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Basics Rules of the Road

The rules of the road have specific terminology which it is useful to understand

The basis of the rules of the road are that in every situation, one boat is a stand on vessel and the other is a give way vessel. If both vessels take the correct action there can not be a collision.

  • The give way vessel should (as the name suggests) avoid the stand on vessel, allowing them to continue without deviating from their course.
  • The stand on vessel should maintain their course unless / until they believe contact is inevitable (if they maintain their course) at which point they should deviate to avoid contact
  • Note: If boats make contact then both boats have broken the rules, but the stand on vessel would win the protest as their actions were forced by the give way vessel.

Three Basic rules to understand when taking to the water

There is a whole book on the rules of racing published by World Sailing but there are only 3 core rules you'll need to know to start a race. Although written for racing, the rules are adapted from the collision regulations, so should be followed when cruising as well......

Rule 10. On Opposite Tacks (Port/Starboard)

"When boats are on opposite tacks, a port-tack boat shall keep clear of a starboard-tack boat".

  • Most often applied when you are tacking, (often on the way to the first mark), if you are on Starboard (wind coming over the starboard (right) side of the boat) you have right of way over a boat on the opposite tack.
  • It is worth noting that this same rule applies for two boats running downwind on different tacks.
  • You may also encounter this rule when legs of a course cross each other, meaning that boats approach each other on different tacks.

The right of way boat should hail "Starboard" to the other boat and then maintain a watch to check that the give way boat has changed course

Rule 11. On the Same Tack, Overlapped (Windward/ Leeward)

"When boats are on the same tack and overlapped, a windward boat shall keep clear of a leeward boat."

  • If two boats are side by side and on the same tack, the boat closer to the wind gives way - often applies before the start or when boats are on the same leg and off the wind.
  • There are a few variations that the leading sailors get excited about (they will mutter complex things about overlaps and sailing your proper course), but just remember the basic bit.
  • It also crops up in upwind sailing when different types of boats are sailing alongside each other - a 2 sail boat can sail closer to the wind than a single sailed boat. If the boat below you can sail closer to the wind than you, the best thing to do is tack off

The right of way boat (wanting to sail higher than the boat (or boats) to windward of them) should hail "Windward Boat (keep Clear)" to the other craft. The right of way boat must give the give way boat room to change their course in a seamanlike fashion - which basically means don't get too close to each other before hailing.

Rule 18. Mark-Room

This one gets a bit more complex. However if you imagine a ring around the mark, which has a radius of 3 boat lengths (the Zone), if two boats are on the same tack and overlapped when the bow of the first boat reaches the perimeter of The Zone, the boat that has got the inside overlap to the mark (i.e. the front of their boat is ahead of the rear of the boat ahead) has to be given room to go round the mark.

  • The inside boat should hail "water at the mark". If there is no overlap (at 3 boat lengths from the mark), then you can respond "No Water" and continue as normal, but in the early stages, it's probably wise to just give them room.
  • Giving room requires you to give them sufficient space to make a seamanlike rounding of the mark onto the proper course for the next mark - this includes avoiding booms etc during a gybe round the mark.
  • If multiple boats are all overlapped inside of each other, mark room must be given to them all
  • Note: If two boats meet at a windward mark on opposite tacks (but overlapped in the 3 boat zone) then rule 18 does not apply - Rule 10 (Port / Starboard) does.

What happens if you get it wrong?

The main concern should be to avoid contact with another boat.

  • If the stand on boat has had to take avoiding action because you have broken a rule, you will need to do a 720-degree turn i.e. go round twice. It's easier to bear away and start with a gybe. You will know when you have to do this because the other boat will be bellowing at you to do your turns.
  • If you accidentally touch a mark, then you do a 360-degree (once round) turn sometime after the mark but before the next mark.

If you think you are in the right but not sure?

Feel you have you been carved up by one of the experienced sailors but not felt you knew the rules well enough to protest? Three pieces of advice

  1. Have a chat with the other sailors after the race - you'll get a good idea if they correctly followed the rules (or not). If you feel your race result was affected by the incident (or you need to involve insurance companies as a result of the incident), then consider escalating to a protest
  2. No one minds a protest - it's a good way to find out who was wrong, so speak to the race officer if you are not sure for some guidance. Don't just let it go, as at a minimum they will be able to explain the situation and who was in the right so you can learn (known as a hearing of the facts - a protest, but without a penalty being awarded).
  3. Learn a few more of the key rules.
    1. Read the Racing Rules of Sailing on the world sailing website - there is also some great guidance on how the rules should be applied (known as the case book)
    2. There are many of some great books on the rules, but don't buy a copy of the rules, but a book on the key situations
    3. There are plenty of resources online (Try the RYA YouTube Dinghy Racing channel)
    4. Why not have a go at this quiz it contains the key situations and will let you practice and learn
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