May 2016 - Hitting The Mark

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May 2016 - Hitting The Mark

I don’t get a lot of questions about hitting marks, but I do see or hear of people taking the wrong penalties. If you want to skip reading the rest of this article, here is a summary. If you hit a mark, sail clear as soon as possible and do one turn.

One of the reasons for the confusion is that this is an area of the rules that has evolved a lot over the years. Hitting the mark is not considered as serious an offence as it was many years ago. Maybe our attitudes have changed as the marks changed from big steel navigational marks or vessels to soft inflatables. On the other hand, hitting a big steel navigational mark carries its own penalties. Any resemblance between the green paint on the T1 buoy and the mark near the bow of my boat is… (well, I won’t say any more). 

I have copies of several old rules books. As late as the 1965-68 rule book, if a boat hit a mark, she “shall retire immediately” and there were no other choices. 

I don’t have a copy of the 1969-72 rule book. By the 1973-1976 rule book (the first one that I learned from and the only one used for an Olympics in Canada), the words said “shall immediately retire unless… she exonerates herself in accordance with rule 52.2”. Rule 52.2 describes a penalty which involves rounding the mark again. If the mark that was hit was a starting mark then she had to do the penalty after starting. This approach continued until 1989.

In the 1989-92 rulebook, the words “shall immediately retire” are gone. They were redundant. If you hit a mark, you had broken a rule and unless you exonerated yourself you could be disqualified. The 1989-92 rulebook also brought a more significant change. Exoneration now meant sailing “well clear of all other yachts as soon as possible after the incident, and remaining clear while she makes two complete 3600 turns (7200) in the same direction, including two tacks and two gybes.” This penalty of two complete turns, while fairly harsh, was designed to reduce the congestion at the mark and was sometimes easier to do.

I remember a lot of confusion during this four-year period. Many people had not read the new rule so continued to do a circle around the mark. Since they were only doing one turn, they had not exonerated themselves. 

The 1993-1996 rule book reduced the penalty to one complete 3600 turn. This had the added benefit that if someone was really working under the older rules and did their turn around the mark, they had in fact done their turn. 

The 1997-2000 rule book, well known for its major changes, made no significant changes to this rule. It became rule 31. It did start to refer to the turn as a penalty rather than a means of exoneration. Since then, the only related changes have been to move the penalty out of the mark-hitting rule (now rule 31) into the rule with all of the penalties, rule 44.1.

If the mark that you hit is the starting mark, you can now do the penalty immediately after hitting it, so if you hit it three minutes before your start, you can do a turn at that time, which may cost you very little in your race. This has been true since 1989. 

Hitting the mark with any part of the hull, the crew or the boat’s equipment counts as hitting the mark. Hitting the anchor line or ground tackle of the mark does not count.

Match racing currently has the same prohibition on hitting the mark as fleet racing does, but only allows the umpires to penalize it (it cannot be protested by another boat). For match racing, the penalty is like any other umpire penalty, so in many circumstances it can be delayed until later in the race and it is less than a full turn. 

Match racing has been experimenting with a newer version of this rule. They tried allowing hitting the mark. It turns out that this created more problems than it solved. The newest, which I believe will be in the match racing rules in the 2017-2020 rulebook allows anything except the crew and the hull to hit the mark. The reason for the changes in match racing are that it was too easy for the umpires to miss incidental contact between marks and sails or rigging. This led to inconsistent results.

Other types of racing have other approaches. Kiteboard and Windsurfing rules delete rule 31 altogether. You can hit the mark as much as you want as long as you round it. 
The current rules (2013-2016)

While racing, a boat shall not touch a starting mark before starting, a mark that begins, bounds or ends the leg of the course on which she is sailing, or a finishing mark after finishing.


44.1 Taking a Penalty
A boat may take a Two-Turns Penalty when she may have broken one or more rules of Part 2 in an incident while racing. She may take a One-Turn Penalty when she may have broken rule 31. Alternatively, sailing instructions may specify the use of the Scoring Penalty or some other penalty, in which case the specified penalty shall replace the One-Turn and the Two-Turns Penalty. However,
(a) when a boat may have broken a rule of Part 2 and rule 31 in the same incident she need not take the penalty for breaking rule 31.

© Copyright 2016 Andrew Alberti
Posted: 5/1/2016 1:22:19 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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