Chris, from Carrickfergus, is a member of the RYA Judges and Umpire Committee and at 26 he is the youngest International Umpire in the world.

How did you get into sailing?

I grew up in Carrickfergus, and my dad was probably how I got started on the water. He used to race powerboats a lot when he was my age, and so I was on and off boats quite a lot as a child, being a member of my local sailing club. Ongoing to university in England, I got more heavily involved in sailing and particularly team racing.  

What drew you to the officiating side of the sport initially?

I think it all started when our club sailing secretary at the time, Joe McAvoy asked me "would you mind helping out in the club battery tomorrow", so off I went to help run the club racing for a day. I think I quickly found I really enjoyed being involved in organising racing and the challenges that it presents. I then went to an RYA race management course run by Robin Gray to learn a bit more, and was offered a lot of great opportunities to volunteer on committee boats and to be involved in running some pretty exciting events in Northern Ireland, including two World Championships.  

Why did you want to progress? What drew you to judging/umpiring?

I really enjoyed being involved in running events as a race officer, but I think as I got involved in team racing at university I became aware of the role of on-the-water umpires, which is something I hadn't been exposed to before.  Team racing is like matching racing, in that decisions on whether a boat has broken a rule, are given in real time as the racing progresses, as opposed to more traditional protest hearings. This means it is a part of the sport where knowing the rules and tactics is more important than just sailing fast. I got my RYA (and Irish Sailing) National qualifications, and then became a World Sailing International Judge in 2017, and International Umpire in 2018.   

How did it feel to be appointed International Judge in Mexico?

This year, I was appointed to be a judge at the Sailing World Cup Final in Marseilles. At that event, we had 17 international judges from 13 different countries. Working with such a varied group of people from across the world is really one of the best parts of being a race official. It was certainly a privilege. I really enjoyed the experience, and it has definitely given me plenty of things to work on to improve my own performance on the water! I also got to umpire the medal races on the final day, which is really a high octane race that decides which sailors will take the podium places.  

What is the most exotic location/fleet that you have officiated? 

Last year, I was an umpire at the Flying Phantom Mazarin Cup in Qingdao, China, which is probably the most far-afield I have been so far. There we had 15 catamarans racing at up to 30 knots, which makes even just keeping up with the boats a challenge!  Umpires must be on top of their game 100% of the time.  

What are your further aspirations?

I think getting my international qualifications is really the start of the process for me, and certainly I have lots to improve on. I think for me, I would like to become more involved in officiating Olympic class events, or umpiring professional high speed classes. One thing I have really enjoyed is becoming an Umpire Instructor, running seminars and assessments on the water.  

What advice would you give someone who would like to be an RYA race official?

Do it! There is a real need for more qualified officials, and most events struggle to find sufficient race officers, judges and umpires to run their racing. Don't be afraid to contact clubs and people organising events to offer to volunteer. The courses the RYA runs are also designed to be suitable for people who have experience of sailing or racing, but are not experts on the rules, so don't be afraid of signing up for a course.  I have been fortunate enough to officiate at events I could never compete at. If this is something you are interested in, then the opportunities are certainly there and I would encourage everyone to get involved in officiating one of the best sports there is.  

Has there been any interesting developments since you became a member of the RYA Judges and Umpires Committee?

The Committee is responsible for setting the policy that trains judges and umpires across the UK. One of the main challenges we are trying to address is increasing the number of women race officials which is an area that we are not doing as well as we could be, as well as encouraging more younger officials. The RYA have recently initiated a race officials academy, known as Project 2024 specially aimed at aspiring race officials between 18 and 35 which is really encouraging. It is also really exciting that for that we have a 50:50 gender split and that it provides an environment for the participants to learn from each other’s experiences, as well as from their mentors.