From US Sailing Farallones Panel Report of Low Speed Chase Capsize (April 14, 2012):
Even though several boats provided assistance through VHF communications, the panel found it troubling that no boats appear to have dropped out of delayed their race in order to render assistance, which is a basic tenet of the sea, as well as the first Fundamental Rule of the Racing Rules of Sailing under which the event was sailed. Although it is unlikely that the outcome would have been changed in this case, there were many ways other boats might have provided aid by signaling with those on shore, searching for those in the water, or providing continuing relays for radio communication.
(Note: I am not a racer, so at least part of my question is just curiosity.)
I am sure that part of the reason that none of the racers dropped out is that it was not immediately clear to them what the severity of the situation was, or if there was anything they could realistically do to help. Clearly this sentiment is incorrect, but it is understandable.
So, hypothetically, what would
someone do to assist in this sort of situation? Should racers, when they observe a capsize/grounding like this, immediately drop out of racing, before they have a clear idea of how they're going to help, even if it ultimately might prove that they can't be very helpful?
The main barrier to doing anything useful, in this sort of case, is that the safest thing to do is to keep a wide berth from the danger area, since it's full extent may not be completely clear.
Does the answer change if there are committee boats near? eg, does that make it OK to continue racing, assuming they'll let you know if some specific assistance is needed?
Another factor is severity. Clearly a capsize at ocean is pretty serious. But I routinely see racers in the Bay bypass other racers who are in some distress. The best example are the hilarious races out of the channel where a sizable portion of the participants run aground and try various, mostly ineffective, measures to try to get unstuck without using their motors (which would disqualify them presumably). Another is higher-stakes televised races, where I've never seen any boat stop to check on another boat, no matter how severe the capsize, crash, or damage. Is there some rule or guideline for when it's OK to bypass a distressed boat in a race, and when you should stop to check things out?