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Rules Talk 2010


This is a brief chat about racing and some of the most important rules.
There are four duties that apply to us all whether we are on the Medway in club races or taking part in races held by any other organising clubs or associations.

  • It is the responsibility of the skipper of the boat to determine whether his/her skills, his/her crews capabilities and his/her boat are race ready. The boat also has to be insured.
  • We all have a duty to SAIL FAIRLY as there are no umpires or judges on the water – we all need to remember that using or not using the rules to obtain unfair advantage or even lying in a protest hearing is simply unacceptable behaviour.
  • If another boat is in trouble we also all have a duty to assist them; if you lose any positions whilst assisting you can claim a redress from the race officer and be placed for that race where you were before you starting helping.
  • Boats have to carry adequate life saving equipment for all persons on board including one item ready for immediate use (horse shoe, Dan Buoy etc). Each competitor is individually responsible for wearing a personal floatation device or lifejacket that is suitable for the conditions. If you feel you need a life jacket, don’t wait to be told to wear one... put one on. Lifejackets are “Useless unless worn”

RULE 10 The most important racing rule is that a boat on starboard tack has right of way over a boat on port tack. A boat is on starboard tack when the wind hits the starboard side of the boat first or the starboard side is the windward side (so you don’t need to be moving forward or have your sails filling to be on a tack and be subject to the rules).
RULE 11 Two boats on the same tack. A boat that is on the windward side of another boat on the same tack and overlapped has to keep clear. This applies whether beating or running. The definition of windward/leeward is that the leeward side is the side of the boat where the boom is. An overlap is established as soon as any part of one boat overlaps/covers another boat. This is when the strategy of luffing comes into play. Luffing: A quick description of luffing for those who don’t know. If you are being passed by a faster boat, that boat will try to pass you to windward. This is because if he/she tried to pass you on your lee, your sail would take his/her wind and they would never get past. So, faster boats will always try to pass to windward. Once an overlap is established, the slower boat can ease up on the wind, forcing the windward boat to keep clear and so he/she has to ease up onto the wind and thus will slow down. You can’t yank the helm over, but you can turn to windward to force them to avoid you. A leeward boat can luff a windward boat head to wind once an overlap has been established but remember that we all need to give the ‘give way boat’ ample room and opportunity to keep clear.
RULE 12 When there are two boats on the same tack and not overlapped the boat clear astern keeps clear of the boat clear ahead. If that boat astern is a little faster and gets an overlap then Rule 11 comes into effect and the windward boat has to keep clear.
RULE 13 Whilst tacking a boat shall keep clear of other boats when she is passing through the eye of the wind until she is on a close-hauled course. (Until you pass through the eye of the wind a boat is simply luffing.) If two boats are subject to this rule at the same time the boat on the other’s port side or the one astern shall keep clear. Remember, if you tack in front of another boat and cause them to alter course to keep clear of you this rule means you have to complete penalty turns. Always look around your boat before you tack to make sure you are clear.
RULE 14 It is still the dual responsibility of BOTH SKIPPERS to avoid a collision that could cause damage or injury. However the rules clearly state that a boat with the right of way does not need to alter course until it is obvious that the give way boat is not altering course to avoid a collision. This does not affect the rights of the right of way boat in any situation. .
RULE 20 Room to tack at an obstruction – like a moored boat, a capsized dinghy, the race officer’s vessel, a freighter or shallow water! Officially “any object in the water which is not a mark of the race course is to be considered an obstruction”. A boat sailing close-hauled can ask for room to tack by hailing the other boat. Once you have asked for this you must tack as soon as possible and the hailed boat can respond by tacking itself, or hailing “You tack” which leaves them responsible for avoiding the tacking boat. You cannot ask for room to tack if you can make it round a mark that is part of the race course.
When you are in the right of way position you have a duty to provide the give way boat with “room to keep clear” this means we all need to keep a good lookout and anticipate if we are going to get close to another boat and possibly need them to keep clear.
Getting Ready to Race
RULE 45 A boat shall be off her moorings and afloat at the preparatory signal. At Hoo Ness YC the four minute signal is the preparatory signal. From the 4 minute gun onwards you are racing, your engine is off, and you must not haul out or make fast unless you need to stop to bail out the boat, make repairs or reef sails. You can anchor at any time from the 4 minute gun during the race, but you cannot use a mooring buoy and you must recover the anchor in order to continue racing (you can’t just cut the line!).
Remember that the racing rules apply from the preparatory signal. If you break a rule before the start signal then you must do your penalty immediately and not wait for the start.
Cruising Boats
Any boat which is not racing is governed by the IRPCAS (International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea) and this takes precedence over the Racing Rules. The IRPCAS includes the port/starboard rule, the windward/leeward rule and also the overtaking rule (a boat overtaking has to keep clear of the slower vessel) the last one is NOT A RULE OF RACING it has been replaced by the modified windward/leeward boat rule.
Penalties The penalties for breaking rules are as follows:
Hitting a mark which is part of the race course – you will need to sail clear of the mark and complete one tack and one gybe immediately. You cannot wait until it suits you or the windy patch just along a bit. This is known as the one turn penalty. You are honour bound to complete a one turn penalty even if no other competing boat witnesses you doing this.
Rule infringements are generally paid for by completing a two turns penalty which has to include two tacks and two gybes; immediately. If you are in a pack of boats, you will sail to an empty bit of water to do your penalty turns, you cant do them on the race course.
Clearly if you need to do these it can be quicker to bear away and gybe first rather than tacking which often stalls the boat and will add to your penalty.
You have to retire from any race if you commit any of the following offences:

  • If you have used mechanical means to assist your passage on a reaching leg.
    Obviously, if you have had to use your engine to get out of the way of a ship,
    you will not have to retire.
  • If you have stopped on the shore (even for one of those lovely Magnum ice
  • If you have failed to assist someone who needs help.

The RYA are encouraging people to use the rules at all levels of racing and to do this you can now opt for mediation rather than a full protest hearing: it is friendlier and allows people to talk about a rule infringement in a less combative atmosphere.
You can always protest if you witness a boat infringing any of the racing rules but it might cost you a few beers or cups of tea for the protest committee!!
The reference book we used to compile this talk was: 2009-2012 The Rules in Practice by Bryan Willis. ISBN: 978-0-470-72788-1

Date Published 18th Apr 2010