Penalties - you are in the wrong, now what?

 
You are sailing upwind on port tack and you attempt to cross a starboard-tack boat but they have to alter course to avoid you – what do you do now?   At the beginning of the rules section of the Racing Rules Of Sailing, a brief section titled “Basic Principle” states, “A fundamental principle of sportsmanship is that when competitors break a rule they will promptly take a penalty, which may be to retire.” When I first learned to sail, retiring was the only choice open to you, but today you can take a penalty  and these are covered in Rule 44. The rule that you broke was rule 10, On Opposite Tacks (commonly referred to as “port-starboard”), found in Part 2. Rule 44.1 tells us that on breaking a rule from Part 2, you can take a two-turns penalty. This is commonly called “a 720” but is properly described in rule 44.2. 
 
BASIC PRINCIPLE
SPORTSMANSHIP AND THE RULES
Competitors in the sport of sailing are governed by a body of rules that they are expected to follow and enforce. A fundamental principle of sportsmanship is that when competitors break a rule they will promptly take a penalty, which may be to retire.
44        PENALTIES AT THE TIME OF AN INCIDENT
44.1     Taking a Penalty
            A boat may take a Two-Turns Penalty when she may have broken a rule of Part 2 while racing or a One-Turn Penalty when she may have broken rule 31. Sailing instructions may specify the use of the Scoring Penalty or some other penalty. However,
(a)        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;
(b)        if the boat caused injury or serious damage or gained a significant advantage in the race or series by her breach her penalty shall be to retire.
44.2     One-Turn and Two-Turns Penalties
After getting well clear of other boats as soon after the incident as possible, a boat takes a One-Turn or Two-Turns Penalty by promptly making the required number of turns in the same direction, each turn including one tack and one gybe. When a boat takes the penalty at or near the finishing line, she shall sail completely to the course side of the line before finishing.
44.3     Scoring Penalty
(a)        A boat takes a Scoring Penalty by displaying a yellow flag at the first reasonable opportunity after the incident.
(b)        When a boat has taken a Scoring Penalty, she shall keep the yellow flag displayed until finishing and call the race committee’s attention to it at the finishing line. At that time she shall also inform the race committee of the identity of the other boat involved in the incident. If this is impracticable, she shall do so at the first reasonable opportunity and within the time limit for protests.
(c)        The race score for a boat that takes a Scoring Penalty shall be the score she would have received without that penalty, made worse by the number of places stated in the sailing instructions.
 
            However, she shall not be scored worse than Did Not Finish. When the sailing instructions do not state the number of places, the number shall be the whole number (rounding 0.5 upward) nearest to 20% of the number of boats entered. The scores of other boats shall not be changed; therefore, two boats may
receive the same score.

You have to do two turns, each of which is a tack followed by a gybe or a gybe followed by a tack. Before you start the turns, you have to “get well clear of other boats” and the penalty must be taken “as soon as possible after the incident”. In the diagram, the red boat bears away, gybes, tacks, gybes and tacks before continuing to race.
 

(click on the diagram to see a larger cleaner version)

Rule 44.1 also says that sailing instructions may specify an alternate penalty. The RCYC Midweek instructions, for example, specify that for Tuesday Night Racing a boat may take a scoring penalty.
 
17.2     For Tuesday Night Racing, a boat may take a Scoring penalty under RRS 44.1 and 44.3. The penalty will be the number of places equal to the whole number (rounding 0.5 upward) nearest to 20% of the number of boats entered, but no less than 2 places.
17.2a  In addition to the requirements of rule 44.3 (a) boats displaying a yellow flag shall report to the Sailing Office within an hour of finishing and fill in a form identifying the other boat involved in the incident.
17.2b  If a boat displays a yellow flag and fails to comply with any other part of RRS 44.3 (a) and SI 17.2a the penalty shall be the number of places equal to the whole number (rounding 0.5 upward) nearest to 40% of the number entered, but no less than 3 places.

​The scoring penalties allow you to fly a yellow flag at the first reasonable opportunity and have some points added to your score.   It is worth carrying the flag, as it is better than having to retire. 

Two turns (or our scoring penalty) are not a universal remedy. If instead of breaking a rule from Part 2 (a right-of-way rule) you hit a mark, then according to rule 44.1 your proper response is a one-turn penalty (a tack followed by a gybe or vice versa, which does not have to be – and probably shouldn’t be – around the mark). If you end up causing injury or serious damage, or gaining a significant advantage in the race or series. then according to rule 44.1(b), you must retire instead of just doing the turns or taking the scoring penalty.


© Copyright 2012 Andrew Alberti