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Will Support Boats be the Topic of 2017?

Published on December 13th, 2016

When 2-time Olympic medalist Jonathan McKee reported how the coaching aspect of the Olympics has become too dominant, the Scuttlebutt traffic reports elevated the interest in this topic to the “Urgent’ level.

“Sailing should require and reward self-sufficiency, and today some of that is lost,” observed McKee.

Brazilian Ricardo Lobato, past Commodore of the Snipe Class, reminded us that this topic was presented by his National Federation at the 2016 World Sailing Annual Conference held November 5-13 in Barcelona, Spain.

“It was strongly rejected on all committees,” reports Lobato. “The main reason was safety, but the only World Sailing event where coach boat are not allowed is the Youth Sailing World Championships. Maybe only adults need safety.”

Here was the submission from the Confederação Brasileira de Vela for Coach Boat Restrictions at the Sailing World Cup Events, World Sailing Classes Worlds and the Olympic Games:

Purpose or Objective
Restrict private or team support boat use for minimizing environment impact, reducing cost and providing a level play field for all sailors.

Not permit coaches and other support staff to go afloat on private or team support boat at the Sailing World Cup, World Sailing Classes Worlds and Olympic Games. They could only go afloat in craft supplied by the Organizing Authority.

Current Position
The proposed policy is used for decades at Youth Worlds with success. The same policy was approved for the next Pan Am Games. However, this restriction does not apply for Sailing World Cup Events, World Sailing Classes Worlds and the Olympic Games.

1. REDUCE THE IMPACT TO THE ENVIRONMENT: Following the Centennial Olympic Congress, Congress of Unity, organised in 1994 in Paris, the IOC recognised the importance of the environment and sustainable development, and, in 1996, added a paragraph on environmental protection to the Olympic Charter. Then, during the 127th IOC Session in Monaco on the 8th and 9th of December 2014, The Olympic Agenda 2020 was unanimously agreed including sustainability in all aspects of the Olympic Games (recommendation 4) and also including sustainability within the Olympic Movement’s daily operations (recommendation 5). Sailing is recognized as a clean sport as it uses a natural resource (wind) as energy. However, coach boats are destroying the green image of our sport. They use fossil fuel energy (gas) and they need water for cleaning.

2. REDUCE COSTS: Ribs are a very expense investment for individuals, clubs and national federations. They are much more expense than a sailing dingy. Usually, coach boats are equipped with all sort of expensive electronics. They are also very expensive to hire at events and difficult to transport. Moreover, all the logistic at events becomes much more complicated. Organizers need to provide pontoons, fuel services, cranes and water for cleaning. This reduce the chance of smaller yacht clubs to host big events. The excessive rib demand at events makes them even more expensive for organizers to provide safety and regatta operations.

3. PROVIDE A LEVEL PLAY FIELD: Coach boats are immensely divisive between rich and poorer nations. Sailors with support vessels can reach the racing area sooner, receive support for setting up the rig, be informed of all sort of meteorological data and have spare parts, food/drink and gear. A shared supplied vessel would also be aligned with Olympic Agenda 2020 recommendation 18 “Strengthen support to athletes” as towing, supplied spare parts and storage of gear and food would be available for all sailors. It would be possible to provide weather information and tracking for all coaches on-board through a local wi-fi.
As Sailing likes to portray itself as a green sport, in many instances it is just words. But with the recent launch of World Sailing’s new sustainability strategy, which seek to address the economic, environmental and social aspects of this issue, the issue of support boats would seem to be a prime area for change.

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