Jobson Report: Eliminate the Sailor Classification’s Gray Zone

/SW/ editor at large Gary Jobson suggests simplifying US Sailing's Eligibility Code. "Jobson Report" from our March 2008 issue

March 19, 2008


Stuart Streuli

About 10 years ago, there was a growing perception that too many amateur sailors were being locked out of the sport. Consequently, US SAILING and Dave Irish, its president at the time, launched the Eligibility Code, which was intended to delineate professional and amateur sailors. The Mumm 30 and Farr 40 classes embraced the initiative as a means to have owners driving their boats, and to include amateur crews on board. The Classification System eventually migrated to the International Sailing Federation when several international classes adopted the Code. Today, nearly 32,000 sailors have registered for their individual status, but the question remains, whether sailing, as a sport, is better off as a result of the system. I believe it is, but the system needs a major tweak. It’s time to simplify it further.

Irish says the system is working, and it is changing the character of competition because owners are required to steer their own boats, but he admits it’s an
imperfect system.

“I came up with three categories,” says Irish, “but with a decade of hindsight it might have been better with just two.”


There is rarely confusion about who among us is a professional. The real confusion exists in defining the amateur, specifically for those in the ambiguous Group 2 category.

The Code’s definitions themselves (at bottom of page) demonstrate the confusion.

A Group 1 sailor, for example, is one who participates in racing only as a pastime, and whose work “does not require knowledge or skill capable of contributing to the performance of a boat in a race.” That’s simple. A Group 3 sailor is paid for “competing in a race, training, tuning, or preparing a boat, its crew or sails for racing and then competed on that boat, or has been paid for allowing his name or likeness to be used in connection with his sailing reputation for advertising or promotion.” That’s pretty clear to me.


But what about the Group 2 definition: “A competitor who is not a Group 1 competitor and has not been a Group 3 competitor.”

So who among us are stuck in the middle? I am, as are employees of equipment manufacturers, boatyard workers, yacht dealers and brokers who receive income and may sail on a customer’s boat as part of its commissioning. A significant number of these individuals should be either Group 1 or Group 3.

At present, 91 percent of registered sailors are Group 1, 3 percent are Group 2, and 6 percent are Group 3. In other sports, the difference between professional athletes and amateurs is well defined-you are either paid to play or you are not. And as it stands, too many of our current Group 2 sailors who are not paid to sail are being denied opportunities to sail in classes that limit professionals.


ISAF provides its Classification Code as a service to events and classes. No organization is under any obligation to use the system. According to ISAF’s Classification Chairman, Antony Matuesh, dozens of classes are using the system. There are 11 members on the Classification Commission; all are anonymous, except for its chairman. According to one committee member I spoke with, ISAF believes it is best to keep the members unknown so they can operate in confidence, uniformity, and without influence.

As an example of a how a class applies the Code, The New York YC’s new Club Swan 42 class has a strict standard. Only the boat captain and one unpaid Group 3 are allowed to sail on a boat. The club, however, has determined that Group 1 and Group 2 sailors be placed in the same category. The Cruising Club of America takes a different view for its Newport Bermuda Race where Group 2 sailors are lumped in with Group 3. As a result, there are many Group 2 sailors that do not (and can not) participate because they are not allowed to steer in any class except the professional division.

Which is the better method? I think the NYYC uses the correct formula. Jim Allsopp, a long-time sailmaker from Annapolis who is in his 60s says, “I think the classification system should end for sailors over 60. It doesn’t seem fair to be bunched in with young professionals that race all the time.” The only age reference in the Code is to sailors under 24 who work on a boat for pay for 100 or fewer days per year. Once such a sailor turns 24 they then they become Group 3. I have no problem with the lower age limit, but Allsopp has a point. Irish points out that Buddy Melges steered America3 to victory in 1992 at the age of 62. But for mere mortals, 60 seems like a reasonable cut off point. Also, the only way to change one’s classification is to adhere to the guidelines. Yet ISAF only allows sailors to be reclassified one level per year. To get Group 1 status, a Group 3 professional would need two years without “engaging in Group 3 activities.” A Group 2 sailor would have to wait a year.


The system exists on the honor system, but according to Irish (who is an ISAF vice president), “the challenge is enforcement.” Recently, I sailed in a regatta and noticed one boat had a full crew of Group 1 sailors, and yet the credentials of the crew included the America’s Cup, professional events, and around-the-world races. Under the ISAF definitions, this crew all qualified as Group 1. Irish says it is impossible to use experience or knowledge as the guide-the system is income based [according to the system, “Pay and its derivatives means: the receiving by a sailor of, or the acceptance by a sailor of, an offer to give money, money’s worth, remuneration, gratuities or compensation in any form.”]

Irish points out that pros rarely purchase boats, only amateurs do, and he believes more boats have been sold as a result of owner/driver rules. Looking at the large fleets competing in Key West, Irish has a good point. But it is fair to say that many Group 2 sailors working in the marine industry also promote the sport, and therefore help with the sales of boats.

“The biggest problem we had in the early days was the sailmaker,” says Irish. It’s a fairly new trend that many crews are being paid to race. It’s up to the class to decide if individuals qualify for designated groups. Yacht designers fall into this category, if they race on a boat they designed. Sailmakers and designers might not be paid to race, but their services can certainly improve performance, and therefore they are considered Group 3.

Every year the Classification system is refined and hopefully improved. Long term, the sport of sailing would be better served with only two Groups; you are either paid to race or you are not. In the meantime, I encourage event organizers and class associations to follow the Club Swan 42’s example and consider placing Group 1 and 2 sailors in the same category. Let the true pros earn a fair living for their efforts.

What’s In The Code?
The Sailor Classification Code (available at has numerous sub-clauses, but here’s the meat. To test the guidelines for your own classification, log on and follow the steps. There is no fee for this service.
A Group 1 competitor takes part in racing only as a pastime. His or her work does not require knowledge or skill capable of contributing to the performance of a boat or boats in a race or series; and he or she has not been paid in connection with participation in racing.

A Group 2 competitor is a competitor who is not a Group 1 competitor and has not been a Group 3 competitor in the “qualification period.”

A Group 3 competitor is a competitor who has been paid for: competing in a race, training, practicing, tuning, testing, maintaining or otherwise preparing a boat, its crew, sails or equipment for racing, and then competed on that boat, or in a team competition, in a boat of the same team; or has been paid Euro 1,500 or more 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 has publicly identified himself or herself as a Group 3 competitor or as professional racing sailor.


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