Protecting committee boats

The correct methods for race managers to protect their own and borrowed boats used as committee boats.

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The Problem

It is common practice for organising authorities and race committees to borrow boats for use as committee vessels. Many owners lend their boats but are aware that there is a substantial risk of collision and resultant damage to the boat, particularly during the starting sequence. Therefore the race committee often protects the committee vessel with objects such as fenders, dinghies or RIBs, sometimes securing them with a long line.

Unless care is taken to comply with the definition Mark in the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS), an attachment may become an obstruction that is not a Mark (or part of one) thus falling outside the scope of the Preamble to Part 2 Section C rules. If so, boats may be permitted to barge in by claiming room at the start or to hail for room to tack.

Definition Mark

From 1 January 2021, this definition is revised and now reads:

Mark An object the sailing instructions require a boat to leave on a specified side, a race committee vessel surrounded by navigable water from which the starting or finishing line extends, and an object intentionally attached to the object or vessel. However, an anchor line is not part of the mark.

The underlined words are new.

The Solution

This paper addresses the words of the definition Mark and recommends sailing instructions to ensure the intentions of the race committee are achieved and are clear to competitors. The revised definition Mark makes the task a little easier and it must be emphasised that a RRS definition cannot be changed. When additional starting marks are laid that are not part of the starting line, they must be defined in the sailing instructions.

Attachments to a Committee Vessel

A committee vessel becomes a starting or finishing mark by virtue of the definition Mark when it is surrounded by navigable water and when a starting or finishing line extends from it. The revised definition is clear that any object, such as a dinghy or inflatable or patrol boat, that is tied or otherwise secured to the committee vessel is part of the mark. Conversely a dinghy or other vessel that has become entangled in the anchor line of the committee vessel is not intentionally attached and therefore is not part of the committee vessel or the mark.

Whilst the definition Mark refers to objects intentionally attached, it will be helpful to competitors to describe in the sailing instructions any attachment intended to protect the committee vessel.

Additional Starting Marks

At a start, it is common to protect a committee vessel and at the same time to offer clear wind to all boats and a safe exit for a boat barging, by laying a limit mark. Such limit marks are usually positioned on the starting line, ideally on or on the course side of the line, and at some distance from the committee vessel. However there may be circumstances when limit marks are quite properly laid some distance on the course side of the starting line, for example to protect a long overhang or an anchor chain that is only just below the surface. In order to comply with the definition Mark sailing instructions must state not only that an inner limit mark will be laid but also the side on which it is to be passed.

A suitable sailing instruction is:

When a [description] [dinghy/RIB/buoy/other] is laid near the committee vessel [and line vessel] [approximately on the starting line], it is a starting limit mark that shall be left on the same side as the nearby committee vessel [and line vessel].

A dinghy, RIB or buoy attached to the committee vessel on a long line is not recommended as it is likely to move around substantially and independently of the committee vessel. However, if such a device is considered necessary, it should be described as an attachment to the committee vessel. It must be noted that a limit mark laid more than one boat length from the starting line, on its pre-start side, may not have a required side and may be ineffective. 

Protecting the Committee Vessel after the Start

A race committee may decide, particularly in confined waters, that protection of the committee vessel should apply at all times while racing. It is possible to achieve this by including the following sailing instruction:

RRS 31, Touching a Mark, is changed to

While racing, a boat shall not touch a starting mark before starting, a mark that begins, bounds or ends the leg of the course on which she is sailing, or a finishing mark after finishing. In addition, while racing, a boat shall not touch a race committee vessel that is also a mark.