Lee Valley Model Yacht Club's
(Brief) Introduction to
Radio Controlled Yacht Racing

Are you up to a real challenge?

Racing high performance radio controlled yachts is an exciting, challenging and very satisfying pastime. Getting involved is easy if you follow a couple of simple guidelines, like joining a local club and seeking advice from a competent member.

The sport of radio controlled yacht racing is made up of three distinctive elements - designing, building and racing.
For those not wanting, or able, to design and build their own yacht, these stages can be circumnavigated by purchasing an already completed yacht either from a commercial builder like SAILS etc or, second-hand, from a club member.
A list of second hand boats for sale in the UK can also be viewed at the MYA Web Site.
A number of manufacturers sell kits of parts for those wanting to build and race but not design.
The design of all classes of yacht are strictly controlled by 'rules' - this stage therefore should only be undertaken by those with some yacht design knowledge and a copy of the relative class rules.

Who Looks After the Sport?
The sport is administered in the UK by the Model Yachting Association (MYA), the division member for the UK of the International Sailing Federation, International Radio Sailing Association. Search the WWW for the model yachting association in your country - most countries have one, although its name may be different to that of the UK's national body.

The Rules
Racing follows the same rules (The Racing Rules for Sailing frequently referred to as the RRS) as those used in full sized yacht racing (see animation below) - with a few minor changes to account for the fact that helmsmen are not in the yacht but on the shore. A copy of the RRS can readily be purchased from any good book shop. A Rules Companion published by Fernhurst Books is shown i n the illustration below. When ordering be sure to obtain the latest issue as the rules are updated every five years.

The Course Most races follow the standard 'Olympic' course (see diagram I) using three buoys set out in a triangular arrangement as shown.
The second illustration (diagram II) shows how an arrangement of eight buoys allows a course to be set for any wind direction. This layout was used in the 1968 Acapulco Olympics.
The purpose of the 'Olympic' layout is to ensure skippers' skills are tested on all points (directions to the wind) of sailing.

The Beat to Windward
After the start skippers are faced with a 'beat' against the wind which will involve tacking the yacht a number of times before reaching the windward buoy. The course therefore actually sailed to the windward buoy takes the form of a zig zag and not a straight line as shown (see diagram III). The beat is a very tactical part of the course - many places can be won or lost on the beat.

The Broad Reach
After rounding the windward buoy the yachts sail a 'broad reach' which is the fastest direction, relative to the wind, a yacht can sail.

The Gybe
At the wing buoy the yacht has to 'gybe', which in full sized yachting is the one of the most dangerous manoeuvres a yacht can make. The manoeuvre requires great skill to effect safely and efficiently. A gybe causes the main sail to 'flip' violently from one side of the yacht to the other.

The Second Reach and Beat
The gybe is followed by another broad reach down to the leeward buoy where the yacht begins another beat up to the windward buoy.

The Run and Final Beat to the Finish
After rounding the windward buoy a second time the yacht now sails dead downwind on a 'run' to the leeward buoy before beginning their final beat to the finish line.

How to Win Races
To win races a number of quite different 'qualities' are required:-

  1. A fast boat
  2. Good quality sails and an understanding of how they work (read a good book on the subject)
  3. A sound knowledge of the racing rules (buy a good book on the rules)
  4. An understanding of race tactics (there are some good full-size yacht racing videos available)
  5. Optimum rig/sail trim for all 'legs' of the course
  6. A good start - i.e. on time and in a good position when the start horn sounds
  7. Lots and lots of practice
  8. Some luck

Radio Control
Yachts are controlled by a handheld radio transmitter (see illustration) sending instructions to an onboard receiver. The radio signals are used to control a variety functions depending on the class of yacht being sailed. For example, the International One Metre Class allows only the rudder and sails (main and jib together) to be controllable from the shore (see control diagram). Other classes allow more controls including sail trimming devices such as backstay adjustment or, in some classes, even a spinnaker.
Three control frequency bands are commonly used for yacht racing in the UK. These are the 27MHz band (12 transmitting channels) and the 40MHz band (34 transmitting channels) and 2.4GHz (80 channels). The last is steadily gaining in popularity as the equipment finds and selects a channel for itself. Regattas are usually organised in such a way that no more than 20 boats compete in any one race. This does not restrict the number of entries, as a multiple fleet system, with promotion and relegation is employed when regatta entries exceed 20 boats.

Feel Up to the Challenge? Then What Next?
Study the rest of this site. Then visit the MYA Web Site for the UK (or your own national body) to find a club in your area.

Happy Sailing -

It's a great sport. Racing is fun, although it can get a bit frantic at times, especially when racing against 17 other boats.

Collisions like this are rare in rc yacht racing as the rules make it quite clear who has the right of way and who should be taking avoiding action. We can only guess why boat number 46 got itself into this position but it's all good fun and these boats are robust enough to be able to withstand this kind of 'accidental contact'.

Diagram I

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Diagram II

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Diagram III

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The Racing Rules

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The racing rules are complex and need to be learnt. They are necessary to avoid 'bumping' and 'barging' between yachts. Lee Valley members are happy to provide full instruction and training in the rules, both in the theory and in the practice.

Simple Radio Transmitter

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