Our club uses a custom start timer to run the start sequences. It assists the Race Committee to time the sequences and honk the horns accurately. Like many clubs, we are short on volunteers, and automating simple procedures benefits everyone in the club. The start timer has undergone a few iterations of improvements since its introduction, but the greatest change is proposed for the summer of 2020 – to add lights instead of using traditional flags.
The first version was created around 2013-14. It featured a handheld box based upon an Arduino Uno. Self powered, but relied upon horns mounted to the boat and running from the boat battery. It was completely waterproof, held many different sequences, and the original is still in use today.
It featured a 2″ tall display, count down timer, automatic horn relay, and supported many sequences. An onboard switch allowed any two sequences to be run at a time, with additional sequences available by flashing the memory. A series of led’s and a speaker alerted the Race Committee to upcoming flag changes. Run time on a 9-volt battery was around 1 month (20-30 sequences).
The interface is easy to use with a buttons for power, sequence, and a manual horn. Four LED’s indicate seconds to a flag change (30, 20, 10, 5-1). A speaker announces each of these time increments so the R/C personnel don’t need to maintain visual eye contact on the timer.
Version 2 was developed in the fall of 2018. It moved away from the Uno and was built around the ATMega128p microprocessor and a custom printed circuit board. A larger battery was fitted so that an on-board horn system could be added.
Our local sailing school uses it near downtown Hudson – the horns are so loud that it can be heard inside buildings while shopping!
This version included all the features of Version 1, as well as a 9Ah battery, air compressor, and 8 ft of tubing to remotely place the air horns. The printed circuit board minimized wiring and made the device more reliable. Switches were added to select from many pre-programmed sequences.
It is no longer completely waterproof (because air holes are required for the compressor), but can take heavy water spray from just about any direction.
This version was born to solve an issue the R/C was concerned about – accurate raising and lowering of the flags. Our Race Officer had the idea to use bright LED lights to replace the flags, and the new version was born. It is currently in development, but is expected to be released in the Spring of 2020. We are grateful to be working with an international group of engineers with a passion for sailing to make this endeavor possible!
There has been some discussion online about this project. We hope to make a proposal to US Sailing and World Sailing to include provisions for a Lighted Start Sequence addendum to the Rule 26 sequence.
More information will be added below as the project moves along.