Competitors’ Guide to the 2020 Newport Bermuda Race

This overview will help prospective race entrants to review and engage in the process of preparing to sail in the next “Thrash to the Onion Patch.”

This article provides an overview of the steps to take to enter and compete in the Newport Bermuda Race and provides links to detailed articles on each step. You will likely work on some areas at the same time, such as crew selection and boat preparation, but if you’re not sure where to start, take them in order here, and take advantage of the assistance available as questions arise.

Choose your boat; choose your division – Many sailors already have the right boat for the Newport Bermuda Race. Many monohulls qualify if they are at least 33 feet*, have a reasonable stability screening measurement, self-draining cockpits and are not equipped with foils that lift the boat clear of the water. Most races have seven or eight divisions of boats, which actually represent several races within the race. Choosing your division will connect with a series of related decisions such as sailor classification, boat type, and sails needed.

Most boats race in one of the four divisions below, but there are also divisions for multihulls, superyachts, open class, and spirit of tradition boats. (See about the Bermuda Race, for the full list.)

  • St. David’s Lighthouse Division – This is the division for conventional, multi-purpose cruising-racing monohulls sailed by amateur or mostly amateur crews. This division is the largest at close to 100 boats. There are limits on the number of professional sailors in these boats, and only amateurs are allowed to steer.
  • Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division – This Division is for all-out racing, typically lightweight and high-performance boats often sailed by professional crews, who may steer.
  • Finisterre (Cruiser) Division. This division is for boats that normally cruise and are sailed by mostly amateur crews, with only amateur helmsmen.
  • Double-Handed Division – if you want to race with a total crew of two, this is your division. One crew may be a professional and steer.

Questions? Contact the Race Chairman.

Practice session for the Sunflower crew

The year before the 2018 race, the crew of Sunflower poses with their safety gear after a practice session.

Crew selection; Bermuda and back

Choosing your crew is critical to your success and safety and enjoyment of the Newport Bermuda Race. To qualify for the race, your crew must include enough experienced sailors. The race’s rules also limit the participation of professionals in the St. David’s Lighthouse, Finisterre and Double-Handed divisions, which clearly links your choices of division to the makeup of your crew.

Don’t forget that the Newport Bermuda Race involves a “round trip” and that the delivery segment of the race must be planned carefully as well. For an excellent introduction to an experienced skipper’s thinking on this process, read Round-Trip Preparation, Bermuda and Back, by Sheila McCurdy.

Crew safety training

At a minimum, according to the rules for the 2020 race, 30 percent of crewmembers including the skipper of “person in charge,” must have completed an “International Offshore Safety at Sea with Hands-on Training course.” Seminars to obtain certification are held roughly every quarter by the Cruising Club of America, as well as by other race organizations, and certificates are valid for the next three Newport Bermuda Races before needing renewal.

This video with Mark Lenci, safety leader in charge of coordinating the CCA seminars for the race, shows scenes from recent seminars and explains theory and practice of safety training.


For more specifics on safety training:

Prepped to sail offshore

When you enter your boat in the Newport Bermuda Race, you must pass a safety inspection to demonstrate that you have fulfilled the requirements of the Newport Bermuda Race Safety Regulations. The NBRSRs for 2020 have yet to be finalized, but the 2018 version will give you an idea of what to expect: The inspection process is a valuable learning exercise for first-timers and an excellent preparation milestone for all entered in the race:

Trusted advisors

The Bermuda Race Organizing Committee has set up an Ambassador program staffed by race volunteers who have long experience preparing boats to compete. Read more about it on the Ambassador program page, and request that an ambassador local to you be assigned to assist you by contacting

Boat measurement and handicapping

Every boat in the Newport Bermuda Race must have an Offshore Racing Rule certificate, which allows its performance to be handicapped relative to other boats of different speed potential. If you don’t already have a certificate, your boat will need to be professionally measured to complete your ORR application. Read more about the ORR and why it has been used for many years in the race.

This story will be updated with additional links to useful resources.