Morgan Reeser – Starting systems need video support

Published on February 6th, 2011

Time To Take a Step Out of the Dark Ages
By Morgan Reeser, Olympian/Professional sailor

Morgan_ReeserThe current starting system is still essentially the same as it was a hundred years ago, relying on human judgment often in a very challenging environment. If the system is not going to embrace starting technologies that other sports utilize, then sailing should at least aspire to show fairness and equity towards the competitors with its OCS and redress procedures.

I am the first to admit that sighting the line accurately in a competitive fleet is the hardest thing to do in sailing. Try to stop action at exactly zero, when 30 boats are approaching the line at 7 kts (or about 12 feet per second). Human judgment is required when you would have to ask yourself if those four boats at the pin were just exactly on the line or six inches over at the gun. Add in boats that are early OCS and obstruct one or both of the ends and it is impossible for a RC to accurately sight the line. Once one end of the start line is obstructed, then the RC is just guessing who is over after that. The RC is human and humans can make errors in such compromising conditions.

Unfortunately, the ISAF Redress system is very heavily weighted against the sailors. The sailors are required to provide proof that they were not over, when the RC has all the proof. All the RC has to provide is a recording (if they even have one) with the sailor’s number written on a piece of paper. The sailor’s best (and only?) proof is video which is usually summarily dismissed by the Jury because the video is not taken exactly on the line, or there is no proof exactly when the start time occurred. To further stack the deck against the sailors, Organizers often will not allow coaches or support boat to be near the extensions of the line to video, and many classes will not allow video taken from a support boat to be used as evidence.

So how is the Sailor supposed to provide any proof that they started behind the start line, when they are prevented from accessing video evidence, and when the RC has all the proof, but only needs to validate their decision with a recording and a piece of paper? If memory serves me correctly don’t other sports rely on Video Replay/Review to conform that the correct decisions have been made on the field of play? In our technologically advanced age, why is the RC not required to provide video of the start, so that they can confirm sailors that actually OCS?

The Race Organizers, Jury, Race Committee and Coaches are all obviously there to support sailing and do their best for the sailors. So while we wait for some highly advanced technology to appear and solve our OCS challenges, why don’t we take a step out of the dark ages and at the least require the RC to video the starts. The RC can then remove some human error from the system and allow themselves to review and confirm the sailors that were definitely OCS. This is something that definitely cannot be done with a tape recorder.

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