Virtually all of the r-o-w rules have been rewritten in Part 2 - When Boats Meet in the 1997-2000 Rules (the RRS). However, the basic concepts of many of the rules are the same as in the 1993-96 International Yacht Racing Rules (the IYRR). But, there are some significant differences. I have listed below some of the rules that have changed (and included a description of the changes). The major changes have been indicated with a yellow star. [If you are not familiar with the 1993-96 IYRR I suggest you skip this section.]

Luffing Rights. The basic rule is that W must keep clear of L, found in RRS 11 (On the Same Tack, Overlapped). This is the same rule as under IYRR 37.1. However, the rules as to how and when L may luff W are significantly shorter and simpler in RRS 16 (Changing Course) and 17.1 (On the Same Tack; Proper Course) than the corresponding rules were in IYRR 38, 39 & 40. First, the "sharp luff" has been eliminated and L may never "luff as she pleases." She is always subject to RRS 16, which requires that whenever L changes course she allow W "room to keep clear" (basically, the space necessary for W to keep clear of L by acting promptly in a seamanlike way). Second, L may luff W head to wind if she wants and will only be subject to a "proper course" limitation if she has established her overlap on W from clear astern and within two of her (L's) hull lengths of W. This means "mast abeam" is eliminated. Finally, the rules on luffing before and after a boat's starting signal (RRS 11, 16 & 17.1) are almost the same. The only difference is that RRS 17.1 does not apply until a boat's starting signal has been made (since under the definition of "proper course" a boat has no "proper course" before her starting signal). So, there is no "proper course" restriction on L until after her starting signal has been made.

Contact. There are a number of changes in the rules that apply when boats make contact. First, IYRR 33 is eliminated. This means that if a r-o-w boat contacts another boat she will not be subject to protest by a third boat simply for failing to file a valid protest against the boat she contacts. Second, under RRS 14 (Avoiding Contact) a boat must always avoid contact with other boats if reasonably possible (even if she has r-o-w), although a r-o-w boat or one entitled to room need not act to avoid contact until it is clear that the other boat won't keep clear or give room (as the case may be) and will not be penalized for contact that does not cause damage. This means that a r-o-w boat may not intentionally contact another boat to "prove" she was not keeping clear and will be subject to DSQ if any damage occurs.

      Acquiring Right of Way. It was an underlying principle of the IYRR (sometimes stated and sometimes implied) that when a boat first became obligated to keep clear of another she was entitled to a certain amount of time and space to do so. This principle is now specifically stated in RRS 15 (Acquiring Right of Way) and provides that when a r-o-w boat acquires r-o-w she must initially allow the giveway boat "room to keep clear" of her (basically, the space needed to keep clear of r-o-w by acting promptly in a seamanlike way). This applies to most situations when a r-o-w boat first acquires r-o-w over a giveway boat, but not when the giveway boat had r-o-w but intentionally acted to give it up (and become giveway). In those situations (such as when S/AH tacks onto port directly in front of another S), giveway is not entitled to "room to keep clear" of the new r-o-w boat under RRS 15. Instead, giveway must anticipate that she will lose her r-o-w and be sure she does so in a way that allows her to keep clear of the new r-o-w boat.

Changing Course. Another almost universal principle of the IYRR was that if a r-o-w boat changed course she could not do so in a way that prevented the giveway boat from keeping clear of her, or obstructed the giveway boat while she was keeping clear. This concept has been carried over into RRS 16 (Changing Course) but reworded somewhat with the result that under RRS 16 the restrictions on a r-o-w boat are somewhat less. R-o-w may not change course unless she allows giveway "room to keep clear" (basically, the space needed to keep clear of r-o-w by acting promptly in a seamanlike way). In addition, the three exceptions that were in IYRR 35 (for boats luffing sharply under IYRR 39.2 or assuming a proper course either to start or in rounding a mark) have been eliminated.

      Tacking Inside the Two-Length Zone. At a windward mark when boats are on opposite tacks and one boat wants to tack inside the two-length zone in front of another (generally, P wanting to tack in front of S who is on the layline to the mark) the tacking boat has significantly less rights under RRS 18.3 (Tacking) than she had under IYRR 42.3(a). This means that approaching a windward mark on port tack in the vicinity of the port-tack layline will be significantly riskier (since the chances of tacking safely ahead of a S are greatly reduced).

      Gybing at a Mark. Under RRS 18.4 (Gybing), if two boats are overlapped at the two-length zone and a proper course to the next mark includes a gybe then IN with r-o-w may not sail farther from the mark than necessary to sail a proper course. This means IN will be required to gybe when she sails her proper course. Under IYRR 42.1, if IN had luffing rights under IYRR 39.2 (because the other boat had not been "mast abeam") then IN was not required to gybe or sail a proper course. And, if IN did not have luffing rights, then under IYRR 42.1(e) IN was required to gybe at the first reasonable opportunity, but was not required to sail a proper course.

      Tacking. The basic rule is that a boat that is tacking must keep clear of others from the time she passes head to wind until she is on a close-hauled course, found in RRS 13 (While Tacking). This is unchanged from IYRR 41.1. However, the definition of "tacking" is eliminated and so under the RRS a boat becomes on the new tack immediately after she passes head to wind (instead of when she assumes a close-hauled course, as the IYRR provided). This eliminates the somewhat bizarre notion that a boat was on no tack at all from the time she passed head to wind until she was on a close-hauled course (i.e., while she was engaged in "tacking" under the IYRR definition). RRS 13 also eliminates the IYRR "onus" provision that said a boat that tacks must show that she in fact kept clear of others and satisfied her obligations under IYRR 41.2.

      Gybing. A boat no longer need keep clear of others while she is gybing and the definition of "gybing" has been eliminated. However, since the act of "gybing" under the IYRR definition only occupied an instant in time (from the moment the boom crossed the centerline of the boat until the main filled on the new side) this is not much of a change, if any.

      720 Turns Penalty. Under RRS 44 (Penalties for Breaking Rules of Part 2), the penalty for breaking a rule of Part 2 (When Boats Meet) is to promptly sail clear of other boats and do two 360 turns (720) in the same direction, including two tacks and two gybes. If a boat breaks a rule and doesn't take this alternative penalty she will be subject to DSQ. If the RC wants some other penalty to apply it must provide for that in the sailing instructions, indicating that Rule 44 is being changed. Under the IYRR, the standard penalty was DSQ, although a RC could (and many did) provide for the 720 Turns Penalty as an alternative penalty by including it in the sailing instructions. Under the RRS, it will apply unless excluded by the sailing instructions.

      Scoring. The Low Point Scoring System in Rule A2.2 (found in Appendix A) now provides one point for a first place finish (instead of three-quarters of a point as under the IYRR). This means the tie-breaking provisions of Rule A2.3 will apply more frequently than in the past. In addition, the suggested scoring designation for a premature starter is OCS (on course side) rather than PMS.

First Edition, March 1997
Copyright © 1997 Arthur Engel, All Rights Reserved