August 2015 - The Limitations To The Main Right-Of-Way Rules II

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August 2015 - The Limitations To The Main Right-Of-Way Rules II

I took a break from this series in July to provide a special look at umpired medal races in the PanAm games. In June we looked at rule 15. This month we will look at rule 16. Rule 16, like rule 15, is a limitation on the actions of right-of-way boats, but while rule 15 reins in a boat at the time she acquires right-of-way, rule 16 limits the way she may wield it. In short, while a right-of-way boat may alter course, rule 16 ensures that the other boat has an opportunity to keep clear of her.

In the diagram, the Green boat is  close-hauled on starboard tack and the Red boat is  close-hauled on port tack. This means that Green is the right-of-way boat according to rule 10. If we look carefully at position 1, it appears that Red is going to pass ahead of Green. There is a wind shift between position 1 and position 2, however, so that Green gets a 20-degree lift and Red gets a 20-degree header. Green takes advantage of the lift and heads up 20 degrees. Red realizes that if she bears away, to keep sailing properly, she will no longer cross ahead so she tacks. Rule 16 says that if Green, as the right-of-way boat, alters course, she shall give the other boat, in this case Red, room to keep clear. Red is able to tack and keep clear after Green altered course so we know that Green gave Red room.

In the second diagram, the boats start in a similar position. Blue on port tack is going to cross Yellow on starboard tack. This time the windshift is at position 3. Yellow heads up to stay on a close-hauled course, but the boats are already so close that Blue does not have enough time to keep clear. Therefore, while Blue is required to keep clear of Yellow, Yellow as right-of-way boat has an over-riding obligation to give Blue room to keep clear when Yellow alters her course. Room is defined as “the space a boat needs…  while manoeuvring promptly in a seamanlike way.” Although “promptly” is not defined in the rules, the rules case book shows the word to be virtually synonymous with “instantly”.  Blue does not have even this time to manoeuvre, so Yellow has broke rule 16.

In a close crossing such as the ones described previously – but without the sudden situation-altering windshifts, Blue or Red may have yelled “hold your course”. This call, while useful, does not constitute an obligation on the hailed boat (such as a call for water at an obstruction) or a limitation on its rights – in fact “hold your course” has no standing in the Racing Rules of Sailing. The hail is still a useful one. To me, it is a hail that says “if you hold your course I am going to cross safely”. It is a way for the port-tack boat to tell the starboard-tack boat “if you keep going like this, we won’t hit.” Since it is the port-tack boat that will probably get the most damage in this type of situation, if they do hit, it is a useful hail. It conveys confidence. Yellow or Green is still free to alter course, and as long as she alters course in a way that gives room for Blue or Red to keep clear, she is sailing within the rules.
When a boat acquires right of way, she shall initially give the other boat room to keep clear, unless she acquires right of way because of the other boat’s actions.

16.1 When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear.
Room The space, a boat needs in the existing conditions, including space to comply with her obligations under the rules of Part 2 and rule 31, while manoeuvring promptly in a seamanlike way.

© Copyright 2015 Andrew Alberti
Posted: 8/1/2015 12:27:11 PM by Andrew Alberti

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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
After You Cross The Finishing Line I
Tacking III
Tacking II
Publication Changes and Tacking
How to Finish
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