Required Hails

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Required Hails

The Racing Rules of Sailing, for most boats, only refers to three hails. Two of them are in rule 20 (Room to Tack) and the last one is in rule 61 (Protest Requirements). Even in the Appendices of the Racing Rules of Sailing, most references to hails are revisions of those two rules. Appendix E for Radio Sailing has a few more hails and Appendix P has a hail to be made by the judges on the water, if they see a boat breaking rule 42 (Propulsion). All other hails are not in the book and therefore not required. This includes hails like “Starboard” “Hold Your Course” and “Mark-Room.” 

Let’s start by looking at a situation that uses rule 20. Blue and Yellow are close-hauled on port tack approaching a large seawall. If Yellow keeps going, she is going to hit the wall. At position one, she exercises her rights under rule 20.1 and calls “Room to tack.” The exact words are not specified in the rule, but it says that she can hail for room to tack, so these words make the most sense and will ensure that she is understood. Red and Green are in a similar situation and Green also hails for room to tack. Blue and Red must respond to this hail, immediately and without discussion. Here we see the two valid responses. Blue tacks, therefore giving Yellow room to tack. Red hails “You tack.” These words are specified in rule 20.2(c). Red then must give room to Green to tack and to keep clear, which she does by bearing way to go astern of Green.
In both of these cases, the boat that hailed for room to tack was on a close-hauled course. Both Yellow and Green had to make a substantial course change to avoid an obstruction safely. If Yellow or Green was not on or above a close-hauled course or they didn’t need to make a substantial course change to avoid an obstruction, then they would not be entitled to hail for room to tack. If they did hail, the other boats still must respond as described above, but the hailing boats could be protested for breaking rule 20.1. “Room to tack” and “You tack” are the first two required hails.
The last required hail is “Protest.” If a boat on the water wants to protest another boat about an incident in the racing area, she must hail “Protest” at the first reasonable opportunity. In almost all cases, the first reasonable opportunity is immediately, and there is no alternative to the hail of “protest”. Yelling “do your turns’ or “are you kidding me?” are not acceptable subsitutes. There are only two exceptions to this. The first is that if you see an incident that you want to protest, and you are too far away to hail, the hail isn’t obligatory, though it doesn’t hurt to hail anyway. However, you must inform the other boat at the first reasonable opportunity. The other exception is if you see a boat miss a mark. In this case, you don’t have to tell them, until the first reasonable opportunity after the offending boat finishes.
There are no other required hails. Next we will look at other hails that are not required.

In the first diagram, we see a very common situation. Green is on starboard tack sailing close-hauled. Red is on port tack also sailing close-hauled. The skipper of Green, hails “Starboard.” This means several things. Green is saying, “Do you see me? I am on starboard tack and you are on port tack. I have right-of-way, and I think we might hit.” All of this is conveyed in this one hail. This hail is not mentioned in the Racing Rules of Sailing, and it is not required. Red is required by rule 10 to keep clear of Green whether any hails are made or not. Both boats are required to keep a lookout and avoid a collision. If there was a collision, Green could be found to have broken rule 14 if she did nothing to avoid it. Green’s hail may be one way she is avoiding a collision. Red would be at fault for breaking rules 10 and 14, whether or not Green hailed.
Red responds with, “Hold Your Course.” This means, “I see you, I know you have right-of-way. You don’t have to bear off to miss me, we won’t hit and please don’t head up to make it harder for me to keep clear.” This hail is certainly not in the rulebook. It is certainly not required, but it is a smart way for Red, who may have a better view of whether there will be a collision, to assure Green that there won’t be one. If Green has a reasonable apprehension of a collision, then she could bear off and protest Red. By hailing, Red is reducing this concern. The hail is not binding on Green. Green might decide to tack. Green might not believe Red and bear off anyway. Green might get a lift and might head up. If she does head up, Green just has to make sure that she complies with rule 16.1 by giving Red room to keep clear.

In the second diagram, Blue, Yellow and Gray are approaching a leeward mark. When Blue gets to the zone, a three hull length circle around the mark, Blue and Yellow are overlapped. According to RRS 18.2(b), Blue will have to give Yellow mark-room. To confirm this, Yellow hails “Bouy Room.” This is not a required hail, it is just a simple way for Yellow to assert her rights. “Mark-Room” would probably be better, to match the term used in the current rules but “Bouy Room” is still heard. When Yellow gets to the zone, she sees that Gray does not have an overlap, so she says “No Room.” Again, this is not a required hail, but it does say, “we have arrived at the zone. You don’t have an overlap. You are not entitled to mark-room and I am not going to give it to you.” Actually, according to Rule 18.2(b) Gray has to give Yellow mark-room since Yellow is clear ahead when she reaches the zone. For Yellow to actually call, “Mark-Room” would probably confuse things.
Theses four hails are not in the rulebook. They are certainly not required and making them does not change the rights that any of the boats might have. They are commonly understood and they are a useful shorthand to communicate on the water.
The last category of hails is misleading or incorrect hails. If you hear a hail of “port” as if port-tack boats had right of way, or “mast abeam” as if the rule that disappered in 1997 still existed, then you are hearing misleading hails. They could be done in jest or they could be an example of poor sportsmanship. When a former Olympic sailor called “mast abeam” to me on a Tuesday night race, I knew that he was pulling my leg. Had an experienced sailor used a hail like that to intimidate a new sailor, that would have been poor sportsmanship and possibly a breach of RRS 2.
Hails A language other than English may be used for a hail required by the rules provided that it is reasonable for it to be understood by all boats affected. However, a hail in English is always acceptable.
Mark-Room Room for a boat to leave a mark on the required side. Also,
(a) room to sail to the mark when her proper course is to sail close to it, and
(b) room to round or pass the mark as necessary to sail the course without
touching the mark.
However, mark-room for a boat does not include room to tack unless she is overlapped inside and to windward of the boat required to give mark-room and she would be fetching the mark after her tack.
Zone The area around a mark within a distance of three hull lengths of the boat nearer to it. A boat is in the zone when any part of her hull is in the zone.
A boat and her owner shall compete in compliance with recognized principles of sportsmanship and fair play. A boat may be penalized under this rule only if it is clearly established that these principles have been violated. The penalty shall be a disqualification that is not excludable.
When boats are on opposite tacks, a port-tack boat shall keep clear of a starboard-tack boat.
16.1 When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear.
18.2 Giving Mark-Room
(a) When boats are overlapped the outside boat shall give the inside boat mark-room, unless rule 18.2(b) applies.
(b) If boats are overlapped when the first of them reaches the zone, the outside boat at that moment shall thereafter give the inside boat mark-room. If a boat is clear ahead when she reaches the zone, the boat clear astern at that moment shall thereafter give
her mark-room.
20.1 Hailing
A boat may hail for room to tack and avoid a boat on the same tack. However, she shall not hail unless
(a) she is approaching an obstruction and will soon need to make a substantial course change to avoid it safely, and
(b) she is sailing close-hauled or above. In addition, she shall not hail if the obstruction is a mark and a boat that is fetching it would be required to change course as a result of the hail.
20.2 Responding
(a) After a boat hails, she shall give a hailed boat time to respond.
(b) A hailed boat shall respond even if the hail breaks rule 20.1.
(c) A hailed boat shall respond either by tacking as soon as possible, or by immediately replying ‘You tack’ and then giving the hailing boat room to tack and avoid her.
(d) When a hailed boat responds, the hailing boat shall tack as soon as possible.
(e) From the time a boat hails until she has tacked and avoided a hailed boat, rule 18.2 does not apply between them.
20.3 Passing On a Hail to an Additional Boat
When a boat has been hailed for room to tack and she intends to respond by tacking, she may hail another boat on the same tack for room to tack and avoid her. She may hail even if her hail does not meet the conditions of rule 20.1. Rule 20.2 applies between her and a boat she hails.
20.4 Additional Requirements for Hails
(a) When conditions are such that a hail may not be heard, the boat shall also make a signal that clearly indicates her need for room to tack or her response.
(b) The notice of race may specify an alternative communication for a boat to indicate her need for room to tack or her response, and require boats to use it.
61.1 Informing the Protestee
(a) The protesting boat shall inform the other boat at the first reasonable opportunity. When her protest will concern an incident in the racing area, she shall hail ‘Protest’ and conspicuously display a red flag at the first reasonable
opportunity for each. She shall display the flag until she is no longer racing. However,
(1) if the other boat is beyond hailing distance, the protesting boat need not hail but she shall inform the other boat at the first reasonable opportunity;
(2) if the hull length of the protesting boat is less than 6 metres, she need not display a red flag;
(3) if the incident was an error by the other boat in sailing the course, she need not hail or display a red flag but she shall inform the other boat either before or at the first reasonable opportunity after the other boat finishes;
(4) if at the time of the incident it is obvious to the protesting boat that a member of either crew is in danger, or that injury or serious damage resulted, the requirements of this rule do not apply to her, but she shall attempt to inform the other boat within the time limit of rule 61.3.
Copies of these rules articles along with animated diagrams can be found at > sailing > programs > KnowRules.

Posted: 11/23/2023 11:29:27 AM by Andrew Alberti | with 0 comments

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This page provides links to a set of articles original published in Kwasind magazine. The versions here include animated diagrams. The original articles can be found within the original magazines which are available online back to January 2007. 

Articles before December 2020 are based on the Racing Rules of Sailing 2009-12 or 2013-2016 or 2017-2020 and have not been updated to reflect the changes that apply as of January 2021 with the publication of the Racing Rules of Sailing 2021-24. A copy of the new rules can be found on
Andrew Alberti has been writing these monthly articles in the Kwasind since early 1997.  They explain the Racing Rules of Sailing. Andrew is an International Judge and National Umpire. He is a member of the Sail Canada Rules and Appeals Committees. The interpretation of the rules contained in the articles is Andrew's and not that of the RCYC or any of the committees he sits on. 

Send your questions to Andrew at [email protected].


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