The Rules Corner

The RRS (Racing Rules of Sailing) can be quite complex. In the first entry below I’ve posted a simplified set of basic rules that will take care of 90-95% of the situations on the water. Plus every now and then I’ll highlight an aspect of the rules to add clarity.

1) The Basic Rules:

Note: These are highly simplified relative to the RRS.

Published September 15, 2001 by John Burnham of Sailing World with a slight further simplifications plus additional explanation by the webmaster on item 5.

Fundamental: Help anyone in danger and avoid collisions whenever possible.

  1. Opposite Tacks: Starboard has right of way.
  2. Same Tack: Leeward or clear ahead have right of way.
  3. Changing Tacks: Boats tacking or jibing must keep clear.
  4. Limits: Right-of-way boats changing course must at first give others room to keep clear.
  5. Giving room: Except at a starting mark surrounded by navigable water, outside boats (boats further away from the mark) must give room to those inside at a mark or obstruction. At the finish line this means that outside boats (further away from them mark) must give room to other boats to allow them to finish. (Blue font for editor's added comments.)
  6. At windward marks, Rule 1 (not Rule 5) applies to boats beating on opposite tacks.

2) When you are the keep clear boat, what does “keep clear” mean?

From the 2005-2008 RRS

Keep Clear: One boat keeps clear of another if the other can sail her course with no need to take avoiding action and, when the boats are overlapped on the same tack, if the leeward boat can change course in both directions without immediately making contact with the windward boat.

My summary interpretation from Dave Perry's "Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing through 2008."

In practice this means that you are keeping clear as long as it would take a couple of seconds (human reaction time) before taking action after a right-of-way boat alters course and you are still able to avoid contact. Of course you have to continue to keep clear if the right-of-way boat continues to alter course while retaining right-of-way!

3) How do you know when you are barging or about to barge at the start and what can you do to get out of the situation?

You'll know when you are about to barge by the reactions of the boats near you as you approach the start line, especially near the committee boat in a typical start line.

  1. A boat to leeward with an overlap says "No room." If you are 10 seconds from the start above such a boat telling you "No Room," you'll probably stall out in the dead wind behind the committee boat if you successfully avoid fouling the leeward boat.
  2. A boat to leeward with an overlap forces you to point high enough that you'll hit the committee boat.
  3. A boat to leeward with an overlap that is trying to start at the committee boat on starboard yells at you and suddenly turns away from the wind to avoid boat contact.

While not one of these indicators are proof by themselves, they are all strong indicators that you are barging and you may get protested.

The best way to avoid barging is to avoid getting caught in the wrong place. Determine which end of the line is favored about 5 minutes before your start. Then establish your approach to the start line early enough so that you don't need to barge in at the last moment.

Still, sometimes the start does not go quite as planned and you'll find yourself barging. Here are a couple of ideas for how to deal with the situation.

  1. If the line is even to pin (left end) favored, the crowd of starting boats by the committee boat will begin sliding down the line away from the committee boat in the last 30 seconds. In this situation you may be able to fight for that committee boat end start by staying clear of the one or two boats just to leeward long enough to find room in the last 20 seconds right on the line next to the committee boat. If you don't see things beginning to clear at 20 seconds before the start, you'll probably have to tack away and then quickly jibe starting in the 2nd or 3rd row.
  2. If the line is noticeably committee boat favored, the starting boats will all bunch up at the committee boat end with a number of barging boats trying to find room. If you are one of the bargers, back off by staying clear and accept a second row start.

In both cases you can limit the impact of a 2nd or 3rd row start by finding clear air quickly. Once you get across the line and get up to full speed look to see if you have enough room to tack to port to get out of the bad air from the 2 or 3 boats directly ahead of you.

4) Windward/Leeward on the Same Tack Sailing Different Courses

Two boats from different classes are traveling downwind on starboard, Boat A (H20) is trying to round C gate, is leeward and overlapped with Boat B (H17) within two boat lengths of the mark. Boat B is heading for the finish line which is about three boat lengths to leeward of C. However, neither boat realizes that they intend to sail different courses.

Boat A is heading up and calling for room to round the mark while Boat B is footing off to cross the finish line and hailing proper course. Boat B does head up enough to stay clear of Boat A and breaks the overlap before the mark, but Boat A calls "Protest" claiming Boat B did not give him room to round the mark.

Which boat fouled the other?

Answer: Boat B did not foul Boat A because it was following its proper course by heading for the finish and was not required to give Boat A room to round the mark so Rule 18.2 (b) did not apply. Boat B also kept clear of the leeward boat by heading up when hailed so it did not break Rule 11 (same tack, windward boat shall keep clear). Both boats were, in fact, sailing their proper course, so Boat A did not break Rule 17.1 by sailing above its proper course. In the end, no foul was committed by either boat.

Even though there were no fouls, remember that Boat A called "Protest" so clearly this was a stressful situation. How could it have been avoided? Communication. When Boat A hailed for room and began pushing Boat B higher, Boat B could have clarified its intention by saying "Going to the finish" or simply "Finishing."