RRS Philosophy

Home Design Build Race Links Reports Other Topics

A while back I wrote some articles about rules, mainly Class rules, how they come about, and how they are interpreted (Interpreting the rules, Reflections on the rules). In working with the ISAF Racing Rules of Sailing, there are some further considerations which I think are worth exploring. To summarise the conversation so far, I think we can say that rules (any rules) are the product of people with the intention of structuring some kind of situation that people find acceptable. Because people are fallible, the intentions must be communicated using imprecise language, the situation we are interested in has the structure of a game, and its players and stakeholders constitute a community of diverse interests, we find we have continual debate and negotiation over what the rules really mean and how they really should be observed. What’s the ‘philosophy’ of the RRS?

1 Aggrieved

The first issue for understanding the RRS philosophy is the notion of “aggrieved”. In playing a game (and racing by the Rules is playing a game), the players generally bind themselves to abide by the game rules, but it is often the case that a player finds a breach of a rule by some other player to be something they are not particularly bothered or concerned about. The player is not aggrieved. For example, in the last heat of an event when I am currently in 31st place out of 32 boats, I might not be aggrieved if the boat currently in 1st place in the event tacks underneath me within the zone in order to pass the windward mark, and both of us manage to pass the mark without further ado. On the other hand, I will probably be aggrieved if the boat currently in 29th place does the same thing and causes me to sail above close hauled to avoid a collision because it was done clumsily.

It is worth mentioning that, while we usually think of a competitor as aggrieved, it is also true that the Race Committee might or might not be aggrieved, or indeed the Protest Committee if it were to learn about another rule breach in the course of a hearing.

Now if I am not aggrieved, I do not need to hail a protest, and I am happy to leave it up to the other competitor whether they might wish to take a penalty or not. Those with grey hair might remember that, a while back, it was a Rule that a fouled boat was required to protest, and could itself be protested by another boat if it did not. No longer. Similarly, the Race Committee might take the view that, if no one protested about some incident, there was no reason for the Race Committee to be aggrieved on some competitor’s behalf. In radio sailing, we know that this is generally true of the Race Committee, except in any situation where there is contact, either between boats, or between a boat and a mark.

In radio sailing, I have found the most interesting application of this notion in Rule 44.1(b). The relevant part of the rule says, “if a boat, despite taking a penalty, gained a significant advantage by her breach, her penalty shall be to retire”.

From time to time, the boat that fouled me manages to take a snap turn and gets going while I’m still in irons. Heck, from time to time, I’ll foul a boat, take my penalty turn, and still manage to round the mark ahead. Strictly speaking, the fouling boat should now retire, but I’ve hardly ever seen that happen, for two reasons. First is, the fouled boat may not be aggrieved enough to protest. There are many reasons why a boat will get ahead of me despite taking a penalty, and most of them are because I’m probably not as good a sailor as the other boat. So I mutter to myself and sail on. Second, if it turns out that I am aggrieved and I protest, the fouling boat almost always then hangs around, maybe taking a few more turns, maybe flogging its sails, until I sail by. Again, strictly speaking, that boat should retire, but both of us accept an interpretation of the rule which says that, although it might have looked for a while like the fouling boat was going to gain a significant advantage, it turned out that she did not because she took steps to make sure that she did not. So we both grumpily sail on.

2 Dispute resolution

The second issue for understanding the RRS philosophy is to appreciate that, for an aggrieved competitor or Race Committee, the Protest Committee offers a dispute resolution service. The point here is that the Protest Committee is not acting as a referee, umpire, enforcer, prosecutor, or policeman. Instead, it is simply offering an aggrieved game player an informed judgement, if they wish to ask for it, on whether a rule was indeed broken, on who was at fault, and on the relevant penalty prescribed by the rules.

I may be aggrieved, and I may not be satisfied with the action (or lack of action) on the part of the other competitor, but I may nevertheless decide not to put the matter before the Protest Committee. No problem, we know that sailing is a community and social activity, and we know two things here: one is that there are other ways I can gain satisfaction, and the other is that the Protest Committee may not necessarily see things my way anyway.

On the other hand, if I do take my grievance to the Protest Committee, I know what to expect: based on the facts it finds, I will be given its best judgement on fault and penalty.

3 The facts

There is one unappreciated secret about a Protest Committee: it must find the facts before it can come to a decision. (If you want to become an accredited national or international judge, the training programme is utterly forthright: if you think you cannot find facts or if there seem to be insufficient facts, and as a result you feel there is no option but to dismiss the protest, no, you must go back and find more facts until you have enough on which to base a decision as required by Rule 63.6.)

I’ve written a satirical piece about this (Protesting), and it is a point that the game player (that’s you, the radio sailing competitor) must appreciate: a Protest Committee outcome is a voting matter, and you absolutely must have more facts than your opponent. If you are unable to provide enough facts, the Protest Committee will find facts of its own, and these may be facts which do not support your case.

4 Two kinds of rule

Finally, there are two kinds of rule in the RRS. There is a subtle difference between a rule which defines a required action, and a rule which defines whether some action is valid. It turns out that you can be aggrieved and protest about the first kind of rule, but not the second, even though they both seem to be written in the same way about what someone should, or should not, do.

In radio sailing, this is illustrated by the rule regarding taking a penalty by doing a turn. Rule 44.2 tells us how to take your turn. Interestingly, you cannot protest a boat for “breaking” Rule 44.2, since it is a rule about whether some action is valid, and so it is not a rule which can be “broken”. Similarly, in RRS 2013-2016 Rule E2.1 tells you how to hail a sail number: “One zero five protests four four”. If I hail, “One hundred and five protests fourty four”, that is an invalid hail, but you cannot protest me for making it.

These kinds of rules are for the use of the Protest Committee in deciding whether your action was valid. Sometimes a Protest Committee will say that you broke Rule 44.2, but that isn’t strictly true; what it should say is that your action did not meet the validity requirement of 44.2, and so whatever manoeuvres you did on the course did not constitute a penalty turn.



©2022 Lester Gilbert