Deciding to Race (Rule 3)
Another important rule that applies to our racing applies before you even get on the water.
Sailing has some inherent dangers: flying booms hitting heads; flicking sail clews striking eyes; fingers caught between boats; let alone that we can’t breathe water. No club or race committee can make a safe decision that racing is safe for you and your crew on a specific day or in particular weather. Therefore, the racing rules make it clear that the decision to race is solely the responsibility of the owner and crew of each boat.
Before you even rig your boat is the time to think about the level of skill you and your crew bring to today’s race. Also think about your ability to avoid the dangers of other boats who may not be as skilled in the current weather. Consider the condition of your equipment. Are your fittings, spars, sails, likely to break? Just as you are responsible for deciding whether to drive with worn brakes or in a snowstorm, you are the only one who can decide that the weather and boat are safe for you and your crew. And, by the way, if you decide to race, your agreeing to sail by the rules (Rule 4), including Rule 3, which says it’s purely your decision.
For many of us the influence of other sailors is a strong pull when we’re unsure. They may have decided to go out and it’s easy to take that as an endorsement that it is safe to go out. Some members may even encourage you to go, “You can manage this.” “You aren’t going to use a small sail, are you?” I encourage you to have your defense ready and practiced so you aren’t swayed, “I’m not ready for this much wind. Best to stay safe.” Or even more direct, “Please don’t encourage me to do something I don’t feel safe about. I need more practice in lighter winds.” Reducing risk is a captain’s responsibility.
If you find your abilities in strong winds aren’t improving, ask an experienced sailor what steps you can take to safely get better. For instance: ways to keep the boat flat; jibing techniques; tacking in strong winds; others. Practice until the decision to race feels right and safe for you and your crew.
The decision to race is yours alone!