Rules for Offshore Races
Rules for Offshore Races
The rules that apply for a long-distance offshore race are strikingly different than those for a short ’round-the buoys affair. "Rules" from our May 2012 issue.
I recently asked the organizers of the Transpac Race when they last had a protest under the right-of-way rules. There was silence and some thoughtful scratching, and then one individual said, “I believe we had one in the 1990s.”
This wasn’t surprising because while incidents do occur before or immediately after the start, once boats separate, the odds of an incident become miniscule. Also, if there is an incident, competitors are more likely to take a penalty and avoid a protest hearing days, or even weeks, later. If there were to be a hearing of a Part 2 protest, the penalty for breaking a rule in an incident where there was no significant damage would likely be far less than disqualification.
Obviously, safety is a major concern for boats sailing well out to sea. The offshore community has developed its own extensive set of safety rules, The ISAF Offshore Special Regulations. The “Special Regs” are revised regularly by the International Sailing Federation. The Special Regs cover structural features and the stability of boats that enter offshore races as well as required supplies and equipment, including fixed and portable equipment and personal equipment used by the crew.
Of course, any race must have a Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions, and an offshore race is no exception. Most of us look to the NOR and SIs primarily for the schedule of races and the courses. There are, however, many important rules issues for offshore races that are not covered in either the racing rules or the Special Regs. These must be covered in the Notice of Race, in the Sailing Instructions, or in a special additional document, all of which are written by either the organizing authority or the race committee. Taken together, these documents are often very lengthy—running to as many as 40 or 50 pages. There are a few fundamental or “game defining” rules in these documents, but the bulk of the rules are procedural and designed to promote safety or to enable “spectators” to follow the course of the race on computer screens via the Internet.
Two game defining issues relate to Rule 41, Outside Help, and in particular to just how Rule 41(c) should be interpreted. That rule states that a boat may receive outside help “in the form of information freely available to all boats.”
For a race such as the Transpac, every navigator has Internet access and relies on electronically available weather forecasts for route planning. A boat owner could pay substantial fees for a private weather service. In an effort to make the Transpac a test of the skill of the crews on the boats—and not a test of the owners’ wallets and of talented experts on shore—the 2011 Transpac NOR contained a detailed rule amplifying Rule 41(c). In essence, competitors may only use weather information that is routinely available throughout the year to the general public, without charge, and whose availability is “publicly indexed,” i.e., it can be found via any search engine.