October 2012 - Too Many Collisions, Too Many Protests

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October 2012 - Too Many Collisions, Too Many Protests

Over the past few weeks (late July and early August) I have heard too many protests and heard about too many collisions from our Tuesday night races.  This month’s article will be more of an opinion column and less of a technical rules article.

Tuesday (and Thursday) night Club races are a strange mix.  For some people it is the most competitive racing they do, for others it is just a practice for their competitive racing elsewhere.  Some people take their midweek racing very seriously, others quite casually.  The mix can lead to problems.  Over the past few weeks I have heard or read protests about collisions, protests about incidents where the collision was avoided and protests about marks being missed.  Some protests have involved as many as six boats, most two or three.   Some boat have been involved in several protests, others only one.   The protests have involved most of the Tuesday night fleets.  There are too many incidents and too many protests.  We need to collectively reform our behaviour on the course.  

There are a couple of very basic rules that we need to keep in mind.  The first is rule 14.  The title to the rule says it all, “Avoiding Contact”.  I remember a plaque from when I was young that used to say, “A collision at sea can ruin your whole day.”   It is the responsibility of all boats to avoid contact.  Give-way boats should not push it so hard.  If the port-tack upwind boat ducks the starboard-tack boat, there is a lift coming from the back of the starboard-tack boat. If you use that lift along with the increased speed from bearing away, you will not lose very much compared to trying to cross.  Make sure that your mainsheet trimmer is aware that you might need to bear off to duck and avoid.
A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible. However, a right-of-way boat or one entitled to room or mark-room
(a)        need not act to avoid contact until it is clear that the other boat is not keeping clear or giving room or mark-room, and
(b)        shall not be penalized under this rule unless there is contact that causes damage or injury. 



Competitors in the sport of sailing are governed by a body of rules that they are expected to follow and enforce. A fundamental principle of sportsmanship is that when competitors break a rule they will promptly take a penalty, which may be to retire.

The rules puts limitations on when a right-of-way boat will be penalized for not avoiding contact (give-way boats should always avoid contact) but I believe that if right-of-way boats keep an eye out, they will avoid contact more often.  When I was taught to drive a car one of the things taught was “give yourself an out”.  Be aware of potential situations, hail the give-way boat and when in doubt, avoid the contact.  If there is contact, you may end up winning the protest but you may also miss much of your season while the boat is being repaired.  Which is more important?  Avoid contact, avoid damage.

My second point is about protests.  Sometimes people ask me if there are too many protests, others ask if given the amount of rule breaking, there are there too few protests.  Often I have trouble answering.  I don’t believe that every rules breach should be protested.  The best conclusion after a rule has been broken is for the competitor to promptly take their penalty.  That is in fact what the “Basic Principle” at the beginning of the rule book says.  We had one protest this summer (involving several boats) where the boats that broke the rule realized it and withdrew.  If the person doesn’t realize they broke the rule, then maybe a quiet discussion at the dock or at bar afterwards is appropriate. 

If rule-breaking is getting out of control either across a fleet or with certain individuals, that maybe a good time to have a few more protests.  The arbitration process or the protest process will give a chance to have both sides tell their story and a resolution made based on the rules that apply.  It sometimes brings to people’s attention that their rule-breaking is getting out of hand.  If there is collision with damage, I always recommend a protest.

Tuesday nights this summer have in my opinion generated too many protests. This may be because there are too many incidents, it may be because too many are being protested.  It is hard to tell.  Quite a few boats have been involved in more than one protest.  I think if you have been involved in more than one this summer (as protestee or protestor), you might want to look yourself in the mirror and ask why. Buddy Melges is probably one of he best sailors ever.  I found a quotation attributed to him that fits. “I will never try to steer myself into a situation that I know might create a discussion after the race … any protest immediately cuts down on my social hours after the race is over.”

Things are going to have to change a little. People are being turned off midweek racing by the number of rule infractions, the number of protests they get involved with and we don’t have a enough people willing to serve on protest committees to handle the volume we have been getting. We are also providing too much unnecessary work for the boat repair business.

© Copyright 2012 Andrew Alberti
Posted: 10/1/2012 1:40:49 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 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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