With so many yachts in the racing area, occasionally at close quarter, it is inevitable a Rules dispute will arise.  In its simplest format a Rules dispute is a matter of two or more persons holding differing views of how a rule is to be interpreted; of course, it is the personality of these persons that will present their understanding in a calm, clear, and well constructed manner; or otherwise…

Depending on actions during an incident, and desired outcome(s), a dispute may be resolved by following one of two distinctly different routes:

  • Advisory Process
  • Request for a Hearing

Advisory Process

The Advisory process is an informal, process designed to ensure (i) Rules are followed in a correct sequence, and (ii) lessons are learnt, to reduce risk of a reoccurrence of an incident. Emphasis is on education from which opportunities exist for the parties to understand and accept the intention behind Racing Rules, and to take appropriate actions to avoid a forced disqualification.

When there is a dispute about compliance with racing rules two avenues are open to the protestor:

  • One-on-One discussion between a Racing Rules Advisor and the boat raising the protest to advise on a correct interpretation of Racing Rules.
  • Small Group discussion with a Racing Rules Advisor, and both parties involved to informally hear the arguments from both sides, advise on a correct interpretation of Racing Rules, and present a recommendation.

The purposes of these alternatives is to:

  • encourage competitors to notify examples of poor behaviour – especially when the protester may not wish to follow a formal protest route;
  • provide a rapid (same day) resolution in such incidents;
  • recognise an alternative (exoneration penalty) to disqualification or retirement in lesser cases;
  • educate to improve the overall standard of racing.

n.b. A party found to be at fault from the Advisory is not bound to accept an outcome and recommendation(s) offered; however, if a Request for a Hearing is registered, the party found to be at fault from the Advisory may, until time of the Hearing, withdraw from the Request for a Hearing to accept the recommendation of the Advisory.

Request for a Hearing

A Request for a Hearing is a peer review – An appeal from a person or persons who feel they have been wronged to set right an unfair situation; I.E. to put/set/make right via compensation for the grievance.

A panel of three experienced members will, decide which, if any, parties are to be summoned to appear, and hear evidence of how the situation came about.  The panel will record findings; however, the panel is not bound to identify which, specific, rules have been broken and the manner in which the rules cited were broken, unless the panel feels such rules may be contributory to a reoccurrence.

Any award made resulting from a Request for a Hearing may equal, but will never penalise, an award achieved by other competitors in fair competition; in this manner, it is possible an award from a Request for a Hearing may result in two boats holding identical placings from the same race.

The party deemed to be at fault must be given the opportunity to voluntarily accept a penalty:

  • If the sailing Instructions permit, an Exoneration Penalty (taken on-the-water) may satisfy a protest.
  • If the Sailing Instructions do not permit Exoneration Penalties, a party found to be at fault must be allowed to Retire post race as an alterative to a forced disqualification.

Advice for protestors

Registering a Protest

RRS Rule 61.1(a) requires that the Protestor must inform the other party “at the first reasonable opportunity“.

When the Protest concerns an incident in which the Protestor was involved, or witnessed, the Protestor must:

  • Hail ‘Protest’ (it is advisable to ensure the Protested Boat acknowledges and that witnesses are noted),
  • Conspicuously display a red (Protest) flag,
  • “at the first reasonable opportunity for each”…

‘First reasonable opportunity’ can become a ‘bone-of-contention’ if the matter goes to a hearing; one of the oldest and most favourite avoidance tack-ticks is for the Protested boat to attempt to have the Protest dismissed on grounds the ‘protest flag’ was not displayed immediately.

The Protester’s salvation will be found in ensuring:

  • the red protest flag is rolled-up and attached to the backstay before the start of the race (in readiness), in a manner affording rapid deployment,
  • rules are followed in communicating (hail) with other boats before undertaking a manoeuvre in close quarter at time of the incident,
  • witnesses are noted.
Bring a Witness!

Two yachts collided when there was an unexpected wind shift. The two versions of events given were quite different. The version that was consistent with the account of an external witness is likely to be preferred by the panel.

A Disagreement in Testimony

Make sure you have crew well positioned about the boat where circumstance may lead to a rules infringement. A crew member purposefully positioned at the bow can confirm if an overlap exists, or not..!  Likewise, a crew member purposefully positioned at the stern, leaving the helm free to, well… Helm..!

The Process