Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The 3 least understood Racing Rules of Sailing.


I've restricted the number of least understood rules to three, because Tillerman instructed me to do that in his group writing announcement, but actually I sometimes think the title should be "the 91 least known Racing Rules of Sailing". Well, please forgive me, that's what I see on occasions watching a fleet race. Okay, maybe not 91, but 91 minus four or five. Port and Starboard and other basic RoW rules seem to have been absorbed by a slight majority, but not by many more.

I wonder if we should introduce a sort of 'driving licence' for regatta sailors. You can't participate in traffic, if you don't know the rules. Fortunately most contacts don't end up in personal injuries and only minor damage, unlike on the road. But the rules appliance is appalling in some fleets. I don't want to police sailors for every rules-infringement, other then with umpiring a match - or team race. But we are getting there fast, if I read the developments correctly...

Therefore I have chosen three rules you should DEFINITELY understand:

Basic Principle:
Competitors in the sport of sailing are governed by a body of rules that they are expected to follow and enforce. A fundamental principle of sportsmanship is that when competitors break a rule they will promptly take a penalty, which may be to retire.

A boat and her owner shall compete in compliance with recognized principles of sportsmanship and fair play. A boat may be penalized under this rule only if it is clearly established that these principles have been violated. A disqualification under this rule shall not be excluded from the boat’s series score.

Rule 14:
A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible. However, a right-of-way boat or one entitled to room or mark-room
(a) need not act to avoid contact until it is clear that the other boat is not keeping clear or giving room or mark-room, and
(b) shall not be penalized under this rule unless there is contact that causes damage or injury.

If you enter a regatta you 'sign' a contract with all other sailors and the RC. The conditions of that contract are written down in the Sailing Instructions. Those include the RRS. What if someone didn't abide by a contract in your 'normal' live. You would scream bloody hell and say something, wouldn't you?
Or even worse. By breaking the rules you shout to all others: "I'm not going to keep my promises because I don't want to loose"

When all is said and done, it's only a sport. I understand it is taken very seriously by some (me) and a favourite and passionate pastime by others (me again). But to paraphrase one of the ground layers of the current rules, Paul Elvstrom:
"It is not worth winning a race if you to loose the respect of your fellow sailors by infringing the rules"

You might even be surprised!  Knowing the rules will improve your ability to interact with your fellow sailors on the water. Knowing your rights and obligations is definitely going to boost your confidence and ability to concentrate on sailing faster.

Please, learn a few rules and sail by them!



  1. Dear Jos,
    91 least known Racing Rules of Sailing, that's what you see on occasions watching a fleet race, okay, minus four or five. That’s no small beer. But let’s take it as a fact. Question: why do you only blame the regatta sailors? Don’t you think there is a possibility that the rules are not ok? And isn’t an unfair biased approach on a blog that shows everyday that even professional rules hobbyists have different opinions about the meanings of rules or don’t understand a rule at all?
    In my opinion the rules are way too complex: for the competitors ànd the rules experts. And on your blog – “This blog is about the Racing Rules of Sailing. Anything to do with the rules. …” – there is no attention for that aspect of the rules. Have a look at LTW Readers Q&A | 024, with the item “a diagram that happens often”. Result: 16 diverge comments, some rather extensive. And discussions back and forth. But I draw your attention to one comment that jumped out: what Anonymous stated about what will really happen in most races and how the sailors deal with rules that they don't understand.
    And look what happened: no one took up this remark, what can be seen as a sign from the practise. Everybody kept to the theoretical, scientific discussion.
    I think this is characteristic for your blog. Any sign of interest in what really happens on the race courses is missing; the rules are used for analyses and to show one’s knowledge of the rules to other scientists.
    What is the use of these discussions for yacht racers? What is the contribution to a good development of yacht racing? How many racers showed anyhow interest in the content of the blog?
    “Knowing the rules will improve your ability to interact with your fellow sailors on the water”, do you write. Can you explain this? What will one do with his knowledge of the rules in a fleet of competitors who don’t know the rules? You only can use your advantage in the protest room and winning races in the protest room will not make you very popular. Your concurrents will take revenge on the long term. That’s one of the reasons of the relative small amount of protests after incidents in local and national events.
    I am surprised by your idea of a sort of 'driving licence' (not only used on the road but also in some sports, as I understood) for regatta sailors. Do you think the ISAF will like this? And will it fit in projects like New to Sailing and Connect to Sailing.
    Something I don’t understand in your statement is that you start to talk about not knowing the rules and next about breaking and infringing the rules. How can you infringe (on purpose you suggest) rules you don’t know?
    I think competitors have there own rules. Maybe they read the Handy Guide to the Racing Rules of Sailing 2009-2012, The Racing Rules Companion, Yacht Racing Rules The essentials, and others and that’s it. Depending of the class, the kind of race, they have their own written and unwritten rules and do’s and do not’s. And they are happy with it en solve problems without protests. And loosing respect is not an item.
    You see a development towards policing sailors for rules-infringement. That’s funny, once we had the possibility to do that with the rule that said that when two boats collide and no turns or protests, both will be disqualified. I have some experience with policing this rule and this worked partly well. But the Racing Rules Committee cancelled the rule. I think we need the rule to comeback.
    To come to an end, I hope the Racing Rules Committee will read your statement and ideas and also that the visitors of your blog will realize that there is more to discuss about the rules then rule-explanations.
    In my opinion the yacht racers who do not know the rules are victims of an unwanted situation. Let’s ask ourselves when being busy with the rules, don’t we maintain this situation. Let’s realize all the time that de rules are there to serve the game of yacht racing. And not the other way round.


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