Get Adobe Flash player

Steps to Racing

Steps for Crew & Boat Owners

Become a Racer

For Crew

This is the easiest way to enter the sport of sailboat racing. Boats are always looking for energetic crew. There are a number of ways to get on a boat as crew--one is to learn when the local races are, show up at the club (all clubs on Lake Michigan are “open” and won’t question your arrival) 1-2 hours before race time. Walk around, introduce yourself and let people know you would like to crew, be frank about your experience level and ask if you can be introduced to others who may take you out for a race.  If you don't wish to show up without some level of experience, click Learn to Sail (above) and see which yacht clubs have a Crew School or a learn to sail program in your area.

Everyone is willing to teach and bring along a new crew. Camaraderie is strong onboard all boats.

What do you need to bring along with you?

  • Deck shoes – black soles are frowned upon, they leave scuffs that are hard to clean off.
  • Rain gear – start with something to keep the water off you, look at a couple of marine chandlery websites for ideas.
  • Good hat, sailing gloves, sunscreen, and a waterproof stop watch.
  • An inflatable Personal Flotation Device only if you are an experienced swimmer (life jacket – and wear it) or bring a foam filled Personal Flotation Device if not comfortable in being in the water-and wear it.
  • Even on the warmest days on shore, you’ll be surprised at how cool it will be on the water. Pretty much always bring a fleece top for warmth.
  • 6-pack to case of brew and some munchies.
  • First time out bring your own food, but then learn how food is done for subsequent events when they ask you to come back.

In a little time you’ll be soaking up a lot of knowledge. You’ll learn that it is a sport of rules. The best advice we can give is to become an avid reader. You’ll be introduced to such things as the Notice of Race, Race Entry Form, Sailing Instructions, Racing Rules of Sailing, US SAILING Prescriptions to the Racing Rules of Sailing, Offshore Rating Rule (ORR), Lake Michigan Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (LMPHRF), Sailor Classification, Appeals, International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, ISAF Special Regulations, ISAF Case Book. Almost all of these are online and when you’re ready, start reading. The reason for reading is you will become an asset to your boat by bringing up special rules that occur in almost every race to keep your boat from being disqualified after completing the race course. This is one of the best pieces of advice we can offer – Read!

As you develop your skills, you’ll learn of all sorts of seminars and sailing schools which will increase your knowledge about what makes a boat go faster through the water, how to operate boats safely, learn the right of way rules, sail trim, tactics and so forth. Consider taking seminars to enhance your skills.

Just make the first step. Go out to the docks and ask, “Who needs crew?”

Are You Brand New To Sailing And Have A Quest For The Sea?

Many who show up wishing to sail wish to contribute right away.  But how can you learn something before showing up looking for a ride?  Some clubs offer Crew Schools in the springtime to teach brand new adult sailors about the parts and functions of the boats, so that they have a primer.  Some mate them up with club volunteers who will take you out on their boats and practice what was learned in the classroom.  Most clubs will also offer charging privileges during class time. Some have a post-Class social to meet boat owners who are looking for crew for the coming season.

Another way to get a primer is online to learn the terminolgy and functions that make a boat sail , try this one out - Online Sailing Course.

For the Boat Owner

Suggestion - Do internet searches to learn more details after you see what each topic’s objective is

The best advice anyone can give a beginner is to “read.” It must become a habit for successful racing. Each race runs with slightly different variations to rules, and it is these variations that trip up even the seasoned sailor. Become a voracious reader.

Sail Number

Every boat needs a sail number on both sides of its mainsail, its spinnakers and on jibs that overlap the main's foot by 30% or more.   It is preferable that the number is unique and is registered in the US Sailing National Database to avoid duplicate and arbitrary numbers that may have been affixed by the manufacturer or sailmaker.   If numbers are already on the sails, it's okay. Unique numbers are a safety feature when used in Search and Rescue operations. Commonly, Race Committees can handle that even if a duplicate number exists in the same race, but if you need or want a unique sail number, contact the US Sailing Offshore Office, 1 Roger Williams University Way, Bristol, RI 02809, Phone: 1-800-877-2451, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and you will be assigned one promptly.

Notice of Race

This document is the “Invitation to the party.” It outlines what boats are eligible to race, who, what, where, when, why and how. It will also explain how to enter the race. Read!

Race Entry

One must enter a race, giving data on yourself, your boat, sometimes your crew and may require reading and complying with other supporting documents. Read it carefully and complete all items required. The sport determined that Indemnification, Hold Harmless and Assumption of Risk wording in an entry is contrary to public policy and is not allowed. Look carefully for these words, if they are in the Race Entry, strike through those words, initial and date it, then sign the entry. A “waiver” is an acceptable risk tool for clubs and you should consult your attorney any time you have a question. Read!

Sailing Instructions

These are commonly handed out at the event or available online shortly before the event. These explain the intentions of the race committee, protest committee and the obligations of competitors.  Examples include starting times, courses to be sailed, time limites, and other requirements on the water.  If any of the Racing Rules of Sailing are being changed, it will display the change. Read!

Racing Rules of Sailing

These explain when two boats come together on a course, which boat has the right-or-way, and which is the “give-away” boat. It also has rules on personal conduct. This is the backbone of racing and learning these rules will help you keep safe to begin with, and later you can learn how to use the rules tactically to strategically position your boat to have an advantage on your competitors. You must buy a US SAILING Racing Rules of Sailing book. If you use the online “ISAF” rules, then you also must download the “US SAILING Prescriptions” to have a complete set of rules. Read!

Of course, you would already be familiar with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (International and Inland Right of Way Rules for all vessels) that applies to when you come across a boat that is not racing at all times. Read!

Sailor Classification

In some races in some classes of boats to help level the playing field, sailors on these boats must apply to determine whether they meet the criteria of being a “professional,” and if so, becomes a “Group 3” sailor, while the amateur is a “Group 1” sailor. The Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions will explain how many Group 3 sailors are allowed on board each boat. Read!

Protest Hearing

When there is a conflict between two boats under the aforementioned rules, a competitor “protests” the action of another competitor. A hearing is held where testimony is given to an impartial panel of sailing “judges.” The outcomes can be: One boat may be disqualified; The other boat may be disqualified; Both boats are disqualified; or, The protest is dismissed with no penalty. Read!


Part 1

Sometimes the sailing judges err. It is their job to write the “Facts Found” in the protest hearing, and those facts can not be disputed or changed in an Appeal. What is disputed in the appeal is if the sailing judges interpreted the Facts Found incorrectly, and applied the Racing Rule incorrectly. The protest hearing decision may either be: Upheld; or, Overturned by the Appeals Committee. If there is inadequate documentation from the original protest hearing, the Appeals Committee will request additional information from the original judges, if the sailing judges did not gather that information, a “re-opening of the hearing” shall occur where both parties in the protest come and give additional testimony and the additional testimony is forwarded to the Appeals Committee.   The Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation runs all Appeals on Lake Michigan. Many sailors own the US SAILING Appeals Book. It gives examples of odd situations that the Racing Rules needed clarification on. Another document many sailors download is the ISAF Case Book. Again this is examples of odd situations that the Racing Rules needed clarification on. Read!

Part 2

Sometimes the Regional Appeals Committee errs. It is possible to appeal a second time, this one going to the national appeals committee at US SAILING. The same process is followed as in Part 1. Read!


While all boats are required to comply with the USCG Safety Regulations, some races add additional safety rules. These are called the “ISAF Offshore Special Regulations with US SAILING Prescriptions.” It is broken down into “Categories” of races (close to shore within rescue, to far from shore with no rescue services available and self-reliance is needed). It lists equipment and practices onboard, as well as assuring all of your crew knows where all equipment is, and how it is to be used. Read!

One-Design Rules

Boats that are built alike have their own “class rules.” These may have crew weight limits, and parts of your boat, sails, rig or other things that are measured or can not be changed. As these are “rules” you are required to be in compliance with them while racing. Read!

Lake Michigan Performance Handicap Racing Fleet

When boats of different make, model, and sizes compete against one another that all go different speeds in different winds, a panel assigns the difference in boat speed from one to the next in “seconds per mile.” In general language we call it a PHRF (perf) rating. There are rules to comply with on what you must carry on your boat and how things are measured. Read!

Offshore Racing Rule

When boats of different make, model, and sized compete against one another that all go different speeds in different winds, a computer calculates the difference in boat speed from one to the next in “seconds per mile.” In order for this to work your boat must be measured out of the water as well as in, to give the computer a complete 3D model of your boat. If your boat is a sistership, it may get a waiver if other sisterships were already measured. Read!


Did we say it enough times?

Copyright ©  Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation. All Rights Reserved.