Friday 5 October 2012

RRS 2013 - 2016; Mark-room & Tactical rounding

The New Racing Rules for Sailing have been published on the ISAF Website and I've been studying what the changes mean for sailors on the water. In the coming months I hope to write several posts about that and will try to publish on every Friday. (More, if I have time)
The The RRS 2013-2016 do not come into effect until the first of January, but if you want a head start on your competition, have a butcher.*

In order to find out what the effect of changes in rule 18 will be, we need to look first at the definition of mark-room:
Room for a boat to leave a mark on the required side. Also,
(a) room to sail to the mark when her proper course is to sail close to it, and
(b) room to round the mark as necessary to sail the course.
However, mark-room for a boat does not include room to tack unless she is overlapped inside and to windward of the boat required to give mark-room and she would be fetching the mark after her tack.
A boat which has mark-room may sail a course that leaves the mark on the required side. Nothing new there, save it that leaving a mark on the required side can be done at many distances….
You can leave a mark to port (as asked in the SI) as close as the circumstances permit or at several boat lengths.This is important, because you want to know if you always can make a tactical rounding.
Low in - high out, right?

Do the a) and b)- parts of the definition provide you with an answer?

Let's start with b) -  room to round the mark as necessary to sail the course…., hmmm, I don't think so.  Necessary to sail the course is very close - as close as the circumstances permit. Closer if it's only 5 knots, than if it's blowing 30. But close, nevertheless. So no Donald Duck** there
Part b) does not give you the room to do a 'tactical rounding'.

Perhaps part a) does?
 - room to sail to the mark when her proper course is to sail close to it,
Close to it? You will want to sail a boat length beside the mark initially, to do a tactical rounding!
Let me explain why this part was added;
In the RRS 2009-2012 the definition of mark-room gave you the room to sail TO the mark - in a straight line. That gave a windward keep-clear boat, the right to 'shut out' a leeward right-of-way boat. For instance at the finish line:

Purple enters the zone clear ahead. RRS 18.2(b) gives her mark-room. The room to sail TO the mark.
Purple might infringe rule 11, but is exonerated because she's sailing TO the mark.

This was never intended by the rules. Therefore part a) in the new definition now only gives the room to sail close to the mark, to the boat with mark-room, if her proper course is to do so. And in the example it is clearly not. Purple could finish much sooner if she kept on sailing close-hauled.

Part a) clearly also does not give a boat the room to make a tactical rounding. The use of the term 'proper course' is only when that course is CLOSE to the mark. It does not mean you can sail your proper course when that is WIDE from the mark - as is needed when doing a tactical rounding.

The final part of the definition is almost the same as in the previous rules. You get room to tack, if there's a boat to leeward of you at the mark. That is the same as in the 2009-2012 edition. But new: that room is only available if you can fetch the mark after your tack. Not if you have to do another one after that.

In effect the new definition of mark-room is initially more than it was in the RRS 2009-2012. You no longer have to sail straight TO the mark. But it is also less than it was in the RRS 2009-2012; AT the mark you can no longer sail your proper course. In fact it is the room as most sailors have always thought it was; rounding the mark in a seaman-like way to sail the course.
The right to do a tactical rounding however, is solely depending on whether or not you have right-of-way when rounding a mark. If you are the keep-clear boat, all the room you get, is to sail close to it and round it as necessary to sail the course.

Next issue: What is the effect of the changes in Rule 18, with this new definition of mark-room?

(butcher's hook = look)
(Donald Duck = luck)


  1. Interesting about the tacking to fetch the mark. I have never come across a situation where an inside boat taking room to tack did not tack to fetch the mark. I struggle to see what the re-write is intended to avoid.

    That is not what I thought a Donald Duck was, by the way.


  2. Two boats on starboard enter the zone below the lay-line of a mark to be left to port. (Because they misjudged the lay-line or there was a shift).
    In order to round the mark the windward boat has to tack twice. Because it entered the zone as inside overlapped boat it got mark-room. And because she's windward of a boat that has to give mark-room, the current definition gives her room to tack as well.
    In the RRS 2013-2016 that has changed.

    I was surprised as well. But I do think Walt preferred this one, though.

    1. Eh. Boats overlapped on starboard with mark to be left to port. Surely the leeward boat is inside.


    2. Jos, what makes you say the windward boat is the inside boat (before they tack)? If they need to leave the mark to port and are on stbd tack then surely the windward boat is the outside boat irrespective of where they are relative to the lay line? (Otherwise, for example, if there was a sudden lift that meant the boats could lay the mark on stbd tack then the windward boat would suddenly go from being the inside boat to being the outside boat). Is there a Case or Q&A on this?


    3. My apologies, I made a mistake. Of course the other boat is the inside boat with mark-room if they enter overlapped.
      Let's try this again. The two boats enter clear ahead, clear astern below the lay line. Then the trailing boat gets an overlap on to leeward of the leading boat.
      Now we have a situation where the windward boat has mark-room, and as to tack twice to round the mark....
      (sigh, must have been all those nine hour days on the water the last couple of weeks, which made my brain misfire....)

    4. Thanks for clarification Jos; but I still think the windward boat is the outside boat in your new example, and hence not eligible for room to tack. For the windward boat to be the inside boat I think they have to be on port tack approaching a windward mark to be left to port (or vice versa).

  3. Looking forward to reading your view on the new 18.2c. There seem to be some interesting interpretations of this.


    1. I'm having a hard time finding a meaningful difference between the 2009-2012 and the 2013-2016 versions in 18.2. Wording has changed, emphasis maybe, but not the basic premise.
      Still working on a post.

  4. I have thought of a move the addition of 'fetching the mark' might be designed to prevent.

    Boats overlapped on starboard approaching a windward mark to be left to starboard. Sailing to the mark, the leeward boat keeps close to the windward boat (windward has mark room) to prevent him bearing away to make a tactical rounding. Windward tacks before the mark to catch leeward unawares. Not expecting it, he had not left enough room for the tack.


  5. Many questions. I'll make separate posts for ease of reply :-) In your last response (8 Oct), would the clear ahead boat be owed room to tack only to only onto port tack? After the first tack (to port), would not then mark room get turned off? If the other boat was smart she'd have tacked with the CA boat, thus trapping her on port, no? I just want to make sure once both boats are on port the boat entering clear ahead couldn't 2 tack it as long as the clear astern boat played her cards right.

    1. Yes, that would be tactically the play for the trailing boat.

  6. Many questions (I'll post separately). In your corrected example, wouldn't mark room (under new and old rules) turn off once the Clear Ahead boat passed head to wind? I wouldn't think the Clear Astern boat would owe her room to tack twice, would she?

    BTW, its so funny you chose to blog about this post. I just did a rules quiz on my website ( on a similar matter.

    1. Yes. Mark room would turn off. The new wording is to make it clear that mark-room does not include room to tack if the boat isn't fetching the mark after her tack. That is NOT in the current rulebook.

  7. I answered my own 2nd question, so I just have more of a comment.

    Tactical vs. Seamanlike are so crucial for mark roundings. I never understood why the rules don't talk about them *by name*. It seems like there are a lot of unstated implications in the RRS which would easily be missed by someone new reading only the rules (and not blogs or books about the rules). Why not just come out and put these words in the rules (even if they require a definition). (Respectfully to ISAF,) I think the rules require supplemental reading to get the full picture--even if you are an expert sailor (and arguably expert racer). I don't feel the same is true about the rules for other sports (is it?). IMHO: If you're going to define something as obvious to sailors as "fetching" why aren't less understood things such as seamanlike/tactical defined (and used). Ya know?

    Great blog...great topic. Thank you. It helps when someone outlines for us dummies why a rule was inadequate in the past :)

    1. Hmm, You must leave some leeway to smart and savvy sailors who take the time to research and practice the difference. If we would write tactical information in a rulebook where would it end....

  8. Jos

    I think your interpretation of "mark room" is what the Section C Working Party intended, having read their submission (256-11). However, that is not what the definition actually says.

    The words "room to sail to the mark when her proper course is to sail close to it" do not say specifically how much room is available to a boat sailing to a mark. Those words could mean "straight to the mark" or alternatively the words could allow something wider. The words themselves don't convey that. The only thing the words convey is that the boats proper course needs to be close to the mark for this sub-paragraph to apply.

    Also, the words "room to round the mark as necessary to sail the course" don't themselves say to how close to the mark "the course" has to be.

    It will be dangerous to assume that the Working Party's intentions are going to followed when rule 18 is interpreted over the next four years. Their intentions weren't followed in the way rule 18 was interpreted in the 2009-2012 RRS.

    I don't mean to be negative, but after all the debate over the interpretation of "mark room" in the 2008-12 rules, it's disappointing that ISAF couldn't come up with anything better than this.

    John G

    1. My questions in the room when confronted by a situation about tactical and seaman like rounding would no focus on:
      Could the boat have sailed closer to the mark and still being able to sail the course?
      If yes, that boat took more room then mark-room allowed her and if she wasn't keeping clear in that rounding, broke a right of way rule.
      If no, that boat took the room she was entitled to under mark-room and if she wasn't keeping clear in that rounding, broke a right-of-way rule, but should be exonerated under the new rule 21.
      It no all hinges on 'sailing the course'.
      The rules don't expect 'Superman'-maneuvers, but they do expect fairly competent sailing.
      You are absolutely right in that the rules do not specify distance. They never will. That is always something that depends on the circumstances. And those can vary greatly n sailing.....

    2. Jos

      I agree that the question, whether a boat could have sailed closer to the mark, may be relevant in some protests. However you also need to look at how a boat, relying on markroom, approached the mark and how it left it. Unfortunately the rule itself doesn't say precisely what such a boat (when it is on the inside) can do and what it can't.

      In your scenarios of boats rounding the bottom mark, both the boats can legitimately answer your question by saying they could not have sailed closer to the mark. Both the boat making a tactical rounding and the boat "rounding to sail the course" sailed less than half a boat width from it.

      Also, the boat making a tactical rounding can also say that he was also "sailing the course", at least from his point of view.

      No one is suggesting that the definition specifies distances. I certainly don't. However the definition should spell out clearly when a boat is taking markroom and when it isn't.

      Rule 18.2(c) tells us what a boat can do when it is on the outside and entitled to markroom. When that boat is on the inside, this isn't clear.

      John G

  9. Can I please ask whether there are any changes to leaving a leeward mark to then head upwind?
    My question is:
    if you approach the leeward mark clear ahead (approx 3 boats lengths) you then go around the mark onto your close haul course. You then sail for approximately 4 boats lengths and tack onto starboard, complete your tack and then have enough time to call the other boat (who is on port)three times, over 10 seconds, before they tack to 'avoid collision' you are still in the right?
    Or would there be any instances when you would not be the right of way boat in this situation?



    PS Also is three minutes too long to put up a protest flag?

    1. Sounds like you've been in this situation and have been DSQ-ed in a protest?

      The way you describe it I would have a hard time finding a conclusion that the Starboard boat had broken any rule.
      Starboard is the right of way boat always, but perhaps there's a scenario where she has a limitation under rule 15. Tacking right in front of Port might be such a scenario.....

      Yes, three minutes is too long for putting up the flag, unless you needed all that time to keep your boat safe or help a crew member who was in danger....


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