Wednesday, August 5, 2015

2015 US Proposals for the 2017-2020 RRS

The Racing Rules of Sailing are only changed every four years, after each Olympic Games (except for rare "emergency" changes, when somebody finds a critical problem in the rules that needs to be solved immediately).  ISAF only considers changes to the main body of the rules in the first three years of each of these quadrennia, in order to give the folks who write the Appendices, Call Books and Case Book a year to conform those documents to the new rules. The Brazil Olympics will be held in 2016, so this is the last year in which National Authorities such as US Sailing can propose changes to the main body of the rules.

The US Racing Rules Committee held 90-minute conference calls every three weeks, on average, over the last 12 months, to discuss proposals for changes to the next rulebook. The committee decided on 13 proposals for changes and wrote them up as ISAF Submissions.  These Submissions were approved by the US Sailing Board of Directors on July 22nd and will be considered by the ISAF Racing Rules Committee (RRC) at the Annual Conference in China in November.  ISAF might pass, edit or reject any submissions.  Any changes will come into effect on January 1, 2017.

As usual, some of the US proposals are merely word-smithing or house-keeping.  But a few are substantive:  A proposal to reverse a 2014 decision by ISAF to change the Preamble to Part 2; a change to Rule 20 Hailing for Room to Tack that would require the hail to use the specific words "Room to Tack"; and a new Rule 25 making it easier for organizing authorities and race committees to understand the procedure for changing rules by sailing instructions.  One other Submission proposes to put the Appendix T arbitration process, which ISAF approved last year for worldwide use, in the actual rulebook instead of on the ISAF website.

The US Submissions, which include reasons for why the changes should be made, can be found by following this link.  If you have any comments, please send them to the US Racing Rules Committee at  

By the way, if you think you would like to work on the rules you might consider applying to join the US Sailing Racing Rules Committee. The easiest way to do that is to come up with an idea for simplifying, clarifying or otherwise improving a particular racing rule. Identify the rule, state exactly how you would change it, and then in a few words state why you believe this change would be a change for the better. Finally, tell the committee you'd like to be a member and briefly describe your racing and/or race management experience. Send your application by e-mail to

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

IRPCAS? I think not.

The Preamble to Part 2 of the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) contains an interesting provision: “If the sailing instructions so state, the rules of Part 2 are replaced by the right-of-way rules of the IRPCAS or by government right-of-way rules.” (IRPCAS stands for International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, usually called the COLREGS. The US Coast Guard publication containing these rules can be found here.)

The rules of Part 2 govern the conduct of racing sailboats when they meet, including right of way, mark-room, and room at obstructions. In theory, regatta organizers could throw out those rules and substitute the IRPCAS rules of the road for their entire regatta, but I've never heard of this being done. The only situation I've heard of in which IRPCAS rules replace the rules of Part 2 is for long-distance races, and even then, only during hours of darkness. But even in that limited application, IRPCAS rules of the road don't really work for sailboats racing each other.  

The idea behind invoking IRPCAS rules in long-distance races is that those rules rules don't allow close maneuvering, so the boats would be safer than they are under the rules of Part 2. But I have the feeling that many of the folks who write sailing instructions replacing RRS Part 2 with IRPCAS rules of the road really don't understand what they're doing. Here are a few facts about the IRPCAS rules as they would apply to sailboats racing:
  1. IRPCAS rules apply to any pair of sailing boats in sight of each other (IRPCAS Rule 11). That's a long way apart – at least 5 miles in most cases. Technically, the RRS also apply to boats far from each other, but the rules of Part 2 only require boats to take action when they are in close proximity.  IRPCAS rules require boats to take action as soon as it appears that, on their current courses, the boats might collide; at that time they could be miles apart.
  1. Under IRPCAS all vessels are required to maintain lookouts, “by sight and hearing”, and vessels equipped with radar must use it (IRPCAS Rules 5, 7(b)). In fog or other reduced visibility, vessels must slow down to “a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of reduced visibility” (IRPCAS Rule 19). Such conditions include background lights ashore at night, as well as fog and rain (IRPCAS Rule 6(a)).
  1. In terms of maneuvering, a give-way vessel must “take early and substantial action to keep well clear” (IRPCAS Rule 16), and a stand-on vessel must maintain her course and speed (IRPCAS Rule 17(a)) except to avoid imminent collision (IRPCAS Rule 17(b)). If there is any possibility of danger of collision, give-way vessels must act as if there is such danger, and take appropriate action (IRPCAS Rule 7(a)).
  1. IRPCAS does not assign right of way between two boats under sail the same way as do the RRS. Under both sets of rules, port-tack boats must keep clear of starboard-tack boats and windward boats must keep clear of leeward boats, but there is one big difference: RRS 11 only requires a boat clear astern to keep clear of a boat clear ahead if the two boats are on the same tack, while IRPCAS requires the boat astern (the “overtaking boat”) to keep clear regardless of what tacks the boats are on. Further, in that situation if the boat ahead changes course, the overtaking boat must continue to keep clear even if the boats are now in a crossing situation (IRPCAS Rule 13(d)). For example, if both boats are on starboard tack to begin with, and the boat ahead tacks onto port and crosses the other boat, the boat that was clear astern must continue to keep clear even though she is on starboard tack and the other boat is now on port tack!
  1. Of course, the IRPCAS have no rules equivalent to the rules of Sections B and C of Part 2, because the IRPCAS rules do not envision that vessels will come close enough to require “room” or “mark-room”.  (There is also no equivalent to the rules of Section D, but those rules are not likely to apply to boats racing offshore at night.)
The fact that IRPCAS and RRS assign right of way differently should make us wonder how much safer boats will be, racing under IRPCAS.  Racing sailors may or may not know the racing rules by heart, but most of them know and understand the game defined by those rules. On the other hand, most are totally unfamiliar with the game defined by IRPCAS. How much safer can it be to suddenly drop a fleet of racing sailors into that new brier patch?

As a full-time cruiser with tens of thousands of miles of passages under my keel, I'm pretty familiar with IRPCAS, and in my opinion there's no way anybody could reasonably race sailboats under the IRPCAS rules. On our cruising boat, if we see a vessel approaching on a nearly constant bearing, we hail her on VHF Channel 16 when she's at least a mile away. If she responds, we negotiate the crossing (“Request permission to cross ahead of you,” or “We will slow and pass astern of you,” etc.). If she doesn't respond and we are the give-way vessel, we immediately take avoiding action – even though the other vessel is still almost a mile away! IRPCAS requires that such action be substantial enough so that it is “readily apparent” from the other boat (IRPCAS Rule 8(b)), so slowing from 6 knots to 5.8 knots or changing course by 5 degrees won't satisfy the requirement, even if such an action is all that's needed to avoid the danger of collision.

If we are racing against each other with you on port tack and me on starboard, would you negotiate with me on VHF radio regarding which of us should change course or (gasp!) reduce speed? If you're the keep-clear boat, would you change course substantially (basically, tack or bear off by 20 degrees or so) while we're still, say, a mile apart, as required by IRPCAS? I think not; but if the sailing instructions mandate IRPCAS, I can protest you if you don't.

While the IRPCAS requirements on give-way vessels seem extreme, the limitations imposed on stand-on vessels are even more onerous. IRPCAS Rule 17 says that a stand-on vessel “shall keep her course and speed” when another vessel is keeping out of her way. Suppose X and Y, both 50-foot boats, are beating to windward on the same tack with X ahead and to leeward of Y. Because Y is the “overtaking vessel”, she is required to keep out of X's way, which she is easily doing. Now suppose X discovers that she's entering an adverse current or big header and decides to tack. That means changing course toward Y, and if X's new course puts her on a more or less constant bearing from Y's point of view, then when X tacked she broke IRPCAS Rule 17. If the boats are racing under IRPCAS, Y may protest and get X disqualified, even if it takes little effort for Y to avoid X on her new course, or X tacks back when she is still several boatlengths away from Y.

Of course, if boats will round a mark or cross a finish line at night, all bets are off. IRPCAS is simply not set up to handle situations where vessels purposely put themselves in danger at full speed. It's hard to imagine a mark rounding or finishing scenario in which all boats within sight of each other don't break IRPCAS, one way or another. Protests galore!

So, if IRPCAS rules aren't the solution, what can be done to make night racing safe? My idea is to keep the RRS, including Part 2, but establish an understanding of what it means to keep clear, that ensures greater distances between boats.

The first part of the definition “Keep Clear” in the RRS says, “A boat keeps clear of a right-of-way boat … if the right-of-way boat can sail her course with no need to take avoiding action ...”. Organizers can't change that definition (see RRS 86.1) but the expression “need to take avoiding action” is not a defined term in the RRS and depends on the prevailing conditions. In daylight, even maxi yachts are accustomed to sailing within a boatlength or less of each other at full speed, but at night in the open ocean, surely a crossing at speed with only a length or less between the boats will have both crews terrified, and the right-of-way boat might well think she needs to take avoiding action.

So I suggest a provision in the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions, saying something like:

In the case of a protest, the jury will make the following rebuttable presumption: Between sunset and sunrise, if boats come within two of the longer boat's overall length of each other, the right-of-way boat needs to take avoiding action.”

Obviously the organizers could take an even stronger position and drop the word “rebuttable”, but I think that's unwise. “Rebuttable presumption” means that the jury makes that presumption but upon strong enough evidence that it is not true they may drop the presumption. For example, if a port-tack boat crosses a length and a half behind a starboard-tack boat, the starboard-tack boat wouldn't feel she needs to take any action to avoid the other boat because the boats are, at that point, sailing away from each other.  In that case, the jury is free to drop the presumption.

Note that if the jury keeps the presumption, rules requiring the right-of-way boat to give the other boat “room to keep clear” are broken if the actions of the right-of-way boat brings her within two lengths of the other boat. For example, if the right-of-way boat changes course so as to bring the boats within two lengths of each other, she breaks RRS 16.1 because the other boat needs to take avoiding action, under the presumption in the sailing instructions. By the same reasoning, an overtaking boat on the same tack breaks rule 15 if she establishes a leeward overlap at night within two of the longer boat's lengths. This puts more of a burden on such a boat than the “proper course” restriction of rule 17.

Overall, my advice to organizers of long offshore races is, stay away from IRPCAS as a replacement for the rules of Part 2, and be sure to communicate clearly to competitors that the distance needed to keep clear at night is substantially greater than the distance needed during daylight.

Friday, January 2, 2015

ISAF publishes Test Rules for Match Racing

ISAF has released a set of new Test Rules for Match Racing. These rules will be tested in events worldwide in 2015, and, presumably, if the tests go well, adopted in the 2017 match-racing rules.

The Test Rules involve four changes to the Racing Rules of Sailing: they add a new rule 7, 'Last Point of Certainty'; they replace rule 18 (Mark-Room) with a much simpler rule from the America's Cup; they change the definition of 'Mark-Room'; and they replace rule 17 (On the Same Tack, Proper Course) with a much more complicated rule from the Alpari World Match Racing Tour. I quote each of the Test Rules below, followed by my commentary. A zip file with the new rules, official explanations of what the changes mean, and revised Match Race Calls for these rules, can be found at In that same zip file is an “Implementation Document” describing how to write Notices of Race and Sailing Instructions to implement the new rules.

It is not clear yet what events will use these rules, but any event that wishes to do so must obtain specific permission from ISAF (under rule 86.2) or their national authority (under rule 86.3). In the United States, event organizing authorities should go to for instructions about how to get permission under rule 86.3.

In what follows, I designate Test Rules as “TR x.x” and current rules as “RRS x.x”. Remember, these rules are for match racing only. Rules that are perfectly reasonable when there are only two boats involved might not work at all well for larger groups of boats.

When there is doubt as to the relationship or change of relationship between
boats, the last point of certainty will apply.

My comment: The principle of Last Point of Certainty is already in the Match Race Call Book, so this will not have any effect on match racing.  (The principle, as stated in the Call Book, is that “umpires will assume that the state of a boat or the relationship with another has not changed until they are certain that it has changed. For example, a boat is not judged ‘beyond head to wind’ until the umpires are certain that she is so.)


TR 18.1 When Rule 18 Applies

Rule 18 applies between boats when they are required to leave a mark on the same side and at least one of them is in the zone. However, it does not apply between a boat approaching a mark and one leaving it.

TR 18.2 Giving Mark-Room

(a) When the first boat reaches the zone,

(1) if boats are overlapped, the outside boat at that moment shall thereafter give the inside boat mark-room. 
(2) if boats are not overlapped, the boat that has not reached the zone shall thereafter give mark-room.

(b) If the boat entitled to mark-room leaves the zone, the entitlement to mark-room
ceases and rule 18.2(a) is applied again if required.

(c) If a boat obtained an inside overlap and, from the time the overlap began,
the outside boat is unable to give mark-room, she is not required to give it.

TR 18.3 Tacking or Gybing

When an inside overlapped right-of-way boat must tack or gybe at a mark to sail
her proper course, until she tacks or gybes she shall sail no farther from the
mark than needed to sail that course. Rule 18.3 does not apply at a gate mark.

My comments:  TR 18.1 is considerably shorter than RRS 18.1. Of the three conditions in RRS 18.1 specifying when rule 18 doesn't apply, TR 18.1 keeps just one: TR 18 doesn't apply between a boat approaching a mark and one leaving it. That means TR 18 applies at windward marks to boats on opposite tacks, whereas RRS 18 does not. And because TR 18 applies to them, boats beating on opposite tacks can now be overlapped when one of them reaches the zone – which is generally not true of boats on opposite tacks on a beat to windward under the RRS (see the last sentence of the current definition 'Clear Astern; Clear Ahead; Overlapped'). This is a huge change from the current rule.

RRS rule 18.2(a), which grants mark-room to an inside boat when RRS 18.2(b) doesn't apply, is gone.

TR 18.2(a)(1) is just the overlapped part of RRS 18.2(b). If one of the boats reaches the zone while the boats are on opposite tacks, the inside boat gets mark-room throughout the rounding, regardless of whether she tacks later or the overlap changes.

At first glance, TR 18.2(a)(2) looks like the clear-ahead part of RRS 18.2(b), but it's not. Instead of the clear-ahead boat becoming entitled to mark-room, under the Test Rules the boat that reaches the zone first, either clear ahead or clear astern, gets mark-room.

This worries me. When RRS 18 was written (and rewritten), the authors were careful not to use the order of entry into the zone as the criterion for which boat gets mark-room, for the simple reason that the order of entry can be much harder to determine than whether there was an overlap when one of the boats reached the zone.

Frequently, but not always, it's easy to see which of two non-overlapped boats enters the zone first – she's the one in front. But not always, if the boats are separated laterally. Consider the scenario shown below, where the boats are coming to a starboard-rounding windward mark on starboard tack, with Blue on the starboard-tack layline and Yellow about 1.5-2 hull lengths ahead and to leeward of her. At position 3, it's clear that both boats are in the zone. But which entered first? Note that 'Last Point of Certainty' doesn't help in this situation – the last time we're certain about anything, both boats were outside the zone.

TR 18.2 is copied verbatim from the rules for the 34th America's Cup, where it was used in both the lead-up series in AC 45's and the match race series in AC 72's. But those boats carried systems which tracked the boats in real time to within a couple of centimeters and not only informed the crew of exactly when their boat entered the zone but also notified the other boat of that fact, by means of bright lights on bow and stern. Of course, other match races will not have access to such technology, and I foresee a problem with scenarios like the one shown here.

The question in my mind is, why this change? The criterion in RRS 18.2(b) is just as short and uncomplicated, easier to judge, and in cases of doubt can be resolved by the Last Point of Certainty (i.e., RRS 18.2(d)).

The application of rule 18 to boats on opposite tacks on a beat to windward will have substantial impact on match-race tactics for beats. For example, consider the scenario shown above and suppose the mark is displaced to the left in that diagram, so it's clear that Yellow entered the zone first. Then, even though she's the left-hand boat on the beat, she's entitled to mark-room. So she simply goes to the port-tack layline and tacks. Under TR 18.2, Blue has to duck her and let her round the mark.

On the other hand, under RRS 18 when boats are approaching a starboard-rounding windward mark on opposite tack a starboard-tack boat has a little problem, because when she tacks to round the mark she risks breaking rule 13, Tacking. Under TR 18.2 she has no such worries – she is entitled to mark-room regardless of whether she tacks.

TR 18.3 limits the right-side boat's advantage, however, in that scenario. Under RRS 18.2, the starboard-tack boat solves her problem with rule 13 by dialing down (if she can force the port-tack boat to go below the port-tack layline) or dialing up until the boats are both nearly head-to-wind. Because the starboard-tack boat can tack away or break off the dial-up when she wishes, she frequently gains two or three lengths by that maneuver. But if the port-tack boat is above the port layline, this play requires the starboard-tack boat to extend her tack past the layline to intercept the other boat, and under TR 18.3 she will no longer be allowed to do that – she must tack for the mark when she reaches the layline. Of course, she can tack and then luff, but that move risks getting rolled, and generally is not nearly as effective as a dial-up.

TR definition of Mark-Room
Mark-Room Room for a boat to sail her proper course to round or pass the mark.

This definition of Mark-Room is breathtaking in its simplicity and, I think, will work for match racing. I do not think it would be good for fleet racing. At a leeward mark, a boat's proper course is a big, wide turn that allows her to maintain her downwind speed through the mark rounding. The current RRS definition of mark-room entitles a boat only room to sail to the mark and round it – a much tighter rounding than her proper course. In fleet racing the Test Rules definition would be problematical because the inside boat would use up much of the zone in her turn, forcing all boats outside her to sail even farther from the mark (and outside the zone). In match racing, I think it will make little difference to the game; but why change the perfectly good definition in the RRS? In my opinion, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

TR rule 17 [ON THE SAME TACK; PROPER COURSE] (with new parts underlined):

After the starting signal, 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 right-of-way boat is on a leg to a leeward mark or the finishing line, or if the overlap begins while
(a) the right-of-way boat is on a leg to a leeward mark,
(b) the windward boat is required by rule 13 to keep clear, or
(c) both boats are OCS.

My comments: Effectively, this change means rule 17 only applies on windward legs and when the overlap was established after the starting signal. This means the sailors and umpires don't have to keep track of how overlaps were established in the prestart, and it also means that on a leeward leg, if the trailing boat can get a 'hook', that is, a leeward overlap from astern, she can luff the other boat (subject to rule 16.1).

Under RRS 17, if Blue establishes a leeward overlap on Yellow from astern on a leeward leg, she is required to gybe for the leeward mark when she is clearly at the layline to that mark. Under TR 17, Blue can simply sail straight, holding Yellow out until Blue wants to jibe for the mark – which could be when they've passed the mark completely and have to beat back up to it, with Yellow in Blue's bad air. To my mind, this allows an exciting tactic and eliminates a difficult and inconsistent call. My only question is, why only downwind? It's much harder for a boat to get a hook on a beat, and if one does, why not let her luff the other boat?

All in all, the Test Rules for Match Racing raise some questions about suitability for non-instrumented boat, which will no coubt be addressed by the authors in the next couple of years. They raise far more questions about their suitability for fleet racing, and I'll address some of those questions in another posting on this blog. Meanwhile, remember: these Test Rules are only for match racing.

By the way, the boats in the diagram above reach the zone simultaneously, at position 3. See the same diagram, below, with the zone drawn in.