There's No Escaping the Rules
There's No Escaping the Rules
Encouraging the use of international navigational rules for casual racing may seem like a simple solution, but they fail to address the sport’s complicated nuances. "Rules" from our November/December 2011 issue.
The second diagram shows Inge and Oscar, who have been overlapped for a long time, approaching a leeward mark in open water. They are required to leave to the mark to port. Obviously, under the racing rules Inge would be entitled to mark-room from Oscar. No such rule exists in the COLREGS. Under the government rules, Inge must keep clear of Oscar and she is not entitled to room from him to leave the mark to port.
The third diagram shows a very simple luffing situation. Suppose Wendy has overtaken Lou from astern, and Lou luffs her after she is overlapped to windward of him. Provided Lou’s luff is slow enough to give Wendy room to keep clear, Lou breaks no racing rule. Under the COLREGS Lou does break a rule—COLREG 17, which states, “Where one of two vessels is to keep out of the way, the other shall keep her course and speed.” Wendy is required by COLREG 12 to keep out of Lou’s way, and therefore Lou is required to hold his course and maintain his speed. Lou’s luff breaks COLREG 17.
There are major differences between the COLREGS and the racing rules that markedly change the game. The three examples above just scratch the surface. I have tried applying the COLREGS to a fleet of boats tacking up a beat in close proximity to one another. The complexity of the COLREGS in such situations would make your head spin, and it is frequently not at all clear which COLREGS apply and when. Yet the racing rules handle such situations quite simply and easily.
I have not even mentioned the whistle or horn that all the boats in the diagrams would be required to carry on board and sound if they thought that another boat was not going to keep clear. COLREG 34 requires a vessel that is in doubt as to whether another vessel will avoid a collision to give at least five short and rapid blasts on her whistle or horn.
I conclude from this analysis of the two sets of rules that there are major problems with asking racing sailors, who compete under the racing rules in most races, to sail Beer Can races under the COLREGS. It seems to me that the risk of collision is much higher when a race is held under the COLREGS than it is when the racing rules are used. I can easily imagine the chaos at a leeward mark where boats, such as Inge in the diagram, are denied room or where a port-tack boat in Deb’s position demands that Stu, on starboard tack, keep clear of her.
I’ve served as an expert witness in legal cases that involve collisions between racing sailboats. A recent case involved a beer-can race run under the COLREGS. A simple tacking-too-close incident was messy to sort out, and it was clear from the statement of the owner of the damaged boat that he was applying the racing rules—even though the notice for the race stated that the “rules of the road” applied.
Therefore, it is my strong recommendation that beer-can races state in their pre-race publicity (or in their notice of race and sailing instructions, if they issue them) that the races will be governed by The Racing Rules of Sailing.
In order to help them keep the racing simple and fun, beer-can race organizers could provide novice racers with one of two products available from the US SAILING online store. The Handy Guide to the Racing Rules is a short pamphlet containing a simplified version of the Part 2 rules of our sport. The Rules in Brief is a postcard-sized guide containing a summary of the most important rules that apply when boats meet. Each of these products can be bought in bulk at a modest price. Go to www.ussailing.org, click on “store” and then “racing.”