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Home Rules Corner - Issue 5 Posted THE RULES CORNER - Issue 4 Penalty Turns
THE RULES CORNER - Issue 4 Penalty Turns



Note that RRS-41.1 applies only to a competitor who is racing.[1] The RRS specify that a boat is racing “from her preparatory signal until she finishes and clears the finishing line and marks or retires, or until the race committee signals a general recall, postponement or abandonment.” So, when the five (5) minute starting sequence specified in RRS-26 is in effect [as it always is unless changed by the sailing instructions], a boat is only racing from the time four (4) minutes before the starting signal until the boat finishes and clears the finish line and marks. Since a boat cannot violate any RRS Part 2 rule or RRS-31 in the interim between its five minute warning signal and its four minute preparatory signal (because it is not yet racing), there never is any need for it to take a one- or two-turns penalty for touching a starting mark or ostensibly “fouling” another boat either before or during that period. Once the preparatory signal has been made, however, the boat is racing, and must take a one-turn penalty for touching a starting mark or a two-turns penalty for any RRS Part 2 rules infraction. Note, too, that any such penalty must be taken “promptly”—i.e. “as soon after the incident as possible” after getting clear of other boats. This requirement applies just as much before the start as afterwards. A competitor may not unnecessarily delay taking the appropriate penalty simply because s/he has plenty of time left before the starting signal. And while RRS-41.1 does not require a premature starter that also touches a starting mark to take the prescribed one-turn penalty on the pre-start side of the line, that boat has not started properly until it again crosses the line from the pre-start side.


Remember, a boat is racing “until she finishes and clears the finishing line and marks.” It therefore is possible for a boat that has just finished to have its finish invalidated by touching a finishing mark before the boat clears the mark. It also is possible for a boat that has just finished to foul another boat that either (i) has not yet finished or (ii) has finished, but has not yet cleared the finishing line and marks.


A boat that finishes, but touches a finishing mark before clearing the mark essentially erases its finish. To finish properly, it must take a one-turn penalty—which it may do on either side of the finish line—and cross the finish line again from the course side. Its race result will be determined by this (proper) finish. Otherwise, it will be scored DNF because it never properly cleared the finish mark it touched.


In contrast to the preceding scenario, a boat that finishes, but fouls another boat before the other boat has both finished and cleared the finishing line/marks (i.e. one that is still racing) has properly finished. The post-finish foul does not, in itself, erase the offending boat’s finish. [ed. At least one respected rules commentator (Willis) says it does, but I submit this is incorrect.] The boat properly crossed the finish line from the course side without touching a finishing mark. That is all the RRS definition of finish requires. Accordingly, the boat’s pre-infraction finishing position should be recorded and scored as its race result—subject only to the outcome of a protest, which likely will result in disqualification (DSQ, not DNF). Alternately, the offending boat may acknowledge its foul by immediately getting clear and taking a two-turns penalty—and here again, it may do so on either side of the finish line. This exonerates the foul. It must then cross the finish line from the course side for a second time. This second crossing position will be its scored[2] finish.


RRS-44.2 states only that (i) the prescribed turn penalties are “one-turn” or “two-turns”; (ii) each penalty turn must include one tack and one gybe; and (iii) the turns must be made in the same direction. There is no longer any requirement that a penalty turn be a complete circle—i.e. a full 360 degree turn—though they usually will be if done in full accordance with the rule. What’s important here is that there is no longer any “360” or “720” penalty prescribed in the RRS. And remember that both turns in a two-turn penalty must be made in the same direction. You cannot make the first turn in one direction and the second turn in the opposite direction as you once could under the old “720” rule.


As previously mentioned, penalty turns must be performed “promptly”. RRS-44.2 indicates that “promptly” means “as soon after the incident as possible” after “getting well clear of other boats”. The flexibility reflected in the rule’s “[a]fter getting well clear of other boats” allowance acknowledges an important facet of penalty turns: a boat performing penalty turns has absolutely no rights vis-à-vis boats not performing penalty turns. If a boat performing penalty turns interferes with a boat that is racing (and not performing penalty turns), it has committed another rules infraction. Also note that the “[a]fter getting well clear of other boats” allowance reflected in the rule usually will not permit a competitor to get well clear of nearby boats by simply continuing to sail toward the next mark until s/he encounters adequate space to perform the required penalty turn(s). Instead, s/he must promptly assume a course or take other action (luffing to slow down, for example) which will permit her/him to get clear of nearby boats and perform the penalty turn(s) “as soon after the incident as possible”. But remember that in attempting to get clear, s/he retains any rights s/he otherwise may have—up until the instant s/he begins the penalty turn(s).


Let’s examine some scenarios:


(1) In a race started under Appendix S (Sound-Signal Starting System), Competitor X touches the pin-end starting mark with just over 2 minutes left before the start. S/he does not take a one-turn penalty, but otherwise starts properly. Should Competitor X be disqualified?


No. In a race started under Appendix S, the warning signal sounds at three minutes and the preparatory signal sounds at two minutes. Since Competitor X touched the starting mark more than two minutes before the start, s/he was not racing when s/he touched the pin. No penalty turn was required.


(2) Would Competitor X be disqualified in the preceding scenario if the start had been conducted under the five-minute starting sequence reflected in RRS-26?


Yes. Competitor X was racing when s/he touched the pin because s/he touched it after the (four-minute) preparatory signal. Therefore s/he was required to take the prescribed one-turn penalty in accordance with RRS-41.1. Competitor X would be scored DSQ rather than DNS because s/he otherwise started properly.


(3) Competitor X properly starts on starboard tack at the windward (Committee Boat) end of the line. S/he immediately tacks to port, but cannot clear the Committee Boat anchor line, about 10 feet of which is exposed between the Committee Boat’s bow and the waterline. Competitor X runs into the exposed anchor line, and is forced to tack back to starboard. S/he sails away without taking a one-turn penalty. Should Competitor X be disqualified?


No. While the Committee Boat is a starting mark, the RRS definition of mark specifically states that an anchor line attached to a mark is not part of it. Since Competitor X did not otherwise touch the Committee Boat, s/he was not required to take a one-turn penalty.


(4) Competitor X finishes upwind on starboard tack at the port end of the finish line. S/he touches the mark before clearing it. S/he immediately gybes back around the mark. S/he then tacks, her/his bow crossing the finish line again just after s/he passes head to wind. S/he clears the mark and finish line on starboard tack. Has Competitor X properly finished?


Close, but no. Nothing precluded Competitor X from saving time by doing the penalty turn around the finish mark, but the turn had to be completed before Competitor X finished for the second time. Competitor X did not satisfy this requirement because s/he finished (the boat’s bow crossed the line) for the second time before the tack to starboard was complete—i.e. before s/he reached a close-hauled course (whether the sail was full is immaterial). In this scenario, the penalty turn was incomplete because it did not include a tack. Had Competitor X’s bow crossed the line for the second time after the boat had reached a close-hauled course (again, whether the sail was full would be immaterial), the finish would have been proper.


(5) Competitor X is approaching the starting line to start. S/he thinks s/he might be a little early, so s/he drags her hand in the water for a few seconds to slow down. Competitor Y sees this and hails “Hey, you can’t do that! Protest! Do your penalty turns!” Because the line is congested, Competitor X luffs to let other nearby boats pass, then immediately takes a two-turns penalty. The penalty turns are performed after the starting signal, however, and above (on the course side of) the starting line. Is Competitor X exonerated?


No. There’s a lot of irrelevant noise here. Under the circumstances, Competitor X satisfied the requirements of RRS-41.1. S/he performed the penalty turns as soon as possible after getting clear of other boats—in this case by luffing to let them sail past her. And s/he was not required to complete the penalty turns before the starting signal or behind the starting line. But what’s important in this example is that Competitor X violated RRS-42.1 (Propulsion). Since RRS-42.1 is not a Part 2 rule, Competitor X cannot be exonerated by taking a two-turns penalty in accordance with RRS-41.1. S/he must retire.


(6) Competitor X and Competitor Y are approaching the leeward mark on port tack. Competitor X has an inside overlap on Competitor Y when the first of them reaches the zone. Competitor X hails for mark room and swings wide as s/he approaches the mark in order to make a “tactical” (swing wide, cut close) rounding. Competitor Y keeps clear, but hails “Protest. You didn’t sail your proper course.” The hail distracts Competitor X, and s/he touches the mark as s/he rounds. Competitor Y hails “You hit the mark! Protest!” Competitor X realizes s/he was not entitled to make a tactical rounding (because s/he was not the right of way boat at the zone boundary). S/he also realizes that s/he touched the mark. How many penalty turns must Competitor X perform?


Two. Competitor X’s penalty for fouling Competitor Y is two-turns. The unrelated penalty for touching the mark is one-turn. While this suggests that Competitor X is required to perform a total of three penalty turns, RRS-41.1(a) states: “when a boat may have broken a rule of Part 2 and rule 31 in the same incident she need not take the penalty for breaking rule 31”.


Finally, can you think of a scenario in which a competitor properly could take a one-turn penalty without turning through 360 degrees? How about a two-turns penalty without turning through 720 degrees? Hint: Think about reaches and runs.


[1] Any term italicized in the RRS is also defined in the RRS.

[2] The Race Committee properly should record both “finishes”, but score only the second one.