Part 3 (Rules 25 – 37) of the Racing Rules of Sailing covers conduct of a race. These rules are important for both sailors and the race committee. In this article, we’ll highlight the items important to sailors.
This series updates the Inland Lake Yachting Association (ILYA) #FairSailing initiative begun in 2018. In the update, we’ve incorporated the 2021-2024 changes and added a video version of the article.
Video – Conduct of a Race
Rule 25 – Notice of Race, Sailing Instructions and Signals
We won’t go over Rule 25 in detail here, since it applies more to the race committee than to sailors. The most important part for sailors is Rule 25.1, which states that “the notice of race [NoR] shall be made available to each boat that enters an event before she enters. The sailing instructions [SIs] shall be made available to each boat before the race begins.”
The NoR and SIs have always been important to sailors. With the 2021-2024 rules changes, the NoR becomes even more important:
- The NoR can now contain some information that was previously required in the SIs. If so, this information won’t be repeated in the SIs. Appendix J contains an updated list of NoR and SI content.
- The organizers must make the NoR available before boats enter the event. Previously it was only required to be available before the race. The wording in red above shows the change.
The take-away for sailors is to read both the NoR and SIs.
Rule 26 – Starting Races
“Races shall be started by using the following signals. Times shall be
taken from the visual signals; the absence of a sound signal shall be
As a sailor, how do you determine when the warning signal will occur? Here are several possibilities:
- Many race committees make the warning signal at the exact time shown in the NoR for the race start, without any alerts to sailors.
- Some race committees use a series of sounds as an assembly signal one minute before the warning. This is optional and not specified in the rules.
- Some races committees will give announcements over the communications channel when they are about to sound the warning signal.
- For postponements, the warning signal signal occurs one minute after the postponement flag (AP) is lowered. See the Race Signals page of the rulebook.
- For general recalls, the warning signal occurs one minute after the the general recall flag (first substitute) is lowered. See Rule 29.2.
Rule 28 – Sailing the Race
“28.1 A boat shall start, sail the course and then finish. While doing so, she may leave on either side a mark that does not begin, bound or end the leg she is sailing. After finishing she need not cross the finishing line completely.
28.2 A boat may correct any errors in sailing the course, provided she has
not crossed the finishing line to finish.”
Rule 28 Definitions
Start. A boat starts when, her hull having been entirely on the pre-start side
of the starting line at or after her starting signal, and having complied with
rule 30.1 if it applies, any part of her hull crosses the starting line from the
pre-start side to the course side.
Finish. A boat finishes when, after starting, any part of her hull crosses the finishing line from the course side. However, she has not finished if after crossing the finishing line she
(a) takes a penalty under rule 44.2,
(b) corrects an error in sailing the course made at the line, or
(c) continues to sail the course.
Sail the Course. A boat sails the course provided that a string representing her track from the time she begins to approach the starting line from its prestart side to start until she finishes, when drawn taut,
(a) passes each mark of the course for the race on the required side and in the correct order
(b) touches each mark designated in the sailing instructions to be a rounding mark, and
(c) passes between the marks of a gate from the direction of the course from the previous mark.
Changes and Key Points
- For 2021, the words describing the “string rule” were removed from Rule 28 and placed in a new definition, sail the course. A new scoring code, NSC (did not sail the course) was added to Appendix A.
- For sailors this change means that the race committee can score you NSC without protesting you and holding a hearing. in the old rules, the RC would have had to protest you for breaking Rule 28.
- You may only find out about this when the scores are posted.
- The definitions of start and finish were revised to state that a boat starts or finishes when any part of the hull crosses the line. Crew and equipment were removed. These changes were made throughout the rules.
Rule 30 – Starting Penalties
30.1 – I Flag Rule
“If flag I has been displayed, and any part of a boat’s hull is on the course side of the starting line or one of its extensions during the last minute before her starting signal, she shall sail across an extension so that her hull is completely on the pre-start side before she starts.”
30.2 – Z Flag Rule
“If flag Z has been displayed, no part of a boat’s hull shall be in the triangle formed by the ends of the starting line and the first mark during the last minute before her starting signal. If a boat breaks this rule and is identified, she shall receive, without a hearing, a 20% Scoring Penalty calculated as stated in rule 44.3(c). She shall be penalized even if the race is restarted or resailed, but not if it is postponed or abandoned before the starting signal. If she is similarly identified during a subsequent attempt to start the same race, she shall receive an additional 20% Scoring Penalty.”
30.3 – U Flag Rule
“If flag U has been displayed, no part of a boat’s hull shall be in the triangle formed by the ends of the starting line and the first mark during the last minute before her starting signal. If a boat breaks this rule and is identified, she shall be disqualified without a hearing, but not if the race is restarted or resailed.”
30.4 – Black Flag Rule
“If a black flag has been displayed, no part of a boat’s hull shall be in the triangle formed by the ends of the starting line and the first mark during the last minute before her starting signal. If a boat breaks this rule and is identified, she shall be disqualified without a hearing, even if the race is restarted or resailed, but not if it is postponed or abandoned before the starting signal. If a general recall is signaled or the race is abandoned after the starting signal, the race committee shall display her sail number before the next warning signal for that race, and if the race is restarted or resailed she shall not sail in it. If she does so, her disqualification shall not be excluded in calculating her series score.”
Other than removing “crew or equipment,” there were no significant changes to Rule 30 for 2021-2024.
Rule 30 Questions
- The race committee posted both a Z flag and an I flag at the preparatory signal. Immediately after the start, the race committee signals an individual recall and hails your number.
What must you do to start properly? How will your score for the race be determined? Answers
- The race committee posted a U flag at the preparatory signal. Five seconds before the start, you are over the line.
If the race committee subsequently re-starts the same race, are you still disqualified? Answer
- The race committee posted a Black flag at the preparatory signal. 30 seconds before the start, the race committee identifies your boat as being over the line.
If the race committee signals a general recall, and re-starts the race, are you still disqualified? Answer
Rule 31 – Touching a Mark
“While racing, a boat shall not touch a starting mark before starting, a mark that begins, bounds or ends the leg of the course on which she is sailing, or a finishing mark after finishing.”
Rule 31 Key Points
- Rule 44.1 requires you to take a one-turn penalty when you break rule 31.
- No changes to Rule 31 for 2021-2024.
Rule 31 Questions
- When rounding a mark, your rudder contacts the mark’s anchor line but the mark itself never touches any part of the boat.
Does this break Rule 31? Answer
- You accidentally contact the offset mark while sailing upwind toward the windward mark. (You have not yet rounded the windward mark.)
Does this break Rule 31? Answer
Rule 32 – Shortening or Abandoning after the Start
32.1 “After the starting signal, the race committee may shorten the course (display flag S with two sounds) or abandon the race (display flag N, N over H, or N over A, with three sounds),
(a) because of foul weather,
(b) because of insufficient wind making it unlikely that any boat will finish within the race time limit,
(c) because a mark is missing or out of position, or
(d) for any other reason directly affecting the safety or fairness of the competition.
In addition, the race committee may shorten the course so that other scheduled races can be sailed, or abandon the race because of an error in the starting procedure. However, after one boat has started, sailed the course and finished within the time limit, if any, the race committee shall not abandon the race without considering the consequences for all boats in the race or series.
32.2 If the race committee signals a shortened course (displays flag S with two sounds), the finishing line shall be,
(a) at a rounding mark, between the mark and a staff displaying flag S;
(b) a line the course requires boats to cross; or
(c) at a gate, between the gate marks.
The shortened course shall be signaled before the first boat crosses the finishing line.”
Rule 32 Questions
- You are sailing upwind towards the windward mark. The race committee displays the S flag with two sounds.
Where should you look for the finishing line? Answer
- You are sailing downwind towards the leeward gate marks. The race committee displays the S flag with two sounds.
Where should you look for the finishing line? Answer
Rule 33 – Changing the Next Leg of the Course
“While boats are racing, the race committee may change a leg of the course that begins at a rounding mark or at a gate by changing the position of the next mark (or the finishing line) and signaling all boats before they begin the leg. The next mark need not be in position at that time.
(a) If the direction of the leg will be changed, the signal shall be the display of flag C with repetitive sounds and one or both of
(1) the new compass bearing,
(2) a green triangle for a change to starboard or a red rectangle for a change to port.
(b) If the length of the leg will be changed, the signal shall be the display of flag C with repetitive sounds and a ‘–’ if the length will be decreased or a ‘+’ if it will be increased.
(c) Subsequent legs may be changed without further signaling to maintain the course shape.”
Rule 37 – Search and Rescue Instructions
“When the race committee displays flag V with one sound, all boats and official and support vessels shall, if possible, monitor the race committee communication channel for search and rescue instructions.”
Rule 37 was added to the 2021-2024 rules, along with the Code flag V.
World Sailing Cases of Interest – Conduct of a Race
65 – When a boat knows she has broken the black flag rule she is obliged to retire promptly.
96 – When after a general recall, a boat learns from seeing her sail number displayed that she has been disqualified under Rule 30.4 and believes the race committee has made a mistake, her only action is not to start and seek redress.
129 – When the course is shortened at a rounding mark, the mark becomes a finishing mark. Rule 32.2(a) permits the race committee to position the vessel displaying flag S at either end of the finishing line.