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RacePanel Series with Mark Chisnell – Part 3: Setting a Race Course

 In this article we look at the tools provided to help you set and understand the subtleties of the race course.

Setting a Race Course

Planning the summer cruise with the family or some friends can be a leisurely affair. There might be some discussions around the dinner table, perhaps a few winter evenings with the charts unrolled, tidal atlases and cruising guides out in front of the fire. And then – depending on how organised you like to be – maybe the designated navigator will set to plotting waypoints and perhaps entering them into the boat’s chartplotter.

It’s an altogether different business when the boat is going racing – perhaps the classic example is the way that Solent race courses are issued to the fleet. Waypoints can be chosen from a list of over 150 possible rounding or passing marks. The course is then read out on a specified VHF channel (and these days sometimes also sent by SMS text or WhatsApp) informing the fleet of the marks, the order, and the side they are to be passed using a series of alphanumeric codes. It all happens once you are in sequence for the start, and it puts the navigator in ‘ticking clock’ mode as they work to understand the demands of the race course before the gun goes.

Quick and Easy

Traditionally, waypoints are entered into a chart plotter or navigation system using latitude and longitude as coordinates. This is still the most effective way to create the necessary database of waypoints for something like Solent racing, where they are all listed in advance. In addition, B&G Vulcan and Zeus chartplotters give the navigator a quick and easy-to-use interface for selecting the right waypoints from the database so you can get on with worrying about strategy, and not the basics of where you are going.

You can save time  by selecting 'Bulk Insert' and enter the course using the mark shortcodes: e.g. '4V.p, 4O.S'


The Race panel also has a great tool for setting windward / leeward courses. Often the range and bearing of the first mark can be set very late in the start sequence, and the navigator has to set all of the other marks – gates, spacers and so on – around this distance and bearing.

 The Race panel allows you to do this quickly and simply by constructing a windward/leeward course via a simple dialog box for entry of the defining characteristics of the course.

Edit it Live

The Race panel route-points can be edited several ways. The one I use all the time is by editing live on the chart screen after you sail around them. This is a really neat touch – you can drag the mark into the right place, by observing your virtual track as you went around the mark.

 It’s by far the most accurate way of getting the mark in the right place for the next time you go around it, and relieves you of the stress of trying to set the waypoint as you round the mark, when you may well be involved in actually sailing the boat and not have a hand to spare.

Useful Summary

Once you have the route in the system, the chartplotter will display a summary of the race course with ranges and bearings to each successive mark. This will allow you to assess all the options for each leg before you get there – choose sails, and make tactical and strategic decisions. B&G Chartplotters have another even more powerful tool that can assist with this process though, the What If screen – but we will look at that in our next article.

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