Every four years the International Sailing Federation (the ISAF, formerly, the International Yacht Racing Union or IYRU) revises the rules that govern the sport of sailboat racing, including the "right of way" rules. Each new set of right of way rules usually contains at least a few minor differences from the prior version, but in the 1997-2000 Rules (the RRS) the right of way rules, Part 2 (When Boats Meet), have been significantly reorganized from the prior version and incorporate some important and major rule changes.
For each of the three years prior to 1997, the ISAF proposed "experimental" rules to test out certain new concepts or language for the "right of way rules" that apply to boats when they meet on the race course. Most of the concepts contained in the 1996 Experimental Rules have been incorporated into the right of way rules in Part 2 of the 1997-2000 Rules. However, much of the language has been revised, in particular Rule 18 (Passing Marks and Obstructions).
I think you will find the right of way rules in Part 2 of the 1997-2000 Rules significantly simpler and easier to understand than the 1993-96 International Yacht Racing Rules (the IYRR). However, there are several important changes that you will need to learn. The most important are (1) elimination of the "sharp luff," (2) removal of the "mast abeam" concept, (3) increased emphasis on discouraging contact between boats and (4) modification of the restrictions on a right of way boat when she changes course. These important changes, as well as others, are discussed in Changes from the 1993-96 Rules.
Knowing and understanding the right of way rules will greatly reduce the risk that you might injure yourself or damage your boat while participating in a race and can help you to improve your performance in races as well. You should spend some time to learn the right of way rules and understand how they apply.
I have used certain abbreviations throughout the Guide as follows:
S = starboard-tack boat
P = port-tack boat
L = leeward boat
W = windward boat
AH = clear ahead boat
AS = clear astern boat
IN = inside boat
O = outside boat
r-o-w = right of way
PC = Protest Committee
RC = Race Committee
DSQ = disqualification
Where two or more of the abbreviations are used together (such as P/W) this generally means that both apply to that particular boat. However, where a boat has tacked or gybed the first abbreviation will be the prior designation for the boat - even if that designation would no longer apply; thus if S tacks onto port and becomes leeward of another boat she will be referred to as S/L to indicate she was S but is now L.
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To get the fullest understanding of the right of way rules, which are contained in Part 2 (When Boats Meet) and numbered 10 through 22, I have divided the commentary on each rule into various sections: Overview, Basic, Advanced, Examples and Related. I suggest you read the short Overview paragraph for each rule before reading the actual text of the rule itself. This will help to put the "goal" of the rule into context.
First Edition, March 1997
Copyright © 1997 Arthur Engel, All Rights Reserved