May/June 2018 - Silent Rules

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May/June 2018 - Silent Rules

This article had its origin in one of the questions I received last fall. Readers are encouraged to send rules-related questions to [email protected].

Most rules are explicit directions on how something should be done or explicit directives against an action, but sometimes a “rule” is created by something unsaid. In other words, the lack of an explicit permission means the action is proscribed. This is particularly true of the mark-room rule. This month, we will talk about barging, a “rule” for which there is no written rule.

This is what barging looks like – Blue and Yellow are approaching to start, with Blue on a close-hauled course and Yellow on a reach to windward of Blue. Yellow hails for “room to start”. Blue hails “no room”. Who is right? The committee boat is a mark of the course, so “room to start” would probably be in the “mark-room” rule, rule 18, part of Section C “AT MARKS AND OBSTRUCTIONS”, wouldn’t it?


Well, no. There is no rule that says that Yellow is not entitled to room, but also there is no rule that says she is entitled to room. The preamble to Section C says that its rules “do not apply at a starting mark … from the time boats are approaching them to start until they have passed them”. Blue is correct in invoking a “rule” that exists only because its opposite does not. In the absence of the mark-room rules, rule 11 – windward boats shall keep clear of leeward boats – dictates Yellow must keep clear of Blue; she must sheer off, go around and hope there is an opening behind Blue.


Incidentally, Blue’s most relevant hail would probably be “stay up” or “get up”, but “no room” is common and generally understood. A combination of the three could be good insurance for Blue.


If we have a different situation – the end of the start line is not surrounded by navigable water – the start is off the end of a pier, for instance, or there is impassably shoal water next to the committee boat – the situation is reversed. The exclusion to Section C would not apply, so the rules of Section C apply. This means that Yellow would be entitled to mark-room and rule 21 would exonerate Yellow for taking the room to which she was entitled. Blue would be disqualified for breaking rule 18.2(b) if she didn’t give room. Moral: keep the distinction between “surrounded…” and “not surrounded by navigable water” in mind if you’re sailing in a new venue.


When boats are on the same tack and overlapped, a windward boat shall keep clear of a leeward boat.




Section C rules do not apply at a starting mark surrounded by navigable water or at its anchor line from the time boats are approaching them to start until they have passed them.




18.2    Giving Mark-Room

  1. When boats are overlapped the outside boat shall give the inside boat mark-room, unless rule 18.2(b) applies.
  2. 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.



When a boat is sailing within the room or mark-room to which she is entitled, she shall be exonerated if, in an incident with a boat required to give her that room or mark-room,


  1. she breaks a rule of Section A, rule 15 or rule 16, or
  2. she is compelled to break rule 31.

© Copyright 2017 Andrew Alberti

Posted: 4/29/2019 3:33:08 PM 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].


166 Years of Tradition | World-Class Sailing | Toronto Island & City Clubhouse
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