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post #1 of Old 02-14-2001 Thread Starter
Dan Dickison
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Protest Room Primer

A large percentage of protests stem from incidents at the starting line. With that in mind, find an open spot so you don't have to worry about making a trip to the "room."
With the exception of being on the port-tack side of a starboard-port collision, just about the worst place any sailor can end up is the protest room. Why? Because for 97 percent of the sailboat racing populace, it’s just plain no fun to go into a room where you’re surrounded by judges ready to pick apart your version of the incident(s) that got you into that room in the first place. For the other three percent of sailors who actually enjoy this experience—well—there’s no accounting for some people’s preferences.

Actually, whether you’re talking about a leisurely Sunday afternoon race at the local sailing center or a world championship regatta, a lot can be learned by making a trip to the protest room. But these are usually lessons that come at a steep price relative to your standing in that race. The one thing you can count on is that, if you’re in the wrong regarding the incident in question, the judge or judges on hand will be more than happy to explain your transgression. It makes for the perfect instruction on what not to do the next time.

If you do suffer an infraction on the racecourse and end up getting called into the protest room, you can help your case immensely by knowing a little bit about protest protocol beforehand. The following information is an attempt to help the first-time protestees present their cases in the best possible way, thereby giving themselves and their crew at least a modest chance of coming out unscathed—except for the psychological damage, of course.

Avoid the Issue All Together     Sometimes your best chance of surviving a protest hinges on whether you can pick apart the protestor’s case on procedural grounds and get the case dismissed before it’s even heard by the jury. Did your opponents hail "protest" and fly their protest flag at "the first reasonable opportunity," or did they file the protest form before the time limit had expired? Find out these things and point them out to the jury if any requirements for the protest haven’t been met. Sure, this approach might be perceived as weaseling your way out, but look at it this way: if you do this, you’ll still be learning a lesson, only not at the loss of your standing in the race.

One way to stay out of the protest room is to keep your eyes out for traffic on the racecourse, especially if you're on port tack.

Know the Protocol     You should know that it’s not only fellow competitors that can protest you, but the race committee and the protest committee as well. That alone should discourage you from pumping your sails wildly in order to surf past the race committee boat on the downwind leg. Of course the rules require that all parties involved in a protest hearing "shall be notified of the time and place of the hearing…and they shall be allowed reasonable time to prepare for the hearing," so you shouldn’t be caught off guard if you’re ever involved in a protest. And no boat or competitor can be penalized without a hearing (except in the cases of the Z-flag rule, the Black Flag Rule, Rule 42 [propulsion], or if that competitor fails to start or finish).

Bone up on the Rules     Whoever protests you will be asked to name the rule or rules they believe you broke in the incident. You need to know these too so that you can either prepare your defense or  realize that you really don’t have a defense. To do this, you’ll need a current copy of the US SAILING rule book. (The new 2001-2004 rules go into effect on April 1, 2001, and rule books are available from US SAILING— As soon as the race in which the incident happened is over, get together with your crew and discuss the incident and try to identify what rules are involved. Most protest forms offer space for a description of the event and a diagram of what occurred. If you take the time to use these devices to document the information regarding the incident you’ll have a clear idea of what happened and how the rules involved apply to the action.

Remember, race committees also have the right to protest, so when you're in their zone, behave.
Have the Right Tools     Besides  having a current copy of the rule book, there are a few other items that will help you prepare for surviving a protest.

1. The US SAILING appeals book. Some of the precedent-setting cases noted here might apply to your situation and it will help if you're aware of them.

2. A book explaining the rules. Several noted rules experts have books out, including Dave Perry (Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing); Eric Twiname (The Rules Book); Paul Elvstrom (Paul Elvstrom Explains the Racing Rules of Sailing); and Mary Pera (The Racing Rules for Sailors).

3. US SAILING makes a Protest Kit, which contains a protest flag, forms, and a template for diagramming the incident.

4. The Bag O’ Boats (also from US SAILING) contains plastic boats that you can use to reconstruct the incident in several phases.

5. Obtain a table that relates boat speed in knots to feet traveled per second. If you have this you will sound pretty authoritative regarding the elapsed time and distance covered for the duration of the incident.

Know Your Options     If you do find yourself being protested on the water for having broken one of the rules in Part II of the rule book (regarding when boats meet), you're allowed the option exonerating your infringement by way of an alternative penalty--a 720-degree turn. (If, however, your infringement caused serious damage or gave you a big advantage in the race, you're obliged to retire from that race.) Let’s say you’re on port tack during a race and you force a starboard-tack boat to alter his course because you tacked too close to him. There’s no collision or contact, but it’s pretty clear that you are the one at fault. Why wait to have your boat thrown out of the race in a protest if the sailing instructions give you the option of doing a 720 (two full turns) to exonerate your actions? You might also have the option for taking a 20-percent penalty, and you need to consider that too. Usually the consequences of these options are far better than getting thrown out in a protest after the race.

If you do become involved in a protestable incident, make sure you remember who was around you at the time—you might need witnesses later. 

If the protest ultimately doesn’t go your way, you may have the option of appealing it after the fact. Doing this is pretty involved, and you’ll need to act quickly. You have 15 days after the decision to send a written copy of the jury’s decision, along with an explanation of why you feel the committee’s interpretation of a rule or its procedures were incorrect to the association appeals committee for the place in which the event was held. You’ll have to include a filing fee ($50 for US SAILING members and $100 for non members), a copy of the written protest, a diagram of the incident prepared or endorsed by the protest committee, the notice of race and the sailing instructions for the event (along with any amendments made), and the names and addresses of all parties to the hearing along with that of the protest committee chairman. So unless you’ve got a lot riding on the outcome, you’re probably better off swallowing your pride and chalking it up as a good lesson learned. There’s always another race on the schedule somewhere.

Don’t Roll the Dice

All the hackneyed maxims you’ve ever heard about preparation apply to protest hearings: "Keep it simple," "put your best foot forward," "an ounce of prevention…" etc., etc. The fact remains, if you’re obliged to go into the protest room and defend what you did on the racecourse, do so in the best way possible—by being prepared. So keep these things in mind:

  • Get your story straight and present only the key facts of the incident. If the jurors ask you to reiterate what happened and your second description differs from your first, your case will look weak.

  • If there were any witnesses to the incident—and they saw what happened the way you think it happened—get them to agree to testify for you. After the protest has been filed and the time and place of the hearing announced, let your witnesses know when and where the hearing will be held.

  • Make your presentation and your answers to the jury succinct and clear.

  • Figure out how your opponent will state the case and be ready to rebut those arguments if possible.

  • Don’t get upset or flustered if the protesting party’s story seems distorted. That’s just human nature.


Suggested Reading:

Good Lanes and Bad Lanes by Brad Read

Surviving the Collison by Dave Gerber

Executing the Successful Duck by Dan Dickison

BUYING GUIDE: Backstay Adjusters

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