The article is about that bloody RED flag penalty! Bill's view on when to give it or not.
Red-Flag Penalties - rule C5.3 & rule C8.3
The 'red-flag penalty' rule seems to cause more discussion in debriefs and within umpire teams than even rule 16. It is important to understand the process that brought the rule into the rulebook.
In New Zealand, at the old Steinlager events, it was often a race winning move to either lead into the wall or out into the current, so much so that you could usually get enough distance to easily take a penalty and still be in a favorable position.
A sailing instruction was introduced so that if a boat broke a rule and a consequence of that breach was 'winning' the side they wanted, that penalty was turned into an immediate penalty.
Not all events used, or even wanted, such a sailing instruction, but eventually it was decided to take it out of the SI's and add it to Appendix C as a standard penalty option. This is where it went awry, as the red-flag penalty started being used for issues that were never originally envisioned.
Equally it has never been clearly described what the criteria for a red-flag penalty is, being variously described as gaining an advantage taking into account the penalty, which was already there and required a double penalty, and change of control, which is not referred to anywhere in the RRS.
For me Call MR 33 further complicates the problem as it rightly states that we should not take into account what happens later to decide an advantage.
So where are we now? Well most umpires, and I have to say me included, are not able to do the mental gymnastics required to consider advantage, double penalty, red-flag penalty, deliberate etc. and we follow a simpler path.
Deliberate or gross breaches to gain an advantage or not, we give a double penalty; gaining a significant advantage we give a red-flag penalty.
Not really exactly what the RRS says, but it has lead to more consistency.
So what constitutes gaining an advantage?
These are the criteria I have used recently;
1. Umpires will apply a red-flag penalty when they see a boat gain an advantage at or around starting time, or for an incident when rule 18 or Call MR 39 applies, or approaching a finishing line. The time before or after the starting signal is dependent on the boats position relative to the starting line in terms of time and distance back to the line.
Gaining an advantage will be judged by either a change of right of way, or gaining a 'strategic' control such as winning a side when the umpires are certain that that a 'strategic' advantage is a constant feature for that match for that side. Tide will normally be used more frequently as a criterion for a 'strategic' advantage than the wind.
2. When the umpires are immediately certain that the conditions for a double penalty exist they will signal accordingly. If they are unsure as to whether it is a double penalty or a red-flag penalty, they will signal a red-flag penalty immediately, and then discuss whether to give an additional umpire initiated penalty.
One of the systems I have been trialing at events is to determine before a flight starts whether there is a consensus opinion amongst the umpire team as to whether a consistent strategic advantage is apparent from either wind or current on the race track. (This approach is similar to all making a decision as to whether surfing or planning conditions exist for the purpose of rule 42.)
If a boat then breaks a rule and gets first use of that particular advantage that it wouldn't have had otherwise, it should be a red-flag penalty.
You will note that nowhere do I refer to a change of control as something that is a determining factor for giving a red-flag penalty, a change of control is just one factor that should be factored into whether a boat has gained an advantage.
Personally I would like to rewrite C8.3 to reflect what we do on the water.
Well I'm sure you are all confused at a higher level now.
The reality is we get just as many 'should have been a red-flag penalty' as 'shouldn't have been a red-flag penalty' so our balance is about right on the water and these are just thoughts to try and get better consistency amongst umpires.