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DSC Sailing Rules Review


We will be running a series of articles over the season to review some of the commonly encountered situations while sailing in club races, the rules that apply and interpretation of the rules based on some of the World Sailing Case Book cases.

These situations will be familiar to all who race sailboats and many will have questions around these scenarios that we hope we can provide some clarity and insight. Racing at DSC is meant to be fun and enjoyed by all – a clear understanding of the rules makes it safer and less stressful for everyone.

Rules and Situations at the Start of a Race


The Racing Rules of Sailing (2017-2020) govern the rules of sailing and apply throughout the race – commencing with the Start. It is the responsibility of all race participants to know and apply the rules, especially the skipper of the boat who has ultimate responsibility for their boat and crew.

I have been observing the behaviour of our yachts during this season’s Twilight Series and note that there are a couple of scenarios that commonly occur, and the fleet can benefit from applying a better understanding of the rules. Twilight racing is intended to be fun – the races are not serious – the series is PHS so handicaps (and therefore race results) vary widely throughout the season. We’re not racing for “sheep stations” and so there shouldn’t really be a need to place our yachts in positions of potential danger, either by not knowing the rules, or pushing them to their limit.

Scenario 1 – the “Serial Barger”

Often accompanied by a lot of shouting, this is the yacht that attempts to barge in at the boat end of the line in the last few seconds of the countdown to the start. As well as being clearly very dangerous, the “barger” is breaching a number of rules:

Rule 11: On the same tack, overlapped – a windward boat shall keep clear of a leeward boat, or; Rule 12: On the same tack not overlapped – a boat clear astern shall keep clear of a boat clear ahead. Section C rules (keeping clear at marks) does not apply to the start.

The boat attempting to barge the line has no rights. They are also bound by Rule 14: Avoiding Contact, to keep clear. They have room to keep clear by either sailing the wrong side of the committee boat or slowing down and passing astern of the right-of-way boats. Even though the leeward boat has right-of-way, they too are bound by Rule 14 and should also avoid contact – especially if dangerous – and then immediately protest the infringing yacht. While no-one really wants the hassle of a lodging a protest, if the “serial barger” knows that there will be consequences, then it may avoid a reoccurrence.

As an extreme, I have seen yachts Reaching into the starting area without regard to the majority of the fleet lined up close-hauled and cause havoc. The Reaching yacht has no rights – they are a windward boat and must keep clear of all boats to leeward.

Scenario 2 – Luffing at the Start

A leeward boat may luff (force up) a boat overlapped to windward as rule 11 applies and rule 17 – on the same tack proper course, allows the leeward boat to luff up to head-to-wind as no Proper Course is yet established before the start. However, the leeward boat is bound by rule 16.1 – when a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear.

This has two implications at the start line:

  • If the leeward boat acquires the overlap from astern then she cannot immediately luff and require the windward boat to keep clear – she must give the windward boat time to respond and this includes being able to keep clear of other overlapped boats to windward – rule 15 – acquiring right-of-way. The windward boat doesn’t need to anticipate the soon-to-be acquired overlap and only needs to respond to any luff after the overlap is acquired.
  • If the leeward boat is sailing a straight course past the committee boat allowing enough room for a windward boat to also sail clear of the committee boat, then she may not luff the windward boat into the committee boat as they then cannot escape – this is not giving enough room to keep clear. If the leeward boat wishes to shut the windward boat out of this position she must luff before reaching the committee boat allowing the windward boat to keep clear.

In simpler terms – a boat sailing faster to the line before the starting signal can’t sail into a leeward position and immediately or aggressively luff as she is not complying with rule 16.1 as she needs to give room to keep clear.

In both scenarios – after the starting signal, boats may not luff above their proper course which is either close-hauled or the course which takes you just astern of the committee boat – rule 17. Proper Course is defined as: A course a boat would sail to finish as soon as possible in the absence of the other boats referred to in the rule using the term. A boat has no proper course before her starting signal.

It is also worthwhile noting the DSC Sailing Instructions – 12.3 Boats must keep clear of the start line and other boats starting. Until your fleet’s starting sequence keep well away from the start line and other boats starting their race.

The World Sailing Case Book offers a number of examples and explanations – Case 13 and Case 53 may provide further insight. The Case Book is available online at: http://www.sailing.org/documents/caseandcall/case-book.php

Sailing and starting safely requires a sound understanding of the rules and tactics that may be used before the start, but the important thing is to avoid putting your boat and crew into a position of danger or find yourself in a protest meeting – really spoils the fun of a warm, enjoyable summer twilight race.

A later article will cover Protests in some detail but it is worth noting that if you do wish to protest another boat it is necessary to observe the rules (RRS, 61, and DSC Sis – Attachment 1, 13. Protests), especially the requirement for vessels over 6m to display a red flag and to inform the other boat at the earliest opportunity. The Infringing boat may also either withdraw from the race or exonerate herself by taking a penalty (RRS 31, 44.1, 44.2).

The Racing Rules of Sailing with Australian Sailing Prescriptions are available free and online: http://www.sailing.org.au/2017-2020-racing-rules-sailing-now-available/. Another excellent publication is The Rules in Practice 2017-2020, Bryan Willis, available from several suppliers – this includes detailed analysis and examples for better understanding of the rules: https://www.boatbooks-aust.com.au/product_info.php?products_id=31915

Peter Robinson – Sailing Manager

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