Sail numbers need contrasting colors

Published on October 1st, 2019

The Racing Rules of Sailing includes two main sections. The first, Parts 1-7, contains rules that affect all competitors. The second, the Appendices, goes further into the weeds on issues, one of which is Appendix G – Identification on Sails.

This appendix has loads of details about the letters and numbers on sails, but the most basic tenet in Appendix G1.2(a) is that letters and numbers must be “clearly legible”, meaning they are “capable of being read.”

While it is the competitor that must follow the Racing Rules of Sailing, when sails are purchased, it is understood they are built to meet the relevant rules, and Appendix G is one of those rules. However, the inability to read numbers has become a reoccurring problem.

Philip Gage reports:
While trying to run a finishing boat on the Solent, I have been disturbed by the number of boats with illegible sail numbers. These are mainly boats with black sails and dark sail numbers, either red or blue. They may appear to be legible on the sail loft floor, but against the sky at 300 yards range, they are just black.

On the race committee we spend a great deal of time trying to identify these boats, and record their finishing time, but this is at the risk of missing another finisher.

Thirty years ago I discussed this with Mary Pera, then chair of the Racing Rules Committee in the UK, and her response was a typical snort “If you can’t read the number don’t record it”.

To my mind the only acceptable colour for numbers on a black sail is white, otherwise risk being scored DNF, and then try to convince the protest committee that you were without fault yourself.

This is not a new problem, having also been raised in 2018:

Christy Schisler (Scuttlebutt 5105):
Can someone explain to me why sailmakers, and/or class rules allow unreadable dark sail numbers on dark sails?

I have been on race committee for the San Diego Cortez Racing Beer Can series for over ten years. This series starts and finishes an average of 95 boats every Wednesday night. Most of the time we are scrambling to read sail numbers within yards of the finish line, especially difficult with multiple finishers clumped together, blocking their sails.

What, if any, is the rationale that makes it difficult for the RC to accurately score boats? Can there be a resolution, universally?

Luiz E. Kahl (Scuttlebutt 5106):
One would think the words “clearly legible” would clearly define the application while leaving it open for the user to pick a color that matches their boat (for those that feel the need to be fully color coordinated).

However, having been on Race Committee almost weekly for years helping with scoring, I have seen the increased difficulty that our “young” (not so!) volunteers are having in reading the numbers and correctly identifying the boat for a proper finish. And during this time, I’ve been asking the same question, actually ever since the dark carbon sails starting showing up on the scene.

It might look “pretty” but it is not making the RC work any easier and if this continues, we’ll start losing the highly regarded volunteers we have left as they don’t feel they can properly score if they can’t see.

James Dadd (Scuttlebutt 5106):
With the introduction of different sail materials, it is sometimes hard to see on the loft floor what will be visible when the sail is flying. And remember, the equipment inspector is likely to only see the sail on the floor.

Jim Champ (Scuttlebutt 5107):
If a protest committee finds that a boat has broken this rule then it may choose to give her time to comply rather than penalise immediately. So break out those protest forms! Indeed a note in the club newsletter informing competitors you intend to protest may be all that’s required.

There are those who choose low contrast sail numbers in the belief that they are less likely to be picked out of the start line. To me this seems to be verging on cheating. There others, of course, who can only find black numbers on the shelf!

Janet C. Baxter (Scuttlebutt 5108):
Why does anyone try to make life harder for race committees? At any level? Spinnaker numbers different than mains or what is registered, or unreadable – are you trying to kill off your volunteer scorer? And those classes where no numbers are required on spinnakers – what’s up with that?

Has this been a problem in your region? How has it been addressed? Send your comments to

comment banner


Back to Top ↑

Get Your Sailing News Fix!

Your download by email.

  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

We’ll keep your information safe.