Racing Rules of Sailing

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Rules can get complicated

The Racing Rules of Sailing (often abbreviated to RRS) govern the conduct of yacht racing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, model boat racing, dinghy racing and virtually any other form of racing around a course with more than one vessel while powered by the wind. A new revision is published every four years (after the Olympic Games) by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), the sport's world governing body. The CURRENT EDITION (2013–2016) can be downloaded at the International Sailing Federation.[1]

1997 saw the most dramatic simplification to the Racing Rules of Sailing since the 1940s. They are based on four main right of way rules: [Part 2, Section A]

  1. Boats on a port tack shall keep clear of boats on starboard tack (Rule 10).
  2. When boats are on the same tack and overlapped, the boat to windward (the boat closest to the wind) shall keep clear of a leeward boat (Rule 11).
  3. When boats are on the same tack and not overlapped, the boat that is astern shall keep clear of the boat ahead. (Rule 12).
  4. When a boat is tacking (changing tack) it shall keep clear of boats that are not tacking (Rule 13).

Four rules with general limitations: [Part 2, Section B]

  1. Even if you have right-of-way, it is your duty to avoid a collision, once it becomes apparent that the other boat is not keeping clear (Rule 14).
  2. If you acquire right of way, you must initially give the other boat room to keep clear, unless you get right of way because of the other boat's actions. (Rule 15)
  3. A boat that changes course, even if it has the right-of-way, shall do so in a manner that gives the burdened boat a chance to "keep clear" (Rule 16).
  4. If you catch up with another boat and you want to pass it to leeward, you may not sail above your proper course i.e. you shall not luff higher than you would have done if that boat wasn't there (Rule 17)

Three rules about marks and obstructions [Part 2, Section C] and Three other rules about starting errors, taking penalties, moving astern and when you are capsized or anchored or run aground and finally about interfering with another boat.

In total there are 91 rules but (since the major simplification in 1997) only 15 rules govern what boats do when they meet on the water (part 2 rules). It is not necessary to know all of the rules to successfully compete in a dinghy race, but a knowledge of the basics is recommended.

Sailboat racing is a self-regulated sport. As stated by the Racing Rules of Sailing, "Competitors in the sport of sailing are governed by a body of rules that they are expected to follow and enforce. A fundamental principle of sportsmanship is that when competitors break a rule they will promptly take a penalty, which may be to retire.".[2]

Depending on the nature of the infraction, the penalty may be either: (1) performing a turn consisting of one tack and one gybe or (2) performing two turns consisting of two tacks and two gybes (except for windsurfing).

For most rules infractions, a competitor may be absolved from disqualification from the race by taking such a penalty. However, if the infraction caused injury or serious damage, or produced a significant advantage in the race or series, the penalty shall be to retire. If a competitor fails to take penalty turn(s) they may be disqualified after a hearing by the Protest Committee. The aforementioned principles do not apply to match racing (like the America's Cup) where on-the-water umpires impose penalties immediately after an infraction occurs.

Race signals[edit]

Sail races are governed with flags and sound signals to indicate flag changes. The flags used are taken from the International maritime signal flag set. During a race and for any signal concerning the race, these flags are defined in the ISAF Racing Rules of Sailing but the signal can be modified by the Sailing Instructions.

The raising (hoisting) or removing of a visual signal is accompanied by the emission of a sound signal to draw attention to the new signal. The type of the sound signal (one short sound, two short sounds, one long sound, etc.) is described by the rule according to the type of signal. The usual meanings of these flags are as follows:

Postponement signal[edit]

The Answering Pennant (AP) with or without a numerical pennant is used to indicate a postponed race. A numerical pennant below the AP denotes the time, in hours, of the race postponement.

Flag signal Number of sound signals when raised Number of sound signals when lowered Description
ICS Answer.svg
AP
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Races not yet started are postponed.
ICS Answer.svg
ICS Pennant One.svg
AP
1
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Races not yet started are postponed 1 hour.
ICS Answer.svg
ICS Pennant Two.svg
AP
2
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Races not yet started are postponed 2 hours.
ICS Answer.svg
ICS Pennant Three.svg
AP
3
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Races not yet started are postponed 3 hours.
ICS Answer.svg
ICS Alpha.svg
AP
A
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Races not yet started are postponed. No more racing today.
ICS Answer.svg
ICS Hotel.svg
AP
H
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Races not yet started are postponed. More information ashore.

Preparatory signal[edit]

These signal flags are used before a race start and most commonly as part of a start sequence/procedure.

Flag signal Number of sound signals when raised Number of sound signals when lowered Description
ICS Papa.svg
P
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Normal preparatory signal - no starting penalties are in effect. A boat over the line at the start can return through the line or round an ends but must keep clear of boats not returning.If they fail to return through the line however they will be scored OCS
ICS India.svg
I
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
The Round-an-End Rule 30.1 will be in effect. A boat over the line during the minute before the start must sail to the pre-start side of the line around either end before starting. If they fail to do this they will be scored OCS
ICS Zulu.svg
Z
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
The 20% Penalty Rule 30.2 will be in effect. A boat within the triangle formed by the ends of the line and the first mark during the minute before the start will receive a 20% scoring penalty
ICS India.svg
ICS Zulu.svg
I
Z
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Both the I flag rule and the Z flag Rule will be in effect during the minute before the start. If they fail to round and end then they will be scored OCS
Auto Racing Black.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
The Black Flag Rule 30.3 will be in effect. A boat within the triangle formed by the ends of the line and the first mark during the minute before the start will be disqualified without a hearing

Start signal[edit]

These signal flags are used in the pre-start procedure. Class flags can be numeral pennants 1 ICS Pennant One.svg, 2 ICS Pennant Two.svg, and 3 ICS Pennant Three.svg however they can be substituted to avoid confusion with the postponement signals relating to a particular class.

Flag signal Number of sound signals when raised Number of sound signals when lowered Description
ICS Pennant One.svg
,
1
Speaker Icon.svg
Warning Signal. 5 minutes to race start when class flag raised.
ICS Pennant One.svg
ICS Papa.svg
1
P
Speaker Icon.svg
Preparatory signal. 4 minutes to start when P flag raised. Flag P used or if a starting penalty applies I, Z, Black flag or I over Z is used in place of P.
ICS Pennant One.svg
ICS Papa.svg
1
P
Speaker Icon.svg
Long sound
Preparatory signal. P flag removed 1 minute before start. Flag P used or if a starting penalty applies I, Z, Black flag or I over Z is used in place of P.
ICS Pennant One.svg
1
Speaker Icon.svg
Start Signal. Race start when class flag removed.

Recall signal[edit]

Flag signal Number of sound signals when raised Number of sound signals when lowered Description
ICS X-ray.svg
X
Speaker Icon.svg
Individual recall.

One or more boats did not start correctly and must return and do a proper start. The X flag is displayed until the earliest of the following: all boats over the line early have returned correctly, 4 minutes from the start or until one minute before the next start. (The sound signal is in addition to the start sound signal)

ICS Repeat One.svg
1st Sub
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
General recall.

All boats are to return and then a new start sequence will begin. Signaled when there are unidentified boats over the line or subject to one of the starting penalties, or there has been an error in the starting procedure. The new warning signal for the recalled class will be made 1 minute after the 1st substitute is removed. (The two sound signals when the first substitute is displayed are in addition to the start sound signal)

Course change signal[edit]

Flag signal Number of sound signals when raised Number of sound signals when lowered Description
ICS Sierra.svg
S
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Shortened Course.

When displayed at a rounding mark the finish is between the nearby mark and the mast displaying the S flag. When displayed at a line that boats are required to cross at the end of each lap the finish is that line. When displayed at a gate the finish is between the gate marks.

ICS Charlie.svg
C
Speaker Icon.svg
...
Speaker Icon.svg
Course Change.

When displayed at a rounding mark, the position of the next mark has been changed. If the direction to the mark has changed it shall be indicated by displaying the new compass bearing or a green triangular flag (or board) for a change to starboard or a red rectangular flag (or board) for a change to port. If the length of the leg has changed then this shall be signalled by displaying a "-" if the leg will shorter or a "+" if the leg will be longer. Repeated sound signals should be made to draw attention to the signal.

Abandonment signal[edit]

Flag signal Number of sound signals when raised Number of sound signals when lowered Description
ICS November.svg
N
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
All races that have started are abandoned. Return to starting area for a new start. The first warning signal will be made 1 minute after N is removed.
ICS November.svg
ICS Alpha.svg
N
A
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
All races are abandoned. No more racing today.
ICS November.svg
ICS Hotel.svg
N
H
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
Speaker Icon.svg
All races are abandoned. More information ashore.

Other signals[edit]

Flag signal Number of sound signals when raised Number of sound signals when lowered Description
ICS Lima.svg
L
Speaker Icon.svg
When displayed afloat means: Come within hail or follow this boat.

When displayed ashore means: A notice to competitors has been posted.

ICS Mike.svg
M
Speaker Icon.svg
...
Speaker Icon.svg
Indicates a boat or an object displaying this signal replaces a missing mark.

Repeated sound signals should be made to draw attention to the signal.

ICS Yankee.svg
Y
Speaker Icon.svg
All people on board should wear a personal life jacket or personal buoyancy.
Auto Racing Plain Blue.svg
BLUE When displayed the race committee boat is in position at the finishing line.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

External links[edit]