September 2010 - Fair Sailing and Intimidation

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September 2010 - Fair Sailing and Intimidation

Somebody suggested to me that I try an article on this topic. The key here is rule 2 “fair sailing”.
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.

This is certainly a more difficult rule to define clearly than many of the others I discuss. We sail for fun. We should all want to sail fairly and we want others to as well.

I think I can illustrate with a few examples from real situations.   A couple of weeks ago on a Friday night TGIF race Chris Cook (2008 Canadian Olympic Finn sailor) was sailing a smaller, slower boat and I passed him to leeward. Chris called out “Mast Abeam”.   Now Chris knows that I know there is no mast abeam rule (and hasn’t been since 1997). In the context it was a friendly remark about being passed (it also showed that it was a long time since Chris had used the rule since it wouldn’t have applied in the situation anyway.) In the circumstance there was no intimidation or deception. I wouldn’t even have thought of the fair sailing rule except that I had started thinking about how to write this article and had already thought of creating a situation where someone yelled “Mast Abeam”. 

Earlier in the day Chris had been coaching some of the junior sailors. If he had then been racing against some of them and yelled something like that at one of the junior sailors it might have been a different situation. That might have been intimidation and poor sportsmanship.

The ISAF appeals book has a case giving some guidance for this.

Rule 2, Fair Sailing
A boat that deliberately hails ‘Starboard’ when she knows she is on port tack has not acted fairly, and has broken rule 2.

Assumed Facts
An experienced helmsman of a port-tack boat hails ‘Starboard’ to a beginner who, although on starboard tack, not being sure of himself and probably being scared of having his boat holed, tacks to port to avoid a collision. No protest is lodged.

One school of thought argues that it is fair game, because if a helmsman does not know the rules, that is his own hard luck. The other school rejects this argument, on the grounds that it is quite contrary to the spirit of the rules to deceive a competitor in that way.

It is known that such a trick is often played, particularly when novices are involved.

In such a case, has the port-tack boat broken rule 2?

A boat that deliberately hails ‘Starboard’ when she knows she is on port tack has not acted fairly and has broken rule 2. The protest committee might also consider taking action under rule 69.

Going around the race course intimidating beginners, whether by yelling “Starboard” when you are on port tack or by inventing rules is not fair sailing. 

An incident in a race in our area (not at our club) ended up in an Appeal to Ontario Sailing. In that case on a starting line of about 50 boats several were “on course side” (over early). Just after the starting signal one boat in the middle of the line called “all clear” in a clear voice.   This confused another boat into not returning to start despite the recall signal. The appeals committee while not reinstating the boat who did not return start (she had a responsibility to look for and respond to the recall signals that the race committee made) did support the protest committee’s disqualification of the boat the that made the hail. The appeals committee stated “The hail in this case similarly does not comply with the recognized principles of sportsmanship and fair play so xxxx broke rule 2.”

The subject of the rules and intimidation also relates to protests.   The racing rules and in particular the right of way rules are best used as shields rather than as swords. Boats that end up in too many “incidents’ should look at their sailing and their approach to sailing and try to figure out why. Winning by yelling at other or winning be constantly threatening to protest others leads to hollow victories. The best sailors and the best sportsmen and sportswomen are those who help their competitors to learn not those who intimidate their competition. Too much intimidation on the race course tends to discourage other participants and eventually you have nobody to race against.

© Copyright 2010 Andrew Alberti
Posted: 9/1/2010 2:39:27 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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