Thursday, 23 September 2010

Umpire dilemma

Many events are using a system with coloured windward marks. So the RO can quickly change the direction of the beat. In shifty conditions that might even be often.

With the preparatory signal a corresponding coloured flag is hoisted to indicate which windward mark has to be rounded. But, things being as they are, sometimes the sailors forget which mark to round – because it’s late in the day, because the beat was slow and long, because they were late entering and concentrating on that, instead on which colour was shown… take your pick. Once in a while boats sail to the wrong mark.

As an umpire I also sometimes forget – that’s why I added a couple of coloured clothespins to my kit. At the same time as the flag is hoisted at the entry, I stick one on a visible place (for us – not for the sailors) so I have a reference.

Anyway, sailors going to the wrong mark. As discussed in earlier posts just recently – that mark can be touched, it has no zone, it has no side to which it has to be rounded – it’s not a mark under the rules, at best it’s an obstruction.

But the boats behave as if it is a regular mark, with all the rights and obligations. Rule 18, rule 31.1, everything.

I’ll make my first question a simple one: The Blue boat, clear ahead, touches that wrong mark. The Yellow boat, not far behind, sees this and you see it also. Furthermore the crew of the Yellow boat see you at a place that it’s impossible not to see the touch by Blue.

Yellow shows her Yankee flag, you answer with a green/white flag (In Match Racing a boat cannot protest for rule 31.1).

And then?

What do you do?

If you do nothing you are telling the boats that they can touch (what they think is) a mark. From that they can deduce that this windward mark might be the wrong one….. Is that outside help?

Okay, you say, give them a penalty……

But, what rule have they infringed? On what do you base this penalty?


It’s even more complicated if the boats think that rule 18 is in play. You are umpiring solely under the right of way rules (perhaps, if needed, rule 19), but the boats behave as if there’s a zone, mark-room and everything.

Any call by the sailors MUST be umpired according to the rules – and that is usually as if that mark was not there.

Up until now I’ve solved this dilemma by sticking rigorously to the rules – what else can I do – but I’m not particularly happy with it…….


I’m posting this prepared blogpost from my B&B in Trapani, after a long day travelling. I’m here to umpire an extreme sailing series event.


  1. I like the clothes pegs idea.

    What should umpires do after Green flagging Y?


    You say that by doing nothing you are "telling the boats that they can touch (what they think is) a mark. From that they can deduce that this windward mark might be the wrong one."

    Firstly doing nothing is not "telling" anybody anything.

    Secondly, an action or an inaction by an Umpire that is visible to both boats cannot be anything other than information freely available to all boats AND unsolicited information from a disinterested source (rule 41(c) and (d))

    Maybe the boats can deduce from your inaction (or from the Green Flag that you were obliged to give) that the mark they are rounding is the wrong one. But they could also deduce that the umpires are suffering an attack of umpirical myopia (the Umpires are bloody blind), or that they were bending over tying up their shoelaces, or that they took a huge bribe to let Blue off. In any case, apart from going off and finding the correct windward mark and rounding it, they cannot do anything about the umpires decision (rule C9).

    I absolutely agree that you must umpire according to the rules, no go inventing some alternative version of fairness.

    This applies the same if there are rule 18 Y flags around the 'false' mark: you can only decide them according to the rules that apply.

    By the way, if you are match-racing around marks that are Obstructions, you have problems: that's what inflatable plastic marks are for.

    Note that if Y had thrown the Y Flag for B touching the real mark, then I think Umps should still have Green Flagged, in response to the Y, because touching a mark rule 31 is not a protestable breach (rule 6.2(c)). After the Green Umps should then give a Blue Flag, umpire initated penalty. I note this because it shows that if competitors don't have complete rules knowledge, umpires' signals, quite properly given can seem confusing.

    Perhaps of more importance to the match is what happens if neither boat ever rounds the correct windward mark. This is a rule 28 breach. Breach of rule 28 is not an umpire initiated penalty (not listed in rule C8.2). It is a red flag protestable breach (allowed by rule C6.1(b) and not excluded by rule C6.2).

    If neither boat protests, and both sail as if the incorrect mark they rounded was the correct one, then, in my opinion, there is no proper action the umpires or the RC should take and the race should stand. Under Case 112 they have all the way to the finsih line to think about it, and if both boats think they have had a fair race, then who are mere race officials to interfere.

    Having said that, if boats are obviously heading towards the wrong mark, if the umpire boat motors off towards the correct mark and hangs around there, that might help the competitors to reconsider their situation. I have also seen the odd mark-boat chasing off after a pair of boats, flying the coloured flag and tooting furiously.

    We shouldn't get too precious about 'helping' competitors to have a fair and proper race.

  2. I agree that you can only apply the rules.

    I too like the clothes peg and I should have no problem with it being visible to competitors.

    If both boats go round the wrong mark, it seems unfair to other boats that one should score a win.


  3. This may seem ok if both have missed the marks but 90.3.s says you can only score a race if the boats have complied with 28. You may get away with it but another sailor may claim redress, or the loosing sailor may when they realise.
    Mike B

  4. I have had problems with this. When no boat or race officer protested I as Umpire put in a protest. I was told by the chief umpire never to do it again.
    Next event as Chief umpire I had the same happen, I did not protest, neither did the boats not race committee. It came back to me as a redress hearing from the race committee for a decision on whether they had finished the race correctly or not.
    If you see a boat miss mark should you consider a protect under 28?
    In one event the first boat went round the wrong mark and the second rounded boat. they came together, and later manouvered against each other. Now what of rrs 23.2 as boat were "interfering with a boat on another leg" potentially.
    If you roung the incorrect mark and you have a penalty, then you remain on that leg and you can only burn off the openalty as appropriate for that leg. If you make the manouve Tack or gybe as appropriate (if a windward mark then a gybe) where the rules say you are taking a penalty, then if not completed the umpires fould give the c5.6 no longer taking a penalty signal.
    This is a difficult area

    Mike B

  5. Mike B,

    Thanks for the alert on rule 90.3.

    Rule 90.3(a) seems to me to prescribe a scoring outcome without a hearing. It does not say that the race is abandoned: that would require a separate, deliberate decision and signal or notice by the RC.

    Presumably each boat gets half a point: boats are not being disqualified or otherwise penalised. This would solve Wag's objection. I think this is a better solution than giving each boat 0, which would inevitably disadvantge one or both boats against the rest of the fleet. If the RC chose, it could abandon and resail, but would not be obliged to do this.

    When Mike B refers to umpires 'protesting', I take it that he is referring to umpires reporting an incident to the protest committee in accordance with rule C8.4, when the protest committee, not the umpire, might protest a boat. HOWEVER, rule C8.4 says that an umpire may only make such a report for a breach that a boat is forbidden to protest under rules 6.1(a) and 6.2. This tells me that it is not proper for an umpire to make a rule C8.4 report/protest for a breach of rule 28, so maybe Mike's old CHUMP was right .

    All the consequences Mike B describes could result in a right mess up. Perhaps if things get too messy, umpires could suggest to the RC that the RC should abandon the match while it is in progress (although the signalling difficulties of attempting to do that with other matches in progress are horrendous).

  6. Mike B.
    Appendix c allows, when there has been no significant effect on the outcome of a match, the result of a race to stand. why waste time giving resails, which you have to do if neither boat finishes a race (Rule 35) and it is effectively abandoned. If both boats have sailed the same course, even if it is the wrong course, then the result should stand. With regards to knowing which mark it is not the umpires responsibility to determine this. It is a RC function and the umpires only need to witness which boat rounded what if there is a hearing, (which there shoudn't be if both round the same mark.
    As to penalties for hitting the mark - well sometimes it is convenient to be slightly distracted when boats are rounding marks widely seperated from each other. If both boats are round the mark as if it is a rounding mark then I think the umpires should umpire as if it is na rounding mark. After all as is stated in the original question, umpires may be unsure as to which mark it is and they would look silly in a debrief if they umpired differently from what the sailors were thinking and then were shown to be wrong. I think we should be far more practical, rather than clinical, in our approaches to this type of situation.

  7. Please forgive me if I expose my inexperience.

    Brass refers to C8.4. That says the umpires SHALL inform the protest committee, who MAY protest. C6.1a and C6.2 do not exclude rule 28, which says you must sail the course and is a rule of part 3.


  8. It is correct that I reported the matter to the Protest Committee and protested in that capacity.
    I question the inability to protest a RRS 28 matter.
    I see the rule C8.4 but C6.1.a only covers Part 2 Rule 28 is in part 3. C6.2 doen not mention it.
    I do believe an umpire can report this to the Protest Committee, the question is when should he do so!

    Mike B

  9. I believe the criteria the umpires should adopt is to report when, and only when, one of the boats has gained advantage by sailing the wrong course. If there has been no advantage, or both boats sail the smae course then do nothing. If the competitors are worried then they will protest and you will have a hearing anyway. If the sailors are not bothered why should the umpires worry.

  10. Mike B,

    My apologies: rule C8.4 didn't tell me that umpires could not report breaches of rules other than Part 2, 31, 42, C4 and C7 at all. I dreamt it.

    I mistakenly took rule C8.4 to include in the list of what umpires cannot report, the rules identified in rule C6.1(b), that is all the rules that a boat can red flag protest for. Clearly, everything that a boat can red flag protest for, an umpire or protest committee member can report to the protest committee.

    As for when umpires should not report, seems to me:

    1. when a boat is already red-flagging the incident (although shouldn't umpires report every red flag from a boat promptly?)

    2. based on rule C6.6(b), if a breach of a rule will have no significant effect on the outcome of the match, and it is equitable, to impose no penalty (but shouldn't this be resolved in the unmpiring policy briefing at the start of the event?)


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