Five Important Hails
Five Important Hails
In the heat of competition, what you say is as important as when, and how you say it.
The editor recently asked me to write a column about hails. Hails (i.e., “Starboard!” “Room!” or “Leeward boat”), while useful, are not required by the rules. But there are several ways in which a hail can be helpful. A hail will often save you from becoming involved in a rules dispute or contact with another boat. Almost invariably, contact and heated verbal exchanges will slow you down and distract you from the primary tasks at hand—maintaining maximum speed toward the next mark, picking the best track through the wind and current, and paying attention to your tactics. A courtesy hail can often help avoid a trip to the protest room, and occasionally a hail can confer a tactical advantage.
Before I list my favorite hails and when to use them, let’s cover how to hail. In an emergency situation, when a serious collision is about to happen, any member of your crew should be authorized to hail whatever words might help avert damage. However, 99 percent of the time there is no emergency and the decision whether to hail and what to hail should be made by one person on your boat—usually the helmsperson or the tactician. The main reason for this is that you can get yourself in trouble if your hail is not consistent with your plan of action. For example, on a beat, if you are on starboard tack approaching a boat on port, a hail of “starboard” coming from your bowman signals to the boat on port that you intend to hold your course and expect the port-tack boat to keep clear. However, if port then bears off to duck you and you tack right in her path, you risk a collision and probably a messy protest involving Rule 16.2.
In a moderate breeze, when the boat you’re hailing is close to you, your “hailer” can simply make the hail himself, adjusting the volume of his hail to make sure he’s heard. However, there will be situations when it pays to make a louder hail than just one person can make. In that case, I suggest the “hailer” alert the crew by saying, for example, “On the count of three we all hail ‘Starboard.’” Then he can count down to coordinate the hail. This would be appropriate when the wind, waves, or luffing sails are making lots of noise or when the people you’re hailing are wearing hats or hoods that cover their ears. It’s also a good idea to hail very loudly when you want your hail to be heard by other boats in the vicinity to draw their attention to the forthcoming incident. This may increase the odds that you’ll be able to find a witness able to testify to what happened and to the words you hailed.