December 2013 - Rules Changes IX - Trash

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December 2013 - Rules Changes IX - Trash

Every time the rules change (usually every four years) we see discussion about changes and what they mean. Sometimes we discover unintended consequences. 2013 was no exception. The first change that I covered when I started covering the changes this year was the introduction of rule 55.

Part 4 rules apply only to boats racing. However, rule 55 applies at all times when boats are on the water.

A competitor shall not intentionally put trash in the water.

It is such a short, and on the surface, simple rule with obvious good intentions. Now what does it really mean? What is trash? Many larger keelboats and mid-size sport boats hoist their spinnakers with elastic bands or yarn tied around them so that they can fully hoist the spinnaker before letting the wind into the sail. This led to a Question to ISAF Q&A service about whether these elastic bands were trash.

Q&A 2013-028
It is common practice to prepare the spinnaker by tying it together with rubber bands at intervals, to prevent the spinnaker from filling during the hoist. Once hoisted and sheeted, the rubber bands will break, the spinnaker will open, and ultimately, the rubber bands will end up in the water.
Question 1: Does this action break new rule 55?
Answer 1: Yes
Question 2: If the answer to Question 1 is yes, would it make any difference if the material used was biodegradable?
Answer 2: No

Q&A 2013-004
Question: Is human excremental matter considered to be trash for the purpose of RRS 55?
Answer: No, human excremental matter is sewage and not trash. Competitors should however note that there may be other laws and regulations that apply.

As you can see, the ISAF Q&A panel said that spinnaker ties were trash and they did break rule 55. They also said that this was still the case even if they were biodegradable. This has led many judges to conclude that other biodegradable materials could also be considered trash. You are probably breaking rule 55 if you throw an apple core over the side or even a cherry pit. Remember this applies at lunch between races as well as during the race, and after, as long as you are still on the water. If someone protests a boat for this and the protest committee concludes that they did break the rule, the only available option is to disqualify the offending boat.

Now I am not going to get into a philosophical or even scientific discussion about the hazards of throwing cherry pits over the side, but I think disqualifying a sailor for throwing a cherry pit over the side is probably a little extreme.  The Sail Canada rule committee is recommending that all regattas consider adding to their sailing instructions. “A boat found in breach of rule 55, at the discretion of the jury, may receive a warning or a penalty up to and including a DNE. This changes 64.1.”  This would allow the protest committee to issue a mild warning for throwing a cherry pit over the side. The protest committee could issue a much more significant penalty for the competitor who deliberately emptied a can of gasoline over his stern.  Hopefully we will see this show up in many sailing instructions and we won’t see Optimist sailors disqualified for throwing the crust from their sandwiches overboard.

One other question came up on the subject and covers a practice that is fairy common in parts of the sailboat racing world. Those kids going for a quick swim beside their Lasers aren’t always doing it just to cool off between races and those sailors hanging off the backstay aren’t always just enjoying the view; small boats don’t have heads. While there may be laws about what gets let over the side, the ISAF panel has concluded that human excremental matter is not trash, so rule 55 does not cover it.

I was asked one other question about this. What happens when a sailor dumps and gear drifts away from the boat and is never retrieved? What happens if a hat blows overboard? As a match-race umpire I have picked up quite a few hats over the years and often managed to return them to their bareheaded owners after the race? They have probably not broken rule 55 when this happens since they have not “intentionally” put the items overboard – but investing in a hat-retainer clip might be good insurance in more ways than one.

© Copyright 2013 Andrew Alberti
Posted: 12/1/2013 4:21:50 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 2016 are based on the Racing Rules of Sailing 2009-12 or 2013-2016 and have not been updated to reflect the changes that apply as of January 2017 with the publication of the Racing Rules of Sailing 2017-20. 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 a National 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


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