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Classification Code Debate
Team McLube



May 24, 2011, 1:08 PM

Post #1 of 13 (21979 views)
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With the never ending debate on ISAF classification heating up, I am reminded that the issue of professional vs. amateur in our sport means very different things to different people. For some - it is an issue of maintaining a level playing field where we separate part time sailors from full time sailors in the interest of fair play. To me this has always been an absurd goal. First, we have a sport that attracts the affluent and some are much more affluent than others. The notion that we can level the playing field by excluding yacht brokers but including Larry Ellison is ridiculous.

Another goal of "labeling" professionals - that I am much more sympathetic to - is separating the sailors who participate to "sail" from those who participate to "sell". The corrosive effect of professionals that I have witnessed over my 45 years in the sport doesn't stem for great performance on the race course - it comes from the total commercialization of the social events that surround our sports. Twenty-five years ago, major club and regatta parties were populated with amateurs who were committed to escaping the rat race of retail culture. The relatively few maritime professionals who made the scene were largely passionate starving engineers who couldn't sell to save their lives. Today’s major regattas are dominated by search for profits and the ratio of salesmen to sailors is incredible. My last two regattas were Key West and Charleston. Both were great sailing events, BUT at Key West the talk ashore was dominated by loss of revenue for the salesmen, and I'll bet that over 50% of the boats at Charleston had a salesman aboard who was using the event to grow revenue.

I am a devout capitalist, and recognize that the non-stop march of Madison Avenue is a global fact of life. However, to see commercialism invade our sport so insidiously and thoroughly has been disappointing. It is particularly corrosive in a sport where "Revenue" comes from participants rather than spectators. My fantasy solution to professionalism is for no restrictions on competition in any event, but make anyone who derives money from the sport where a green shirt with a big "4" printed front and back - on the water and at the party.

Everyone has a right to make a living and I don't blame the salesmen in our sport from using every tactic at their disposal to increase revenue. But amateur sailing would benefit dramatically by forcing the commercial activity into the open.

Chris Bulger

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 5:49 AM

Post #2 of 13 (21823 views)
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From Hamish Matthew:
There’s been a lot of discussion about being a professional sailor and what classifies you as such. One of the recurring points is that if you get paid or get any prize money for sailing than you are a professional sailor.

I disagree with the prize money statement. I am a Group 1 sailor, who is concentrating on match racing. I pay all my own expenses and take vacation time away from my job in order to compete. Very occasionally I go to an event where there is prize money, and it is ridiculous to think that a $250 share of a $1250 purse should classify me as a professional sailor. By the same logic, if you accept prizes (rum, watches, sails, etc), or the owner/team pays your hotel, flights, gas, food or drinks you should also be classified as a professional, as all of these things have a value.

I don’t work in the marine industry, don’t have any financial ties to making a boat go fast and I don’t get paid for my time on the boat. I pay 1000’s of dollars a year to sail at the highest level I can. I am an amateur. Professional means you make a living on something. Not you occasionally get a small reimbursement of the money that you have put in. It is not black and white, but like everything in our sport. Another shade of grey.

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 5:50 AM

Post #3 of 13 (21822 views)
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* From John N. Sweeney:
Regarding the ISAF Code for classifying race organizers and officials, it's
shocking how far off base the answers to these two FAQs are (in Scuttlebutt

In the first example, the knowledge that a race organizer or official
brings to a boat absolutely enhances her performance. But that isn't the
qualifying issue. The issue is whether or not that person is paid to be
onboard. And in the second example, whether Group 1 or 3, a person who
engages in paid work on a boat (design, rating optimization, etc.) should
never be eligible to measure her for a certificate.

Were these Q&A's drawn at random or with the intent of eliciting reaction?
If these are exemplary of ISAF guidance it's no wonder there is great
confusion and frustration in the classification system.

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 5:52 AM

Post #4 of 13 (21821 views)
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* From Craig Fletcher:
After reading the ISAF classification questions I can see why those who
administer sailing rival the US Government for being totally out of touch.
Is the person who makes the golf clubs a pro golfer? Is the caddie? How
about the greenskeeper? NO. So why are you a Group 3 (professional) if you
work on a boat or deliver a boat you race on? The whole rule makes no
sense. The rule need not be no more than one sentence:

“If you are paid in any form to race sailboats (including prize money), you
are a professional sailor.”

Simple. If you’re not paid to race sailboats you are an amateur.

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 5:52 AM

Post #5 of 13 (21819 views)
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* From Jim Champ:
Craig Fletcher wrote in Scuttlebutt 3342 that the ISAF Classification
system be simplified to state that "If you are paid in any form to race
sailboats (including prize money), you are a professional sailor." But in
the days when sailing was an amateur sport with no professionals allowed at
all, there were an amazing number of "sailmakers" who never seemed to go
into a sail loft and spent an awful lot of time sailing, as amateurs, on
boats which by some strange coincidence had complete inventories of sails
from the "sailmaker's" employer.

Now you may believe that in this modern age no-one would seek to evade the
rules like that for competitive advantage but I fear some of us old fogeys
are rather more cynical. The reason the categories are as complex as they
are is because of all the evasions that were used in those days.

* From Barry Ault:
Craig Fletcher and I often find ourselves on opposite sides of issues but
this time he beat me to the punch - word for word. The ISAF system is
moronic and designed to keep bureaucrats employed. Craig's simple rules
nail it.

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 5:53 AM

Post #6 of 13 (21818 views)
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* From Bill Mais:
In response to CLASSIFYING SAILMAKERS in Scuttlebutt 3342, where it said
that a sailmaker that makes a sail for himself for his own boat is a Group
3, why pick on the sailmaker? What about someone who studied meteorology?
What about a surfer? What about someone who just sails a lot? And don't
forget the chess player with that whole strategy thing.

From guessing the next wind shift, to the four move checkmate, each of them
brings knowledge and skill that is utilized to improve the performance of
the boat. Shouldn't they all be Group 3? Oh, and please don't leave out the
rich owner - talk about an unfair advantage.

The other loophole I don't understand is time. You are considered a
professional on your first day of sailmaking. But two years after an entire
career of sailmaking you can be reclassified to being an amateur? Fletcher
is right (in SBUTT 3342) - if you get paid to sail you are a professional.

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 5:53 AM

Post #7 of 13 (21817 views)
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* From Ian Brown:
In my view the ISAF classification system misses a fundamental point; it
fails to distinguish between paid professional sailors, i.e. those that
earn their money racing boats, and those of us that merely choose to earn a
living in the marine industry.

There is no distinction between the likes of me, a humble sailmaker and the
likes of Russell Coutts or Terry Hutchinson. I am not sure what it is that
ISAF are looking to achieve; all I know is that there is an ever increasing
number of events that I find myself excluded from - not because of my
ability (or lack of) but because I am labeled as Group 3. Surely that is

The net result is that I find myself increasingly disillusioned with a
sport which has been a major part of my life for the last 35 years.

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 5:54 AM

Post #8 of 13 (21816 views)
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* From Dean Dietrich:
I sympathize with Ian Brown's lament (in Scuttlebutt 3345) that though he
is a "humble sailmaker", he is grouped as a Group 3 pro with the likes of
Cayard and Coutts. However, there are many pros, whether humble or not,
that make their living outfitting boats they crew on with their employer's
sails. This is a standard practice in the industry and, without commenting
on Mr. Brown's skills, many of these sailmakers are very good sailors
indeed and are often critical to the boat's success. In Mr. Brown's case,
this may be unfair, but is it fair to allow one to buy talent through
extravagant sail purchases?

* From Paul Newell, Isle of Wight:
It had been said in a Scuttlebutt letter that "if you are paid in any form
to race sailboats (including prize money), you are a professional
sailor.... If you're not paid to race sailboats you are an amateur."

Why can't people see this as being the truth? I race my own boat having
made my own sails. I have fun doing both and regularly get beaten by people
who sail a better course. That doesn't make me a professional even though
people come to me for advice on how to make their boat go faster. I freely
give advice to anyone who asks. It's up to them to take it or ignore it.

Ian Brown's letter in Scuttlebutt 3345 hits a key point

Coutts and co. get paid to RACE. I don't.
Coutts and co. are EXPECTED to win. I'm not.
Coutts and co. earn a lot of money from racing. I don't get paid to race.

So why do I have to suffer the penalty of Group 3 with all its stigma and
limitations. If we are going to have to have these groups then why can't
they create a group that we (the guys who make most of the sailing world
happen - the unsung heroes) can be put into and still be able to race with
the rest of the world.

Our rule makers have made our sport one of the most complicated sports to
participate in. I'm sure that one more category of sailor won't make any
difference but would make so many people who work in the marine industry
with no expectation of reward, other than the monthly paycheck, happy.

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 5:55 AM

Post #9 of 13 (21815 views)
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* From Clark Chapin:
I observed the US SAILING Competitor Classification Committee at its meetings before it was superseded by the ISAF Sailor Classification Code. The Committee grappled with many of the same questions and situations, but one moment is etched in my mind. The Chair of the Committee, a Past-President of US SAILING, summarized their dilemma when he said, “Sail lofts must be the cleanest places in the world. They seem to hire all of these Collegiate All-American sailors to do nothing more than sweep the floors.”

Unfortunately, the Code has evolved to its present state because a simpler, plainer code was so easily circumvented by boat owners who want to win and sailmakers that want to sell more sails.

* From By Baldridge:
With regard to professional or amateur status in sailing, I like the rules in golf. There are two ways to be a professional golfer. 1. You accept prize money, 2. You say you are a professional.

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 5:56 AM

Post #10 of 13 (21814 views)
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* From Steve Gregory:
The letter by Clark Chapin in Scuttlebutt 3347 underlined the change which
has occurred in professional sailing. The classification code became
complicated when so many very talented sailors had worked in the various
types of businesses in the marine industry. Fairly defining the jobs within
a sail loft which were deemed professional took effort, and thus the
classification code (and FAQs) grew long.

However, the professional landscape has changed, and these very talented
sailors who once worked in the marine industry are now more likely to be
independent contractors that owners pay direct for their sailing services.
I know that ISAF recently simplified the code and reduced the categories
from three groups to two groups. But now I wonder if it should go back to
three groups, with one Group 1 being amateur, Group 2 being marine industry
pros, and Group 3 being sailors who get paid to sail.

* From Tim Gurr:
Please excuse me but I am a little confused with all this talk about Group
3 if you do, or Group whatever if you don't etc. Applying this same logic
means that if you make a nice baseball bat and lots of pro ball players
like to use them, does it mean that the next time you go to the park you
are a pro ball player? I don't think so.

I have built one or two boats over the years which some guys have used
quite well and occasionally I may be asked to sail on them but somehow I
just don't see myself as a pro yachtsman. Nor do I want to be. I prefer
sailing with my mates.

Surely the test must be if you are paid to go sailing you are professional.
If you are not paid to go sailing you are not. Am I missing the point?

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 5:57 AM

Post #11 of 13 (21813 views)
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* From Roger McBride:
Yes Tim, you and those saying what you said miss the point. The
Professionals are getting financially rewarded indirectly much of the time.
That is why the ISAF code is complicated. Note that ISAF restricts no one
from racing on a boat. The classes do that. The classes do it because that
is what the owners want, mainly for cost control. The number of classes
with restrictions are relatively small.

And Steve, Group 2 was eliminated because the classes were lumping 2 & 3
anyway. I don't have the stats, but my impression is that the
classification system has actually increased the demand for the true pros.
The pros by classification only are losers in this by getting shut out of
some classes. Would they really be able to get on that Farr 40 or Melges 32

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 5:58 AM

Post #12 of 13 (21812 views)
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While the marine industry has long existed, it is the emergence of paid
sailors and coaches in amateur events that has changed the landscape. There
is nothing in the rules of the sport that prevents a person from asking
for, say, $1000 a day to crew on a boat. It is purely up to the event
organizers or class administrators to determine whether they want to
maintain an amateur atmosphere or not.

The challenge of the ISAF Classification system is to fairly determine what
types of activity warrant a sailor to be classified as Group 3
(professional), and what is permitted within the Group 1 (amateur)
classification. During the past week, Scuttlebutt has provided many of the
employment scenarios that exist and how they are classified. But we have
yet to provide the Group 3 rule... until now:

A Group 3 competitor is a competitor who, within the Qualification Period
(A) Has been paid for work that includes:
(i) Competing in a race; and/or
(ii) Managing, training, practising, tuning, testing, maintaining or
otherwise preparing a boat, its crew, sails or performance enhancing
equipment for racing, and then competed on that boat, or in a team
competition, in a boat of the same team; or

(B) Has been paid:
(i) To provide a boat or its sails; or
(ii) For services in connection with providing a boat or its sails; and
(iii) Then raced on that boat, or in a team competition, in a boat of the
same team.
However a Group 1 competitor who, as an owner of a boat, is occasionally
paid a charter fee to provide that boat for a racing competition shall
remain a Group 1 competitor if he/she does not steer that boat in the
competition. If the competition is a team event this dispensation shall
only apply if he/she does not steer any boat in the same team as the boat
chartered; or

(C) Has been paid for work (except coaching), in a marine business or
organisation, which requires knowledge or skill:
(i) That is capable of enhancing the performance of a boat in a race; and
(ii) Which can be utilised by the competitor whilst on board a boat when
racing; or

(D) Has been paid for work that includes the coaching of
(i) Any competitor, crew or team to prepare for or compete in any of the
- The Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Competitions and Qualifying Events;
- Regional Games;
- America's Cup Match, Acts and Series;
- Grade WC or Grade 1 Match Racing Events;
- World and Continental Championships of ISAF Classes;
- ISAF Events;
- Global and Trans Oceanic Races; or
(ii) A National, State or Provincial Team; or
(iii) A Collegiate or University Team where the work is the principal paid
activity of the competitor; or

(E) Has been paid for allowing his or her name or likeness to be used in
connection with his or her sailing performance, sail racing results or
sailing reputation, for the advertising or promotion of any product or
service; or

(F) Has publicly identified himself or herself as a Group 3 competitor or
as a professional racing sailor.

Complete resource for the ISAF Sailor Classification Code:

The Publisher

May 31, 2011, 6:17 PM

Post #13 of 13 (21744 views)
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From Ray Tostado:
I spent 15 years as an owner on the race circuit in Marina del Rey - back when even "woodies" could compete amongst the tupperwares. I recall that the birth of the pro racer was nothing less than a bitter reprisal against someone who was faster than you. That a boat had a foredeck hand who worked in a loft made that boat a "cheater". But of course that same complainer had no qualms about his buying drinks and dinner at the club for his crew. Or, loaning out his ski cabin to same.

The fundamental to the argument is simply "compensation". If one gets compensation for the services of crewing then the ideal amateur status is void. Hell man, every owner wants as good a crew as he can "afford". Be it from pats on the back, or picking up a dinner tab, or passing over some twenties on the side.

The underlying debate is about what percentage a crew person gets in his annual reported income with the IRS. Income from the occupation as a race boat employee. 20%, not a factor; 40%, group #1; 75%, group #2; over 75%, group #3. Or, something along those lines.

Then let some JPL wizards design an algorithm to apply this into some manner of handicap profile. Just remember, racing sailboats is all about glory, unless you're in it for the cash.

Did I say it right?

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