A Judge’s Perspective

By Shannon Bush

Excerpt from Sailing Drills Made Easy

Judges are on the water to help enforce rules. We generally are not “aware” of each competitor, but, rather, view them all as a group of unknown individuals. We are looking for specific actions and patterns, not at specific competitors. The following is a walk-through of a typical Laser race, on an O2 course, leg by leg.


Judge pairs line up right below the line, trying not to engage until roughly 2:00 prior to the start. We then start looking for places on the line where boats are starting to stack up in groups. Key spots we cover are at the signal boat and down at the pin. At 1:30 to the start, we are actively engaged in what is going on, watching competitors jockey for a place on the line, trying to hold their hole, trying to create a hole, trying not to get buried and shot out the back. At 1:00 to the start, competitors start to get desperate and the fouls start. This is the only time the judges will act independently, because there is so much to look at and we are covering groups of boats, looking left or right on the line (during the rest of the race, we act as a pair). Right before the start, we have a front row seat to everything competitors are doing to try and get a good start. A quick note: aggressive sculling will always attract the judge’s attention. Here are some specific examples of what judges look for:

  • Sculling while backing down. You can scull the boat to a certain extent, but the second your hand, arm, body holds the boom out and you are sculling down, you’re going to get a whistle.
  • Sculling below a close-hauled course. It’s so tempting to scull that one last time, to get the bow down, but that’s when you get a whistle.
  • Sculling to propel forward. This does not work very well in a Laser. The narrow rudder seemingly is just digging a hole in the water. An Opti or 420, with the bigger rudder, is more effective as a paddle, therefore, more apt to get a whistle for sculling forward.
  • Rocking, or the big hike at the start, sometimes repeatedly (most common at the start), signaled by someone standing up, obviously putting their foot on the leeward side of the deck, leaning in, then sitting down hard and rocking/rolling the boat aggressively to weather.
  • Repeatedly pumping the sail, whether using the mainsheet or the upper body to flick the leech (most common at, and right after, the start).