Environmental responsibility and trash disposal

Guidance on the Basic Principle, Environmental Responsibility, and rule 47, Trash Disposal.

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A Basic Principle in the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS), Environmental Responsibility, states that participants are encouraged to minimise any adverse environmental impact of the sport of sailing. Fortunately, sailing has inherently fewer environmental impacts than many other sports, and the word 'minimise' recognises that few human activities are without environmental consequences.

‘Environmental impact’ is a wider issue than not polluting the water. 'Participants' are a wider group than just competitors.

This Basic Principle is not a rule, but it should be taken into account from the outset of any activity related to sailing - for instance, in the design, location and operation of facilities ashore. Environmental Responsibility is a core principle of the RYA, which is the joint owner of The Green Blue Project that provides much valuable information and guidance – see www.thegreenblue.org.uk.

Rule 47, Trash Disposal, states that competitors or (since 2021) support persons shall not intentionally put trash in the water. This creates an enforceable rule out of one aspect of environmental responsibility. This rule applies at all times when boats are on the water. In addition, competitors should comply with all international, national, regional and local requirements for the prevention of marine pollution.

There is no definition of ’trash’ in the RRS. It is a word to be 'used in the sense ordinarily understood in nautical or general use' (see the Introduction to the RRS; Terminology). One dictionary definition of trash is 'unwanted matter which has been discarded'. It is synonymous with 'rubbish' and ‘garbage’.

Annex V of the MARPOL Convention, to which the UK is a signatory, prohibits the disposal of garbage from ships at sea. Garbage is defined under MARPOL as ‘all kinds of victual, domestic and operational waste generated during the normal operation of the ship’ with the term ‘ship’ being defined as ‘a vessel of any type whatsoever operating in the marine environment’. Local byelaws will cover inland waterways. It would be appropriate for notices of race or sailing instructions to emphasise that these principles always apply.


Question 1

Is human excremental matter considered to be trash for the purpose of RRS 47?

Answer 1

No, human excremental matter is sewage and not trash. Competitors should however note that there may be other laws and regulations that apply.

Question 2

It has been practice in some classes to prepare the spinnaker by tying it together with wool or rubber bands at intervals, to prevent the spinnaker from filling during the hoist. Once hoisted and sheeted, the bands will break, the spinnaker will open and, ultimately, the bands will end up in the water. Does this action break rule 47?

Answer 2


Question 3

If the answer to question 2 is yes, would it make any difference if the material used was biodegradable?

Answer 3


Question 4

If this practice is required for reasons of safety or proper seamanship, what can be done to prevent such boats from being protested under rule 47 each time they hoist spinnakers?

Answer 4

Rule 47 was introduced to support a development of sailing in a direction towards a higher level of environmental responsibility. Event organisers and officials should also comply with the basic principle in the rulebook about environmental responsibility. Simply deleting rule 47 is the opposite of that.

Boats can use different systems when hoisting a spinnaker other than rubber or wool bands (e.g. snuffers, socks, velcro or zips). It should also be noted that, from 2021, rule 47 has been added to the list of rules in rule 86.1(a) that may not be changed by the sailing instructions or notice of race, and hence deleting or modifying rule 47 is no longer possible.

Other RYA Recommendations

The objective should be prevention rather than penalisation. Organising authorities should use a sailing instruction to encourage and enable competitors that are likely to be afloat in small boats for lengthy periods to dispose of trash onto support or official vessels.

The environmental impact of any particular type of discarded matter will vary. A glass bottle has a near-infinite life in water, whereas the remains of a sandwich will disperse and degrade relatively rapidly. It is clear that there can be a very wide range of possible breaches of rule 47. Reflecting this, in 2017, the rule was amended to state ‘The penalty for a breach of this rule may be less than disqualification’, i.e. this rule has been made subject to discretionary penalties (DPI) from the protest committee (see separate RYA guidance on Discretionary Penalties).