Speeds & Smarts: Changing course FAQs

Speeds & Smarts

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the application
of Rule 16 on the race course. Some of these questions are also addressed in
other parts of this issue.

Q: If I'm on starboard tack and converging with a port-tacker, do I
have to hold my course?

A: Definitely not. There is no rule that ever requires you to
“freeze” the course you are sailing. Rule 16 just puts certain
limitations on your turning options. As long as you give the other boat room to
keep clear (Rule 16. 1), you can change your course as you wish.
Of course, if the port-tacker is passing astern, you must also limit your
course changes in compliance with Rule 16.2 (i.e. you must not change course in
a way that makes P change course immediately).

Q: Is “hunting” permitted?
A: Hunting is what happens when a right-of-way boat aims toward a boat that
must keep clear. Rule 16 was written to limit how much a right-of-way boat can
hunt; without this rule it would be impossible for a give-way boat to keep
clear of an aggressive hunter.
However, the answer to the question is yes. You are allowed to “hunt”
(i.e. change your course toward the give-way boat) as long as you comply with
Rule 16 by giving the other boat room to keep clear. If the other boat is a
port-tacker bearing off behind you, your options for hunting are very limited.

Q: What if I'm on starboard and I get lifted just as a port-tacker is
crossing me?

A: Rule 16.1 still applies. You can turn up toward the other boat but only if
you give them room to keep clear. There is no “free pass” on Rule 16
just because you get a lift.

Q: When I'm a leeward boat, how fast can I luff the windward boat?
A: There is no set speed at which you are permitted to luff a windward boat.
Rule 16 doesn't say you must luff slowly nor does it permit you to luff
rapidly. It just says that when you change your course you must allow the
give-way boat “room to keep clear”.
This means the speed at which you can luff may be different in every situation.
It depends on the wind velocity, sea state, presence of other boats (or
obstructions) and the maneuverability of the windward boat. Under certain
conditions you can luff very quickly and still give the other boat room to keep
clear; at other times a turn that is much less rapid may be too fast.
When you are a luffing leeward boat, a good rule of thumb is never to touch the
windward boat. You can try a quick luff, but if you get too close stop turning.
This way you greatly reduce the risk of getting a penalty under Rule 16 (or
Rule 14).

Q: Is there any difference between luffing before and after starting?
A: As far as Rule 16 is concerned, no. Whenever a right-of-way boat changes
course, before or after the starting signal, she must give the other boat room
to keep clear.
Of course, the starting line is usually more crowded than other parts of the
race course. So when you are luffing a windward boat before the start, there is
a better chance that she will have a boat to windward of her; therefore you
will have to give her more room (space and time) to respond to your luff.

Q: Does Rule 16 apply everywhere and at all times while I'm racing?
A: No, unfortunately not. It would be really nice if we could say that the
right-of-way boat always has to give the other boat room when changing course.
This is almost true, but there is one small exception. When a right-of-way boat
is changing course to round a mark, Rule 16 does not apply. That is the one
time when a right-of-way boat can change course without regard for Rule 16.

Q: When I'm the give-way boat, do I have to anticipate that the
right-of-way boat may change her course in the future?

A: No. According to ISAF Case 92, a give-way boat does not have to anticipate
that a right-of-way boat may keep on turning. When Rule 16 applies, it is
sufficient if you respond only to what the right-of-way boat is doing at the
present moment. (Of course, it may be better tactically to act on your best
guess about what the other boat will do.)
However, there is one time when Rule 16 turns off and you have to (or at least
you should) anticipate how the right-of-way boat will change her course. That's
when she is turning to round a mark. During this time Rule 16 does not apply
(see Rule 18.2d), so the only protection you have from course changes made by
the right-of-way boat is your own anticipation.

Q: Does the answer above change if the right-of-way boat hails that
she is going to change her course?

A: No. A hail is helpful but it's not mentioned in the rule so it does not
change the right-of-way boat's obligation under Rule 16: Each time she actually
changes her course she must give you room to keep clear.

Q: If I'm the right-of-way boat and I avoid contact with the give-way
boat, is there any chance I could be penalised under Rule 16?

A: Yes. There are at least several ways you can break Rule 16; without having
contact:
1) You change course toward a port-tacker that is passing behind you and she
has to change her course immediately to keep clear;
2) You luff rapidly to a point where the windward boat can not turn in either
direction without immediately making contact;
3) You “hunt” a port-tacker that is crossing ahead of you and the
only way she can keep clear is by doing a crash tack and capsize. If this
unseamanlike manoeuvre was the only way she could keep clear, then you did not
give her “room”.

Q: If I'm a leeward boat and I luff a windward boat head to wind and
then we have contact, which boat is wrong?

A: That could go either way. When you change your course toward the other boat,
you are required to give her room to keep clear (Rule 16), and she is required
to keep clear of you (Rule 11). If you luff so fast that there is no way for
the windward boat to keep dear then you will break Rule 16.
However, if the give-way boat delays her response to your luff or if she does
not respond as quickly or as completely as possible, then she breaks Rule 11.
As long as the windward boat does everything she can to keep clear a you from
the moment you begin to start turning, she is “protected” by Rule 16.

Q: If I comply with Rule 16, do I still have to worry about breaking
Rule 14 (Avoiding Contact)?

A: Yes, yes, yes! Rule 14 is one rule that always applies on the race course!
You are always required to avoid contact. Of course, if Rule 16 applies to you
it means you have the right of way, and Rule 14 says the right-of-way boat will
not be penalised unless the contact causes damage or injury. However, if you
keep turning until there is contact, you almost always risk the possibility of
damage, if not injury.

The starting line is usually very crowded and that's why Rule 16 comes into
play there all the time. Whenever you are a leeward boat and your luff affects
a windward boat, you must comply with Rule 16.This means you must always give
the windward boat room to keep clear when you change your course. There used to
be a separate rule for luffing before starting, but now any luff before the
start is subject to the same exact limitations as course changes after the
start. (Steb Fisher)

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