Force 5 Class Association

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home Rules Corner - Issue 5 Posted THE RULES CORNER - Issue 5 Sailing the Racecourse: The First Beat
THE RULES CORNER - Issue 5 Sailing the Racecourse: The First Beat


Notice that while RRS-10 consists of only a single sentence, that sentence contains four (4) italicized terms (definitions).[2] Accordingly, to fully understand your rights and obligations under RRS-10 (or any other rule), you must first understand what each incorporated definition means in the context of that rule.

It’s pretty obvious which tack you’re sailing upwind, so let’s focus on the rule’s requirement that a port-tack boat must keep clear of a starboard-tack boat. What does keep clear mean in this context? Well, in general, it means that a port-tack boat cannot in any way interfere with a starboard-tack boat (i.e. force the starboard-tack boat to take avoiding action) that the port-tack boat encounters while racing.[3] And this applies irrespective of whether the starboard-tack boat is sailing a close-hauled course to windward or some other course—that is, reaching or running. But does this mean a starboard-tack boat can sail any course it wants and nearby port-tack boats must keep clear no matter what? Absolutely not. While racing, a starboard-tack boat is required to sail a proper course, which is (generally) the course the starboard-tack boat would sail to finish as soon as possible in the absence of the port-tack boat(s) referenced in RRS-10. Accordingly, a starboard-tack boat sailing upwind must maintain its proper course as it approaches a port-tack boat with an obligation to keep clear. The starboard-tack boat cannot alter its course in a manner that prevents the port-tack boat from keeping clear. RRS-16 (Changing Course) specifies that a right-of way boat changing course must initially give the non-right-of-way boat room[4] to keep clear. So while a starboard-tack boat is generally permitted to alter its course in any manner it deems appropriate to finish as soon as possible, the proximity of a port-tack boat referenced in RRS-10 increasingly restricts the starboard-tack boat’s discretion to do so as the boats approach one-another. At some point, the port-tack boat must be able to rely on the starboard-tack boat’s course remaining constant in order for the port-tack boat to be able to satisfy its obligation to keep clear. And the starboard-tack boat cannot change course in a manner that deprives the port-tack boat of room to keep clear. This is a commonly-violated principle—often occurring when a starboard-tack boat experiences/claims a favorable (or increasing) veer in wind direction while converging with a port-tack competitor. Both RRS-10 and the proper course definition permit the starboard-tack boat to alter its course to take advantage of the veer because (i) the starboard-tack boat has the right-of-way under RRS-10 and (ii) responding to the veer presumably facilitates finishing sooner than not responding. But RRS-16 clarifies that this remains true only to the point where any further course alteration by the starboard-tack boat would interfere with the port-tack boat’s room (space & seamanlike efforts) to keep clear. Once this point is reached, the starboard-tack boat must hold its current course.

Let’s explore a few of examples:

(1) In a multi-class regatta with separate starts for each class, Competitor X (Force 5) crosses the finish line close-hauled on port tack. A few seconds later and a few boat lengths to windward of the line, Competitor X is startled by a shout from Competitor Y (Sunfish), who is running to the leeward mark on starboard tack. Competitor Y says “Hey, I’m still racing, and you just made me change course to avoid hitting you. Protest!” What should Competitor X do?

Apologize profusely and pay closer attention. I would argue that because Competitor X and Competitor Y were not sailing in the same race, Competitor X only had an obligation to keep clear of Competitor Y under general maritime rules of the road, not RRS-10.[5] Had Competitor X and Competitor Y been sailing in a race with a common start, however, Competitor X would be in trouble. Even assuming Competitor X had cleared the finish line and marks (and consequently was no longer racing)—a questionable assumption on the facts presented—Competitor X definitely interfered with a right-of-way starboard-tack boat that was still racing. The issue would be whether Competitor X could still take a two-turns penalty and re-finish or would have to retire.

(2) Competitor X, close-hauled on starboard tack, is converging with Competitor Y, close-hauled on port tack. Competitor X hails “Starboard!” Competitor Y responds “Hold your course!” When the boats are just a few lengths apart, Competitor X experiences a favorable veer in wind direction and pushes his tiller slightly to leeward, hailing “Getting lifted!” Competitor Y screams “Hold your course!!!” Competitor X responds by holding the tiller exactly where it is. At the last second, Competitor Y throws a crash-tack to leeward of Competitor X, narrowly avoiding a collision. Competitor Y hails “Protest—you didn’t hold your course!” Competitor X responds “Protest—starboard tack boat!” How should the protests be decided?

Competitor Y’s protest should be upheld and Competitor X should be disqualified. Competitor X’s protest should be disallowed.

There is no basis for Competitor X to protest Competitor Y. Being the port-tack boat, Competitor Y was obligated to keep clear of Competitor X. Since Competitor Y did not force Competitor X to take any avoiding action (recall that Competitor X held his tiller exactly where it was), and since Competitor Y’s crash-tack avoided a collision, Competitor Y fulfilled her obligation to keep clear. In contrast, while both RRS-10 and the proper course definition initially permitted Competitor X to alter course to take advantage of the veer (because he was the starboard-tack boat and presumably would have finished sooner by heading up), RRS-16 kicked in at the point where any further course alteration deprived Competitor Y of room to keep clear. RRS-16 required Competitor X to stop changing course at this point. But holding the tiller exactly where it was did not satisfy this requirement. Since the tiller was held slightly to leeward, Competitor X’s course continued to change. Centering the tiller would have been the proper response to Competitor Y’s second hail. And the fact that Competitor Y was forced to crash-tack at the last second to avoid a collision demonstrates that Competitor X did not give her room (adequate space, employing seamanlike maneuvers) to keep clear.

(3) Competitor X (starboard tack) and Competitor Y (port tack) are converging at the weather mark. Competitor Y sees that Competitor X is sailing about a boatlength below the starboard tack layline, not fetching the mark. As the boats converge at the mark, Competitor Y hails “Hold your course—don’t tack!” Competitor X immediately luffs head-to-wind, barely clearing the mark, and forcing Competitor to violently bear away to avoid a collision. Competitor Y hails “Protest—you just broke two separate rules! You tacked too close and you didn’t give me room to keep clear!” What should Competitor X do?

Sail on. Competitor X was approaching the weather mark close-hauled on starboard tack, and therefore was the right-of-way boat. And even though Competitor X had to luff head-to-wind to get around the mark, she remained on starboard tack (and retained her right-of-way) at all times. A boat is not tacking until it passes head-to-wind. Moreover, Competitor X’s head-to-wind luff was her proper course under the circumstances because it was the course she would have sailed to get around the mark/finish as soon as possible in the absence of Competitor Y. Competitor X did not deprive Competitor Y of room to keep clear in this scenario even though Competitor Y had to bear away violently to avoid a collision. Competitor Y’s violent course alteration was not an unseamanlike effort to keep clear, and in any event was required by his own misjudgment and failure to anticipate that Competitor X would “shoot” the mark as she was entitled to do.

Do you agree with the preceding analysis?

[1] Some of the following discussion would not hold true before the start.

[2] Remember, any term italicized in the RRS is also defined in the RRS.


[3] Don’t forget that a boat is racing from its preparatory signal until it finishes and clears the finish line and marks. A port-tack boat that has crossed the finish line therefore must continue to keep clear of any starboard-tack boat that has not finished and cleared the finish line and marks. This includes nearby boats that are finishing, as well as boats that may still be sailing a different leg of the course—most commonly, the preceding run.

[4] The RRS define room as “[t]he space a boat needs in the existing conditions while maneuvering promptly in a seamanlike way.”

[5] This scenario doesn’t seem nearly egregious enough for Competitor X to be penalized alternately under RRS-69 (Gross Misconduct).