Outside help

Everyone is required to give help to any person or boat that may be in danger, and the recipient of such help does not necessarily break racing rule 41 which limits the help a boat may receive.

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This guidance note is directed at race committees to assist them in deciding appropriate action before and after giving information or assistance to boats and competitors that are racing, as defined in the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS). It is also relevant to protest committees when afloat observing races and when considering protests and redress.

RRS 41, Outside Help, has changed several times; see Rules and Terminology below. These changes raise issues that may not have been considered previously, in particular:

  • Could the action or information cause the boat or competitor to break RRS 41?
  • Could the action or information be improper and lead to redress under RRS 62.1(a)?
  • Should the race committee, or exceptionally the protest committee, protest a boat that may have gained an advantage from help received under RRS 41(a)?

The guidance considers what can be done, without compromising safety, to mitigate any disadvantage to boats or competitors arising from race committee actions.

This guidance does not discuss what is ‘information freely available’ as permitted by RRS 41(c). World Sailing case 120 and RYA case 2005/5 Q&A 3 refer.

Rules and Terminology

RRS 41 as amended from January 2021 is as follows:

A boat shall not receive help from any outside source, except

  1. help for a crew member who is ill, injured or in danger;
  2. after a collision, help from the crew of the other boat to get clear;
  3. help in the form of information freely available to all boats;
  4. unsolicited information from a disinterested source, which may be another boat in the same race.

RRS 62.1(a) allows a claim for redress when an improper action of the race committee, or of any other race official, may have resulted in a boat's score being made worse.

RRS 64.2 states the penalty when a boat has broken a rule and is not exonerated.

All three of these rules can be changed by sailing instructions.

Race committee includes anyone performing a race committee function, including patrol boats and their crews.


When competitors may be in danger, particularly when in the water and separated from their boat, any assistance given to remove them from danger will be one of the priorities of the race committee. In many cases, fellow competitors will also be required to offer help, and possibly to provide help, in accordance with fundamental RRS 1.1. RRS 41(a) specifically allows the boat or competitor to receive this help. 

When a patrol boat has removed a competitor from the water, anyone else in a similar situation should be attended to. If no one else is in need of rescue, it is both normal and acceptable for the patrol boats to return competitors that need no further help to their boats. If this is not possible because of the need for other rescues or for any other reason, any delay in returning the competitors to their boats is not an improper action under RRS 62.1(a).

When competitors are returned to their boats the boat will not have broken RRS 41. However, in exceptional circumstances, it is possible that the boat received help more than that necessary under RRS 41(a). If so, she will still not have broken RRS 41 but she may have broken RRS 42.1 or 48.2. Any such allegation will depend on the precise details of the incident.

When a competitor is recovered by a support person, a term that includes a coach, parent or other person associated with that boat, or by any other boat that is not accredited to the event, the race committee should consider a protest for any action beyond the immediate recovery of the competitor.

Reports and Protests; Sailing Instructions

To ensure the fairness of the competition, all instances of help under RRS 41(a) should be reported to the race committee, preferably by the competitor. The race committee should consider protesting a boat if it observes potential abuse of the rule.

Mandatory Instructions on the Water

If the race committee in pursuance of its responsibilities for safety wishes to require boats and competitors to comply with their verbal instructions, it will be appropriate to include a sailing instruction similar to one of the following. This is particularly important for junior classes. These words are based on the UK Optimist Class sailing instructions.

Boats and Competitors in Difficulty

When the race committee considers that a boat or competitor is in difficulty, it may instruct the boat or competitor to accept outside help, retire or sail ashore. The boat and crew shall comply with such instructions without delay.

Boats and Competitors in Difficulty

When the race committee considers that a boat, its equipment or crew are not adequate for the existing or anticipated conditions, or that a boat or crew member is in difficulty, it may instruct the boat or crew not to launch, or to retire or to sail ashore or to accept outside help. The boat and crew shall comply with such instructions without delay.

Some observers may note that such a sailing instruction appears to conflict with RRS 3, Decision to Race. However, RRS 3 does not absolve a race committee of responsibility for taking reasonable care in its organisation of the racing, particularly when competitors are young or inexperienced. Reference should also be made to the RYA leaflet "Race, Training and Event Management – The Legal Aspects".

Information Provided to Boats

When the race committee provides information to boats that are racing, this ranks under RRS 41(d) as unsolicited information from a disinterested source. Thus a boat does not break RRS 41 by receiving and acting upon this information. However the race committee must ensure that the information given does not unfairly help one boat over another.

It is important to achieve a balance between providing useful information which will help the race as a whole and information which will advantage one boat over the rest of the fleet. An example of the former might be telling all boats shortly before the start that some are currently on the course side of the line; this may help the whole fleet to achieve a fair start. Different considerations might apply where a race committee tells one boat that she is sailing to the wrong mark. When it is intended to communicate using VHF radio or by any other means not set out in the RRS, this should be stated in the sailing instructions.

Further Assistance

The RYA will endeavour to answer questions from event organisers. Any questions must be by email addressed to racingrules@rya.org.uk.

Questions from individuals can be answered only if the relevant event organiser has been unable to answer the question and only if the individual is a RYA Personal Member.