June 2015 - The Limitations To The Main Right-Of-Way Rules

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June 2015 - The Limitations To The Main Right-Of-Way Rules

Last month we studied the basic right-of-way rules, rules 10, 11, 12 and 13. They are found in Section A of Part 2 of the Racing Rules of Sailing. Now I am going to talk about some of the limitations that are imposed on the rights of the right-of-way boat. These limitations are found in Section B. I will start with rule 15.

On the left side of the first diagram we see two boats, both sailing downwind. Blue is on starboard tack and Yellow is on port tack. Yellow realizes that Blue has right of way and so decides that it would be prudent to gybe onto starboard herself. At position 2 (which is hard to see on the static diagram),  Yellow has gybed onto starboard. She is clear ahead of Blue, so according to rule 12  Yellow is now the right of way boat. Blue has gone from being right-of-way boat to being give-way boat and must start to do something. Blue however does not have to anticipate that Yellow will gain right of way, so she doesn’t have to do anything until the right of way changes. According to rule 15, having gained the right-of-way, Yellow must initially give Blue room to keep clear. At position 3, Blue heads up to avoid hitting Yellow’s stern and is able to avoid Yellow. Blue didn’t have to respond until after Yellow had gained right of way, so Yellow has complied with rule 15.

On the right side of the diagram we see two more boats. This time, they both begin their meeting on starboard tack. At position 2 Red gybes onto port, giving up right of way. Green is now on starboard tack with red on port tack. Green acquires right of way as a result of Red’s actions so rule 15 does not require Green initially to give Red room to keep clear. At position 3, Green collides with Red. Green may have broken rule 14 here, but we will cover that another month.

The key to understanding rule 15 is that we first have to understand which is the right-of-way boat in each stage of the situation and when that right passes from one boat to another. Note that rule 15 does not change which boat is the right-of-way boat – possession of the right-of-way is based on rules 10-13 which we discussed last month – but rule 15 does  put some limitations on that boat. The freedom to act that comes with right-of-way arrives with what might be called residual rights for the past holder. A boat may take up its new right of way quickly, but not instantly.

Rule 16.1 is very similar. First we have to use the basic right-of-way rules to determine which is the right-of-way boat. Rule 16.1 then puts a limitation on the right-of-way boat altering course.
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.
Copies of these rules articles along with animated diagrams can be found at www.rcyc.ca > sailing > Know Your Rules.

© Copyright 2015 Andrew Alberti
Posted: 6/1/2015 12:22:18 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 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 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 kyrules@alberti.ca.


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