Find Your Way Through The GPS - Graded Penalty System

Sailors Beware - Respect The RRS

The USODA Graded Penalty System

What Is The Graded Penalty System?

We hear people talk online and in realspace about exactly why the Opti Class is so bad, why kids want to leave it, and we think that the commentary seems to forget two things:

one - these are kids sailing the boats
two - there are a lot of them

The average starting line in a USODA regatta is 55 boats. 55 boats. They may be 8 foot long bathtubs but thats 55 boats that race committee has to contend with. That means that due to the dual reality of having at least 55 boats, being sailed by Student Skippers, race committee has to get - for the lack of a better word - educational.

Related: Keys To Success At USODA Regattas

This is why the IODA, and in recent years USODA, adopted the Graded Penalty System (GPS) to keep racing fair, disciplined, and ensure sailor safety. Too often novice championship/main fleet sailors head out without proper safety equipment and a disregard for the rules because they're either not taught enough about it, don't practice it, or in our experience - do what kids do and try to bend the rules. That's not to say that adults don't try this stuff too but the whole idea of the Opti racing is to teach the corinthian values we all espouse.

What's In the GPS?

So, the GPS exists to impose penalties on the sailor (and coaches too) ranging from the small to big time penalties. The penalties are applied to sailor's score or inclusion in the regatta - keep in mind the 2nd reality of Opti sailing: There Are A Lot Of Them. This means that a 30% penalty with a fleet of 300 boats is equal to 100 points added to your score.

Here's the long and short of it:

Minor SI Penalties

Equal to 5% of the Fleet: These are small penalties that Race Committee can apply due to a sailor being careless about the launch and retrieval process. Yes, its 5% but do you really want to risk that if you are in contention for qualifying for Trials or making the podium?

Minor Class Rule Penalties

Equal to 10% of the Fleet: This is where the sailor safety and risk management start to come in. A sailor with loose sail ties, bailer and daggerboard not attached to the boat, becomes a problem to themselves and the race when they capsize. It's important to note these because since there are more of them in this section, you can theoretically get more than a 10% penalty, depending on the level of infraction. 

Intermediate Class Rule Penalties

Equal to 30% of the Fleet: Here's where you don't want to mess around. 30% of the fleet is the equivalent of getting Z flagged, and can bring a top 20 sailor into the bottom 20 in the blink of the Measurement Boat's eye. Coaches can be the biggest help here because they can catch the small details the sailors perhaps cannot. Make sure your mast clamp is on!!!!

Major Class Rule Penalties

Can get DSQ'd: This is where good coaching shows, when it comes time to protest breaches of the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS). The GPS is designed to be the bounds that Opti sailors respect, within the context of the RRS. Sailors who take their time to learn the rules, and have a coach that takes care to teach the rules - and the spirit of the rules - will almost never land themselves in this section.

Final Thoughts

Congratulations! You've successfully navigated the GPS - now you know what it is and why you should pay attention to it. The Graded Penalty System won't be found at every regatta you go to, but it will make or break your regatta experience at the big events and class qualifiers.  Take it seriously, and talk to your coach about it so you are the prepared to go out on the water and have a successful day of racing.