybody ready?”, the foredeck boss, deck boss, and pit boss must all respond.
Tips For New Crew
Review the safety tips below, especially if you're new to sailing, and remember that your first and foremost concern is always to keep yourself safe.
- The sails, lines (ropes), and boom are under heavy stress when the boat is fully powered up – handle these parts carefully, and stay clear of them when you're not working.
- Ask an experienced crew member to show you where to sit on the deck, and how to move from one side of the boat to the other when the boat tacks or jibes. Things move quickly when the boat turns on a tack or a jibe – think ahead about what the boat will be doing, and where you will move in response.
- If you get in trouble, grab the lifelines (the wire safety ropes that run along the edge of the deck) and hang on. One of the crew members will help you get back up. We want to avoid having a man overboard if at all possible.
Where to Sit/Stand
When you're not working, position your body in a way that helps the boat sail faster:
- The boat has an optimum heel (tilt) angle at which it sails fastest. That means that we want the boat to heel some, but not too much.
- When sailing to weather (into the wind), the boat usually heels too much. To help the boat heel less and sail faster, sit on the high (windward) side of the boat. Sit with your butt on the rail, hang your legs over the side of the boat, and stick your head under the lifelines and out as far as possible.
- When sailing to lee (downwind), the boat usually does not heel enough. To help the boat heel more and sail faster, sit on the low (downwind) side of the boat, and back towards the stern if there is room.
- Listen to the commands of the skipper:
- Weight Out: Sit on the high side of the boat, put your head out under the lifelines, and get your weight out as far as possible from the boat.
- Weight In: Move closer to the center of the boat so that the boat doesn't heel as much.
- Weight to Port or Weight to Starboard: Move to the port (left) or starboard (right) side of the boat.
When Things Go Wrong
Here is the basic sequence of steps to follow when things are not working as intended:
- Stay calm.
- The calmer you are, the better you will be able to respond.
- Diagnose the problem.
- Do this even if somebody else has already diagnosed the problem – their assessment may be wrong, so having your independent analysis is important.
- Come up with a solution.
- There may be more than one way to fix the problem. Having multiple options is helpful.
Doing all of this may seem straightforward, but it's hard to do under fire. And there are always difficult judgement calls to make, like:
- Should I let them go ahead because they've already started their program?
- Should I try to take over?
- Should I leave my post because I may be able to get the job done if I am there? And so forth.
Make the best call that you can, keep things in perspective, and remember: stay calm, diagnose, solve, execute.