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The New Racing Rules

The 2001-2004 rule changes that apply to starting sequences are the ones that appear to have created the most confusion. 
Starting this week and lasting through the next four years, the new Racing Rules of Sailing will be in effect. These new rules (often abbreviated as the RRS) are on the whole not substantially different than the 1997-2000 edition, but there are some important changes that will affect all sailors.

While the RRS is divided into seven Parts, 16 Appendices, and is spread over 150 pages, most sailors' familiarity with the RRS involve their use of Part 2—When Boats Meet. These are the rules used most often by sailors in tactical decisions, and by judges and umpires when those decisions may be in dispute. Here's a review of the Part 2 changes and some thoughts on their application. New wording is underlined, and defined terms are in italics:

RRS 16.2    "Changing Course: In addition, when after the starting signal, boats are about to cross or are crossing each other on opposite tacks, and the port-tack boat is keeping clear of the starboard-tack boat, the starboard-tack boat shall not change course if as a result the port-tack boat would immediately need to change course to continue keeping clear."

According to new Rule 16.2, the starboard-tack boat (S) must not force the port-tack boat (P) to take additional action in order to keep clear if the two boats are crossing after the starting signal.
This rule was added only two years ago as a result of concern over so-called "hunting" by the starboard tack boat, in which aggressive moves by the right-of-way boat might be performed in such a way to prevent the port-tack boat from completing her obligation to keep clear. Note that this rule only applies after the starting signal, but also only when "boats are about to cross or are crossing each other on opposite tacks."

Now, "about to cross" is the phrase that will meet with debate, since it will vary with the types of boats involved and their maneuverability in the existing conditions. As shown here (at right), this rule will constrain the starboard-tack boat S, either upwind or downwind, to not force the port-tack boat P to have to take additional 'avoiding action' (the phrase used to describe 'keeping clear') if P is initially keeping clear.

RRS 17.1    "On the Same Tack—Proper Course: If a boat clear astern becomes overlapped within two of her hull lengths to leeward of a boat on the same tack, she shall not sail above her proper course while they remain overlapped within that distance, unless in so doing she promptly sails astern the other boat. This rule does not apply if the overlap begins while the windward boat is required by Rule 13 to keep clear."

The new wording for Rule 17.1 helps clarify the rights in a slam-dunk situation.

The new sentence in this rule was intended to clear up difficulties under the old wording of this rule on how rights change in a slam-dunk tack. As Figure 3 shows, when S tacks to port close enough to P to have not completed her tack before P becomes overlapped to leeward (but not so close to have not kept clear while tacking, as required by Rule 13), then P will not be constrained to sail her proper course, and may luff S.

Also, the addition of the word "promptly" was intended to allow an overlapped boat to leeward the opportunity to pass the windward boat, either by passing to weather or by tacking.

RRS 18    The rule that governs "Rounding and Passing Marks and Obstructions" has received some significant re-wording. I'm including the most important highlights here, with defined terms italicized and additions underlined.

It's significant to note that a new preamble was added to further define room as the space necessary "for an inside boat to round or pass between an outside boat and a mark or obstruction, including room to tack or gybe when either is a normal part of the manoeuver." This was added to clarify the exact meaning of room as it specifically applies in mark roundings. Note that tacks and gybes are allowed by an inside boat rounding a mark, but only when "either is a normal part of the manoeuver."

RRS 18.1    "When This Rule Applies: Rule 18 applies when boats are about to round or pass…" There is no significant change, except that the addition of "round" or "to pass" just clarifies that the rule applies to boats rounding the same mark.

RRS 18.2    "Giving Room; Keeping Clear," has been re-worded and broken into five sections: (a) Overlapped - Basic Rule; (b) Overlapped at the Zone; (c) Not Overlapped at the Zone; (d) Changing Course to Round or Pass; and (e) Overlap Rights. RRS 18.2(a) implies that a boat which is entitled to room and has right-of-way rights may take the additional space needed for a tactical rounding, whereas a boat which is entitled to room, but does not have right-of-way rights may only make a seamanlike rounding. RRS 18.2(b) clarifies that a boat which had an overlap at the two-length zone will always have the right to room, regardless if that overlap was later broken in the zone. RRS 18.2(c) allows a boat which is clear ahead at the zone to round the mark as she pleases, except that the rights end if she passes head to wind (i.e., if she tacks). RRS 18.2(d) allows a boat that is rounding a mark (but not an obstruction) to maneuver without being constrained by RRS 16 to allow another boat room to keep clear. RRS 18.2(e) is not new, and is similar to the former 18.2(a) and 18.2(c).

RRS 18.3    "Tacking at a Mark," is a rule that comes up often in close mark roundings by restricting tacking manoeuvers within the zone. New this year is the restriction that it applies only at marks and not at obstructions; that it applies only if the boat completes a tack in the zone (and is not merely luffing or tacking); and that the boat involved which is not tacking must be fetching the mark. Just as in the previous wording, the boat that tacked must still not force the other boat to sail above a close-hauled course.

RRS 18.4    "Gybing," has been re-worded to indicate more clearly that the inside boat has rounding rights only up until she completes her gybe while rounding the mark.

RRS 18.5    "Passing a Continuing Obstruction," is little changed from the old 18.5 except that it is more easily understood, since the reader doesn't have to refer to 18.2 to get the complete meaning of this rule.

RRS 19.1   "Room to Tack at an Obstruction:…The hailed boat shall…(b) immediately reply 'You tack', in which case the hailing boat shall tack as soon as possible and the hailed boat shall give room, and Rules 10 and 13 do not apply."

The words 'as soon as possible' have replaced 'immediately' so as to give the hailing boat a more reasonable amount of time to tack in the prevailing conditions.

Under the revised Rule 19.1, if L hails for room to tack and W responds "You tack," L must tack as soon as possible, not "immediately" as the former wording read.
RRS 20    "Starting Errors: A boat sailing toward the pre-start side of the starting line or its extensions after her starting signal to comply with Rule 29.1 or 30.1 shall keep clear of a boat not doing so until she is completely on the pre-start side."

This rule now allows a boat returning to the start after having broken the I-Flag Rule (30.1) rights to do so, provided it is in the minute just prior to the starting signal.

RRS 20   "Penalty Turns: A boat making a penalty turn shall keep clear of one that is not."

The wording was changed simply to make 'penalty turn' singular rather than plural, since there are times when only a single turn is required.

That's it for the changes in Part 2, but there are others that may affect all of us as well. The most noticeable may be the new default starting system in Rule 26 of Part 3, Conduct of a Race. Gone are the blue, yellow, red or white starting shapes we've all grown so accustomed to. These are replaced by class flags and sound signals at five, four, and one minute prior to the start. The new system gives race managers more flexibility in staggering multi-class starts at big events, and has been successfully adapted in San Francisco as well as other venues for over a year now. See the sidebar below for a digest of the new system.

New prescriptions regarding competitor eligibility for 2001-2004 have evoked much consternation from veteran racers. For now, US SAILING says violations of rule 75.2 won't constitute a capital offense. 
While ISAF generates a universal set of rules, each Member National Authority (like US SAILING in the US) can issue prescriptions that apply in that country. Those just issued by US SAILING are available now on their website ( Of particular note is that what was once called Competitor Eligibility Review from the old Appendix R is now called Competitor Classification in a new Appendix P. Other US-prescribed appendices include Appendix F, Appeals Procedures, and Appendix Q, Sound-Signal Starting System.

An ISAF rule that generated some controversy recently was Rule 75.2 in Part 6, Entry and Qualification, which specified that competitors must comply with Appendix 2, the ISAF Eligibility Code. This Appendix, which is not to be modified by Sailing Instructions or NMA prescriptions, specifies that a competitor must be a member of an MNA in order to compete in one of several specified events (Olympics, World Championships, etc.). This made many sailors feel uneasy, so US Sailing has prescribed that any violation of Rule 75.2 will be no more serious than a warning.

Officials at US SAILING have said that they will have rulebooks available by the end of April, indicating that the new version will be pocket-sized and bound instead of stitched with staples. To reserve a copy, contact US SAILING, but if you can't wait, go to the ISAF website at where you can download and print a copy.

A Whole New Ballgame

Change is good, right? Well it better be, because now, unless otherwise amended by the sailing instructions, starting sequences will happen much more quickly. You'll need to keep your eyes on the committee boat. Here's how ISAF's new Rule 26 will work:

 Signal Flag and Sound Minutes to go
 Warning       Class flag; 1 sound                    five
 Preparatory        P,I, Z, Z with I, or black flag; 1 sound     four
 One-minute preparatory flag removed; 1 long sound one
 Starting       Class flag removed; 1 sound       zero

The warning signal for each succeeding class shall be made with or after the starting signal of the preceding class.

Suggested Reading:

Understanding the Racing Rules by Dan Dickison

Protest Room Primer by Dan Dickison


Buying Guide: Cordage Basics

Dobbs Davis is offline  
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