Rules: Continuing Obstructions

The purpose of Rule 19.2(c) is to provide a fair game when boats are sailing in a strong adverse current close to a shoreline.

Rule 19.2 (c)

It’s been almost 10 years since I wrote about continuing obstructions in this column. Over that time the wording of the applicable rules has changed a lot, but the “game” that they imply at a shoreline in strong adverse current is essentially unchanged. In this column I apply today’s rules to the same incident that I discussed in March 2006.

The diagram depicts an incident that is a fine example of the typical situation in which boats are involved with a continuing obstruction. Ann rounded the windward mark clear ahead of Bert. The next leg was a run in light air and strong adverse current. The boats were one-design keelboats that drew about 5 feet. The water depth gradually decreased as the boats neared shore. The bottom was sandy and there were no dangerous rocks. Each boat had a depth sounder that enabled the crew to know how much water was under the keel. The boats could safely sail in about 7 feet of water with little risk of running aground — provided their crews monitored the water depth. The 7-foot contour line is shown in the  diagram.


The term obstruction is defined in the rulebook, but all that we learn about a continuing obstruction from that definition is, “a vessel under way, including a boat racing, is never a continuing obstruction.” This begs the question, “What is a continuing obstruction?”

In Terminology in the Introduction to the rulebook, we are told that words not defined in the rulebook are “used in the sense ordinarily understood in nautical or general use.” Obstructions are objects that boats pass during a race. My dictionaries suggest a continuing obstruction is an object that takes longer to pass than most obstructions. But that’s rather imprecise. There is no case that defines “continuing” more precisely, but Case 30 does state that a shoreline is a continuing obstruction. It seems obvious to me that a seawall, a pier, or an anchored or moored vessel, such as a freighter, would all qualify as continuing obstructions to a boat in a race, provided that they were many times longer than the boat.

Rule 19.2(b) is a rule that applies while overlapped boats are passing any obstruction, no matter how large it is. Rule 19.2(c) applies only while boats are passing a continuing obstruction.


Rule 19.2(c) is a rule that is not needed for safety. Instead, it provides a fair “game” to boats in the situation shown in the diagram — running in light winds and adverse current near a shore. Many competitors have never needed Rule 19.2(c) because they have never raced in places with strong currents where it often pays to hug the shore. However, if you race on a river or in a harbor with strong tidal currents, you may frequently use, and appreciate, Rule 19.2(c).

I will now discuss how Rule 19.2(b) applies to Ann and Bert and show you why Rule 19.2(c) makes the “game” fair. Shortly before Position 1, Ann rounded the windward mark clear ahead of Bert. Both boats immediately headed for the shore because, in the light wind and adverse current, their fastest track to the leeward mark was one that kept them in the shallowest water in which they could safely sail. That was the track along the 7-foot contour. At Position 2 they were both on that track, with Bert required to keep clear of Ann by Rule 12.

To illustrate why Rule 19.2(c) is needed, let’s assume for a moment that that rule was not in the rulebook. If Bert were to blanket Ann and slowly establish a small overlap between Ann’s transom and the shore, Rule 19.2(b) would require Ann — as soon as the overlap began — to move away from the shore and give Bert room to sail between her and the shore. This would enable Bert to benefit from the weaker current near shore and would force Ann away from the shore and into stronger adverse current. It wouldn’t be long until Bert was ahead of Ann. With no Rule 19.2(c), the boat in a close second place at the windward mark actually has an advantage over the first-place boat. That doesn’t seem fair. It is for this reason that for the past 30 years we have had a rule like Rule 19.2(c) in the rulebook — to take away the advantage that Rule 19.2(b), by itself, gave Bert.


Here’s how Rule 19.2(c) works: At Position 2 in the diagram, Bert was clear astern of Ann and required by Rule 12 to keep clear of her. Ann was sailing as close to the shore as it was safe to sail. If Bert had established an overlap between Ann and the shore and, at the moment the overlap began, there was not room for Bert to pass between Ann and the shore, Rule 19.2(c) states that Bert would not be entitled to room under Rule 19.2(b). Therefore Ann would not be required to move over and give Bert safe passage inside. Provided that Ann was indeed sailing as close to the shore as was safe, the odds are that Bert would run aground. And, if he did, Ann would not have broken any rule. Let’s now look at how Rules 19.2(b) and (c) work at Positions 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Between Positions 2 and 3, Ann jibed from starboard tack onto port while Bert remained on starboard. After she jibed, Rule 10 required her to keep clear of Bert. Ann soon realized that she no longer enjoyed Rule 19.2(c)’s protection because Bert was no longer required to keep clear of her, so she promptly jibed back onto starboard tack and regained protection under Rule 19.2(c).

At Position 4, Ann failed to notice that she had sailed into deeper water outside the 7-foot contour line. Therefore, at Position 5 there was room for Bert to sail between Ann and the shore, which he did. From then on the boats were overlapped, Rule 19.2(c) no longer applied, and Bert had the upper hand. While the boats remained overlapped, Ann was required by Rule 19.2(b) to give Bert room to sail between her and the shore.


At Position 6 the boats encountered a fishing pier. The pier, as well as the fishermen’s lines extending from it, were not separated by open water from the shoreline. Therefore the shoreline, the pier and the fishing lines were, in my opinion, all part of the same obstruction. Because Rule 19.2(c) did not apply and Bert was still overlapped inside Ann, Ann was required by Rule 19.2(b) to give Bert room to pass outside the pier and the fishing lines.

Email for Dick Rose may be sent to [email protected].


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