October 2016 - Luffing Over The Start Line

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October 2016 - Luffing Over The Start Line

Two months ago I talked about barging. This month, I want to compare the situation of barging at the committee boat with a luffing situation further down the line. Before I do this, I need to provide some context. In races with a large number of boats on the starting line, such as Optimists, Lasers, 420’s and even J/105’s, it is quite common to have so many boats over the line that the race committee has to use a general recall. In these circumstances, special starting flags such as the black flag (rule 30.3) are used. When the black flag goes up four minutes before the start and then comes down one minute before the start, any boat over the line during the last minute before the start is disqualified. This provides a very strong incentive not to be over in the last minute. The incentive may be so strong that boats are tempted to break other rules.

In the diagram, we see Yellow, Blue, Grey and White approaching the starting line with less than a minute to go. It is a black flag start, so if any boat (or boats) were to be over the line in the last minute, they would be disqualified. The starting signal has not yet gone. White is to leeward of Grey, so White has right-of-way over Grey based on rule 11. Yellow is to leeward of Blue, so Yellow has right-of-way over Blue. At position 2, Yellow and White both luff up, causing Blue and Grey to have to luff to avoid them. Yellow and White are both right-of-way boats and when they alter course, rule 16 says that they have to allow the give-way (windward) boats room to keep clear. 

At about position 2, Grey complains that if she goes up any higher she will hit the committee boat. Blue complains that if she goes up any higher she will be over the line, and therefore disqualified. The definition of room is “space … while manoeuvring promptly in a seamanlike way”. It is not seamanlike to hit a committee boat (or even an inflatable mark) so Grey is correct and White must give her space to keep clear. White could legitimately have closed the door on Grey before position 1, but having left it open, White cannot now close it at position 2 when the only way for Grey to keep clear is to hit the committee boat. Once they are past the committee boat, at position 4, White can luff more.

Blue, on the other hand, is only trying to avoid being over the line early (and consequently disqualified, but that’s not a seamanship issue). Yellow has given her room to keep clear – Blue therefore has to take that room and go over the line. 

Responding to Yellow’s luff is not optional, no matter what the penalty for going over. If Blue does not keep clear, then not only has she broken rule 11, but she cannot exonerate herself by doing a two-turns penalty afterwards. Rule 44.1, which describes the two-turns penalty, says that if the boat “gains significant advantage in the race … by her breach her penalty shall be to retire”. If Blue avoids the disqualification for being over the line, then she has gained a significant advantage, so she has to retire. If she doesn’t retire, she could be disqualified in a protest. If it is clear that her actions were deliberate, she might be disqualified under rule 2 and not allowed to drop that race in the series score.
A boat and her owner shall compete in compliance with recognized principles of sportsmanship and fair play. A boat may be penalized under this rule only if it is clearly established that these principles have been violated. A disqualification under this rule shall not be excluded from the boat’s series score.

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.

30.3 Black Flag Rule
If a black flag has been displayed, no part of a boat’s hull, crew or equipment shall be in the triangle formed by the ends of the starting line and the first mark during the last minute before her starting signal. If a boat breaks this rule and is identified, she shall be disqualified without a hearing, even if the race is restarted or resailed, but not if it is postponed or abandoned before the starting signal. If a general recall is signalled or the race is abandoned after the starting signal, the race committee shall display her sail number before the next warning signal for that race, and if the race is restarted or resailed she shall not sail in it. If she does so, her disqualification shall not be excluded in calculating her series score.

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;
(b) if the boat caused injury or serious damage or, despite taking a penalty, gained a significant advantage in the race or series by her breach her penalty shall be to retire.

© Copyright 2016 Andrew Alberti
Posted: 10/1/2016 1:38:33 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 kyrules@alberti.ca.


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