The Challenge

Sirous, Josh, Yasmeen, David, Alex, Kristoffer, and Jamie made history in June, 2013, when they, as the UBC SailBot competition team, were the first team in history to get a perfect score in the IRSR!


UBC SailBot participates in two events, the MicroTransat and the IRSR. This page will give you most of the information about the two events, but for the most up to date information please visit the official event websites, and


MicroTransat Website -> See this website for most up to date information about the challenge

The Microtransat Challenge was originally conceived in 2005 by Dr. Mark Neal of Aberystwyth University and Dr. Yves Briere of the Institut Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace (ISAE, formerly known as ENSICA) in Tolouse, France.

The Microtransat Challenge is a transatlantic race of fully autonomous sailing boats. The race aims to stimulate the development of autonomous sailing boats through friendly competition.

The 2013 transatlantic race is open to competitors for the duration of the year. In a change from previous year’s two routes are available, an East to West route starting near the UK, Ireland or France and ending in the Caribbean. The other starts off the coast of the North Eastern USA and South Eastern Canada and finishes to the West of Ireland.

Portmagee, Ireland. One of the possible landing spots for UBC SailBot in 2015. Photo by Tobias Abel.

Portmagee, Ireland. One of the possible landing spots for UBC SailBot in 2015. Photo by Tobias Abel.

So far this year the only teams to attempt the race are Ecole Navale from Brest, France and Team Joker from Ascot, United Kingdom. École Navale, they began their attempt on July 3rd, but lost of their boat on July 7th. Team Joker began their attempt on October 11th but ran aground after only 15 hours, fortunately they have been able to recover their boat.

UBC SailBot intends to launch their MicroTransat vessel in 2015 following the Northern route, sailing from Newfoundland to the West coast of Ireland, shown on the image below:


International Robotic Sailing Regatta (IRSR)

IRSR Website -> See this website for most up to date information about the competition

In 2004 students from the University of British Columbia demonstrated as part of a fourth-year design project that an autonomous sailboat was possible. Based on their work the SailBot Class rules were developed for friendly competition among university teams. The first IRSR was held in 2006.

Competitions have been held in Canada and the United States. The winner of the event has the responsibility to select the next host site in North America. In 2010 the U. S. Naval Academy won in Kingston, Ontario and hosted the 2011 event. After winning again in 2011 the U S Naval Academy selected Vancouver as the site for the 2012 event. The UBC won the 2012 event, and selected Gloucester, MA, as the site for the 2013 event. In June 2013 UBC won the 2013 event with a perfect score, and selected San Fransisco as the site for the 2014 event.

IRSR 2013 robotic sailboat workshop in Gloucester, MA.

The detailed rules of competition are in the Sailing Instructions; however, the basic concept is to build a 2 meter long boat which can sail robotically by making its own on-board decisions about sail trim and course direction without human assistance.  Due to the complexities involved in this task, only one event will be required to be fully autonomous. At the cost of some points the other events permit the rudder and sails to be controlled from off the vessel.  This allows teams to gradually increase the complexity of their boat. For instance, a first-year effort would be to build a boat and possibly an autonomous sail trim system. For safety reasons one event stresses reliable standby manual remote control.


The competition will consist of five challenges to test various aspects of the design, construction and control logic. A team can score a maximum of 10 points in each challenge, with 50 points in total being the top score.

  1. Fleet Racing (manual rudder and/or sail control incurs no points penalty)
  2. Station keeping to test logic (manual control incurs 50% points penalty)
  3. Autonomous navigation contest to test precision (no manual control allowed).
  4. Judges evaluation of a presentation on the design, construction and innovation
  5. Long Distance Race (manual control incurs 50% points penalty)


The competition will consist of four on-water competitions and one on-shore event to test various design attributes:

1)   Fleet Race Event

fleet race

The entire fleet will race together on the course shown below. Due to the close quarters of this event, to minimize the risk of collisions, boats are expected to sail with manual rudder control. No penalty will be applied if autonomous rudder control is used, however all competitors are reminded that they must comply with the Racing Rules of Sailing in regards to the rights-of-way of vessels. Boats may race with either manual or automatic sail control.  Two races are planned, and the event score will be based on a combination of their scores from the two races. 1st place in the event will score 10 points, 2nd will score 9 points and so on. If two races are sailed and two teams have the same combined points, they will receive equal points for the event.

2)  Station Keeping

station keeping

Boats will sail into a 40 m x 40 m “box” formed by four buoys. The boats are to remain in the box for five minutes, then exit the box. Boats that complete these requirements will receive 9 points. If a boat leaves the box its score will be proportional to the amount of time it is in the box during the five minute period, rounded to the nearest tenth of a point.   For example, if a boat remains in the box for three of the five minutes it will score 5.4 points. The boat sailing autonomously that stays in the box the least amount of time over five minutes will receive a bonus of one point. In other words, a bonus is given for a quick exit. Manual rudder or sail control after the boat enters the box will incur a 50% penalty for all points scored in this event. The minimum score for a boat that enters and leaves the box, regardless of whether manual or autonomous is two points. Subject to time available, boats may make multiple scoring runs in the station keeping contest. Starting priority will be given to the boat with the least number of completed runs. If the number of completed runs is equal, priority will be given to the boat with the best score in the first fleet race. Only one boat will be allowed in the box at a time.

3)   Navigation Test

navigation challenge

This event will be performed with the boat in full autonomous mode.  No external control of the boats is allowed once the boat has crossed the start line.  Each boat will be required to sail between the two central start marks, complete an upwind leg of approximately 60 m, round a mark and pass back through the start marks. There is no penalty for touching any of the marks. Boats will score 0, 2 5, 7 or 10 points according to the following:

  • Accuracy: 10 points for finishing between the central start marks, 7 points for finishing between the outer marks, and 5 points for crossing the finish line outside all marks.
  • Mark Rounding: 2 points for rounding the windward mark in the correct direction. – A boat has rounded the windward mark when, after bearing away around the mark, any part of her equipment passes through a line extending from the mark perpendicular to the leeward leg

4)   Presentation (On-Shore Event)

Each team will present their boat to the panel of judges. The intention is that the presentation be informal so no particular format is required. However, the judges should be able to grasp how the boat was designed, built, and tested. Judges will be marking on the following areas:

  • Aesthetics and workmanship
  • Innovation (in design and/or manufacture)
  • Control theory (completeness and robustness)
  • Student involvement in the project– how much did the students complete themselves?
  • Design and testing methodology

5)  Long distance race

long distance race

An approximately 10 km race will be sailed autonomously. The exact locations of the starting line and of marks 1 and 2 will be posted not less than 24 hours before the scheduled start. Marks 1 & 2 shall be left to port. For this event only, boats sailing autonomously may be considered to have “rounded” the mark if they pass within 10 meters of the mark, including the start/finish line.

The race consists of eight “legs”. Each boat will receive 1 point for each leg it completes, for instance from the Start/Finish Line to Mark #1. The boat that completes the entire course autonomously in the shortest elapsed time after the starting signal will receive two bonus points and the autonomous boat that finishes with the second fastest elapsed time after the starting signal will receive one bonus point. Use of manual rudder and/or sail control after crossing the starting line will incur a 50% penalty on all points scored for this event. Boats may temporarily use manual control to avoid moving objects without penalty. There is no handicapping for this event. The time limit is 6 hours. Note that the straight line course between marks will keep the boats out of shallow water. The course does have obstructions such as aids-to-navigation. Teams are encouraged to consult a nautical chart. In addition, prior to the event, teams will be allowed a minimum of one hour to tour the course by power boat.


Each school is entitled to appoint one (1) judge to the panel.  Judges must be professors or instructors in the Faculty of Engineering with a strong grasp of naval architecture and/or systems engineering concepts. Other members on the panel of judges will include up to three industry professionals appointed by the host team, reflecting experience in the Racing Rules of Sailing, SailBots or other skills.


The perpetual trophy was donated by Queen’s University and will be presented to the winning SailBot team.  Keeper trophies will be presented for the overall event winner, the winners of each SailBot competition and for other achievements.

Protests and Fair Play

A boat and team shall compete in compliance with recognized principles of sportsmanship and fair play. A boat may be penalized under this rule only if it is clearly established that these principles have been violated. A disqualification under this rule, as specified by the jury, in any event shall disqualify the team from all other events.

By participating in an event conducted under these rules, each team agrees to:

a)    be governed by these rules, the Racing Rules of Sailing, and the Sailbot class rules;

b)    accept the penalties imposed and other actions taken under the rules.


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