Zebra ID printers ensure smooth sailing for 2014 National Optimist Champs

In many areas of business, the automation of paper-based processes greatly improves efficiency and performance while reducing error-prone manual work. When race sponsor Comworth Technologies presented an opportunity for the automation of sign-on of hundreds of sailors participating in the 2014 National Optimist Championships, host organisation Manly Sailing Club jumped at the chance. After all, it reasoned, administrative burden would be substantially eased – but more importantly, safety would get a big boost too. Central to the solution was the use of Zebra ID printers, which issued every sailor with a bar-coded ID card.

Situation

Host of the 2014 Toyota National Optimist Championship, Manly Sailing Club is located on the picturesque Whangaparaoa Peninsula. A five-day regatta, the Championship is New Zealand’s largest single class regatta and drew 275 sailors from New Zealand, Australia, New Caledonia, USA and Great Britain.

To manage this large fleet size, a number of new technology initiatives were introduced for the first time, including the Zebra ID card printer system.

Member of the organising committee Stephen Wagstaff explains: “Keeping a record of the sailors who have gone afloat and who have returned is an essential safety protocol in any sailing regatta. This is especially important for a large junior regatta such as the Optimist National Championships, where over 270 young sailors need to be accounted for.”

The sign-on/sign-off procedure is usually carried out by the sailors themselves, who add their sail number and initials to a list on paper. However, typical of paper-based processes, this isn’t without its problems, Wagstaff confirms. “This often leads to queues around the sign-on table, and ordinary pens and paper struggle to cope with wet hands when the sailors return and sign off.”

Soggy paper doesn’t make it easy for regatta officials to reconcile lists to a laptop to ensure that every sailor is back ashore. “The paper-based process can be messy, but the biggest problem is that some sailors forget to sign on or off; as a result, reconciliation becomes an exercise in tracking down sailors who haven’t followed procedure,” Wagstaff adds.

Solution

Looking for a more efficient and smarter way to run this essential process, Race Organiser Sean Paterson says the Committee had some ideas about what it wanted to do. “We needed to lock down the technology that could make it happen; our association with Comworth Technologies lead us to discussing the challenge with them and arriving at Zebra ID cardscombined with scanning hardware as the ideal solution.”

Thanks to the Zebra ZXP8 card printer, every sailor was issued with a personalised credit-card ID which included their name, club, and race ID number, as well as a bar code. “The flexibility of the printer also allowed for the inclusion of a QR code which, when scanned, linked off to other information,” notes Paterson.

In combination with the ID card, the details of every participant were loaded into a central database and assigned to their race numbers.

Results

The application of technology to the Optimist Nationals not only transformed the way this fixture was run, it also provided insight into how any event can benefit from improved control, confirms Wagstaff. “The queues were gone, and so were the wet pens and paper. Most importantly, though, the scanning process brought attention to this safety procedure in a very positive way and we saw a willingness to be scanned that hadn’t been experienced with paper-based sign-offs.”

On race day, sailors had their ID cards scanned as they came past the tent and automatically registered in the system. The reverse was done after the day’s racing was finished, allowing for simple and accurate sailor management.

In addition to boosting the essential requirement for safety, the use of the Zebra technology had a further, more ‘organic’ benefit: personalisation. “With the scan codes captured into a spreadsheet which immediately identified each sailor, the ladies at the scanning desk were able to acknowledge each sailor by name,” Wagstaff says.

As this was the first time that scan-able cards had been used for sailor sign-on, a manual list was run in parallel to cover the risk that the technology might fail. “The technology proved reliable – and a highlight for techies was that the automated process showed up occasional errors in the manual reconciliation,” Wagstaff points out.

“The Zebra ID card printer greatly simplified the registration and check-in process. It was much faster and also easier to keep track of sailors,” adds Paterson.

Such was the success of the initiative that after seeing the technology in action, Paterson concludes by saying many other clubs are interested in using the Zebra ID card printer concept for their regattas in future.

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