First timers

This guide includes some helpful hints for anyone coming to Cowes Week for the first time, but if you find you have any further questions please don't hesitate to contact us or pop in and see us at the Regatta Centre. We're open all year round!


Entries for Cowes Week 2024 are now open and the Notice of Race are available to read online.

If you are entering one of the handicap classes then you will need to obtain an up-to-date rating (IRC for larger monohulls or ISCRS for cruising boats). However, you can enter the regatta before you have your rating - please just make sure you allow enough time for the administration to go through. A Super Early Bird discount is available for anyone entering on or before Sunday 11 Feb.

Black Group & White Group

Cowes Week differentiates the smaller open day boats which are referred to as White Group, from the larger boats (mainly with cabins) which are referred to as Black Group.

Rating Systems

Cowes Week uses two different rating systems, IRC and ISCRS. Both systems provide good, competitive racing for boat designs that are not sufficiently common to have their own one-design class.


ISCRS is a simple rating system that has been developed by the Island Sailing Club to provide a rating system for those who do not require the sophistication of IRC. This system is free but you must be prepared to take the rating you are given!

At Cowes Week we offer cruisers that do not normally race the chance to take part in the regatta using this system. This is especially aimed at the hundreds of cruising boats that take part in the annual Round the Island Race organised by the Island Sailing Club and which therefore have a rating. If you do not already have an ISCRS rating and wish to enter this class then please contact us.


A fully international rating system that is used by many thousands of boats worldwide. Cowes Week has 8 classes racing under this system all week. This ensures tight rating bands and close racing in fleets of between 30 and 60 boats. Ratings can be obtained from Owners who only enter one or two IRC races a year are able to apply for a Single Event Rating at a reduced price. Further details are available on the SER page of the RORC website.

The Regatta Centre

All entrants or their representatives must register in person at the Regatta Centre (18 Bath Road, behind the Bandstand on Cowes Parade) before the end of their protest time limit on the day of their first race. Registration packs containing sponsor decals/pennants, class numerals (if ordered),Official Programme, Sailing Instructions and any initial amendments to the Notice of Regatta or Sailing Instructions will be available for collection from the Regatta Centre. This Regatta Centre acts as the central hub of information for all racing related queries.

Sailing Instructions

With up to 500 boats racing across about 30 classes, the Sailing Instructions for Cowes Week are generally more complex than other regattas. So the first and most important piece of advice is to read the Sailing Instructions (SI's) thoroughly, read them again, and then get someone else on the boat to read them too! The SI's are usually available for download from the website at least two weeks before the start of the regatta. In addition, a copy will be issued as part of the registration process.

There will often be amendments as changes are made or errors are picked up after the SIs have been printed. It is vital that these are read and ideally integrated into the body of the SIs.

Skippers' Briefing

A Skippers Briefing is held on the Friday evening before the start of the regatta and is open to all competitors. It isn't mandatory, but we do recommend one or two people from the boat come along if this your the first time at the event.

The briefing will also include useful information from both the event meteorologist and from the Regatta Sailing Director.

Start Lines

Most starts happen just off Cowes, either on the Royal Yacht Squadron line or on Committee Boat 1 Start Line, although some starts will be from Committee Boat 2 & 3 line. If you are starting from a Committee Boat line, make sure you listen to the VHF from 09:00 to ascertain where the line is likely to be. Please bear in mind that it may take some time to get to your start depending on where the line is positioned, so do allow for this.

If there has been a long postponement while waiting for the wind to fill in, the start sequence may be split up and parts moved from the scheduled location. You will be notified in good time via the competitor app, text message and by VHF if we intend to do this.


Courses are designed each day taking into account the weather forecast, tidal streams, and speed of each class of boat.

Courses are issued 20 - 30 minutes prior to your start via the competitor app, by text message to the registered phone, and also broadcast via VHF radio shortly before your start. Every crew member is encouraged to download the app and one mobile phone per boat should be registered via the entry or by contacting the Regatta Office by the Thursday prior to the Regatta. If you lose your phone or need to change numbers for any reason then you will need to let us know the evening before a new number is to be used.

Navigation Restrictions

Don't get caught out! Every year, many boats are penalised unnecessarily because they go through restricted areas - read the SI's. It's just as important for regular competitors as it is for newcomers to read the SI's thoroughly as changes are made each year.

Finish Lines

The finishing line to be used is set on a daily basis. There are three fixed lines : RYS Line 1 between the RYS flagstaff and mark Alpha; RYS Outer Line between Alpha and Williams Shipping; Breakwater Finish Line between Gamma and a Committee Boat. Committee Boat 2 & 3 may be used to finish certain classes on certain days.


One aspect of the SI's that is often overlooked by first-timers on day one of racing, is the need to complete a declaration before the deadline after each day of racing. The declaration needs to have your finish time and ideally should include details of the sail number of the boat ahead and the boat astern of you at the finish regardless of class.

Declarations are needed for a number of reasons:

  • If the race officers on the finish line fail to spot you finishing among all the other boats, this is a way of being reinstated.
  • If there are urgent messages for anyone on your boat, the system ensures that someone from the boat can be contacted at least once a day.

Declarations can be completed either:

  • On the Cowes Week App
  • By SMS text message from your registered race mobile phone.

If you are struggling with any of the above options, visit the Regatta Centre to see the team, who will be more than happy to assist you.

Boat Identification

With so many boats racing, and many others cruising round the Solent, identifying all the boats for starts and finishes can be difficult.  Failure to correctly identify your boat may result in your boat being marked as 'Not Seen to Finish', which is frustrating! So, be sensible and carry all the required means of identification:

Class flags

All boats racing at Cowes Week need to display a class flag. The flag needed by your class will be detailed in the Notice of Regatta; it is up to each boat to provide its own flag. All boats should also come equipped with a flag 'B' (swallow tailed red flag) to display in the event of protesting another boat, and a flag 'Q' (rectangular yellow flag) in case you need to accept a penalty. Your class can give you details on where to purchase your class flag or the chandleries in Cowes may have stock available.

Class Numerals

IRC 0-7, HP30 and Cruiser classes are also required to display class-distinguishing numerals or letters (except for boats racing in these classes only on the final Friday).

Each numeral shall be black or blue on a white background and shall be at least 300mm high. These can be pre-ordered via the Regatta Office as part of your entry or purchased during registration (stock is limited).

Sail Number Dodgers

All boats in the Black Group classes also need to display their sail number (including any suffix letters but not the national letters) by way of a dodger carried in the guardrails (or stick-on numbers on each side of the hull).

You will need to have your sail number displayed on your mainsail, overlapping headsails and your downwind sails. In exceptional circumstances (i.e. if you are forced to borrow a sail from another boat) it may be possible to display a different number on that sail, so long as it does not conflict with the number carried by any other competitor - dispensation for these exceptional circumstances must be applied for as early as possible.

Safety Equipment

All White Group boats have to comply with the specific Cowes Week safety equipment regulations. A copy of the 2023 version is available to view for reference on the Race Documents page of this website. In addition, all White Group boats have to comply with their own class rules (if appropriate).

Boats in the Black Group classes need to comply with the ISAF (International Sailing Federation) regulations for inshore (category 4) races - found on the ISAF website at However, if your boat cannot fully comply for some reason then you can apply in writing for dispensation. Common examples include boats that do not have guardrails, or boats that cannot comply with the required size of cockpit drains.


Within minutes of crossing the finish line, you'll be able to see where you finished in relation to other boats in your class and, in the handicapped fleets, whether anyone still racing can beat you on corrected time.

This information is available on the event website, on EventTV screens situated around the town and from the Regatta Centre.