Changes to Sailboat Racing Rules

The ice has melted. The docks are getting ready to launch. It won’t be long now before racing starts again.

Every four years the international sailboat racing community tweaks the rules of racing to make them fairer, clearer, and more logical. The changes usually take effect after the Olympic games to allow athletes four years to practice and compete under the new rules.

Like many clubs, QYC has experienced sailors who fail to update their knowledge of the rules but rather assume the rules they’ve “always” raced under are the same as the current rules. In a club race a number of years ago, a good racer insisted that there was only a two-boat length circle around the marks and he insisted he was overlapped before that distance, so he had rights to room at the mark. He was wrong. The rules had changed. He wasn’t happy when I showed him the change in the official rules book.

There are tweaks in the 2021-2024 rules. Over the next few weeks I’m going to share a several brief reminders of the some of the official rules we race under (ones still in force and the new ones). And in a few weeks we’ll also schedule a rules review and Q&A in the parking lot or on Zoom.

Let’s start here. Perhaps the most significant change is an updated definition that slightly adjusts the way we race. The new definition changes when a boat is considered to have started and finished. It applies to when we’re officially considered over early and therefore must go back and restart, as well as when we either slide in ahead of another boat at the finish or get beat at the last second.

The rule used to be that any part of a boat’s crew or equipment over a start or finish line was what race committees were instructed to look for – that used to mean a sail or a crew member’s head or hand, was sufficient. Now the rule states that the hull is what must be behind the start line at the horn or over the finish line to be counted as finished. Sailing along the line at the start, hiking out with your head over the line at the horn, is no longer “over early.” Getting your sail, bowsprit or head across the finish line inches ahead of the boat beside you isn’t the end of the race. You must get some piece of your hull across before they do. And note: a rudder, whisker pole, bow sprit, etc., isn’t considered part of the hull.

This will be an important change to remind each other about this spring. And those on early race committee duty will need to take note also. A few more tips in upcoming articles.

The complete rules for 2021-2024 can be found here for free:

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