March 30, 2010

By Jos M Spijkerman, International Umpire/Judge

Summary of the Facts
Between the preparatory and starting signals, Ephesian on starboard tack and
Jupa on port tack approached each other head-to-head. Both boats were heavy
keelboats, 33 feet (10 m) long. Neither boat was aware of the other. The
bowmen on both boats, who normally would have been stationed by the
forestay, were handling their genoas, and no other crew members were keeping
a lookout. Ephesian was moving slowly with limited manoeuvrability. They
collided, causing serious damage to Jupa, who therefore retired. In the
resulting protest, Jupa was disqualified under rule 10 (opposite tacks), and
Ephesian was disqualified under rule 14 (avoiding contact). Ephesian
appealed, claiming that she could not have avoided Jupa by changing course
or speed.

Rule 14 begins ‘A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably
possible.’ This requirement means a boat must do everything that can
reasonably be expected of her in the prevailing conditions to avoid contact.
This includes keeping a good lookout, particularly in a crowded starting
line situation.

The protest committee concluded that if either boat had seen the other a
collision could have been avoided, even at the last minute, particularly if
Ephesian had hailed Jupa when it was clear that Jupa was not changing course
to keep clear. Until that moment, rule 14(a) allows a right-of-way boat to
delay acting to avoid contact. It follows that at that moment she must begin
to act in an effort to avoid contact. The word ‘act’ is not restricted to
changing course or speed. Hailing was an action that Ephesian could and
should have taken. Ephesian broke rule 14. Because the collision resulted in
damage, the protest committee’s decision to disqualify Ephesian was correct
(see rules 14(b) and 64.1(a)). Her appeal is therefore dismissed.

Clearly, Jupa broke rule 10. As a result of the serious damage she suffered
in the collision, she retired from the race and thus took the applicable
penalty (see rule 44.1(b)). Rule 64.1(b) prohibits penalizing her further.
The disqualification of Jupa is reversed and she is to be scored DNF.

Source: http://rrsstudy.blogspot.com/2010/03/pillowcase-of-week-9-107.html

Gate Marks – Rule 18.4 – Which Way Do We Go?

March 13, 2010

Editors note: Weekly I receive quite a few queries about rules, sail trim, strategy and tactics. I am making an effort to share those questions with everyone who reads this blog. So if you have a question you want addressed please send it in. I’ll answer in email and then edit your question (with your permission of course) for the blog. Here is an example of one I got today, that even came with it’s own diagram. I love this stuff!

On the attachment.  A windward leeward course with a leeward gate.  Does the starboard tack boat (which will round the starboard mark of the gate) have rights over all port tack boats (rounding the port mark) even in their 3 boat circle?  If so, why would anyone round the port mark in traffic unless that side of the course was heavily favored?

Thanks in advance.

Thanks for the note.  I hope you feel comfortable sending these sorts of questions anytime.  As I think I mentioned in the BVI its my pledge to anyone who suffers through a course, lecture or bar napkin discussion (let alone a week of cohabitation) to be “tech support.”

A windward leeward course with a leeward gate.  Does the starboard tack boat (which will round the starboard mark of the gate) have rights over all port tack boats (rounding the port mark) even in their 3 boat circle?

So the situation you’ve outlined has become fairly common with the increased use of gates for leeward marks.  Because of this, the rule writers made changes in the most recent iteration of the rules to deal with this specific situation.  It is important to point out that part of the challenge of these sorts of situations actually rests on the shoulders of Race Committee’s which SHOULD place gate marks far enough apart so that each ZONE (commonly thought of as the three boat length circle) is independent of the other.  Of course, that doesn’t happen that often – especially in mixed size fleets.

So something that is important to remember is that even when boats are approaching a mark or are in the zone, rule 10 (Opposite Tacks) is still in effect.  Take the mark away, and the port boat in your situation would have to keep clear.   So when we add the MARK and ZONE the next question must be asked – IS THERE AN OVERLAP and if so WHO IS INSIDE?

In your case, the Starboard tack boat is INSIDE OVERLAPPED with the port tack boat.  So Port tack must keep clear of starboard.

Now, in the event this was a single mark leeward rounding (aka no gate) then the Starboard tack boat would be LIMITED in how far she could sail from the mark before she gybed and went around.  According to rule 18.4 she would have to gybe when it was her PROPER COURSE to do so.  NOTE:  Proper course has a definition, which is course a boat would sail to finish as soon as possible in the absence of the other boat being referred to in the rule.  So that means in this case – when she would gybe if port wasn’t there.

BUT!  Because this is a GATE, Rule 18.4 does not apply and starboard is free to sail to either gate, gybe when she please, etc.

If so, why would anyone round the port mark in traffic unless that side of the course was heavily favored?

You’ve answered your own question.  If the port mark (looking downwind) was; more upwind, leads to the favored side of the course or strategic advantage, you were sure the starboard boat was headed to the other gate and you wanted/needed to split from them or that gate mark was less crowded, then you would likely make for that mark.  The rule doesn’t force either boat to make a choice of marks, it just makes clear which boats must give MARK ROOM and/or KEEP CLEAR.

The tactical, and therefore rules, game is played in the future.  You must be able to anticipate what will happen and what your rights and obligations will be at that moment.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this note, this happens often at crowded GATE MARK roundings.  It is worth spending time learning how to SLOW DOWN at marks in order to maintain as many options as possible.  In this case, if port really wanted the (looking downwind) left hand gate, they should have slowed down (taken the kite down early, over trimmed their sails, steered erratically) and gone astern of Starboard.

Keep those questions coming!

Key West Race Week – Part Four – A Response

December 28, 2009



Most of the responses to this visualization said that this was an easy one, but you should have known it couldn’t be that easy. In order to keep frivolous fouls in check, the rules are written to make both the protested and protesting boats clear a few hurdles.

Starboard certainly had to avoid contact (Rule 14) which violates Rule 10 (On Opposite Tacks).  But what is important (and becoming seemingly more so) is how Starboard goes about protesting.  Recently it seems that more and more PC’s are working hard to disallow protests before they get to the protest room by being STRICT about the procedural steps.  So that brings us to the:

What do we do?

1)  Hail “PROTEST”.  This needs to be immediate, polite and clear.  We should also be VERY clear on who is going to be talking to the other boats on the course.  Generally, I would suggest that I’m in the best position to do so, but I am certainly open to discussing this.  “Do your turns!”, “Hey, you SOOO fouled us!”, “What the f*&(@@%@^&!!!!! are you thinking!?” are NOT acceptable, and don’t need to even be mentioned (although they often are.)  Just a clear “PROTEST” and the boat name or sail number will do.

2)  Immediately Fly Flag and fly until we’ve finished.  This seems to be the favorite “out” of the protest committees these days.  We’ve got about 10 seconds to get the flag displayed.  It also pays to have some sort of time mark for when we did it.  So, I carry a protest flag in my PFD, in addition to the flag on the backstay/stern rail/etc.  We can always pull the more permanent flag when time allows.

Interestingly, this year I acted as the arbitration officer for several big boat events.  Often I was told that they flew the flag as soon as the person who was sent to fetch it from the nav table got on deck.  Not good enough.  I was told once that they flew it about a minute after the incident, once it was clear that everyone was OK.  ISAF says you can do better than that.  There was only one incident this year that, I witnessed, where a PC (arbitrator actually) said to another party “well, did you KNOW you being protested?”  When the answer was yes, we moved forward in spite of some questions about the flag.  Point is, we’ll be flying it and leaving it flying from as soon after the incident as possible.

3)  Get back to racing.  Following the incident we have done what we are required to do at this time.  There are a few things that we should do before too long, but right now we need to get back to racing ASAP.  Too many teams let an infraction, or the other team’s actions (or inaction) consume the conversation.  For the most part, it is time to forget about it and get back to racing.

4)  Write down time of hail and incident information.  Given how we are structuring our team work, I think that our forward person should be able to draft an incident report immediately after we start racing again.  This info is best to get down ASAP so that we can get on with the race and not worry about forgetting important info.

5)  Immediately after finishing, hail the RC to declare our intentions to protest.  While the SI’s for this race only request that we inform the RC that we intend to protest, some PC will take this request very seriously.  This past summer I was racing at an event where the arbitrator was questioning the validity of my protest because the PC didn’t have a record of my hail.  Fortunately, I had a witness (from another fleet) that was willing to testify (although it was never necessary).  So I also add that we should record the time of our hail and any other hails that we might hear.  Finally, we should continue to hail until the RC confirms our hail.  I hate being a chatty Cathy on the radio when racing, but it always is a bummer to loose a valid protest on something minor.

6)  We also should be looking for witnesses.  A witness that saw the incident will make our case MUCH stronger, and knowing who to find back at the dock will make the process MUCH easier.  Now is the time to do it.

7)  We should as a team review the incident report to confirm that we all agree with what happened and then get ready to race again.

If it seems like a lot – that’s because it is.  The key to winning in a protest situation is preparation, and I believe that begins at immediately following any incident.

How about those hails?

You are absolutely right, from a rules standpoint they have no meaning or bearing.  There is no required hail of “starboard” or “hold your course” in the rule book.  In fact in this situation starboard isn’t required to necessarily hold her course (and she didn’t she bore away) so the hails don’t change the situation.  That said, they hails are a good idea.  STARBOARD is making it clear to PORT that she doesn’t think the cross is going to happen.  PORT is declaring “I’m going for it.”  Communication on the course I think can improve the game that is played.  It is important though that the communication be clear and not be a distraction.  In this case – I think both hails helped; even if they weren’t necessary.

Now, what should THEY do?

Well, they fouled us.  It is pretty clear, so what they should do is take a penalty.

According to the SI’s they have the option of either doing a One-Turn Penalty, or taking a 20%.  They can do a tack and a gybe in the same direction or they can fly their yellow I flag and carrying on.

Upwind, I think the 20% penalty is worse than the one-turn penalty.  So, they need to sail clear of the other competitors (or make sure they are clear of them) and do a tack and gybe in the same direction.  A well executed one-turn penalty should be less of a penalty than the 20% would be.  So they would have been wise to have practiced that before the regatta started.  They should also start their one-turn penalty with a gybe, rather than a tack, use their sails and body weight to aggressively steer the boat through the turn and then get back to racing!

After the race is over, they should find the boat they fouled and make it clear that they they took their penalty.  If they DID take a 20% penalty it will be important that they inform the race committee and file within 90 minutes of the RC docking.

So they have plenty to fret about as well.

For some, all of this is more than they want to deal with, and either do not call protest, or don’t follow through with it.  I’m of the opinion that there are inadvertent that take place on the race course, and in order to have a fair game, we should enforce them.  I just go back to any other game I play – basketball, tennis, squash – if a friend fouls I call it.  If those fouls start to impact my game I work to improve.

Have a great day!


Protest Flag

Key West Race Week – Part Three – Sailing Instructions

December 27, 2009

I love the Sailing Instructions (SI’s).  I think I love the SI’s because by simply reading them you are often better prepared than many of your competitors.  I know this, cause on a few occasions I haven’t read them; and almost always been burned because of it did not read them, or read them well enough.

Now thanks to the internet many regattas pre-publish the SI’s and therefore there is NO excuse for not being armed with all the information you need to go racing.  Key West Race Week 2010, Presented by Nautica, is no different, and in my first reading I found a few things of interest that should be kept in mind while racing.


I find section 1.2 a little interesting, only because I don’t know what it means.  I’ve made the mistake in the past of saying, “Well if I don’t know it couldn’t be all that important.”  I’ll be doing some reading to learn more.

Changes to Sailing Instructions

Well, we know that someone will need to be tasked with checking the board at 0830 every morning to see if there are any changes or announcements.

As well, the RC will make an effort to announce changes on the water (3.2).  My experience is that what the RC will say is that the will be running the racing according to the notice posted.  Not much help if you didn’t send someone to check it out.

Signals Made Ashore

If the RC hoists the AP flag ashore, which they will announce at 0830 and/or at 0900, then racing cannot start before 90 minutes after AP comes down.  Usually it is 60, so this is a “good to know” note that may make the AP down scramble a little less severe.

Schedule of Races

The first start sequence in each circle is scheduled to begin at 1030.  The maximum number of races on each day is three.  WHEW!

Class Flags/Stickers/Numbers

No numbers for the J80 class, but we will have event stickers to put on.


There will be leeward gates and windward offset marks.  They intend to set the windward offset between 150 and 200 feet from the weather mark, which means that for J80’s there is plenty of time (probably about 10 seconds) from the time we pass the weather mark to the offset that overlaps can be made or broken.


Windward and leeward marks are tetrahedrons.  The offset is an orange ball.

The Start

Any buoy attached to the committee boat should be considered part of the committee boat.

The line will be a line between flags on the two ends of the start line.  Meaning they will have line callers at both ends and they will be pretty good at calling OCSs.

Changing the next leg of the course

If the course to the windward leg has been changed, the new mark will be a yellow tetrahedron, unless it is the final leg.  In that case the course board will note the course to the finish.

The Finish

The finish line for downwind finishes will be on the opposite side of the committee boat.  Upwind it will be well above the weather mark.


You can, at the time of the incident, take a 20% by following rule 44.3.  You can also do a one-turn penalty, unless it was in the Zone.  Then it is the two turn penalty.

In my mind this means that downwind in big breeze you’ll fly your yellow flag for fouling.  Upwind – you will likely spin.  At the zone…you’re spinning.


Because we are moored at Stock Island our time limit for delivering a protest is 90 minutes from the time our signal boat docks.  Which I would guess is 45 minutes after we finish the last race.


There is arbitration – that’s a good thing.


No throw-outs for our classes.


We are required to conduct an Man OverBoard – that’s a person in the water rescue – procedure in order to comply with ISAF/KWRW regulations.  This is also a good idea – but I wonder who else will really do it. (we will)

Radio Communication

We are on channel 74.

OK – this is basically the “Spock” notes for the SI’s.  Meaning, when I read the SI’s my eyebrow did the Dr. Spock thing.  So I included it.  Let me know what you found that was interesting by posting a comment or sending me an email.

Annapolis Frostbite Racing Rules Scenario #2

December 7, 2009

It is Frostbite season here on the East Coast.  We hardily dress like we are going skiing, and then bomb around the harbor in boats big and small while our little piggies turn to wood.  It’s silly, but my goodness it is fun.

One of the things that I particularly like about frostbite sailing is that we sail courses that we wouldn’t usually sail during normal racing.   There are plenty of argument against white sail only racing and reaching biased course, but I think the challenge that these courses present, as well as the fact that the boats tend to stay pretty close together (similar speeds and less boat handling issues), make for a whole heck of a lot of fun.

It also makes for more rules situations.  If you are way out in front you don’t often have to worry about rules, but for the rest of us in the melee there are some very unique rules scenarios that seem to play out over and over again.

One of the common situations arises when boats reaching at very different speeds become overlapped.  When this happens Rule 17 – PROPER COURSE kicks in and all sorts of interesting scenarios take place. So let’s look at a diagram where an overlap between a windward and leeward boat takes place when another boat sails between two overlapped boats.  I’d bet you’ve seen this situation before.

So what rules apply and what would be the best tactical decisions for each of the boat?  Feel free to expand on the situation if you’d like. Post a comment with your ideas and questions and I’ll diagram some of the best and maybe we can together come up with an answer.

FB Reaching Scenario One.002


November 30, 2009

The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) announced that, as a result of
actions taken by the ISAF Racing Rules Committee and the ISAF Council during
the ISAF Annual Conference, several changes in The Racing Rules of Sailing for
2009-2012 will take effect on 1 January 2010. The changes apply to:

- Rule 18.2(c) will be changed due to an unintended consequence of the current
wording of this rule.

- The definition Obstruction will be changed so that a boat racing will no
longer be an obstruction to other boats that are required to give her room or

- Additions will be made to the definition Party to correct unintended

- A new rule, rule C2.12, will be added to the Match Racing Rules.

After the 2009 rulebook was printed, ISAF revised its Advertising Code and, in
so doing, eliminated all references to Category A advertising. References to
the Advertising Code in Appendices J, K and L will be changed to make them
consistent with the revised Code. –

Complete report: http://www.sailing.org/30355.php

Rules Lecture and Bluenose Fleet Clinic

August 1, 2009

This weekend and into next week I am back in Chester, Nova Scotia giving  a clinic to the Bluenose Class and other sailors who are interested in learning more about how to sail faster and better on the race course or just out and about for the day.

As part of this whole thing I am giving a RULES LECTURE on Monday night.  If you are coming (and you should all come) then I suggest downloading a printing a copy of the most recent rules.

Click here to download the current edition of The Racing Rules of Sailing.

Note, that the download is pretty big.  In fact it is about 150 pages long.  But hey – you need them.  Bring them with you and a highlighter pen.  You won’t be sorry you did.

Rule Question – Windward v Leeward

July 23, 2009

Facts Presented

Boat A (GREEN) is close-hauled on starboard tack on the layline for the windward mark, but  more than 6-7 boat lengths from the mark. Boat B (RED) is completely behind and to leeward but sailing a higher close-hauled course. Boat B is sailing much faster than Boat A and makes contact with Boat A’s port quarter. Boat B (RED) calls protest as Boat A (GREEN) luffs up.

What rules apply?

Who was at fault?

Windward/Leeward Situation

Windward/Leeward Situation


Based on the facts presented this case is fairly simple.  But as with most rules scenarios there is of course some wiggle room – and if I were the protest committee I would want a bit more information.

Read more

Rules Question – Room to tack at an obstruction

July 23, 2009

Facts presented

Winds: 5-7 knots
Seas: calm
Boat speed at time of incident: approximately 4.5 knots

After rounding a leeward mark, two boats are close hauled, on an upwind leg to the finish. They are both on starboard tack. Boat A (BLUE) is a little less than one boat length to leeward and slightly ahead (about 1/2 to 1 boat length) of Boat B (YELLOW).

Boat A (Blue), reading 3.5 ft on the depth sounder, calls out “It is getting shallow, we are going to need to tack soon.” Boat B (Yellow) responds, “TACK, YOU HAVE ROOM TO TACK!”

Approximately 10 seconds later, Boat A calls out “Water. Room to tack.” Boat B again responds, “Tack, you have room to tack.”

Boat A begins to tack but it becomes clear that she will not be able to avoid B. She then bears off to create more room between the two boats and then tacks, sharply maneuvering to clear B’s stern (approximately 170 degrees from her starboard tack course—parallel but in the opposite direction of A, about five feet to leeward).

Boat A hailed protest and hoisted a protest flag.

In the protest hearing, Boat A cited rule 20.1, arguing that Boat B was required to provide A sufficient room to tack onto port to avoid the obstruction. As it turned out, A said she was faced with either running aground (which B did, just after A tacked) or a very risky tack/duck in which she was forced to fall off about 90 degrees from her proper port tack, and virtually stall the boat to allow B to clear).

Boat B argued that since A was able to tack and avoid B, there was no foul.

There were no witnesses to provide further information to the protest committee.

Room To Tack Scenario

Room To Tack Scenario


Boat A (Blue), reading 3.5 ft on the depth sounder, calls out “It is getting shallow, we are going to need to tack soon.” Boat B (Yellow) responds, “TACK, YOU HAVE ROOM TO TACK!”

I would argue that this was not yet a hail for room to tack, but rather the beginning of a good conversation.  At this point the leeward boat would have done her self a favor to explain Rule 20.1, head up sharply to make sure that the windward boat would have to tack with her, or head down to give herself a better lane to tack to.

Approximately 10 seconds later, Boat A calls out “Water. Room to tack.” Boat B again responds, “Tack, you have room to tack.”

Note, the term “water” has been taken out of the rules.  “Room to tack” is the proper hail.

At this point, the rules make it clear that the boat that hailed must take her tack (assuming she can safely do so).  She can’t wait until the puff comes or what have you.  The boat that responded “TACK” must keep clear of leeward, while the leeward boat tacks.

Boat A begins to tack but it becomes clear that she will not be able to avoid B. She then bears off to create more room between the two boats and then tacks, sharply maneuvering to clear B’s stern (approximately 170 degrees from her starboard tack course—parallel but in the opposite direction of A, about five feet to leeward).

In my opinion that at this point boat B breaks 20.1.  A did not think that B was keeping clear, and she avoided contact (Rule 14 NEVER turns off).

Then at at the second tack, it gets a little more difficult (and here a witness would be VERY helpful).  Boat A tacks, and then makes a big maneuver and avoids the other boat.  The fact that she made it, leaves me to believe that she was able to tack, and then able to keep clear.  So B did not break rule 20.1 – which only says that the Windward boat give the other boat the ROOM to tack and avoid.  ISAF Case 35 is fairly specific about this exact situation.

Boat A hailed protest and hoisted a protest flag.

Good!  The first questions a race committee will ask is whether or not “Protest” was hailed, and whether or not a protest flag was flown (assuming you are on a boat longer than 20 feet).  More of us need to do this.

In the protest hearing, Boat A cited rule 20.1, arguing that Boat B was required to provide A sufficient room to tack onto port to avoid the obstruction. As it turned out, A said she was faced with either running aground (which B did, just after A tacked) or a very risky tack/duck in which she was forced to fall off about 90 degrees from her proper port tack, and virtually stall the boat to allow B to clear).

Boat B argued that since A was able to tack and avoid B, there was no foul.

There were no witnesses to provide further information to the protest committee.

Well, I think the protest committee would be inclined to allow A’s protest.
First regarding the obstruction, the leeward boat basically needs to feel a legitimate threat from the shoal in order to call for room to tack.  Running aground is NEVER seamanlike, and if her depth gauge read 3.5 feet – then that is evidence that would be submitted and heavily considered.

She also did the prudent thing to avoid contact when she didn’t think she could tack and clear B in her first attempt to tack.

She hailed protest, flew her flag.  Assuming she properly filed a protest form and followed other rules stated in the Sailing Instructions, then she is likely to win.

BUT!  I don’t think her case is as strong in her belief that she was fouled under rule 20.1 in the second instance.  Because she was able to complete her tack, and then immediately (albeit abruptly) bare away to keep clear, neither boat broke a rule.  ISAF Case 35 talks to this.

When a boat is hailed for room to tack at an obstruction and replies ‘You tack’, and the hailing boat is then able to tack and avoid the hailed boat, the hailed boat has complied with rule 20.1(b).

Remember the term ROOM is self expanding.  It depends on existing conditions.  As stated in the facts found the wind was 5-7 knots – in other words pretty benign.

Conversations on the dock following the race lead to additional questions:

What establishes an obstruction?

In the case of shallows, how can you in fact prove that you needed to tack?

What is considered “enough room to tack”?

These are rules situations that happen regularly on the Potomac river and anywhere there are lots of obstructions.  With shallow river banks on either side of the navigable water, and plenty of other obstructions I can imagine that knowing what the rule book says about these things is important to success on the river.

Without reading the rule book, you can imagine that the rules don’t give you the right to pin someone into a wall, rock, dock or mud bank.
Specifically to the facts that were presented, the blue boat (A) hailed for room to tack.  If you skim through our rule book you will find a rule in Part 2 (Rule 20) which is titled ROOM TO TACK AT AN OBSTRUCTION.  As with all the rules the situation in which this rule comes into play is described (section 20.1).  In the situation submitted it appears as though both boats are close hauled, and they are headed for an obstruction (shoal area).  So the first two prerequisites have been met – They are close hauled (Or above) and are headed towards an obstruction (see definition).
I think Boat A (Blue) should have started this conversation well in advance of the situation.  Not only with the other boat, but with her own crew.  Why leave your fate to the rules understanding (or tactical consideration) of the other boat.

Rule 20.1 (a) states that the hailing boat shall give the hailed boat time to respond – so starting the conversation early, even before the actual hail is made is helpful.

But there is more to that early conversation than just what is required in the rules.  Finding out what the other boat is hoping to do will help you make your decisions.  For instance, if A had said, “Hey B…um, it is getting pretty shallow up there.  You planning on tacking soon?”  If B responded no, then A can make a quick course change, tack and sail on her merry way.  B is not required to respond until both boats are on a close hauled course and the leeward boat calls for room to tack – but it wouldn’t hurt to talk it out.
In the case of the follow up questions an obstruction is clearly defined in the rule book.  It is written as:

Obstruction An object that a boat could not pass without changing course substantially, if she were sailing directly towards it and one of her hull lengths from it. An object that can be safely passed on only one side and an area so designated by the sailing instructions are also obstructions. However, a boat racing is not an obstruction to other boats unless they are required to keep clear of her, give her room or mark-room or, if rule 22 applies, avoid her. A vessel under way, including a boat racing, is never a continuing obstruction.

Now it should be pointed out that the obstruction is an obstruction regardless of whether or not you have to actually make the substantial course change or not.  If you were pointed towards the middle of a long dock it would clearly be an obstruction  Just because you are pointed towards the end of the dock doesn’t mean it stops being an obstruction.  Shoals and shallows are obstructions (and in most cases continuing obstructions).  Aids to Navigation (ATONS) are probably not.
Enough room to tack I think is also clearly defined in the rules if you look at the definition of ROOM.  Room is defined as: The space a boat needs in the existing conditions while maneuvering promptly in a seamanlike way.

Additional thoughts:

Use strategy over right of way.  The right of way is a shield not a sword.

In retrospect, I think that if B had tacked when A called for ROOM TO TACK, she would have avoided grounding and would have maintained her safe leeward position.

Similarly, if A had headed down in order to create some space, or tacked slowly enough to clear B, she would have tacked into free air, while A headed to the obstruction and eventually went aground.

A should have been aware that her choices were not “run aground or run the risk of hitting B in a tack”. Slowing down—even stopping her forward progress was also an option.

How close is too close?

From strictly a rules standpoint, if you don’t hit, then generally you weren’t too close – but there are other considerations I think.

Safety is the first rule – so too close is when it stops being safe.  The rules are designed to be self expanding since the conditions we sail in change what most sailors would consider “too close”.  Other factors include the distance between the boats, speed and size, angles at which they are converging, visibility between the boats, the amount of course change necessary, necessary boat handling, etc.

To give you an idea, in the America’s Cup a windward boat was generally considered to be keeping clear so long as she remained at least one meter away.  Those were 25 meters long.  So if we translated that to a 24 foot boat that would be 1 foot.  Nervous yet?

In the actual rules the closest we get to a definition is in Rule 16 when the windward boat must keep clear, and that is defined by the leeward boat being able to change directions in BOTH directions without immediately making contact.

Again, the Rules are written in such a way that the prudent sailor should get some protection.  The shrinking violet maybe not so much.  Case 50 says:


When a protest committee finds that in a port-starboard incident S did not change course and that there was not a genuine and reasonable apprehension of collision on the part of S, it should dismiss her protest. When the committee finds that S did change course and that there was reasonable doubt that P could have crossed ahead of S if S had not changed course, then P should be disqualified.

So “REASONABLE DOUBT” becomes a pretty good thing – if you don’t think they were going to make it, (Or in this case the leeward boat was going to be able to pull off the tack) then bail out and protest.

The term seamanlike is used, but not defined, in the rules.  But the rule makers and protest officials usually look to see if the maneuver was safe in the given conditions.  This becomes a very subjective matter – especially because the rules don’t take into account different levels of ability.  Seamanlike is based on (According to Appeal 77) “what can be expected from a crew with average experience”

As I have written many times the tactical game, of which the rules are a part, is played in the future.  Great sailors are playing out what will happen “when boats meet” well in advance and have a plan for keeping their boat moving at top speed towards the next make.

Because of this, I am often puzzled by protests.  If two boats are headed in different directions (port v starboard for instance) then they must have a reason for going that way.  Why wouldn’t they want to continue along unobstructed by another boat.  You often see the best sailors wave port tack boats across their bow, not because they are magnanimous, but because they are headed the right way, and are happy to see their competition going the other direction.  Too many sailors use their right of way as sword, when in fact it should be a shield.

So when should you hail, what should you say, and who should say it?


YOU MUST SAIL SAFELY!  So if you are unclear whether the other boat sees you.  Hail.

I have to chuckle when, while making eye contact with a starboard tack skipper, they scream STARBOARD!  I see you, you see me seeing you, there’s no need to shout.  I also chuckle when I see starboard tack boats, that can’t see any of port tack boats crew not say a word.  It is those times that hailing makes good sense, because it is likely that the port tack boat hasn’t seen the starboard tack boat.

At mark rounding it is also a good idea to talk through what is going to happen in a few boat lengths.  The leeward mark is no place for surprises.

Regardless of whether you are on starboard or port, windward or leeward, clear ahead or behind – you must have 360 degree of awareness.  You must have a lookout.  Being on starboard does not allow you to blindly bowl across the course.  In the case of racing on the Potomac River, there is so little useable water, having someone watching out all the time is absolutely necessary to preventing fouls, or worse.

Not having a lookout, or not seeing another boat is evidence that can be used against you in a protest hearing.


From a rules perspective there are very few required hails.  You are required to hail when you are protesting.  You are required to hail when you need room to tack at an obstruction or continuing obstruction.  And I think you should be required to hail when safety suggests you should.

The language that should be used is clear, concise and consistent with the rule book.  Cursing has no part of on the water communication.  Neither does sarcasm or inflammatory statements.


I would suggest that the language be courteous and used only to inform or respond or to prevent dangerous situations.  As well, boat to boat conversations should be handled by one person onboard.  The rest of the crew should be focused on keeping the boat going fast.

I hope this has been helpful and I look forward to the conversation.

Rules Question of The Week

April 29, 2009

A new series here on the Gale Force Sailing site:  The Rules Question of the Week!

Reader feedback and comments are the lifeblood of any good blog, and I can’t thank some of you enough for the content you’ve helped to provide.  I am working with several clubs in the region as a rules resource and plan on going through the rules – rule by rule – to help drive a better understanding of the rules and their application.

The basic rules of racing are pretty easy to understand and all you need to get out and start competing.  But there is more to it than just the basics, and continuing to learn about the rest of the rules that govern our sport will make anyone a better sailor.

So here is the first Rules Question of The Week:

“As someone new to racing, I wouldn’t mind having a rules lesson of the week, even if no one asks a question, just to learn.  However, this week I do have a question.  We were wondering if there are restrictions on how racers hike out.  Are we allowed to be outside the lifelines?”

And here’s the answer:

Fortunately almost any question you might have about racing can be found in the rules.  In the event that it isn’t addressed in the rules you can check the Notice of Race, Sailing Instructions, or class rules.  It is all there.  In the case of the crew position it is addressed in Part 4 – Other Requirements When Racing, Rule 49 of the rules.  Rule 49 states:

49.1 Competitors shall use no device designed to position their bodies
outboard, other than hiking straps and stiffeners worn under the
49.2 When lifelines are required by the class rules or the sailing instructions
they shall be taut, and competitors shall not position any part of
their torsos outside them, except briefly to perform a necessary task.
On boats equipped with upper and lower lifelines of wire, a competitor
sitting on the deck facing outboard with his waist inside the lower
lifeline may have the upper part of his body outside the upper lifeline.

If you would like to use any of the material found on this site, or have a suggestion for a rules question for the week, please feel free to contact me for more details.

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