March/April 2021 - New Rule Changes II

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March/April 2021 - New Rule Changes II

This month, we continue our exploration of changes included in the 2021-2024 edition of the Racing Rules of Sailing. This edition brings a lot of changes, but few affect the way we sail on the course.

As you may recall from previous articles, rule 16 is a general rule which puts limitations on right-of-way boats when they change course – here is where you find changes in the right-of-way rules that might change the game. The most frequently used part of the rule, 16.1, requires all right-ofway boats on the course to give others time to avoid them when changing course, and is unchanged. Rule 16.2 puts further limitations on starboard-tack boats approaching port-tack boats. It has had quite a few changes. Some were designed to plug a loophole in the old rule. One change allows something that was not allowed before.

In the first diagram, Blue, on port, is approaching starboardtack Yellow. Blue is slightly ahead but if she holds her course, she will not cross. At position 2, Blue starts to bear away to go to leeward of Yellow. For some reason, Yellow at position 3, decides to make this more difficult and bears away as well. Blue must immediately bear away further and eventually the two boats pass. This manoeuvre by Yellow was probably illegal under the old (2017-2020) rule 16.2 and is certainly illegal under the new (2021-2024) rule 16.2. The reason I say “probably illegal” is that there was a loophole. The old rule referred to the port-tack boat passing astern of the starboard-tack boat. If you look at the boats in position 5, Yellow has gone to such a low course that Blue never actually passes astern of Yellow. The new rule talks about Blue passing to leeward of Yellow, which she does. As is often the case with these rule changes, the new rule now says what we always thought the old rule said, so there is no real change.

In the second diagram, Red on port is approaching Green on starboard. Red is not going to cross Green, so at position 2 she heads up. At position 3, Green also heads up. This means that Red has to immediately head up more. Eventually Red passes to windward, then astern of Green. It is not really clear why Green would do this. She might be trying to make it difficult for Red to gybe into a leeward overlap. Whatever the reason, the old rule 16.2 declared this was illegal. Port-tack Red was keeping clear by passing astern of Green but Green then made a course change that nullified Red’s course change and forced another immediate change to enable her to keep clear. Although the sequence sounds problematic, new 16.2 does not apply for a number of reasons: the boats are not on a beat to windward; Red is going to pass to windward of Green, not to leeward; and Green does not bear away, she heads up. Therefore, Green’s actions are legal – as long as she acts in a way that gives Red room to keep clear. If she fails to do that, then Green breaks rule 16.1.

Some people have asked whether this new rule 16.2 would apply before the start signal? The short answer is no. There is an existing World Sailing Case (Case 132) which defines a “beat to windward” and makes it clear that before the start signal, nobody is on a beat to windward, even if sailing a close-hauled course.

The next right-of-way rule that appears to have several changes is one that has changes every time a new rulebook comes out, rule 18, Mark-Room. The changes this time are very minor. Rule 18.2 (b), the main part of this rule, gives mark-room to boats that are ahead or overlapped inside when they get to the zone. Rule 18.2 (c) says that those boats get to keep that mark-room, even if the overlap situation changes. Rule 18.2 (d) describes some situations where that mark-room stops. One of the situations that caused the mark-room to stop was the boat having been given the mark-room. The old rule turned off rule 18.2 (b) and (c) when the boat entitled to mark-room had been given it, but left it on for 18.2 (a). The new rule moved that “turning off” back up to the end of 18.1 and applied it to all of rule 18.2. This is very unlikely to make a difference to anyone, but the diagram shows a situation where it does.

In the diagram, White and Grey are sailing downwind toward a gybe mark. In position 1 when White gets to the zone, White is clear ahead so Grey has to give her markroom. At position 5, White has been given her mark-room and is sailing on the course to the next mark. According to the old rule 18.2 (d), since White had been given her markroom, 18.2 (b) and 18.2 (c) no longer applied. Rule 18.2 (a) still applied and since the boats were overlapped, White had to give Grey room. The new rule changes this and now that mark-room has been given, rule 18 – including 18.2 (a) – can no longer apply, so White does not have to give Grey room. This is unlikely to change the way anybody sails. 

The biggest change is to the title for rule 18.3, “Tacking in the Zone” has become “Passing Head to Wind in the Zone” which better matches what the rule already said.

As I said at the outset, none of these changes will have an appreciable impact on the way we sail, but if someone tells you, “It’s in the new rule book,” you can confidently reply, “Really?” – or words to that effect.


16.1 When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear.
16.2 In addition, on a beat to windward when after the starting signal a port-tack boat is keeping clear by sailing to pass astern to leeward of a starboard-tack boat, the starboard-tack boat shall not change course bear away if as a result the port-tack boat would immediately need to must change course immediately to continue keeping clear.
18.1 When Rule 18 Applies
Rule 18 applies between boats when they are required to leave a mark on the same side and at least one of them is in the zone.
However, it does not apply
(a) between boats on opposite tacks on a beat to windward,

(b) between boats on opposite tacks when the proper course at the mark for one but not both of them is to tack,
(c) between a boat approaching a mark and one leaving it, or
(d) if the mark is a continuing obstruction, in which case rule 19 applies.
Rule 18 no longer applies between boats when mark-room has been given.
18.2 Giving Mark-Room
(a) When boats are overlapped the outside boat shall give the inside boat mark-room, unless rule 18.2(b) applies.
(b) 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.
(c) When a boat is required to give mark-room by rule 18.2(b),
(1) she shall continue to do so even if later an overlap is broken or a new overlap begins;
(2) if she becomes overlapped inside the boat entitled to mark-room, she shall also give that boat room to sail her proper course while they remain overlapped.
(d) Rules 18.2(b) and (c) cease to apply if when the boat entitled to mark-room has been given that mark room, or if she passes head to wind or leaves the zone. (e) If there is reasonable doubt that a boat obtained or broke an overlap in time, it shall be presumed that she did not.
(f) If a boat obtained an inside overlap from clear astern or by tacking to windward of the other boat and, from the time the overlap began, the outside boat has been unable to give mark-room, she is not required to give it.
18.3 Passing Head to Wind Tacking in the Zone
If a boat in the zone of a mark to be left to port passes head to wind from port to starboard tack and is then fetching the mark, she shall not cause a boat that has been on starboard tack since entering the zone to sail above close-hauled to avoid contact and she shall give mark-room if that boat becomes overlapped inside her. When this rule applies between boats, rule 18.2 does not apply between them.

Red text is new to the 2021 rulebook. Red strikethrough text is deleted in the 2021 rulebook. Italics shows a term used in the sense stated in the Definitions.”


Posted: 3/9/2021 1:02:21 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].


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