Monday 31 March 2014

Back to the Basics (Part 6); Room

A blog post in a series: Racing Rules for Novices*
(*I'm going to try to do one of these on Mondays)

In this series I would like to give you my insights into those issues in the Racing Rules for Sailing, that nine times out of ten are asked in one of my rules talks, I do for clubs, sailors and/or class organizations, during the winter season.

In a great many rules a boat is entitled to "room". Room to keep clear, room to sail a proper course, room to tack, etc. etc. Even the definition "Mark-room" starts by giving room to pass the mark on the required side.

Frequently I get questions about room involving a specific distance; "If I keep half a meter away from the other boat, do I give enough room?" or "10 centimetres was enough, wasn't it?"

Sometimes I feel almost guilty in having to answer: "It depends". The actual space and time a boat is entitled to when she's been given room under the rules is depending on a number of factors. These factors are all described in the definition of "ROOM";
Room: The space a boat needs in the existing conditions, including space to comply with her obligations under the rules of Part 2 and rule 31, while manoeuvring promptly in a seamanlike way.
Let's go over these factors one by one:
Existing conditions; 
These include things like wind-strength, wave-height and all other environmental conditions. A boat needs more distance in high wave, hard wind conditions then in no waves and low wind. If there are rolling waves shifting the boat to one side, the distance it needs is bigger then when these waves are not there. But existing conditions also include the boat-type. You can imagine that a laser doesn't need as much room as say, a tornado, or a 12 meter yacht.

Manoeuvring promptly;
A boat is entitled to the room it needs to do the manoeuvre efficiently and promptly. But she does not get more room, if the crew are beginners who need more time and space to, for example hoist a spinnaker, or gybe or any other manoeuvre. The rules make no allowances for incompetent boat handling. If you are still learning you better make sure you do it away from other boats, because mistakes may result in being protested for taking too much room.

In a seamanlike way;
You are allowed to manoeuvre in a seamanlike way; that is to say with sufficient regard for the safety of the boat and crew. The room you are entitled to, is not so small that only, for instance, a crash-gybe, is possible. Especially rule 15 and 16 are interpreted that way. A keep-clear boat must do everything to keep clear, but not so that only an unsafe - "unseamanlike" - manoeuvre accomplishes that. Than the room provided is not enough.

Including space to comply with her obligations under rules of Part 2 and rule 31;
This addition is from the latest rulebook. But in fact it was already more or less done that way for a long time. The middle boat in a three boat overlapped mark rounding has to give mark-room to the inside boat and that means that the outside boat has to give that middle boat room to not only round the mark in the existing conditions, manoeuvring promptly in a seamanlike way, but also room to be able to give room to the inside boat, which is more room than the previous three conditions provided.

If you consider all these conditions, then you can make an educated guess on the distances involved. An experienced sailor can usually tell if a boat takes more room than the definition provides. As a jury-member I usually ask the sailors at the table, if I don't know the boat well enough. And also going out on the water observing the racing boats can tell you a lot.

And finally the principle of last certainty applies. Only when it is quite clear that a boat is taking more room than she is entitled to, can you start concluding that a rule might be broken.


  1. Thanks for this series - back to basics is always good.

  2. So, approaching the third mark of a trapezoid in an asymmetric on starboard I am overlapped inside a boat on port tack. My proper course requires me to gybe and I must sail no further from the mark than necessary to do so. Do I have to follow the curvature of the mark including a dead downwind segment or can I sail the natural asymmetric line turning through about 90 degrees? The next leg of the course is a tight spinnaker reach.

    George Morris

    1. Because you are ROW boat, you are allowed to sail the natural asymmetric line.
      If you were Keep Clear boat you are only allowed the room you need to sail the course. Then you would have to stay as close to the mark as circumstances permit.

    2. ......and yet 18.4 says 'until she does so (gybes) she shall ail no further from the mark than is necessary to do so'.....

      George Morris

    3. Read the whole rule:
      When an inside overlapped right-of-way boat must gybe at a mark to sail her PROPER COURSE, until she gybes she shall sail no further from the mark than needed to sail THAT course.
      For an asymmetric boat a proper course is not to go dead downwind.
      Rules are not written to limit a ROW boat not to sail the fastest course to the finish....

    4. Ah the subtleties generated by two additional words - thanks! (as it happens I was sailing a Weta trimaran and needed a LOT of room


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