SMS text messaging has been adopted by well over half of the yachts taking part in Skandia Life Cowes Week to receive class courses on the 10-minute warning signal.

This year, Cowes Combined Clubs Ltd (CCC Ltd) has an experimental system using SMS texting to issue courses to competitors’ mobile phones. Over half the yachts taking part have signed up for the service this year.

The software for sending courses by text message was developed by Simon Middlemiss. It was designed to link in with the course-setting software written by Graeme Winn of Sailmath that has been in use at Skandia Life Cowes Week for the last three years. The Sailmath software converts the race officer’s chosen marks for each course into a diagram and shows the estimated times of rounding each mark, as well as highlighting any course clashes.

At the 10-minute warning signal, an operator selects the class and presses ‘send’. The list of telephone numbers for that class is sent via the web to an SMS gateway based in Switzerland together with the message string. Within five-seconds of the operator pressing ‘send’, all the mobile phones for the class are beeping to show that the course has arrived.

Principal race officer Rodney Barton says that the SMS service is an improvement over the previous course notification system used at Skandia Life Cowes Week: “In the past we used to have the little radios which were supplied by CCC Ltd. They got wet and people couldn’t hear them on the frequency band they used. So this year high technology has come to Cowes.”

Stuart Quarrie, the director of CCC Ltd, says, “some early glitches in the SMS system were quickly ironed out and the system now appears to be accurate, robust and speedy. One particular problem we found is that Orange do not support text messages from outside the UK. That’s a problem with an SMS gateway based in Switzerland, so this meant that we had to ask competitors using the Orange network to give us a mobile number on a different network.

“Competitor feedback has been very positive. Although billed and used as an experiment, with the traditional methods of transmission as the only ‘official’ courses, we now have over 500 boats signed up to receive text messages. From competitor comment, the format of the text string has been modified slightly to make it easier to read and various other minor changes have been incorporated.

“We can also send other messages, either to an individual boat, a class or the whole fleet, so that competitors can be easily told of postponements and so on.”