Gate Start Guidelines – for Race Committees & Organisers

The “Gate Start” is like any other start in that it needs to be as fair a start as possible for all competitors. If something occurs or there is a substantial change in conditions while the gate is opening which disadvantage one or more competitors the PRO should consider abandoning that start.
Following are comments and guidelines to assist people not familiar with the gate start:

1. The PRO needs to be in the Gate Boat (or have a competent deputy in the Gate Boat). If there are issues with a start it is unlikely that these can be assessed from the committee boat. Decisions to abandon a start generally need to be made from the Gate Boat.
2. The Committee Boat should be located near and to the port side of the starting pin ( as you look upwind) but not so close that it is in the way of competitors manoeuvring around the pin. The committee boat should not be in a position where the boat or anchor line might interfere with a boat sailing on starboard from the pin.
3. While the gate is opening the wind has to stay reasonably stable in direction. If there is a significant shift that obviously gives some boats an advantage over others the PRO should consider abandoning the start. This can happen for example if the Pathfinder lifts so much the boats that haven’t started can’t adapt and simply cannot get anywhere near the back of the Gate Boat or the early starters can tack and cross the late starters by unreasonable lengths and the gate isn’t even shut yet! Basically if the boats that have started can take advantage of a big shift which the boats that haven’t started can’t, it’s not a fair start. Alternatively if the Pathfinder knocks so much the boats waiting to start find themselves to windward of the Pathfinder track and have no way of getting back on side, the PRO would consider abandoning that start. Generally when this happens the Pathfinder would be forced to tack or bear away to avoid a collision which would obviously trigger an abandonment of that start.
4. If a boat gets in the way of the Pathfinder or gate boat and causes the Pathfinder or gate boat to alter direction or change speed so much that clearly other boats are disadvantaged the PRO would consider abandoning. If the start is abandoned, the interfering boat would usually get disqualified unless they successfully win a protest against another boat).
5. If the pathfinder knocks substantially and, as a result, there are clearly boats in the path of the pathfinder that cannot get out of the way the PRO should consider abandoning before triggering a situation where the closest boat cannot help but cause the race to be abandoned and will therefore be disqualified even though there would have been other boats anyway. In short if there is a material change in wind direction the PRO should abandon rather than have to disqualify one unfortunate boat that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this case the race is being abandoned due to a wind shifty not due to the boat that happened to be the first in the way.
6. If someone hits the gate boat but it doesn’t affect the start the offender is deemed to have touched a mark of the course and is required to do a one turn penalty. Only if the collision is significant enough to cause the start to be abandoned would the offender normally be disqualified.
7. If one or more boats end up to windward of the pathfinder and interfere with the pathfinder’s breeze this may be cause to abandon the start. This should generally only occur if the pathfinder knocks and the other boats cant get back below the pathfinder’s new course

Determining the finishing position for the pathfinders.
1. Ideally the pathfinders need to be experienced and have good boat speed. If a pathfinder is comparatively slow it disadvantages later starters and encourages congestion early in the gate.
2. The first pathfinder of the regatta is generally chosen by the race committee/ organisers with the above in mind.
3. Subsequent pathfinders are the boat that finished in a given position in the previous race. Usually between 4th and 10th depending on the size of the fleet.
4. Any given boat is only required to be pathfinder once so as the regatta progresses the pathfinder can be a boat finishing well down the fleet when there are many races in a series. Be aware that with small fleets and a series with a lot of races can mean the pathfinder towards the end of the regatta may be inexperienced and/or slow.

SIs Require the Pathfinder to round the Pin within 10 seconds AFTER the starting signal.
At the briefing and at the time the “Gate Boat” is marshalling the Pathfinder prior to the start, it is essential to emphasise to the Pathfinder that he is required to round the Starting Pin as close to Zero as possible. Definitely NOT before the starting signal.
In reality 10 seconds is a long time.
If the Pathfinder can round the pin between Zero and + 5 seconds that’s perfect.

If the Pathfinder does round the Starting Pin before the starting signal, the PRO can, if he deems necessary, do a restart. However if there are no starters close to the Pin and no competitor is affected, then there is no harm done and there’s no reason why the start shouldn’t continue.
Likewise if the Pathfinder rounds the Starting Pin – very late – after the 10 seconds prescribed time and there are many boats at the pin end who are affected by the late start then the PRO can do a restart if he deems necessary.
But again, if there are no boats near the pin end and the fleet is not affected by the Pathfinder rounding late, then again it doesn’t matter and the start should continue.

There can be no OCS or individual recall. If a boat or boats start early because the pathfinder is early the start should be abandoned.

The other point worth highlighting is that The “Gate Boat” is a mark of the course.

The Pathfinder is sacrosanct in all respects. Any boat touching it is generally disqualified whether it results in a restart or not.

However, if a competitor merely touches the Gate Boat or scrapes alongside, then that is no different than touching a mark and the starter must do a penalty turn.
However, if a starter really “T” Bones the Gate Boat or smacks into it and causes the Gate Boat to alter course or interferes with the Gate Boat’s job of following the Pathfinder and opening the gate – then that competitor is disqualified and the start should be abandoned.

Gate Open Time
Experience shows that in normal sailing conditions only 1 minute is required per 30 boats in average sailing wind speeds. HOWEVER the speed or the pathfinder varies substantially depending on the wind. In light winds the pathfinder could well only travel half the distance that it would in heavie winds. This means in light winds the length of the starting line (given the same gate time) would be half what it would be in stronger winds. BUT the same number of boats have to fit into that shorter length line!!!! The PRO should consider increasing the gate time in lighter winds.
The pathfinder should be released once most of the boats have started. It is unnecessary and not appropriate to hold the pathfinder for the full length of the gate if the wind is stable and most boats have started.