How to Use the Racing Rules of Sailing


How to avoid trouble, use the racing rules of sailing to your advantage, and handle a protest if you find yourself in one: Rules Advisor and Arbitrator Bill O’Hara talks to Andy Rice

When working as a rules advisor, Bill O’Hara’s job with his sailors is to make sure they understand the rules well enough to stay out of the protest room. But if they find themselves heading into the room, to figure out how to best present their case.

O’Hara comments, “Especially on the water, it’s a culture of live and let live. You tend to see very little protest most of the time, until the day it tries to become a gold fleet, or the Olympics where there’s so much at stake. Then everything changes drastically at those critical moments and the protests begin.

O’Hara’s advice is to test your knowledge of the rules and your protest technique long before the serious championship. Unlike the high end of the sport, which benefits from the attention of referees on the water and instantaneous decisions (and penalties) on the course of the race, the majority of us still have to navigate the racing rules alone. sailing. And face the consequences in the protest room if an incident cannot be resolved with an on-water penalty.

Here are Bill’s five tips for staying safe and getting through the racetrack and protest hall with the minimum risk to your scores on the scoreboard.

Avoid collisions

It may seem obvious, but avoid collisions, especially in keelboats. Once you have a collision there is going to be a protest, most likely damage, everyone gets mad and someone has to be disqualified.

Some sailors feel like you’re not going to do a protest stick unless there’s contact, so they’re tempted to go gently slap the other boat. The problem is that you end up risking entering the room and if it is proven that you could have avoided a collision, you could also be disqualified. It is therefore better to avoid any contact at all costs.

The Rolex Fastnet Race fleet arrives from the Solent: the French crews will now be able to land before the start © Kurt Arrigo/Rolex

Communicate clearly

The only calls in the Rule Book are ‘Protest!’, ‘Room to fire!’ and ‘You turn!’. ‘Starboard!’ and many other hails sailors use mean nothing in a protest hall. But my advice is to always be very clear with the boats around you about your intentions. “You are overlapped.” ‘You are not overlapping’. “You have room”. ‘You have no room’. There’s a lot less chance of a collision if everyone talks to each other, and good communication with your competition means you’re less likely to end up in the protest room.

Understand the hot spots of the course

Mark turn-arounds and the start are where most incidents happen, especially at the committee boat end of the start line where you see boats trying to squeeze into gaps that don’t exist. People are confused about the difference in rules between a mark round or an obstruction, where you can call room on a leeward boat. But this is not the case in a starting situation.

If you push into a small gap between two or more boats, you may not be able to keep clear of the lee boat. If you’re the windward boat, the key is to close the gap early and decisively, so the guy trying to get in knows there’s no way to get in there.

When approaching a leeward mark you may be a starboard right-of-way boat over a port boat, but by the time you reach the three boat length zone and the port tack boat becomes the inside boat to the mark, he now has rights over you. Understanding that the rights pass from you to another boat the moment you hit the zone can be difficult to understand in the heat of battle.

Round marks are a key point of potential problems. Photo: Sailing Energy/World Sailing

Use your testimonial wisely

Bringing a witness into the protest room can be very helpful to your case, but only if what they say supports your case. I’ve seen many times where a witness has actually undermined the argument the protesting sailor brings to the table, so find out what the witness is likely to say before you bring them into the room.

People bring video evidence quite often these days, but it rarely tells the whole story, and the angle that video captures often doesn’t show you the gaps and distances accurately, so it’s of some use limited. The same goes for evidence from GPS tracking. Other than establishing that the boats were nearby at the time of the incident, it does little more than that.

Identify the key fact

If you end up in the protest room, be polite. It’s no use getting angry. Present your argument calmly and identify the key fact of the incident. The jury will listen to the evidence, determine the facts of what they think happened. Based on the facts discovered, they will make a decision, and there is always what I call a key fact. This usually has to do with room at a mark, or the weather and ability to stay clear, etc. Identify this key fact and think like the jury. A good way to practice is to sit on your local club’s protest committee. See how things look and sound across the table.

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