The UKLA Qualifiers



This is a short guide to the Laser Qualifiers. It is intended for newcomers to the Standard and Radial Fleets, but experienced sailors may still learn something. The 4.7 Fleet is a Junior/Transitional fleet. Its Qualifier and ladder events are organised separately. Much of this section doesn't apply to the 4.7s, but if you're a 4.7 sailor you should read it in preparation for the larger rigs.

The main thing to remember is that we are all part of one Laser class with different rigs. The same Laser philosophy applies to everyone.

Philosophy? What's that?

In the Laser fleet it means Fairness:

The Laser Qualifier circuit will be the most challenging event you will face until you compete at your first major international Laser championships. You may find yourself alongside a sporting hero (or heroine) on the start-line, for all UK Laser sailors, even Olympians, have to compete in this series to qualify for World and European Championship places. This access to the top sailors is almost unique in top-level sport. Imagine getting the opportunity to play Andy Murray for a place at Wimbledon. At a minute to go before the first start, you have the same equipment and the same opportunity to qualify for the Worlds as Paul Goodison and Nick Thompson, or Ali Young and Hannah Snellgrove. You just have to go faster and hit the shifts better. That's a small ask, then.

Windshift flukes aside, it will be your skill that gets you to the front, or the lack of it that keeps you at the back. There are no excuses for failure in a Laser, but it also means you will deserve all the credit when you do well. That may not be the reason why it's still a double-Olympic boat, but it explains why he Olympic movement and the IYRU (the predecessor to ISAF) wanted the Laser to become an Oympic boat since the 1970s.

Fair Racing

Split fleets are necessary for the Radial fleet because of its popularity. They were brought in because starts with over 80 boats are difficult to get away. A Radial competitor could spend most of the weekend practising starts, not racing. (There are several reasons, a few technical, why the Standards didn't have quite the same issue when they were the larger fleet.) The fleet is split into Gold and Silver for the Sunday to allow the top sailors to compete against each other, but new entrants who are really good can get into the Gold Fleet right from their first regatta. We have strived to make each weekend as fair as possible: the Split Fleet concept only really works well when there are several days of racing to sort the fleet out, and a weekend is not really enough for this to work. So it's a compromise. There will always be a perception of unfairness from mid-fleet sailors around the cut-off point. The answer is to get better to escape the drop-zone, but someone's got to be there. Just make sure it's not you.

Fair Opportunity

The Laser Ladder is the basis of qualification for the ILCA Worlds and European Championships. The emphasis is on equality of opportunity for all UKLA Laser sailors provided they are eligible for the event. The principle is that, if there are six places at the Worlds and the sailors lying 4th and 6th on the ladder can't go, then 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 8 get to go.

The RYA may choose anyone they want to fund as part of an RYA Squad, but if a Squad sailor finishes 9th on the ladder at the selection-point, he (or she) doesn't get to go unless enough sailors higher up the ladder drop out. Tough, but fair. We accept that there may be problems with booking flights and accommodation, but think of it this way: sailor No. 8 has earned his place, and deserves to go. Does UKLA kick that sailor off? I don't think so.

The Laser Ladder has stood the test of time precisely because it has been seen and accepted as fair by UK Laser sailors since the 1980s, precisely because it is based on performance on the water, and nothing else.


You need to be aware of another aspect of the Laser Class, especially if you've just come from one of the Junior classes: you will be treated more as an adult, though not completely. (This even applies to the 4.7 Fleet, with due allowance for age.) Of course we ensure that the necessary safety aspects are complied with, but you will be expected to make your own decisions about whether to sail, and whether to come ashore if it gets too rough for comfort. These events are designed to choose between the UK's top Laser sailors for the privilege of competing at the Laser World and European championship, and if the weather conditions get rough, sailors who aspire to compete at this level are expected to cope with the strong winds they may encounter at Championship level.

Am I ready?

The Laser Standard and Radial 'Q' events are not for beginners. Even if you're more experienced, a sailing career on inland waters is inadequate preparation. All Standard and Radial 'Q' events are held on the sea, so you need to do one or two coastal Open meetings before attempting a 'Q' event.

If the wind is too strong for you, have the sense to know your own limits. We won't send you out to sail in conditions that are not sailable, but they might be too tough for you. If any sailor takes the mickey out of you for saying "I'm not up to this", or for coming ashore early, they will be the dummy, not you. With several patrol boats you're quite well-protected at a 'Q' event, so these events are a good opportunity to push yourself a little beyond your comfort zone.

If you decide to come in, find a patrol-boat, a coach-boat, even a Jury RIB, and take its guidance about coming in. Don't just rely on your mate in the next Laser; as soon as the next race-sequence starts he'll probably forget all about you. If you can't find az patrol-boat, head for the Committee Boat and tell them you're going in. This means that the safety fleet will know you're going in. They will keep their eyes on you, and warn those ashore that you're going ashore.

Hypothermia is insidious: it creeps up on you. You might think you're OK, but it will be plain to anyone in a RIB if you become muddled and unresponsive. If you're told to leave your boat, obey the rescue crew. Your Laser can be replaced. You can't.



There are three documents which you are advised to read well before you set off for your first event: the Notice of Race (NOR), the General Sailing Instructions (GSIs), and any Local Instructions.

Notice of Race

The NOR tells you about the overall series and the events that make it up: who's running it, who can compete (and who can't), details of Registration, the racing schedule, special rules for each fleet, and categories of competitor.

The General Sailing Instructions

The SIs give you details about the racing itself. Reading them carefully beforehand will reduce the confusion at your first 'Q' event. They don't change much, even from year to year, but it's worth checking them out even if you've done them for years. The advantage of the GSIs is that they remain the same for each event.

Local Instructions

Local Instructions relate to particular facts about the venue itself, and we will try to post these on the Event Registration page. Local Instructions cannot amend the Sailing Instructions without the Sailing Secretary's express permission; this is unlikely to be forthcoming. Local Instructions deal with peculiarities about the launching and recovery area, the harbour, and the route to the starting area. They also give information about the shape and colour of the racing marks.


Pre-enter if you can. On arrival you'll still have to check in, but it takes much less time. If you haven't pre-entered, be prepared for a long queue. Every minute you spend in the registration queue is wasted time.

Arrive at the venue early. Aim to arrive between 9 and 9.30. Much later and you might find yourself in a bit of a rush. Sometimes it can be a long way out to the start.

In the dinghy park or on the launch beach you may be checked over for compliance with the ILCA Rules by a Measurer. This is more likely if there's a postponement. If it happens before you go afloat on the Saturday morning, it's a check to give you an opportunity to correct anything that doesn't comply. If you disagree, you will be given an opportunity to show that you're compliant. I shouldn't have to tell you that replica kit is not allowed. In fact it's not allowed for any racing, even at your local club on a Sunday morning.

On the Water

The Start

The first attempt to start will probably be under the 'I' flag, giving an OCS boat the option of sailing round an end of the line to start correctly. If there's a recall – OK, when there's a recall – you'll probably go into Black Flag starts from then on, unless there was a problem with the starting procedure.

Watch the Committee Boat

This one's mainly for the Standard rigs because they start first, but it can sometimes happen to the Radial fleet. There will be no formal indication before the Warning signal that the racing sequence is about to start. Some classes choose to hoist an orange warning flag when the Committee Boat is in position for the next start and getting prepared to start the next sequence, sometimes ten minutes before the start signal. But it's not an ISAF Rule, and you are unlikely to see it at an ILCA championship. At the 'Q's the Race Officer might blow a few long toots on his hooter, but he doesn't even have to do that.

So, here's the situation. You're sitting in your boat between races, munching a Twix bar and trying to keeping warm in an extra windproof jacket. There are no flags up, no AP or General Recall flag flying to give you a minute of extra warning. Suddenly the class flag goes up. Panic! You have just one minute to dump your jacket and your snack-bag. Ten minutes ago you were near a RIB but now the nearest boat is more than a minute away. If you dump your kit into a coach RIB or rescue RIB after the Preparatory signal you may be seen by the Jury — who keep their beady eyes looking out for this — and just don't try dumping it on to a Jury RIB! Even if you're still under the weight-limit — probably not, though — the extra kit will really hamper your sailing. Just pray for a Recall!

One trick is to hang around to leeward of the Committee Boat. You can generally tell when they are getting ready to start again, and you can head for a RIB and dump your excess kit. Please don't go to windward of the Committee Boat: your flapping sail will get in the way of the Race Officer trying to gauge the wind direction, and he'll take longer to set the course. And you'll get him annoyed, too, which isn't to be encouraged.

No 'X' Flag

There will be no 'X' Flag to tell you when you're OCS. In our Class Race Officer's early experience as Race Officer for the Qualifiers, he found that the only boats that went back weren't OCS at all. The line is too long for a sound signal to be any use at the far end and there are usually too many boats around to leeward to let you return — unless you were right on the pin. (And unless you're already at World Squad level you're likely to get slaughtered if you try to start there.) Within a nanosecond of the start you won't be able to see the Committee Boat unless you're so far out in front that you won't need a flag to tell you that you're OCS, and unless it was an 'I' flag start you're stuffed anyway.

The Course


The default course is a triangle-sausage-triangle, with a short dog-leg to a leeward finish. The SIs allow for a trapezoidal course, but this is used less often. A trapezoidal course is more difficult to re-lay in shifty conditions, and it requires a separate finish boat. It can be useful for separating the fleets, because it's like the outer-loop course in a carantec layout, with the second beat to the left of the first.

The leeward mark on the normal course will be dropped to windward of the start-line. Don't confuse it with the pin-end mark!

There is no spreader-mark near the windward mark.

Jury Boats.

These are a necessary evil. In the days before we had Jury boats Laser sailing at the 'Q' events was often anarchic: illegal propulsion was the norm, and rule-observation at marks was a joke. It wasn't much fun at all to find yourself illegally barged out from a mark, and it was certainly not fair competition. Only when the UKLA Secretary started to go out in a RIB armed with a whistle did things improve. Now we have a Jury to ensure competition is fair. Whether you enjoy your racing is up to you.

Rule 42:

Jury boats will loiter on the course, often some distance away. The Jury may carry binoculars, and if you're doing something you shouldn't, they'll probably see you before you see them. If your Rule 42 breach was particularly blatant you may get 'yellow-flagged' straight away. It's more likely that your first 'offence' will alert them to look at you more closely: you are now 'in the zone'. You will be monitored for several minutes, possibly without you being aware of it. If you hear a Jury boat whistle, look at the boat and the juror. If it's you, the Jury member will point the yellow flag directly at you to identify you as the offender.

If you've been 'yellow-flagged', find clear space and do your two turn penalty immediately. And immediately means just that: as soon as you possibly can, within seconds of getting the call. You may think you haven't done anything wrong, but the incident that caused it may have happened a minute or so before. The Jury boat may have spotted you several times, and from some distance away, so you may have forgotten about the movements that attracted their attention. You may think that you've been yellow-flagged for a minor pump compared to your earlier ones. If you're already 'in the zone' it may takes only a small breach to trigger the flag. If there are two jury boats they may consult before agreeing to 'ping' you, which takes more time.

At the start the Jury boats will be behind the line watching for excessive body or rig movement. Trust me, it's easy to spot! Otherwise they will be watching for rule observance at marks. A favourite spot is the final reaching leg after the leeward mark. It's very tempting here, especially with someone trying to overtake you to windward, to rock or pump illegally to keep ahead. It's the fastest way to lose twenty places while you do a two-turns penalty. At least the UKLA SIs allow you to re-cross the finishing line to do your penalty turns; normally under the ISAF Rules sailors 'yellow-flagged' at the finish have no opportunity to exonerate themselves.

Rule Observance at Marks

Most infringements that fall outside Rule 42 occur at mark-roundings. The Jury will often station a RIB near the mark looking for collisions, either between boats or for hitting the mark. If you hear a whistle, someone's been seen to do something that the Jury believes has infringed a rule. If you think it might have been you, best do that one-turn or two-turn penalty. If you've practised doing penalty turns you should be able to flip a pair of tacks and gybes at a moment's notice and get on with the race. If you think it was the other guy's fault but you might be found in the wrong, do the turns anyway. You haven't acknowledged guilt, and can still protest the other guy; the difference now is that the other guy can collect a DSQ but you can't. It's essential to practise penalty turns until you can do them without a second thought. Find an empty piece of water and try doing turns with your eyes shut! It makes your sailing stronger, knowing you can make a mistake without it costing you the race, but of course it's no excuse for cheating.

Tips for Penalty Turns:

When you take a two-turn penalty for Rule 42 you are accepting your guilt; this is different from taking a normal two-turn penalty, where no guilt can be implied. Rule 42 Yellow flag protests are almost impossible to appeal successfully. Do your turns, then forget about it and get on with your race.

As soon as you decide to go for a pair of penalty-turns:

  1. If you're on a beat, release the vang at least to Block-to-block. If it's windy, you won't be able to gybe with the vang on.
  2. On a reach, pull the cunningham on; this will help you bear away on the second tacking turn when the boat's lost much of its momentum.
  3. Place the centreboard at between half to three-quarters down. This gives the hull enough to rotate round, but doesn't hinder the gybe.
  4. Keep towards the back of the boat so that the bow stays out. The hull rotates easier on the flatter stern.

In general I prefer to gybe first: that gives me the speed to flip it through the following tack.

After the first tack, hike hard to heel the hull to windward and help the bear-away for the second gybe.

A single penalty-turn is less of a problem because the boat doesn't lose momentum through the tack.

Don't be afraid to ask!

A final point about the Jury: if you've been yellow-flagged, and you're unsure about why you were picked out, seek out the Jury after you come ashore. They will be happy to point out exactly what you were doing wrong; that's why they are there, to help you all compete fairly against each other.

The Jury should be able to give you a detailed explanation of what caused you to be flagged. Jury members tend to carry voice recorders, and they may play back the record of their observations about you, and any conversation they may have had with other jurors to seek confirmation.


If you've been sailing in the Junior classes, you should already be familiar with the tally system. You have two things to remember: tally out before you go afloat, and tally in when you come ashore. Some clubs nobble you as you come up the slipway; others leave it to you to hand your tally in.

There are normally two types:

The tally is the safety fleet's record that you've returned safely. If you've forgotten to return yours, the safety fleet can't be stood down until you've been found and accounted for. That can mean Safety RIBs and others out on the water as it gets dark, not to mention the outside rescue services.

Please don't be tempted to ask someone else to post your tally for you while you get changed or have something to eat. They may forget. You, the sailor, are entirely responsible for your tally.

Help us improve this guide.

Finally, if you think this guide has left out something important, please email, and if we agree with you we'll stick something in.

© Nicolas Livingstone, 2012
photo: Bia Saboia

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