Racing Rules Series

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Over on Facebook, there has been a Sunday Racing Rules series. Here are the first three episodes so far…

During this time of lock down, when we can’t get out racing, we will run a series of articles on the key racing rules you need to know if you race.

Episode 1: What You Need to Know?

Everyone thinks the rules are complicated and, of course, in many ways, they are. They have to cope with boats in 3 dimensions, often not on the same leg of the course, sailing in different directions at different speeds.

But don’t let that put you off. Although the rule book (as published by World Sailing) is 188 pages long, most of this concerns the organisation of races or is for special types of sailing (match racing, kiteboarding, etc.). The actual rules that are really important for you to know fill just 10 pages.

As a club racer, what you need to know is:

  • P7-10: Definitions
  • P14-19: Part 2: When Boats Meet

You can download the rules for free here:[24067].pdf

Why not read these 10 pages as part of your entertainment while stuck at home!

Episode 2: Right of Way

At every stage of a race, when 2 boats meet, one is the keep clear boat and one is the right of way boat. The following table shows which is which in different situations.

Yellow is on starboard tack and has right of way. Blue is on port and is the keep clear boat.
Yellow is to leeward and has right of way. Blue is to windward and is the keep clear boat.
Yellow is clear ahead and has right of way. Blue is clear astern and is the keep clear boat.
Yellow is tacking and is the keep clear boat until it is on a close-hauled course. Blue does not have to keep clear until Yellow is established on a close hauled course on starboard.

Episode 3: Limitation on a Right of Way Boat

In the last episode we covered which of 2 boats was the keep clear boat and which was the right of way boat. But being right of way boat doesn’t mean you can do anything – there are some limitations on you which we will cover in this episode.

1. You must avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible (Rule 14).
If you are the right of way boat (or entitled to room, which we will come to in episode 5) you don’t need to act to avoid a collision until it is clear the give way boat is not keeping clear / giving room but, when it does become clear, you should try to avoid contact – but you will usually be exonerated if the contact does not cause damage or injury.

Yellow is right of way boat (on starboard) but has an obligation to avoid contact with Blue but does not need to act if they believe Blue is keeping clear, as they are here.

2. When you acquire right of way (e.g. by tacking on to starboard or establishing an overlap to leeward) you must initially give the other boat room to keep clear (Rule 15).
The only exception to this is if you acquire right of way because of the other boat’s actions (e.g. someone tacks onto port in front of you).

Yellow acquires right of way when it establishes an overlap to leeward of Blue, but Yellow must initially give room to Blue. Blue does not need to anticipate Yellow becoming the right-of-way boat. Here Yellow has not ‘initially given room’, and breaks rule 15.

3. When you change course you must give the give way boat room to keep clear (Rule 16).
This is for every change of course, so a gradual luff is multiple changes of courses.

Yellow is right of way boat (to leeward) and Blue (to windward) must keep clear. But with each change of direction, Yellow must give Blue room to keep clear.

4. If you were clear astern and became overlapped within 2 hull lengths of a boat on the same tack you shall not sail above your proper course (Rule 17).
When you were clear astern you were give way boat but as you established the overlap to leeward you became the right of way boat (to leeward) but you must not do this so close that the windward boat cannot keep clear (point 2) and you must not sail higher than your proper course (the course you would sail to finish as soon as possible in the absence of the other boat).

Although Yellow (to leeward) is the right of way boat, she became overlapped from clear astern and so is not allowed to sail above her proper course.

In the next episode we will turn to the tricky subject of 2 boats meeting at a mark.