A Right-of-Way Mystery Solved
A Right-of-Way Mystery Solved
Two reader questions give the rules a workout and point out a few features not covered in any beginner’s guide to the rules. "Rules" from our October 2010 issue.
Collisions without fouls
I’d bet most readers believe that when there’s contact between boats racing, someone has broken a rule. Not so. It’s possible for contact to occur, even with damage, without either boat breaking a rule. An answer to a question from John Shortman, of Brunswick, Ga., illustrates this fact.
In a dying wind, John and Joe were battling adverse current. Upon realizing he was losing headway to the current, Joe set his anchor. Soon thereafter John lost steerageway. Despite John having done everything he could to avoid Joe, the boats touched (with no damage resulting). There was no protest, but John and Joe disagreed as to who was in the right. A friendly wager ensued, with a case of beer bet on my answer.
In my opinion, despite the contact, neither boat broke a rule. Rule 45 permitted Joe to anchor, and as soon as Joe did so, Rule 22, and not the usual right-of-way rules (Rules 10 to 13), applied between John and Joe. Afer Joe anchored, Rule 22 required John to “avoid” Joe “if possible.” John did everything he could to avoid Joe. Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude that it was not possible for John to avoid contact. So John did not break Rule 22.
Rule 14 applied to both John and Joe at all times. Its first sentence requires that “A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible.” Clearly, while anchored Joe could not avoid contact. For the same reason that John did not break Rule 22, he also did not break Rule 14’s first sentence. (Rule 14’s second sentence did not apply because, while Rule 22 applied, neither boat held right of way over the other, and neither was required to give the other room or mark-room.)
Considering the draw, I suggested the beer be sent to me, but it has not arrived.
There are other Rule 22 situations in which contact, even contact involving damage or injury, can occur without either boat breaking a rule. I’ll provide two examples. During a race on a river in England years ago, two boats on the same tack were close to each other running against the current. I was in the boat clear astern and was required by Rule 12 to keep clear. To minimize the adverse effect of the current, we were both sailing as close to the shore as we dared. The clear ahead boat abruptly ran aground and, despite my effort to avoid her, we collided. As in the anchoring situation, when the clear ahead boat ran aground, Rule 22 replaced the basic rule (Rule 12) and neither boat broke a rule.
Rule 22 also applies when a boat capsizes or has not regained control after capsizing. The rule states that a boat is “capsized” when her masthead hits the water. Therefore, if you capsize, Rule 22 replaces Rules 10 to 13 from the moment your masthead touches the water until you regain maneuverability after righting your boat. I witnessed an incident involving Lasers where a clear ahead boat with right of way under Rule 12 death rolled, placing her mast squarely in the path of the clear astern boat which could not avoid running over it. In this case neither boat broke a rule. However, if two boats on opposite tacks were running alongside each other and the port-tack boat death rolled, Rule 22 would not apply until her masthead hit the water. If the mast of a port-tack boat rolled onto the deck of the starboard-tack boat, the port-tack boat would break Rule 10. The lesson here is that, when sailing a boat that can death roll or broach in wild conditions, stay far enough from others so that, if you do roll, your masthead will not touch another boat before it hits the water.