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Scuttlebutt News:

Dave Perry
The New 2009-2012 Rules Are Here!

On January 1, 2009, the new edition of The Racing Rules of Sailing go into effect. Dave Perry, Chairman of the US SAILING Appeals Committee, explains some of the game changes that the new rules will create.

For a complete explanation of the racing rules, get Dave’s classic book Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing available from US SAILING’s on-line store.

Same Tack; Proper Course - New three length zone - Mark-Room
Rule 18 clean-up - Gybing at a leeward mark - Obstructions - Room to Tack

Rule 17.2 (On the Same Tack; Proper Course) has been deleted.
This means that a windward boat or a boat clear ahead no longer has a proper course limitation when sailing near other boats. She can sail below her proper course if she wishes, for instance to make it more difficult for a boat astern to pass or establish an inside overlap nearing a mark. Windward boats must still keep clear of leeward boats under rule 11 (On the Same Tack, Overlapped).

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New three length zone; no more “about to round a mark.”
The previous rule 18 (which is the rule for rounding or passing marks and obstructions) began to apply when boats were “about to round or pass the mark or obstruction.” Though this was a useful, self-adjusting criteria given the varying speeds and levels of boat handling in the wide spectrum of boats and conditions that are raced under, it was also very vague and almost arbitrary. The new rules now create a definitive location where rule 18 begins to apply. It is when the boats reach the Zone, which is now three lengths from the mark (see definition Zone; note that sailing instructions can change the Zone to two or four lengths; and team and match racing are staying with two lengths, and radio-controlled boats are staying with four).

The game change here is that even if the boats are approaching the mark quickly and/or have a lot of sail handling to perform before rounding the mark, outside right-of-way boats do not need to start giving room until they or the inside boat reaches the Zone. However, outside boats are required to give the room the moment either of them reaches the Zone, so they must be ready for that obligation. And for boats clear ahead of others, they are “safe” from being overlapped on the inside when they reach the Zone, which is now three lengths from the mark, not two as in the previous rules.

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A new definition called Mark-Room.
Instead of saying “room at the mark,” there is a new concept called “mark-room” (see definition Mark-Room). In fact, it is not entirely new; the previous rule 18 contained a definition of room at a mark or obstruction that has now been incorporated into the new definition. “Mark-room” is the space a boat needs to sail “to” the mark in a seamanlike way; and then when she’s “at” the mark, the space she needs to sail her proper course around the mark. The primary difference is that the previous rules did not specifically require outside right-of-way boats to give inside boats room to sail “to” the mark, though most outside boats did so anyway. Once a boat gets to the point where she needs to turn around the mark, she can sail her fastest course from that point on (i.e., her proper course), which will normally be to smoothly turn around the mark passing as close as she dare. There is not much game change here.

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New rule 18 cleans up some confusion caused in the previous rule 18.
In the previous rule 18, if a boat on port-tack (P) reached the two-length zone clear ahead of a boat on starboard-tack (S), P became the right-of-way boat while they were in the act of rounding the mark. Having the port-tack boat be the right-of-way boat was very confusing. Under the new rules, S remains the right-of-way boat but must give P “mark-room” (see rule 18.2(b)). Also, under the previous rules, if a boat outside of two others entered the zone but then needed to sail back out to give the inside boats room, it was not clear whether rule 18 turned off for that boat (call it X) when it left the zone, such that boats astern that became overlapped on the inside when X reentered the zone were entitled to room. Under the new rule 18, it turns off when a boat leaves the zone for any reason, including giving room to inside boats (see rule 18.2(c)). However, with the new larger zone, it will be possible to remain in the zone longer while still giving room.

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Rule 18.4 (gybing at a leeward mark) does not apply at a gate mark.
This may be the biggest “game change” in the new rules. When a leeward “gate” is being used (two leeward marks close to one another that boats pass between and exit in either direction), rule 18.4 does not apply (see rule 18.4). That means that when a boat is approaching a gate mark on the inside with right of way over other boats (and assuming that rule 17 does not apply; i.e., she did not become overlapped from clear astern which would require her to not sail above her proper course), she does not need to gybe to sail her proper course around that mark for as long as she remains the right-of-way boat. She may sail farther from the mark than needed to sail her proper course, even if she has no intention of sailing over to the other gate mark. She might do this because she is having difficulty lowering her spinnaker, or because she wants to push the outside boat outside of the zone or over to the other mark. Outside keep-clear boats will need to keep clear of her under rules 10 (port/starboard) or 11 (windward/leeward). The take-away here is, more than ever, outside boats should not have their bows “locked” outside of boats they are giving room to or keeping clear of at marks.

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No more zones around “obstructions.”
Because the previous rule 18 applied at marks and obstructions, it created a two-length zone around every obstruction (such as other boats on the starting line or starboard tackers upwind). If boats were not overlapped before they were two lengths from these obstructions, inside boats were technically not entitled to room from outside boats. In reality however, most sailors did not consider the overlap situation at each zone as they reached down the starting line with everything happening very quickly. The new rules remove “zones” from all obstructions by breaking the old rule 18 into two new rules (rule 18 for rounding marks and rule 19 for passing obstructions). Under new rule 19, if boats are overlapped when they get to an obstruction, outside boats must give inside boats room to pass the obstruction, even if they weren’t overlapped before arriving at the obstruction. The only test for an inside boat establishing an overlap between an outside boat and an obstruction (other than a continuing obstruction) is whether the outside boat is able to give the inside boat room from the time the overlap is first established (see rule 19.2(b)). This does not represent a big game change.

But there will however be a small change on the starting line in the situation where a boat astern is considering sailing in between two boats that are luffing side by side. Right-of-way boats in a race can still be “obstructions” but in the new rules they are never “continuing” obstructions (see definition Obstruction). This will change the “test” for whether a boat astern can establish an overlap between two other boats. Under the previous rules, on the starting line a boat astern (B) could establish an overlap between a leeward boat (L) – which was the obstruction - and a windward boat (W) only if there was room for her to pass all the way between them in safety (windward boats used to let their booms hang out to leeward to narrow this space). The “test” under the new rules however is whether W can give B room to keep clear of L from the time the overlap begins (see rule 19.2(b)). It will still be tough for B to put her bow into a tight space because B has to initially give W room to keep clear when she becomes overlapped to leeward of W (rule 15), and give her room to keep clear if she then luffs (rule 16). But, if W can respond and create the space B needs, B is entitled to be there. The same will be true on a downwind leg when B approaches two boats ahead (L and W).

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Rule 20 (Room to Tack at an Obstruction) has a small but important change.
Rule 20 is previous rule 19; it is the rule that allows a boat to call for room to tack at an obstruction and requires the hailed boat to respond in one of two specific ways. The rule prohibits a boat from hailing when safety does not require her to make a substantial course change to avoid the obstruction, or if the obstruction is a mark that the hailed boat is fetching (see rule 20.3). However, it now states that when a boat is hailed, she *must respond* by tacking or hailing “You tack” (see rule 20.1(b)), even when the hailing boat has hailed when she is not allowed to under rule 20.3 (see above). This is for safety. To be clear, if the hailed boat thinks the hail is not allowed, she must still respond; if she doesn’t, she breaks rule 20.1(b) and will be penalized. After responding, she can then protest the hailing boat, who should then be penalized for breaking rule 20.3.

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