Wednesday, 4 June 2008

New Rule 18 - The three-length zone in RRS 2009-2012

At the Delta Lloyd Regatta I was spending a day on the water doing rule 42 work with Chris Atkins, one of the members of the Rule 18 working party. Together with three other persons he worked on the changes we will all find in our rule books next year.

In between races, we talked about these changes. I asked him specifically about the background for changing the two boat-length zone into three and the choice the OA or RC could make, to decrease this back to two or increase to four. Wouldn't this create confusion for sailors encountering different zones at different regattas?

First of all he explained to me the reason for the increase to three-length zone. In the new rule, the current "about to round" part of rule 18.1 is deleted. That part has always been a source for discussion and confusion. No longer!

Only when you enter the zone, rule 18 will begin to apply.

The working party concluded - as we all do with the current rule - that two lengths was a too small an area for that. Spinnakers are lowered and course is adjusted before entering the two lengths zone. Most boats are already busy with the rounding well before. Without the "about to round" part of the rule, the zone could not stay two lengths. He stressed that in most classes, three lengths should work on the water the same as the current rule, with the added bonus that the 'border' for rule 18 was now fixed.

There are classes and circumstances that the three-length zone may be too large or too small. The working party wanted to give race committees the ability to deal with that. In the current rule book two-lengths is in the definitions and cannot be changed. In the new rule it is specifically allowed to change it in the sailing instructions. But the working party wanted it to be an exception, only to be done for very specific classes or circumstances.

For example on a small lake with slow(er) boats, or in team racing, where three would be too much. Gates could be 5-6 boat lengths instead of 7 or 8, marks could be closer to shore etc. etc.

Or for multihulls and yacht racing (those very fast boats) the zone can be increased to four, to give more time to do a proper rounding, without having to drop that huge spinnaker in five seconds. But only in those very special cases.

The intention is to stick to the three-length zone for all classes and all regattas, as much as possible.

Class Associations, Race Committees and Organizers, who have a say in what is written in the Sailing Instructions, should only change the three length-zone, if they are absolutely convinced that it is necessary. For sailors it is hard enough to judge the distance, without the added difficulty of having to change from one regatta to the next.

I suspect whenever ISAF has any say in it - for graded events at least - the requirement will be to leave the three-length zone intact.


  1. I agree with this extension to 3 boat lengths but I hope that team racing events lower it to 2 as 3 length in a normal team racing situation would make a lot of the legs nearly tacticless.

  2. Mike, no worries.
    In the 2009-2012 rules for Team Racing, Appendix B changes the zone length, back to two!:

    D1.1 Changes to the Definitions and the Rules of Part 2
    (a) In the definition Zone the distance is changed to two hull lengths.

  3. I race on a small lake (250m each way) and we race about 30 small spinnaker free boats (say average 4.5m each) around it. We typically use 5 rounding marks in a square course with a W in it. It does get very busy and increasing the Zone to 3 boat lengths will mean that one is no sooner out of one Zone than in the next. Never mind about incursions into Zones of marks one is not rounding!

    We have not yet elected to change our Club SIs but I think it likely.

  4. The rule makers have left this option open to for exactly this eventuality. Talk to you club members and sailors and agree on a plan. Beware however that changing back to two boat lengths, does NOT change that rule 18 is only switched on inside the zone. A boat can no longer "be about to round the mark" outside it.
    My advice: Perhaps try it once and gather information and then decide

  5. From Ed Williams River Exe
    I sail a bowsprit boat do I enter the 3-length 'zone' when the front of my bowsprit enters the 'zone'?

  6. Ed Williams River Exe
    I am puzzled whether I reach the 'zone' when my Bowsprit or my Bow is 3 hull lengths away from the mark? I read the Zone definition to infer that it is the bow not the bowsprit.

  7. For the zone: Only hull-length as the definition states; so use the bow (and not the bowsprit)

  8. I sail sunfish, I am being protested for touching a mark. I had the inside and was already rounding the mark, screaming to the other boat room, room...still I touched the mark sinceI ewas given much less than the three boat lenghts specified. Unfortunately I did not protest and now have to be present at a near future hearing. How do I defnd my right of way if the boat against me lied in the protest form saying he did give me enough room, his witness has always been aginst me just because I am a better sailor and will defend the other part by lying as well, and there were no ther witnesses on the premises???

  9. Three Length Zone - Room at a mark

    You seem to misunderstand the 3 length zone. The zone is defined to enable us to decide when mark-room entitlements begin. 3 lengths is NOT the amount of mark-room you are entitled to.

    When you are inside boat _at_ the mark, as you describe, you are entitled to mark-room to sail your proper course at the mark. The outside boat can be only a few centimetres away, but as long as you can sail your proper course around the mark, you have been given mark-room. Mark-room is not right of way, but rule 18.5 exonerates a boat entitled to mark-room from failing to give right of way.

    If, as you seem to be saying, the outside boat was so close that you were forced to sail above your proper course to avoid contact, and in doing so you were forced to hit the mark, then you have not been given mark-room and the outside boat has broken a part of rule 18, probably rule 18.2(b).

    Had there been contact without damage or injury, as long as you were sailing your proper course at the mark, you would have been entitled to exoneration for not keeping clear of the outside leeward boat under rule 18.5, but rule 18.5 does not give exoneration from breaking rule 31 by hitting the mark.

    To be exonerated for hitting the mark, you need to convince the protest committee that the outside boat's breach of rule 18 in not giving you mark-room compelled you to hit the mark to avoid contact: exoneration may than be given under rule 64.1(c).

    You are not required to protest before your story about the outside boat failing to give you mark-room can come out in the protest room during the hearing of the rule 31 protest against you, and if the protest committee believes you, they can disqualify the outside boat under rule 18.

    The protest committee might wonder why you did not protest against a boat that you believed broke a rule, and caused you to hit a mark. If they ask you why you did not protest, you might, if it were true, answer 'I heard the outside boat hail protest, so I expected that a protest about the incident would be lodged, and I did not think it necessary for me to protest'.

    It might help your case if, even at this late stage, you completed a protest form showing the incident as you saw it, and lodged that with the protest committee. This will clarify the incident in your mind, and even though the protest committee will probably decide that your protest is invalid, ti will put the protest committee on notice about your side of the story.

    Be careful about accusing fellow sailors of lying, and bring up old stories about past disagreements. You should understand that people see and remember things differently, and someone else can describe an incident differently from the way you remember it without that being a lie.

    Get your story clear. Get any witnesses you can to support your version, and go into the protest room and clearly describe how you saw the incident, get your witnesses to describe their version, ask relevant questions and identify inconsistencies in the evidence of the other party and his witnesses, and leave it to the protest committee.

    Best of luck

  10. We have recently had a protest where a boat had a gps tracker on board that they used to claim the boat tacked outside the zone. I would assume the tracker was in the cockpit in the centre of the boat. They claim was that there was a distance of 36m from the time they tacked to the the time they gybed around the mark. They are a 9 metre boat. For determining whether a boat tacked in the zone is it measured from the nearest point on the boat to the buoy prior to commencing the tack or once the tack has been completed as that would make 6-7 metres difference in this case and then if we assume they actually rounded the buoy 1.5m clear of the buoy and the buoy was 1.5m across and the boat 2m wide then there would be a case to support the fact that they were in the zone when they tacked (36 m less 6 m less 1.5m buoy width less 1.5 m buoy clearance less 1m (half the boat width) to make it 26 metres and within 3 boat lengths..might be clutching at straws here but keen for your thoughts..

  11. @ Anonymous in comment 10
    Your calculations have only an effect if you can convince the Protest committee. They are the ones who find as fact whether the boat was subject to rule 13 in the zone or not.
    It is of no use in an appeal because the appeal committee will accept the facts unless it decides they are inadequate (RRS F5)

  12. Let us _assume_ that you are discussing the use of GPS in this situation generally.

    Be careful what you assume. everything that we might assume, here, for the sake of discussion will, in a protest, need to be proved, by evidence, to the protest committee.

    Thus, beam of boats, circumference of mark, distance off when rounding, and so on will all need to be evidenced and proved.

    You will also need to prove to the protest committee that the GPS plot you are tendering is what you say it is: that it was the plot of the right boat, at the right time. You will need to persuade the protest committee that GPS is sufficiently accurate (given that civil GPS 'error' is commonly said to be between 10 and 50m), for the purposes of showing relative positions over the period in question.

    Note that GPS antenna are frequently fixed to the pushpits of boats on one side or the other, or may be on the outboard side of a nav station bulkhead, thus you can't safely assume that the GPS will be on the centreline.

    Each step of the arithmetical chain will need to be explained and proved to the protest committee.

    I don't know which side of the protest you were on, but all you have really succeeded in proving is that it was in doubt whether the boat had reached her close hauled course when she reached the zone, so the protest committee is going to be looking to other evidence to decide the issue.

    In answer to your specific question, Case 93 refers to "the first part of [the boat's] hull to reach the zone", so if the GPS was on the centreline, or on the other side of the boat, you would have to factor in an additional allowance.

    All in all, this issue boils down to whether the boat had reached her close hauled course 3.5 hull lengths or 2.5 hull lengths from the mark: I don't think GPS is decisive by any means, although it will add to the other evidence available. If the boat had been another boat length out, then the GPS would have been more persuasive to prove that she was not in the wrong.


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