The Racing Rules of Sailing

The Racing Rules of Sailing

The Racing Rules of Sailing

Sailing season is coming soon in the Northeast, thank goodness. One of our annual spring rituals is to brush up on The Racing Rules of Sailing. So last Sunday found me at Oakcliff Sailing for the North U. Rules + Tactics Seminar. Talking about rules for 8 hours on a gray Sunday sounds like a snoozefest, right? If you think that, it’s only because you haven’t met Dave Perry.Dave Perry teaching The Racing Rules of Sailing at Oakcliff

Dave Perry is not just a renowned sailor and sailing coach. He’s all that of course – he was a junior standout on the Long Island Sound, a college sailing champion and All-American at Yale, and winner of class championships in everything from Laser Worlds to the U.S. Match Racing Circuit. He’s coached Olympians and advised America’s Cup teams on rules. He actually wrote the seminar and workbook for the Rules + Tactics seminars. So this is a guy that knows his stuff.

But he’s not just a badass sailor and rules expert – he’s also the only guy that can actually make learning the racing rules fun. Dave has a big voice and an even bigger personality. He’s the guy who wears flip flops on a 37 degree day in March. The guy who tells you to listen to that “oh shit” voice in your gut more than the people yelling at you from other boats. The guy who recommends measuring out three boat lengths on land so that you’ll know what the zone looks like on the water. There’s no way you can sit through one of his seminars and not both laugh and learn something.

To keep things interesting for racers, every four years the international governing body for sailing, World Sailing, issues a new version of The Racing Rules of Sailing. It makes sense; boat design and technology are continually advancing, and the rules need to adapt. But it also means that learning the racing rules is never a one and done thing. And Dave makes a solid case for why it’s so important to know and understand the rules.

Knowing the rules and being able to apply them on the course enables you to be a better sailor and better tactician. It will also greatly increase your enjoyment of racing. Sail racing is unique in that “there are no adults out there” (a Dave-ism) to make sure everyone plays nice – it’s up to all sailors to self-police their actions on the course. When you and the people you sail with (and against) understand and uphold the rules, it’s a much more pleasurable experience for everyone. As Dave says, we’d all much rather be sharing a beer after racing than hashing things out in the protest room.

The Rules + Tactics seminar focuses primarily on Part 2 – When Boats Meet, as this is where the majority of potential conflict lies on the course. Dave walks through the basics of right of way – port/starboard, windward/leeward, clear ahead/astern – and then digs into details around acquiring right of way, changing course, and marks and obstructions.

The Racing Rules of Sailing and Racing + Tactics Workbook

One of Dave’s unique skills is to take the somewhat arcane language of The Racing Rules of Sailing and make it completely understandable. For example, here’s the text of Rule 17:

Rule 17: ON THE SAME TACK; PROPER COURSE – If a boat clear astern becomes overlapped within two of her hull lengths to leeward of a boat on the same tack, she shall not sail above her proper course while they remain on the same tack and overlapped within that distance, unless in doing so she promptly sails astern of the other boat.

Hmmmm, clear as mud. But in Dave’s language, this becomes the “Back Door Rule” – meaning that a boat overtaking you at a close distance does not have luffing rights. They can’t force you to sail above proper course just to mess with you. See how much easier that is? And once you’ve heard him describe how to handle port approachers at the start as a”sharks and minnows situation” you’ll never forget to defend your hole on the start line against those port tacking sharks!

If you haven’t been to a North U. Rules + Tactics Seminar yet this year, there’s still time before the season starts. If you’re a US Sailing member, you get a free copy of the new Racing Rules of Sailing with your membership. Log in or create an account at US Sailing to request your copy. And if you’re not a US Sailing member, why not? It’s a fantastic organization, especially for racing sailors.

Many thanks to US Sailing and North Sails for making the seminars possible, and to Oakcliff Sailing for hosting the event. There are some great things happening at Oakcliff right now, more on that in a later post. Happy racing everyone!

Are you ready for sailing season? Now is the time to gear up! For cooler spring temps, we recommend our Newport Crop pants, Marblehead Pullover as a base layer, and the Vineyard Vest to keep out the wind and spray.
US Sailing Team Training Center Oakcliff Racing Rules of Sailing

Are you ready for sailing season? Now is the time to gear up! For cooler spring temps, we recommend our Newport Crop pants and the Vineyard Vest.