14 Avoiding Contact
Every boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible. However, a right-of-way boat or one entitled to room
 
(a)     need not act to avoid contact until it is clear that the other boat is not keeping clear or giving room, and
(b)     shall not be penalized unless there is contact that causes damage.

Overview Rule 14 is the rule that deals with contact between boats. Defined terms: Keep Clear and Room.
Basic You must avoid contact with another boat if you reasonably can. However, if you have r-o-w or are entitled to room you get two benefits under Rule 14. First, you need not act to avoid contact until it is clear that the other boat will not keep clear or give room as required. Essentially, as a boat with r-o-w or entitled to room, you can wait until the last reasonable moment to take action to avoid contact (and will not break Rule 14 if you do so, even if contact occurs). Second, you cannot be penalized for contact unless it causes damage.
When two boats approach each other on the course it is the obligation under Rule 14 of each boat to avoid contact with the other. However, since a boat with r-o-w or entitled to room may wait to act to avoid contact until it is clear that the other boat will not satisfy her obligation to keep clear or give room (and thus avoid contact), it is the primary obligation of the other boat to avoid contact by keeping clear or giving room.
Advanced If one boat has r-o-w and the other (giveway) is entitled to room can both "wait to act" under 14(a)? In my opinion, no. Since giveway's "right to room" modifies the r-o-w boat's r-o-w, generally only giveway should be entitled to "wait to act" under Rule 14(a) until it is clear that r-o-w will not give her the room to which she is entitled. The only time this might change is when giveway clearly has enough "room" to be able to both (1) pass the mark or obstruction with plenty of space to spare and (2) act to avoid contact with the r-o-w boat. Generally, a giveway "entitled to room" boat will not have that much physical space available to her.
A boat that can reasonably avoid contact but does not may be DSQed even though she has r-o-w. Whether a boat has r-o-w is relevant to when she must act to avoid contact (if she has r-o-w she may wait to act until it is clear the other boat will not keep clear), but not to whether she must act to do so. This means that if contact occurs and the r-o-w boat is found to have broken Rule 14 then both boats should be DSQed in the incident (the giveway boat for failing to keep clear and the r-o-w boat for failing to avoid contact when reasonably possible).
Rule 14(b) provides that if contact does not cause damage then a boat with r-o-w or entitled to room may not be penalized (even if she could have avoided the contact but did not). This provision does not mean that Rule 14 is not broken, only that a boat with r-o-w or entitled to room may not be penalized for breaking it if no damage results. Intentional contact always violates Rule 14 (though it may not be penalized if done by a boat with r-o-w or entitled to room if no damage results).
Related Intentional contact by a boat with r-o-w or entitled to room may be subject to penalty under Rule 2 (Fair Sailing).
15 Acquiring Right of Way
When a boat acquires right of way, she shall initially give the other boat room to keep clear, unless she acquires right of way because of the other boat's actions.


Overview Rule 15 governs how one boat may acquire r-o-w over another boat. Defined terms: Keep Clear and Room.
Basic As a general rule, whenever you first acquire r-o-w over another boat you must give her "room to keep clear" of you. The only exception to this general rule is when you are acquiring r-o-w as a result of some action that the other boat took which caused her to lose r-o-w. In that case, since the other boat is giving up r-o-w by her own actions she must make sure she allows herself any necessary "room to keep clear" of the new r-o-w boat.
What does the phrase "room to keep clear" mean? "Room" means "[t]he space a boat needs in the existing conditions while manoeuvring promptly in a seamanlike way." So, "room to keep clear" could be rephrased as: the space needed by the giveway boat to avoid the new r-o-w boat presuming the giveway boat acts in a seamanlike way (based on the existing conditions) promptly after the r-o-w boat first acquires her r-o-w.
A boat is not obligated to anticipate that another boat will acquire r-o-w over her (except, as noted above, when she affirmatively takes actions which cause her to lose r-o-w to the other boat) and need not begin to keep clear until the other boat actually acquires r-o-w. Beginning at that time, her obligation is to act promptly and in a seamanlike way to keep clear of the new r-o-w boat.
Advanced This rule applies no matter how r-o-w is acquired unless a boat "acquires right of way because of the other boat's actions." This means that if you (giveway) are sailing near another boat that has r-o-w over you and the other boat takes some action that causes you to gain r-o-w over her, you will not be obligated to give her "room to keep clear" of you (because you acquired your r-o-w as a result of the other boats actions).
If a boat acts to acquire r-o-w in such a way that it is not possible for her to give the new giveway boat room to keep clear then the boat acquiring r-o-w breaks Rule 15.
Examples AS and AH are on the same tack with AS sailing just astern of AH. AS is required to keep clear of AH while she is astern of her [Rule 12 (On the Same Tack, Not Overlapped)]. AS establishes an overlap to leeward of AH. AS/L acquires r-o-w over AH/W when she establishes an overlap to leeward of AH/W [Rule 11 (On the Same Tack, Overlapped)]. Under Rule 15, when AS/L first establishes her leeward overlap she must initially give AH/W "room to keep clear" of her. This means that AS/L must establish her overlap far enough from AH/W so that AH/W has the space needed to keep clear if she acts promptly in a seamanlike way. If AS/L establishes her overlap so close to AH/W that when AH/W changes course in a seamanlike way to keep clear (a prompt seamanlike turn, not a sharp radical one) her stern swings and makes contact with AS/L's bow then AS/L established her overlap too close to AH/W and has broken Rule 15.
P and S are sailing close-hauled upwind on converging courses. P must keep clear of S under Rule 10 (On Opposite Tacks). P begins to tack onto starboard directly in front of S. Before P goes past head to wind she is still on port tack and must continue to keep clear of S under Rule 10. After she passes head to wind, P must keep clear of S under Rule 13 (While Tacking) until she reaches a close-hauled course. [Note: After P passes head to wind she is on starboard tack also but Rule 13 requires P to keep clear of S and provides that Rules 10, 11 and 12 do not apply.] P/AH (now directly ahead of S) acquires r-o-w over S when she assumes a close-hauled course and Rule 13 ceases to apply. At that point she is obligated to give S (now clear astern) room to keep clear of her. If P/AH completes her tack and assumes a close-hauled course so close to S that S has no room to avoid hitting P/AH unless she throws her helm hard over then P/AH breaks Rule 15 (because she did not leave S enough room to keep clear by acting promptly in a seamanlike way; throwing the helm hard over or doing a "crash tack" is not seamanlike).
In Example 1, two boats are sailing on starboard on roughly parallel courses with one behind and to windward of the other. AH has r-o-w over AS under Rule 12 (On the Same Tack, Not Overlapped). AH begins to tack onto port directly in front of AS. Until she goes past head to wind, AH continues to have r-o-w over AS either as a clear ahead boat [under Rule 12] or as a leeward boat, if AH's new course causes AS to establish a windward overlap [under Rule 11 (On the Same Tack, Overlapped)]. Once she goes past head to wind AH/P loses her r-o-w and must keep clear of AS/S under Rule 13 (While Tacking). [Note: When AH/P assumes a close-hauled course on port tack Rule 13 ceases to apply, but she must still keep clear of AS/S under Rule 10 (On Opposite Tacks).] Since AS/S started out as the giveway boat but acquired r-o-w over AH/P as a result of AH/P's actions (going past head to wind during her tack) Rule 15 does not apply and AS/S need not give AH/P room to keep clear. It is AH/P's responsibility to make sure she only tacks in such a way as leave herself any room required to keep clear of AS/S.
Related If a boat acquires r-o-w but does not change course only Rule 15 applies. If a boat acquires r-o-w while she changes course (or acquires r-o-w and immediately changes course) then both Rule 15 and 16 will apply to her.
16 Changing Course
When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear.


Overview Rule 16 governs how a r-o-w boat may change course. Defined terms: Keep Clear and Room.
Basic Whenever a r-o-w boat changes course she must allow the giveway boat "room to keep clear." The term "course" means r-o-w's compass course so if the wind shifts and r-o-w changes her compass course to keep the same relative wind angle she has "changed course." Similar to the discussion above under Rule 15 (Acquiring Right of Way), "room to keep clear" would be: the space needed by the giveway boat to avoid the r-o-w boat presuming the giveway boat acts in a seamanlike way (based on the existing conditions) promptly after the r-o-w boat changes course.
Advanced If boats are on rapidly converging courses, then the question to ask is - Did r-o-w change course far enough from giveway so that giveway could keep clear by acting promptly in a seamanlike way (i.e., was it possible for giveway to avoid r-o-w by acting promptly without having to make an unseamanlike maneuver such as a "crash tack")? If boats are sailing side by side the question to ask is - Did r-o-w change course so suddenly and radically that giveway could not keep clear by acting promptly in a seamanlike way?
This rule applies only to a boat's change of course and not a change of speed or angle of heel or a change in position of her crew or equipment. However, if a r-o-w boat were to intentionally change heel or shift the position of crew or equipment with the view to creating contact with the giveway boat then that could be a violation of Rule 14 (Avoiding Contact) or Rule 2 (Fair Sailing).
Example In Example 2, S and P are sailing upwind close-hauled on converging courses in a light to moderate breeze. If S does not change course, P will be able to pass safely ahead of S. While still 3 or more boatlengths from P, S heads up (above close-hauled) to a course that could cause her to collide with P's stern. When S changes course, P has the time and space to either promptly tack or head down to pass astern of S but decides to hold her course and hope that S will pass astern. As a result, S strikes P just ahead of P's stern. Since P had "room and space to keep clear of S" had she acted promptly after S changed course, S did not break Rule 16. By failing to "keep clear" of S, P breaks Rule 10 (On Opposite Tacks).
Related See the discussion of "room to keep clear" under Rule 15 (Acquiring Right of Way) above.
When two boats are sailing side by side and giveway is so close that r-o-w has little or no room to change course then giveway is too close to r-o-w and has failed to satisfy her obligation to keep clear under the applicable rule of Section A. If the two boats are overlapped on the same tack (and thus Rule 11 (On the Same Tack, Overlapped) applies) then the definition of "keep clear" specifically covers this situation. See "Keep Clear" in Selected Definitions - Part 1 .
17 On the Same Tack; Proper Course
17.1 A boat that establishes a leeward overlap from clear astern within two of her hull lengths of a windward boat shall not sail above her proper course during that overlap while the boats are less than that distance apart, unless as a result she becomes clear astern.

Overview Rule 17.1 governs whether a boat passing to leeward of another may sail above a proper course. Defined terms: Clear Astern and Clear Ahead; Overlap, Leeward and Windward and Proper Course.
Basic If you establish a leeward overlap from clear astern of W and within a two hull length circle around her (your hull lengths) then you may not sail above a proper course while that overlap continues and any part of your boat is inside the two hull length circle. There is one exception, which is that you may sail above a proper course if as a result you become clear astern of W. Basically, Rule 17.1 means that if L is passing within two of her hull lengths to leeward of W then L may not sail above a proper course. This rule does not change r-o-w, W is still obligated to keep clear of L. However, L may not sail any course she desires. She is limited to sailing at or below what would be a proper course for her. As discussed under "Proper Course" in Selected Definitions - Part 2, L's proper course is a course she would sail in the absence of W to finish as quickly as possible.
Advanced Rule 17.1 is the only restriction on "how high" L may luff W. However, Rule 16 (Changing Course) will always apply to determine "how fast" L may luff W.
Rule 17.1 does not restrict L to a "proper course" before her starting signal because under the definition of "proper course" a boat has no proper course before her starting signal. However, once L's starting signal is made Rule 17.1 may restrict her to a proper course even though she established her overlap before the starting signal.
Under the definition of "proper course," L's proper course must be one that she would sail if W were not present. Thus, L's proper course may take into account boats other than W that are in the vicinity. For example, if a third boat to leeward of L luffs L then L may adjust her course to avoid that other boat (even if it causes L to sail above a straight-line course to the next mark). Or, if there is a boat ahead of both L and W that L wants to pass to windward of, L may adjust her course to pass the other boat well to windward (in order that the other boat will not have an opportunity to luff her). In other words, L's proper course will include the space she needs to avoid boats other than W. For another example of this principle see Example 4 for "Proper Course" in Selected Definitions - Part 2
Example In Example 3, L has overlapped W from clear astern within two of L's hull lengths from W. Under Rule 17.1, L may not sail above a proper course while that overlap exists and she is less than two of her hull lengths from W. So long as L sails at or below a proper course W must continue to keep clear of her. In other words, W must stay far enough from L so that L can (1) sail her course without needing to take avoiding action and (2) change course without immediately contacting W.
Related Under the definition of "proper course," a boat has no proper course before her starting signal so the restriction on L to sail a "proper course" only applies after her starting signal even though the overlap may not have been established before the signal.
17.2 Except on a beat to windward, while a boat is less than two of her hull lengths from a leeward boat or a boat clear astern steering a course to leeward of her, she shall not sail below her proper course unless she gybes.

Overview Rule 17.2 governs the course of a boat when another boat is trying to pass to leeward of her. Defined terms: Clear Astern and Clear Ahead; Overlap, Leeward and Windward and Proper Course.
Basic If you are on a leg other than a beat to windward (i.e., a reach or a run) and another boat is within a two hull length circle around you (her hull lengths) and is either L or AS and steering a course to pass to leeward of you then you may not sail below a proper course. Put simply, if another boat is attempting to pass to leeward of you then you may not sail lower to prevent her from passing or to make it more difficult for her to pass.
Advanced This rule is probably one of the most violated and difficult to prove. You will often need evidence from a third party witness to prevail in a protest hearing (or a statement from the other boat that they did in fact sail lower while you were trying to pass to leeward).
Examples In Example 4, AS is steering a course to pass to leeward of AH. AH decides for tactical reasons that she wants to stay as close to AS as possible. AH therefore turns her course down so that she is sailing parallel to AS. At the protest hearing, AH's skipper justifies her course by saying "We didn't want to take AS's wind, we just wanted to make sure that AS didn't get too far from us and into a different breeze." AH broke Rule 17.2 because she sailed below a "proper course." Her new course was not "proper" because it was not a course she would have sailed "in the absence of the other boats referred to in the rule" since AH's skipper admitted that they sailed the new course for the purpose of staying as close to AS as possible (even though not done to interfere with AS's wind).
AS is steering a course to pass to leeward of AH. AH changes her course to sail lower to avoid a wind shadow being created by another boat (or by a tree on the nearby shore) to windward of AH. Since the other boat to windward of AH is not one "referred to in the rule" (which in this case would be AS) AH's course to avoid the wind shadow is proper and AH may rightfully sail a lower course to avoid the wind shadow even though AS is trying to pass to leeward of her.
Related This rule is part of an overall policy to encourage a faster boat to go to leeward of any boats she passes. If AS attempts to pass AH to windward then AH/L is entitled to luff her (though subject to Rule 16 as to the manner of her luff). But, if AS goes to leeward of AH, then AH/W is not allowed to prevent AS/L from passing to leeward of her by sailing lower than a proper course and taking her wind.

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