The Racing Rules of Sailing
is just a little book, but it can be a pretty daunting for most sailors who aren’t familiar with it. Yes, this tiny publication is packed with information—important information. Of course trying to memorize everything in it would be more than difficult, but the good news is that you don’t have to do that. Most sailors spend the majority of their “rules time” with issues discussed in Part 2—When Boats Meet. If you are really comfortable with everything in Part 2 of the RRS, you can be confident that you know about 90 percent of everything you’ll need to know regarding the racing rules. And when you consider that the entire rules book is about 140 pages long, but Part 2 has only five pages, you can see that already things are looking much more manageable.
Taking this even further, if you think about the rules in terms of the different parts of the race, the topic becomes even more manageable. In this article, I will take a look at the rules that most commonly apply during the start. Let’s look at four rules: Rule 10 (Opposite Tacks), Rule 11 (On the Same Tack, Overlapped), Rule 12 (On the Same Tack, Not Overlapped), and Rule 16 (Changing Course).
Some may wonder why I have left out Rule 18, Rounding and Passing Marks and Obstructions. A quick read of 18.1 answers that question. Rule 18 “does not apply (a) at a starting mark surrounded by navigable water or at its anchor line from the time the boats are approaching them to start until they have passed them.” There are other rules we will examine here that govern what happens near the ends of the starting line, but Rule 18 is not involved. I’ll explain this more thoroughly later.
Basic Rules There are a few rules that you always need to keep in mind when sailing, no matter what area of the racecourse you’re on: Rule 10 (Opposite Tacks) is an important one. When boats are on opposite tacks, a port-tack boat shall keep clear of a starboard-tack boat. This rule comes up most frequently when you are reaching back and forth during the pre-start sequence. Always be aware when you are reaching on port tack that you are under the obligation to avoid starboard-tack boats.
You should also keep in mind Rule 11 (On the Same Tack, Overlapped). When boats are on the same tack and overlapped, a windward boat shall keep clear of a leeward boat. In other words, if you are a windward boat (which I’ll refer to as W), you have to stay out of the way of a leeward boat (L). This relationship between W and L is a little different before the start. After the start, L may luff up into the wind to protect her position from a boat that is overtaking her to windward. If L is not limited in her luffing rights, she may go all the way head-to-wind. If L is limited in her luffing rights, she may only luff up to the proper course to the next mark.
Prior to the start, the concept of proper course does not exist, so L may luff head-to-wind and W must keep clear, regardless of whether L has complete luffing rights or not. When you’re trying to determine whether L has luffing rights, keep in mind the way the overlap was established. If the overlap was established because W sailed or tacked into windward of L, L has luffing rights. If the overlap was established because L sailed or tacked into leeward of W, L does not have rights and is “limited” under this rule.
Does this mean that L is in complete control before the start and can do whatever she pleases? Absolutely not. L must keep in mind Rule 16 (Changing Course), and specifically 16.1. When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear. In other words, L cannot simply luff as she pleases and must give W the opportunity to fulfill her obligation and keep clear.
|"When boats are on the same tack and not overlapped, a boat clear astern shall keep clear of a boat clear ahead."|
The final general rule to keep in mind when starting is Rule 12 (On the Same Tack, Not Overlapped). When boats are on the same tack and not overlapped, a boat clear astern shall keep clear of a boat clear ahead. If you are not overlapped with the boat in front of you, this means you are clear astern of it and it is clear ahead of you. This rule, for example, means you can’t sail directly into someone’s transom and read-end their boat.
At the Committee Boat As I mentioned earlier, when boats are approaching the line to start, Rule 18 does not apply. The practical aspect of this is that a leeward/outside boat does not have to give room to the windward/inside boat to pass on the correct, leeward side of the committee boat. L is allowed to go head-to-wind to prevent W from sailing between her position and the committee boat. If W tries to force her way in between L and the committee boat, she has committed what is known as “barging,” and in the process of doing so has broken Rule 11 and fouled L.
It is again important, though, for L to keep in mind that she cannot do whatever she pleases to prevent W from barging. L is restricted by Rule 16 and must give W room to keep clear when L is altering course. L is allowed to “shut the door” on W, but may only do so as long as W has the opportunity to avoid a collision. If L waits until W is between herself and the committee boat and is no longer able to avoid going between the two, L is no longer allowed to luff W and cause a collision. In this case, if L failed to “shut the door” before W became overlapped with the committee boat, L has lost the opportunity.
There is another wrinkle to this relationship when the starting gun actually goes off. If L is not limited in her ability to luff and has luffing rights, she can remain head-to-wind as she pleases. If however, L is limited and does not have luffing rights, once the gun goes off for the start, L is required to sail her proper course which, on a windward leg, means sailing close hauled. If, in falling to be close-hauled at the gun, some space opens between L and the committee boat, W is allowed to sail through there.
Starting at the Pin The most common situation that occurs at the pin end of the starting line also concerns the relationship between W and L. As the boats are approaching the line to start, let’s assume L has misjudged the layline and cannot leave the pin to port while sailing a close-hauled course. In other words, she will have to luff up to start correctly. Is she entitled to do so?
The answer is yes, absolutely, even if L is limited and does not have luffing rights. If L does have luffing rights, she is obviously allowed to sail above close-hauled at the starting gun in order to start correctly. But even if L does not have luffing rights, sailing above close hauled in this example is her proper course to start the race. In this case, L is not required to fall off to proper course at the starting gun. L is still restricted by rule 16, however, as she luffs up and around the pin.
As you can see, if you break the RRS down into smaller pieces, they are much easier to absorb and understand. Just take them one step at a time and you’ll have a much better time of becoming comfortable with the rules and having fun on the racecourse.
Suggested Reading: Racing Rules Review by Dean BrennerGetting Good Starts, Part One by Zack Leonard
Recovering from Bad Starts by Dean Brenner
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