What’s Going On Out There?

I have heard many comments this summer about out-of-control rule-breaking, and have personally witnessed a number of such incidents. I believe there are several reasons for this unfortunate state of affairs. First, because summer evening racing  is “informal”,  as contrasted with the High Point series, there is a natural tendency to be more informal as to application of the rules. After all, everyone knows no one is going bother lodging a protest, and host yacht clubs do not wish to staff protest committees on summer evenings.

 Another reason is a direct result of the success and popularity of the Harbor 20 Fleet which is growing with an influx of both inexperienced racing sailors, and very experienced sailors transitioning from other fleets. Those new to the game have had limited time to learn these complex rules and many of the experienced sailors have demonstrated an outdated knowledge of the rules. While similar to the rules one may have learned 10 or 20 years ago, the current rules are NOT THE SAME. The Racing Rules of Sailing are updated every four years in conjunction with the Olympics. 

In 2008, an increasing emphasis on safety resulted in a complete re-write of Section C “At Marks and Obstructions”.  And, that is exactly where the majority of our problems are occurring, which are caused by boats approaching the windward mark on port tack which is strongly discouraged under the current rules, and boats not giving adequate mark-room at the leeward mark. If you have not studied Rule 18 in the 2008-2012 Racing Rules of Sailing, you are likely part of the problem.

When you sign the entry form for a race, you are required to agree that you will abide by the Racing Rules of Sailing. Rule #3 “ACCEPTANCE OF THE RULES” states that “By participating in a race conducted under these racing rules, each competitor and boat owner agrees to be governed by the rules”. So, if you do not know the rules, you are actually already breaking them by entering and participating in a race.

The reality is that if one has not studied the rules, one cannot actually know the rules. The collective rules “knowledge” at most yacht clubs could be described as “tribal”, which is incomplete at best, and incorrect at worst. But, Harbor 20 Fleet 1 aspires to a higher standard, as evidenced by the fact that a majority of our participants have already attended the comprehensive “Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing” one-day seminar at least once. And the timing is right, because the second presentation of this seminar in 2012 is coming up on September 9. If you are not well versed in the rules, or you know someone who could benefit by attending, please come join us, or urge others to attend.

If you are thinking “I’ll just wait until next year because the rules will change again”, Dave Perry has informed me that the changes to the rules in Part 2 are not substantive.  And, if you think you really do know the rules, you can test your knowledge by taking Dave Dellenbaugh’s “Rules Quiz”.  Experience has shown that there is a direct correlation between the quality of competition in Harbor 20 Fleet 1 and the number of our sailors who have attended this comprehensive seminar. So please, either attend yourself, or urge someone else who could benefit by the experience. You’ll be glad you did!

Rules Quiz

Course Description

Registration Form


  • Ed Kimball

    Excellent commentary!

  • Ned Nielsen

    Our fleet in Hilton Head SC had a lot of the same rules problems on wed night races. What happened, by people not knowing the current rules, was our fleet turned off a lot of new people who maybe would have joined our fleet. The bigger problem was some good People stopped racing. The boats are so equal on short courses these problems will continue. Suggestions to improve the problem, Make the courses longer and set an offset mark at the top mark. Bring in the rules experts to help teach everyone. Every member of our fleet signed an agreement that we would all act as gentlemen on the race course with NO Yelling. If there was a foul put the flag up and no Yelling and discuss when we got back to the club.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.