November 2012 - Luffing Rights III

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November 2012 - Luffing Rights III

In July and August we started a discussion about luffing rights.  In July we defined who had luffing rights.  In August we looked at an example of what a boat with luffing rights can do and an example of what a boat without luffing rights can do. I am going to continue with this theme this month. 

In the diagram Yellow and Blue are both approaching the committee boat on a close-hauled course before the starting signal.  At position 1 Yellow is clear astern of Blue.   At position 2 Yellow has established an overlap to leeward from clear astern, so based on our discussion of rule 17 she may not sail above her proper course (she does not have “luffing rights”).  If we look at the definition of proper course we see that a boat has no proper course before her starting signal.  Rule 17 therefore does not place any restriction on a leeward boat before her starting signal.  At position 3 Yellow starts to head up.  She does this early enough for Blue to have room to keep clear (that is before Blue gets trapped by the committee boat).  At position 5 the starting signal goes and Yellow has returned to a close-hauled course which is now her proper course.  She actually doesn’t have to do this since by this time Blue has tacked and they are no longer overlapped on the same tack.
When boats are on the same tack and overlapped, a windward boat shall keep clear of a leeward boat.


16.1     When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear.

If a boat clear astern becomes overlapped within two of her hull lengths to leeward of a boat on the same tack, she shall not sail above her proper course while they remain on the same tack and overlapped within that distance, unless in doing so she promptly sails astern of the other boat. This rule does not apply if the overlap begins while the windward boat is required by rule 13 to keep clear.

Proper Course  A course a boat would sail to finish as soon as possible in the absence of the other boats referred to in the rule using the term. A boat has no proper course before her starting signal.

In the second diagram Red and Green are approaching a windward mark on Starboard Tack with Red slightly below the layline but travelling a little quicker (she may be a quicker boat or maybe Green had just tacked onto Starboard.)  At position 1 Red is clear astern.  At position 2 she has established an overlap to leeward from clear astern so she is subject to rule 17 (therefore we say she does not have luffing rights).  Remember however that the restriction in rule 17 is that she may not sail above her proper course, which is the course she would have sailed to finish as soon as possible in the absence of the other boat.  If Green was not there, then Red would probably luff up and use her momentum to shoot the mark.  That is therefore her proper course, so she is still allowed to do it.  She luffs about and then bears off after the mark.  She has to keep in mind that she is still subject to rule 17 and must continue to sail no higher than her proper course which is probably now the course to the next mark.

Every year during protest hearings I hear windward boats complain that they were forced to sail above their proper course.   I hope that you have seen through the article this month and the previous article on the subject (August) that leeward boats are often permitted to do this.

© Copyright 2012 Andrew Alberti
Posted: 11/1/2012 1:43:53 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 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


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