January/February 2020 - An Overview of the Right-of-Way Rules V

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January/February 2020 - An Overview of the Right-of-Way Rules V

In the past four issues, we have done an overview of the right-of-way rules. In the first, we reviewed Section A of Part 2 of the Racing Rules of Sailing. In the second, we looked at the definitions, in the third we went over Section B of Part 2 and in the fourth, we examined Section C of Part 2. This issue, we will finish the series with Section D of Part 2, Other Rules. As its name suggests, Section D contains a collection of rules that didn’t belong in Sections A-C.



When rule 22 or 23 applies between two boats, Section A rules do not.

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,
(a) she breaks a rule of Section A, rule 15 or rule 16, or
(b) she is compelled to break rule 31.

22.1 A boat sailing towards the pre-start side of the starting line or one of its extensions after her starting signal to start or to comply with rule 30.1 shall keep clear of a boat not doing so until she is completely on the pre-start side.

22.2 A boat taking a penalty shall keep clear of one that is not.

22.3 A boat moving astern, or sideways to windward, through the water by backing a sail shall keep clear of one that is not. 

If possible, a boat shall avoid a boat that is capsized or has not regained control after capsizing, is anchored or aground, or is trying to help a person or vessel in danger. A boat is capsized when her masthead is in the water.

24.1 If reasonably possible, a boat not racing shall not interfere with a boat that is racing.

24.2 If reasonably possible, a boat shall not interfere with a boat that is taking a penalty, sailing on another leg or subject to rule 22.1. However, after the starting signal this rule does not apply when the boat is sailing her proper course.

Rule 21 is one we don’t think about very much, but it is required to make many of the other rules work – in particular the rules of Section C. If a boat is entitled to room or mark-room and she is taking it in the approved manner, rule 21 then exonerates her in what would otherwise be infractions against many of the other right-of-way rules. In the diagram, Blue is on port tack and Yellow is on starboard tack. As they get to the zone, Blue has an overlap on Yellow, so Blue sails a course to take the mark-room to which she is entitled. Several things happen in quick succession. At position 4, Yellow has been forced to sail farther from that mark than she would like, and Blue is probably breaking rule 10 (Port Starboard). Rule 21, however, exonerates Blue for breaking this rule. At position 7, as Blue is heading up, her stern swings towards Yellow, who is thus forced even farther from the mark. At this point, Yellow is to leeward of Blue, so Yellow has right of way and Blue is nominally breaking rule 11 (Windward Leeward). Again, rule 21 exonerates Blue, as all her misdeeds occurred while taking room to which she was entitled. If Blue had been the right-of-way boat, her alteration of course might have broken rule 16, but again Rule 21 would have gotten her off the hook.

Rule 22 covers a collection of different circumstances. Rule 22 actually changes the right-of-way (unlike Section B and C, which as we saw, don’t change the right of way). An over-early boat returning to start, a boat taking a penalty and a boat sailing backwards or sideways to windward by backing her sail has to keep clear.
Rule 23 says to avoid boats that are capsized, anchored, aground or involved in a rescue, if it is possible to do so. Clearly if a boat capsizes right in front of you, it may to be too late to avoid it. The preamble of Section D makes it clear that where Rule 22 or 23 conflict with other right-of-way rules (Section A), then Rule 22 or 23 take precedence.
Rule 24 has two parts. The first part says that boats that are not racing, should try not to interfere with boats that are racing. Remember you are racing from your preparatory signal until you have finished and cleared the finishing line, so if the next start is not yours, you should keep clear of the boats who are coming up to their start. It also means that after you have finished and you are returning to harbour, you should avoid the boats that are still racing. This rule is frequently broken.

The second, rarely used part of rule 24 says that you should not stray from your proper course to interfere with boats that are taking a penalty or boats that are on other legs.
This summary of the Rules of Part 2 is now complete, and while it did not cover all of the details, it should help in finding the applicable rules when needed.


Posted: 1/13/2020 9:01:58 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 sailing.org.
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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