To understand regatta safety regulations that are presently available requires a little history of how we got to where we are now. US safety equipment rules in the early 2000s were governed either by local Yacht Racing Associations (YRAs) or by national/international regulations, either US Sailing or the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), now World Sailing (WS), Offshore Special Regulations (OSRs). In the NW, the commonly used set of rules were those put forth by the Pacific International Yachting Association (PIYA). The PIYA safety regulations functioned generally well with regular review and revision, similar to how the World Sailing Offshore Special Regulations (OSRs) were managed. All these rules deal with safety equipment to be carried on board, stability, crew training, and construction. These racing specific rules add to what the Government entities (USCG in the US) require.
Unfortunately, over time the text of OSRs grew to the point where the document was quite long, which made it difficult to use. This bloat prompted the US Sailing Safety at Sea Committee to develop the Sailboat Equipment Regulations (SERs) in 2012. The SERs simplified the regulations by removing the recommendations and narrowing it down to just three categories versus the six levels for keelboats in the OSRs. The SERs still followed the basic regulations set out by ISAF/WS. The authors of the SERs specifically wanted to keep things brief with the intent that the safety equipment rules would serve as a framework that could be tweaked by Organizing Authorities (OAs) to suit their event needs and be easily understood by sailors preparing their boats.
Another impetus for the SER development was lessons learned from tragedies, including the 2012 Low Speed Chase incident in San Francisco and the 2011 Wingnuts incident in Chicago. Both events resulted in loss of life. For the Low Speed Chase, the incident report can be found here– https://www.ussailing.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Farallones-Report-FINAL.pdf
For Wingnuts, the incident report is here- https://www.ussailing.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/safety_us_sailing_CYC.pdf
A few years after the SERs were published, World Sailing (WS) completed a major revision of the OSRs. This included tightening up the language and moving some sections from the body of the rules into appendices and the recommendations into a separate book to keep the rule text more compact. This happened about 2015-16. The OSR recommendations can be found here-
US Sailing has since followed suit and has a very educational book of recommendations and best practices for offshore sailing. These resources can be found here- https://shop.ussailing.org/safety-at-sea-a-guide-to-safety-under-sail-and-per.html
Availability of either the SERs or the revised OSRs prompted PIYA to make the 2017 version of their safety regulations their last. With two very good options available, either national (SERs) or international (OSRs) standards covering both US and Canadian events, the PIYA rules became redundant.
Each set of rules are regularly reviewed and amended. The SERs are maintained and updated by a subgroup of the US Sailing Safety at Sea Committee. The OSRs are maintained by an international committee at World Sailing which typically includes a member of the US Sailing Safety at Sea Committee. The both sets of rules are revised on a 2-year cycle with an updated version coming out on even numbered years. For both rules, amendments are put out between revisions if a situation warrants it, such as unintended consequences to a rule.
2023 US Sailing SERs – https://www.ussailing.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Monohull-SER-2023.0.xlsx
2023 World Sailing Offshore Special Regulations – https://www.ussailing.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/WS_Offshore_Special_Regulations_2022-2023_v3a.pdf
The OSRs have six keelboat categories which gives more ready-to-use options than just the three levels of the SERs. With the six categories in the OSRs, having one category fit the needs of an event is likely higher. With only three categories in the SERs there is a stronger chance that the rules will need to be tailored by the OA. There are pros and cons for each set of regulations and their administration.
Here are the OSR category levels as defined on page 9 of the 2022-2023 edition.
Trans-oceanic races, including races which pass through areas in which air or sea temperatures are likely to be less than 5°C (41°F) other than temporarily, where boats must be completely self-sufficient for very extended periods of time, capable of withstanding heavy storms and prepared to meet serious emergencies without the expectation of outside assistance.
Races of long distance and well offshore, where boats must be completely self-sufficient for extended periods of time, capable of withstanding heavy storms and prepared to meet serious emergencies without the expectation of outside assistance.
Races of extended duration along or not far removed from shorelines or in large unprotected bays or lakes, where a high degree of self-sufficiency is required of the boats.
Races across open water, most of which is relatively protected or close to shorelines.
Short races, close to shore in relatively warm or protected waters normally held in daylight.
OSR Inshore Racing
Short races, close to shore in relatively warm and protected waters where adequate shelter and/or effective rescue is available all along the course, held in daylight only.
OSR Inshore Dinghy Racing
(Not summarized since the scope of this document deals with rules for keel boat events.)
The SERs use the following definitions for their three levels: Ocean, Coastal and Nearshore.
Long distance races, well offshore, where rescue may be delayed
Races not far removed from shorelines, where rescue is likely to be quickly available
Races primarily sailed during the day, close to shore, in relatively protected waters.
Comparing the two rules, the SER categories basically synchronize with OSR categories 1, 3 and Inshore Racing. The OSR category ‘Inshore Racing’ is in Appendix B. Both sets of rules also include multihull specific rules. The OSR multihull rules are contained within the primary rule document- https://www.sailing.org/tools/documents/WSOffshoreSpecialRegulations20222023v2-.pdf
For the SERs the multihull rules are a separate document https://www.ussailing.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Multihull_SER_2022.0.xlsx
Whichever equipment rule is used, it should be referenced in the Notice of Race (NOR) and Sailing Instructions (SIs) to specify the required equipment. The category used functionally specifies which types of boat are allowed be a valid entry, the same as having a valid rating and paying the entry fee. Both rules address matters of build integrity along with stability and required equipment. Some levels of the rules also require crew training such as Safety at Sea and First Aid. The OSRs also include this diagram at the front of their rules as an aid to users for finding the relevant rule(s).
Both sets of rules are primarily equipment-related which keeps the door cracked open should an OA want to conduct inspections either pre- or post-race. In the pre-pandemic times, both Swiftsure and Southern Straits have done inspections. The SERs and OSRs both have checklist templates that can be used by inspectors. The Offshore Special Regulations Inspection Cards can be found here https://www.ussailing.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/WS_Offshore_Special_Regulations_2022-2023_v3a.pdf
Another factor for OAs to consider in determining what level of rules apply for racing is that many one design classes including the Farr 40, Farr 30 and J105 all use OSR category four as part of their class rules. Other classes use their own sets of rules such as the Moore 24s. Things can get overly complicated if the rules for an event are at a lower level than the class rules both for equity and enforcement throughout the fleets. Another source of confusion can come from using rules that contain too many exemptions for some boats from rule compliance. This often results in sailors seeing these rules as merely guidelines versus rules which must be complied with. This can also have the carry-on effect of disenfranchising a group of boats that are materially disadvantaged by modifying rules to cater to one or two boats. Using rules that are equal for the majority and has an accommodation for one design classes is typically easier to manage for both competitors and race managers. An example being an event run under OSR Category 4 but allowing classes with a one design start to comply with their class rules. This would allow boats like Melges 24s, Martin 242s, Thunderbirds, etc. to compete in the event provided they have a one design start. If one of these boats wanted to compete under handicap rules, then they must comply with the category rules specified in the Race documents, making it fair and equal for all competitors
For racing in the NW, a noteworthy item is that both OSR Inshore Racing and SER Nearshore do not require lifelines of any sort. Whether this is appropriate for longer races in cold water is always a matter of vigorous discussion. OSR Category 4 allows spliced synthetic lifelines as these are intended to be daylight only events. For events which go after sunset OSR category three or SER Coastal both require the lifelines to be uncoated stainless steel wire. Vinyl coated wire was outlawed around the year 2000 as there had been numerous incidents where the vinyl coating masked corrosion to the SS core, so it was not caught until it failed. Any events allowing vinyl coated wire lifelines should strongly consider changing this immediately. The basis for synthetic lifelines being only for daylight races came from cases of sheets chafing through synthetic lifelines and this not being deemed appropriate for races that take place at night where damage might not be noticed until an MOB situation occurs.
Currently, local events use of the rules is not cohesive; some use the SERs, some use the OSRs, some have continued to use the PIYA Rules (2017 or earlier versions), and some events make their own rules. To make things simpler, safer, and consistent for both OAs and competitors- using standardized rules that are regularly reviewed and updated by knowledgeable groups will be a good path forward. Both the OSRs and SERs offer this to race organizers.
US Sailing Safety at Sea Committee Member
US Sailing Measurer
January 13, 2022
World Sailing Offshore Special Regulations, both monohull and multihull-https://www.sailing.org/tools/documents/WSOffshoreSpecialRegulations20222023v2-.pdf
Offshore Special Regulations Inspection Cards (located at the bottom of the page)-https://www.sailing.org/documents/offshorespecialregs/index.php
OSR recommendations- https://www.sailing.org/tools/documents/OSR201415RecommendationsremovedfromOSR2016Text-.pdf
US Sailing SERs – https://www.ussailing.org/competition/offshore/safety-information/ser-world-sailing-special-regulations/
SER multihull rules https://www.ussailing.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Multihull_SER_2022.0.xlsx
US Sailing recommendations and best practices for offshore sailing- https://shop.ussailing.org/digital-texts/safety-at-sea/
Low Speed Chase incident report- https://cdn.ussailing.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Farallones-Report-FINAL.pdf
Wingnuts incident report-https://cdn.ussailing.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/safety_us_sailing_CYC.pdf