Small, Significant Rule Changes

The new rules clarify what it means to keep clear of a right-of-way boat, and exceptions to Rule 42, Propulsion, become slightly more generous.

September 18, 2013
Rule Changes

Rule Changes

Kim Downing

Two changes we’ll address this month are related to a basic principle underlying the Part 2 rules: Whenever a boat is on a course to pass near another boat, one of the two has right of way over the other, and the other is required to keep clear of the right-of-way boat. At any given moment in a race, you will always have right of way over some boats and at the same time be required to keep clear of other boats. For example, if you are on starboard tack, you have right of way over all boats on port tack as well as boats on starboard tack that are clear astern or overlapped to windward of you. However, you are required to keep clear of starboard-tack boats that are clear ahead of you or overlapped to leeward. The first sentence of the preamble to the Section A rules has been reworded to emphasize that the right-of-way/keep-clear relationship is always between a pair of boats.

Several changes, including one of substance, have been made in the wording of the definition Keep Clear (see below). For ease of reading and reference, the two parts of the definition have been separated and lettered (a) and (b). The wording has been clarified by referring to the right-of-way boat instead of to “another” or “the other” boat.

The significant change is in part (b) of the definition. In the past, this part of the definition has been important primarily in the final seconds before the start, at which time it is common for windward starboard-tack boats to get very close to leeward boats in an effort to avoid being over the line at the starting signal. The second part of the definition implies that such a windward boat fails to keep clear if she sails so close to the leeward boat that the leeward boat does not have “wiggle room,” i.e., space to both head up and bear away without immediately making contact with the windward boat.


Now part (b) of the definition will also apply to overlapped boats on opposite tacks. The defined term “overlap” only applies to a pair of boats on opposite tacks when Rule 18, Mark Room, applies between them or when both of them are sailing a course more than ninety degrees from the true wind (see the definition Clear Astern or Clear Ahead; Overlap).

The diagram shows Lasers in two situations in which part (b) can be important. Pam and Paul, on port tack, and Stu and Sue, on starboard, are running directly downwind. Pam is so close to Stu that if Stu were to bear off his boom would immediately make contact with Pam’s boom. Also, Paul is so close to Sue that if Sue were to head up or to bear off her hull would immediately make contact with Paul’s hull. Therefore, both Pam and Paul are failing to meet criterion (b) for keeping clear.

Rule 42.3, Propulsion
Changes have been made in three of the subsections of Rule 42.3. In Rule 42.3(c), the exception that allows one pump to initiate surfing or planing has been clarified and made slightly more generous. Under the old wording, you could pull the mainsheet in once to initiate surfing, but you were not permitted to pull directly on the main boom itself or to pull on any line attached to the boom other than the mainsheet. Now you may pull the mainsail in once using any means you like. Under the old rule, it was not clear whether you were permitted to pump the guy of a spinnaker once and then pump the sheet to initiate surfing a given wave, or whether you were limited to just one pump. The new rule is clear on this point—you may pump the sail once. Therefore, you may pump once on the sheet, or once on the guy, or once on both sheet and guy simultaneously. But, on a given wave, any additional pump made after the first pump breaks Rule 42.


The old wording said that surfing was “rapidly accelerating down the leeward side of a wave.” But not all waves move downwind. Suppose you are sailing closehauled and a powerboat motors past close to you. Its wake creates a big wave moving in the same direction that you are sailing, and if you pumped once at its crest, you could surf down the front of the wave. Last year such a pump would break Rule 42 because you would not be surfing down the “leeward side” of the wave. However, such a pump will not break the new rule. When a wave is “surfable,” you can now pump to initiate surfing down its frontside, no matter what direction the wave is moving.

Many mainsails have one or more full-length battens, and after you tack in light wind, sometimes a batten is “inverted”—i.e., it does not snap through to give the appropriate curvature to the main. When that happens sailors give the main one or more sharp pumps until the batten is no longer inverted. Last year, those pumps broke Rule 42.2(a). A new exception, Rule 42.3(e), has been added. You may now pump the sail until the batten is no longer inverted, provided that the pumping does not “clearly propel” your boat.

Last year, if you collided with a sailboat, you did not break Rule 42 if the crew of that sailboat pushed you clear. However, you did break Rule 42 if you collided with a boat that was not a sailboat and her crew pushed you clear. That was a silly complication. Henceforth, you do not break Rule 42 if the crew of any “vessel” that you collide with pushes you clear (see Rule 42.3(h) and Terminology in the Introduction).


Rule 22.3, Moving Astern
There is one more change in the rules of Part 2 that’s important. The phrase “through the water” has been added to Rule 22.3 so that it now reads, “A boat moving astern through the water by backing a sail shall keep clear of one that is not.” Rule 22.3 is in Section D, and as that section’s preamble states, when Rule 22.3 applies between two boats, the rule of Section A that would normally apply between those boats doesn’t apply. In years past I was often asked, “Does ‘moving astern’ mean moving backward through the water or backward over the ground?” The phrase added to new Rule 22.3 answers that question.

Changes to Keep Clear

2009-2012 Definition: One boat keeps clear of another if the other can sail her course with no need to take avoiding action and, when the boats are overlapped on the same tack, if the leeward boat can change course in both directions without immediately making contact with the windward boat.


2013-2016 Definition: A boat keeps clear of a right-of-way boat
(a) if the right-of-way boat can sail her course with no need to take avoiding action and
(b) when the boats are overlapped, if the right-of-way boat can also change course in both directions without immediately making contact.


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