Rule Changes to Racing Rules of Sailing will Affect Support Teams

Sailing Rules Changes

Apr 26, 2016

New rules for racing around waypoints and match racing are now live. For 2017, look for rules that cover those on the sidelines.
A revised The Racing Rules of Sailing will be distributed later this year, and the revised rules will take effect on January 1, 2017, and remain in effect until December 31, 2020. Members of US Sailing should receive their new edition of the rulebook in the last quarter of 2016. As it has in the past, Sailing World will publish a series of Rules columns describing what I believe to be the significant changes and their effect on the game we play.

Photo:  Coaches at the 2014 Melges 32 Worlds observe a start. The updated Racing Rules of Sailing for 2017-2020 will include regulations for support persons and provide a basis for those regulations.

The International Sailing Federation, now World Sailing, met in November 2015 in China to discuss and vote on the last set of proposals to change the rules that will be included in the new rulebook. Only editing and urgent changes can be made before July, when the text of the new rules will be distributed to all of the more than 100 national authorities for translating and printing. World Sailing discourages early publication or discussion of the changes in the rules. This is done to avoid confusion that can occur if competitors are reading about the new set of rules while competing under the old rules. There are two interesting changes that take effect this year, which I am free to discuss now, but before I do so, it’s worth first introducing the interesting addition of a package of new rules and definitions that will be added to the rulebook next year.

Over the past 20 years or so, it has become increasingly common for competitors to be assisted during a regatta by a coach, a parent or some other support person. At major international events, some boats bring along all sorts of support persons. These may include a coach, trainer, doctor, sports psychologist, shipwright, sailmaker or meteorologist. Yet there is no mention of support persons in the racing rules, and so no basis for a protest committee to act against a support person who misbehaves in some way — even if that misbehavior constitutes gross misconduct. In today’s rules, Rule 69, Gross Misconduct, applies only to a boat’s crew members or a boat’s owner.

From 1985 through 2012, if an allegation of gross misconduct was made against a support person, the protest committee could send the allegation to the national authority (in the United States, US Sailing), which could investigate, hold a hearing and then take “any disciplinary action within its jurisdiction it [considered] appropriate” against the support person. (This was part of Rule 69.2(a) in the 2009-2012 rules.) However, that provision was removed in 2013. When I asked why that had been done, a lawyer for World Sailing explained to me that that provision in Rule 69.2(a) would not hold up in court because, unlike a competitor or boat owner, a support person was not subject to Rule 3, Acceptance of the Rules. Rule 3 is a Fundamental Rule, which creates a legally binding obligation under which each competitor who participates in a race agrees to be governed by the racing rules.

Therefore, in order for a protest committee to be able to discipline a support person, a rule like the current Rule 3 must create a legally binding obligation on support persons. In the 2017 rulebook, an extensive set of changes will be made to obligate support persons to follow Rule 69 and any rules in the notice of race or sailing instructions that govern their activities. To accomplish this, a definition of “support person”


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