Stay in the Know: Racing Rule Changes for 2017

Every four years the Conference of World Sailing gets together to review, update, and amend the rules of our sport. Bryan Willis, the chairman of the jury, put together a great synopsis of the changes and what you need to know going into 2017.

The Race Committee at the J/70 Midwinters - Photo by Chris Howell

Changes in sailing rules are announced every four years and are always a big topic of conversation at the yacht club and regattas. There’s no one better at explaining how to put the rules into practice than Bryan Willis. Willis has been chairman of the jury and chief umpire for some of the most prestigious sailing events in the world, including the America's Cup and Olympics. He has served on International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Racing Rules Committee for over 25 years. Our thanks to Willis for providing the following summary of the changes that will be affecting our sport starting in 2017. Stay tuned for more related content and practical tips coming soon from members of the Quantum team.

Summary of Rule changes (from 2013-2016 to 2017-2020)

By Bryan Willis

Every year at the Conference of World Sailing (formerly the International Sailing Federation), improvements and amendments are made to the racing rules, but only every four years (in the year following the Olympic Games) are the ‘new rules’ published.

If you are new to racing, comparing what the rules were to what they are now will be of little interest. Simply purchase a book which explains the Racing Rules. This section is for sailors who have been racing for a while. 
As usual there are many small changes aimed at making the rules easier to understand or less ambiguous. There are also some changes that affect the way we play the game of sailing, but you may be pleased that there are far fewer significant changes this time, compared with 4 years ago.

The International Sailing Federation, which changed its name from the ‘International Yacht Racing Union’ not so many years ago, has changed its name again, and is now known as ‘World Sailing’.

A ‘U’ flag has been added to the Preparatory Signals. It means ‘Rule 30.3 is in effect’ so you can expect to see it, sometimes, displayed on the starting vessel as the preparatory signal four minutes before a start. Rule 30.3 (the ‘Uflag rule’) is a new rule: ‘If flag U 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, but not if the race is restarted or resailed.’

So it is slightly less severe than ‘the Black flag rule’ which does not permit a boat breaking that rule to sail in a restarted or re-sailed race. The ‘Black flag rule’ (which used to be rule 30.3) is now rule 30.4.

Race officers now have the following choices for ‘preparatory signals’ to be displayed at four minutes before the start, to warn what will happen to boats that are in the triangle formed by the starting line and the windward mark (or, in the case of the I flag, not completely on the pre-course side of the starting line or its extensions) at any time in the final minute before the starting signal:

P flag: no penalty – boats may return any way they like to the pre-start side before starting.
I flag: boats must sail back across an extension (i.e. not across the line itself) to the pre-start side before starting. 
Z flag: boats get a 20% scoring penalty (even if the race is restarted or re-sailed, in which case they are permitted to take part). They still must come back to the pre-start side and start. 
Z+I flags: boats must sail back across an extension (i.e. not across the line itself) to the pre-start side before starting, and in addition they get a 20% penalty.
U flag: boats breaking this rule are disqualified. However they can sail in the race if it is restarted or re-sailed. 
Black flag: boats breaking this rule are disqualified even if the race is restarted or re-sailed.

There is a new rule (rule 6) requiring competitors not to be involved in betting or corrupt practices.

There is a new rule (rule 7) requiring competitors and ‘support persons’ to comply with ‘Regulation 35, Disciplinary, Appeals and Review Code’. To include coaches (and parents) in these obligations is an important change.

There are some long-anticipated rule changes to Rule 69 (which is about cheating and bringing the sport into disrepute) which include a new requirement for competitors, owners and ‘support personnel’ not to commit an act of misconduct, which, strangely, was missing from previous editions of the rules. (‘Support persons’ are defined as anyone who provides support to a competitor e.g. parent, coach, manager, etc.).

A new rule has been added to Rule 18.2 (Giving Mark-Room): (d) Rules 18.2(b) and (c) cease to apply when the boat entitled to mark-room has been given that mark-room, or if she passes head to wind or leaves the zone. This clarifies the situation where the outside boat has given mark-room to the inside boat and the question arises as to when only the ‘normal’ rules apply. An outside leeward boat might want to luff. Once mark-room has been given then the outside boat’s obligation to give mark-room has been satisfied. The inside keep-clear boat loses ‘protection’ once she has been given room. Basically if the inside boat is able to respond without risk of hitting the mark, then she must respond.

Rule 18.3 (Tacking in the Zone) has been rewritten; the rule now applies only at a port-hand mark. (It was confusing trying to apply it at a starboard-hand mark). So now, approaching a port-hand windward mark, if you are tacking below or ahead of a starboard-tack boat, and as you go through head-to-wind and any part of your boat is inside the zone, then even though you become the right-of-way boat (clear ahead or to leeward), if the starboard tacker is forced to sail above close-hauled to avoid you, you break this rule, or, if she was clear astern and then chooses to go below you, you must give her room. 

Rule 19.1 (Room to pass an obstruction) has been changed so as to remove the conflict that occurred when three boats all overlapped with each other approach a mark with the windward boat on the inside. Rule 19 used to require the windward (inside) boat to give room to the middle boat to keep clear of the outside (leeward) boat (an obstruction) but rule 18 required the middle boat to give room to the inside boat (to pass the mark). The new rule 19 (requiring the windward of three boats to give room to the middle boat) no longer applies at a mark, so it is clear that each of the overlapping boats must give mark-room to the boat (or boats) inside her.

Rule 22.3: Dinghies hovering in a good place on the start line have developed a technique where they back the sail on the leeward side when heading above close-hauled on starboard tack. The sail un-stalls, forcing the boat not just to move astern but also to windward. The boat ahead always did and still does lose her right-of-way status if she is moving astern by backing her sail. What has changed is that if she moves towards a boat to windward of her (i.e. on her windward side) she now loses her right-of-way status (as leeward boat) if this sideways momentum is caused - backing a sail. These activities of course are relevant only to light dinghies where position on the starting line is everything, and speed can be built up very quickly. Heavier boats don’t hover! They approach the line with speed, maybe starting some distance from the favoured end, and gaining over the boats hovering at the favoured end who have to build speed. Rule 22.3 now reads: ‘A boat moving astern, or sideways to windward, through the water by backing a sail shall keep clear of one that is not’.

Rule 49.2: If you sail a keelboat with lifelines, you might want them to be sloppy so that your crew can get more of their weight outboard. Class rules for boats with lifelines usually include a requirement with respect to how much deflection is permitted, but for boats that have no applicable rule, there is a new requirement that lifelines must be taut.

Rule 55 is about disposal of trash into the water. The rule makes it clear that no trash should be put in the water at any time while afloat. However, it now also includes the ability for a protest committee to give a penalty less than disqualification for a breach of the rule.

‘Support persons’ (e.g. coaches, parents etc.) are now subject to the same rules governing behaviour as are competitors and boat owners. A breach of good manners or sportsmanship, unethical behaviour or ‘conduct that may bring the sport into disrepute’ are dealt with under a re-worded rule 69. Anyone (a sailor, a measurer, even a spectator) can submit a report to the protest committee claiming a breach, and the protest committee may then decide whether it is appropriate to open a hearing under rule 69. In such a hearing, support persons may be penalized if it is found that they have broken rule 69.

A measurer or measurement committee at a championship finding that a boat doesn’t meet the class rules, used to have to report the anomaly to the Race Committee, which would then decide whether or not to lodge a protest. Now, the ‘technical committee’ can itself lodge a protest. (Rule 60.4).

Sometimes a member of a protest committee has what might be perceived as a conflict of interest. He or she must declare it before the start of the hearing and if both parties agree, or the committee rules it is insignificant (after considering the views of the parties, the level of the conflict, the level of the event, the importance to each party, and the overall perception of fairness) the person can remain.

At major events the person with a conflict of interest cannot be a member of a protest committee. Nationality alone would not normally be considered a conflict of interest. (Rule 63.4)

When a boat is penalized under a class rule and the protest committee decides that the boat also broke the same rule in earlier races in the same event, the penalty may now be imposed for all such races. No further protest is necessary. (Rule 64.3(c))

There is a new rule dealing with the appointment of a Technical Committee by the organizing authority or the race committee to be responsible for equipment inspection and event measurement. (Rule 92)

A boat having been found to have broken Rule 2 (Fair Sailing) used to have a mandatory score of ‘DNE’ (do not discard, meaning the boat had to count the disqualification in her overall score). Now the protest committee may impose either a DSQ or a DNE.

A change to the introduction to Part 2 means that now a boat that damages another boat while not racing may be penalized, giving some comfort to those who found it unfair that their boat had been damaged (and maybe could not even race) but there was no penalty on the other boat.

Rule 40: When Y-flag is displayed ashore, personal buoyancy must be worn at all time when afloat.

Publishers’ notes: Bryan Willis is author of ‘The Rules in Practice 2017-2020’ and ‘The Racing Rules Companion 2017-2020’.

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