How the use of technology and the benefits of GPS and electronic tally systems can help make sailing safer in the future
‘…all the technical tools to make sailing safer currently exist which will help in the future as new risk assessments and best practices need to be established…’
The Coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented global impact with restrictions on people’s lives not seen before in many countries during peacetime. But while history shows how nations have been victims to virulent pandemics before, what is unique about this situation is the way technology has been used to tackle it. People have been able to safely communicate locally, nationally and internationally using digital media and online resources. Technology has allowed critical infrastructure and supply lines to operate. For a large part of the economy it has also been a catalyst for change in the way people work safely.
In the future too it can be a catalyst for change in recreational activities such as sailing, helping the sport safely and gradually adapt to what is inevitably going to be a ‘new normal’ for some time to come. There is a parallel here with what the COVID 19 lockdown has taught us. Ironically it has been known for many years that modern technology with wireless broadband and cellular networks can allow people to work remotely where necessary. However it has taken the current situation to make it happen on a wider scale. Similarly all the technical tools to make sailing safer currently exist which will help in the future as new risk assessments and best practices need to be established.
The SailRacer GPS/NFC electronic tracking and tally system has been a proven safety resource for sailors in the past and can be a valuable resource in the future to help people get back out on the water safely again. Such technology allows accurate monitoring of participant numbers and position status. There are many examples where tracking has played a major role for competitors afloat when weather conditions could have led to situations getting out of control. In the future it is also clear that organising participants ashore will demand greater scrutiny with safety as a priority when staging and managing events.
Simon Lovesey of SailRacer says that in the future one thing which is going to be critical is Access Control. “Organisers will need to know who’s on the water and it is likely that the number of people attending club gatherings could be restricted in the future,” he says. “The club is going to have to know how many people come through its doors. The tally system will give this and will allow packaging an offer which will fit a particular requirement for Access Control.”
“For example organisers might know they have 500 youngsters on site but 50 then don’t go out for different reasons, “ Simon continues. “The first thing the system gives are the numbers which are very important. It tells you how the numbers are broken down and who is out there.
It can also for example determine how long the start line is because the start line is based on the number of boats. As well as telling you who has gone afloat the more critical part is it tells you who has returned. You are responsible for the competitors as a race organiser and you need to know that everyone is back and you need to be able to monitor that. And if anyone is lost we know where they are.”
Simon also highlighted how versatile the system is when challenging scenarios do occur such as in the 2019 Tasar world championship event which is discussed in more detail below. The SailRacer team were able to quickly respond and assist, proving very effective in a difficult situation. “The ability for the incident to be monitored via the
SailRacer GPS tracking from the comfort of the shore made a big difference on helping identify particular issues,” he said
Simon developed the tally system in conjunction with the Techno class events and at the moment it’s based around a GPS tracker. Each competitor has a GPS tracker which is effectively paid for out of the entry fee. They are given that as part of the registration process and when they are ready to go racing each day the system knows how many participants are scanned.
“For example organisers might know they have 500 youngsters on site but 50 then don’t go out for different reasons, “ Simon continues. “The first thing the system gives are the numbers which are very important. It tells you how the numbers are broken down and who is out there. It can also for example determine how long the start line is because the start line is based on the number of boats. As well as telling you who has gone afloat the more critical part is it tells you who has returned. You are responsible for the competitors as a race organiser and you need to know that everyone is back and you need to be able to monitor that. And if anyone is lost we know where they are.”
At the moment the safety aspect is taking centre stage in race management software. In regard to COVID-19, methods to control and tackle are developing all the time. “We need to consolidate what already exists and what can be used quickly and build on that,” adds Simon. “Hopefully the sailing community can get a format to tackle the COVID-19 problem and try to address it. The aim is to help the sailing world to align with what the government says – so for example if the legislation is that you can have 30 people in your club there is a way of managing it effectively.”
Proven benefits of tracking
SailRacer GPS Tracking Piotr Oleksiak is an IT expert and Regatta Management Specialist based in Gdańsk . He has worldwide event management experience, has worked for the Polish Yachting Association and is part of the executive of the International Windsurfing Association. He is Secretary of the Open Skiff Class and is also the Class Representative for the International Techno Class where the SailRacer system is used for tracking events. He feels that due to COVID 19, large scale competitive events will be not be seen on the water for some time.
“I think in the future a lot of things will have to change but the tracking system in the future has a lot of benefits,” - says Piotr
“We race more than many other windsurfing classes and have had events with up to 400 competitors coming from many countries. I think the tracking system has really benefited our sport in the past and with events for kids it is very important,” says Piotr. “We no longer use traditional sign in and sign out sheets and combine tracking with a check-in checkout system. When they are on the water you see people’s position all the time and parents can follow their children too.” He explains that the electronic system based around the GPS trackers was always designed to be a safety system not a penalty system: “So at all times we have a view of where everybody is.”
“We had some cases where we had major fog coming in very fast and we couldn’t see the competitors but we were still able to effectively communicate with the race officers and the safety boats,” Piotr continues. “We also had a situation at one event where we had a major storm come in and with the trackers were quickly able to locate everyone and get them safely back on shore.”
No one can predict of course at the moment how competitive sailing will evolve in the near future and perhaps only an effective COVID 19 vaccine will guarantee some sort of return to complete normality. However, sailing can still seen as a safer sport than many contact sports for example. Piotr continues: “What we need to be careful about now in particular is what happens off the water and be sure that we don’t have groups and have a lot of people travelling from different places. This is what is going to be the key factor in coming weeks and months.”
He also sees it as inevitable that the social side of sailing, an important ingredient in the sport will have to change. “With pandemics what I understand now is most important is social distancing,” added Piotr. “For the recreational sailor in the past it would have been important for them to go to the bar and get a pint of beer afterwards. Also of course now bars and restaurants are closed. When we return to regattas then as a regatta organiser I would reduce the amount of time that sailors would spend together and make sure they would be in smaller groups ashore. We would be using online skippers’ meetings and would hope to be using tracking for check-in and checkout if possible.”
“What I feel is very important is that risk assessment is always class based and venue based and event based so you have a totally different kind of risk matrix each time. For example in the future when you evaluate an event
which is on the lake with a small fleet it will be very different from when you have ocean sailing with a very large fleet.”
Where new methods are adopted he also feels communication will be key to getting a clear message across. “I feel it is important to be transparent and say sailors cannot do this and this because of this and this. It will reduce the fear factor if you are transparent and explain how you are trying to reduce the risk by using trackers.”
Piotr stressed that he felt explaining decisions clearly was the best way to build an understanding of what needs to be done to begin running events safely in the future. However getting a consensus going forward as to how to adapt and use all the technical tools available will need to involve competitors, clubs and governing bodies.
Author : David Parker