Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What is a Notice of Race?

Recently, I received a brief race announcement that was labeled as a "Notice of Race".

The announcement did, in fact, cover some of the requirements of a valid Notice of Race (NOR), giving the date, time, place, and entry fee.

However, it omitted many of the details required by US Sailing (and by equivalent International Sailing Federation member national authorities in other countries) to constitute a NOR. Ironically, one of the missing pieces was telling prospective sailors what rules would apply -- I say ironically, because the so-called NOR didn't meet many requirements of the Racing Rules of Sailing, placing the club in violation of the RRS. Before the regatta even happened, this yacht club was already not running its regatta according to the rules.

The NOR is supposed to give a prospective race crew all the information they need in order to decide whether to participate in a regatta. Besides the when, where, and how much, it needs to describe applicable rules, the name of the organizing authority, classes racing, handicap system used, any rules that may be changed (and these must meet strict requirements), and other information. Similarly, Sailing Instructions must also be provided and must likewise meet various requirements.

What does this mean to the club that doesn't publish or post a proper NOR?

Of course, it means that the club isn't meeting the expectations of racers, especially knowledgeable ones. It leaves the club open to the impression that the race committee is untrained or possibly operating unfairly; without the right paperwork racers can't tell if the playing field is going to be level and which rules and procedures will be in place. By issuing proper documents, the club's racing committee fulfills one aspect of following best practices. (Others include race committee training according to national standards, and following proper protest and hearing procedures.)

But, it does get much more serious than this from the club's perspective.

The NOR and SIs for a race are part and parcel of the framework of the Racing Rules of Sailing. They NOR and SIs are required and defined in the RRS. They all have to work together.

The Rules, when agreed to and acknowledged on a properly written disclaimer and sign-up form, are part of a binding contract between a skipper and a yacht club. This contract sets out expectations and requirements for both the skipper and the club. It defines liability. It tends to give the club legal protection in the event of a lawsuit. It is expected by the club's insurance providers, and by US Sailing (or the appropriate national authority outside the USA) and US Sailing's appeals process.

With the right paperwork, procedures, training, documentation, and actions by volunteers, a club obtains maximum protection for itself in the event of a tragedy or lawsuit. Lawsuits are more easily defended, avoided, or dismissed. And, with a competent race committee that enforces proper procedures, disasters are less likely to occur in the first place.

Without the right paperwork, a club puts itself and its officers, directors, and volunteers at heightened risk.

Unfortunately, for smaller club, Directors and Officers liability coverage (D&O insurance) may be prohibitively expensive. Prospective officers and volunteers may be well advised to seek umbrellas liability coverage from their personal insurance agents after discussing their situation with the agents.


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