Helping a Capsized Boat in a Race

From the US Appeals Book an explanation of RRS 41(a) - Outside Help -

Helping a Capsized Boat in a Race Image
Photo courtesy of Matias Capizzano

From the US Appeals Book, an explanation of the RRS 41(a) – Outside Help –

by Dave Perry, chair US Sailing Appeals Committee

A common situation is that a boat has capsized in a race, at least one of the crew is in the water, and there are Race Committee or coach/parent boats nearby watching the racing. Under the previous rule 41, Outside Help, if a support boat went over and lifted the mast of the capsized boat and held the boat while the crew climbed back onboard, the boat could have been disqualified from the race.

As a result, boats were refusing help, and/or support boats were reluctant to give help, out of the fear of causing the boat to be disqualified. That was considered an unsafe situation, and rule 41 was changed in the 2021-2024 rule book.

Recent Question 127, published in the US Sailing Appeals Book on January 1, 2024, discusses the new rule 41. Rule 41(a) states:
A boat shall not receive help from any outside source, except (a) help for a crew member who is ill, injured or in danger.” 

The phrase “in danger” is not defined in The Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS). The Terminology section of the Introduction to the RRS states that “other words and terms are used in the sense ordinarily understood in nautical or general use.” As understood in general use, the phrase “in danger” means: “the possibility of something happening that may injure, harm or kill somebody.” 

When people are in the water, the possibility of injury, harm, or death exists. Therefore, it should be considered that they are “in danger” until it is obvious that they are not. There are many reasons a person in the water may be in danger, including injury, fatigue, hypothermia, preexisting health conditions, physical disabilities, being tangled in the rigging, being separated from the boat, being in water where there are sharks, and other reasons.

Case 20 states:
“A boat in a position to help another that may be in danger is required by rule 1.1, Helping Those in Danger, to do so.” 

A boat, competitor or support person will likely have no knowledge as to the circumstances that led to a person being in the water, or the condition of the person, until they are close by and have had the chance to assess the situation, which will, if practicable, usually include discussing the situation with the person.

If any of the crew of the capsized boat were “in danger,” and if they would remain in danger until the boat is righted and the crew is back on board, then the boat has not broken rule 41(a), and it may continue in the race. Furthermore, if the crew is unable to right the boat without outside help, then the crew is “in danger” and the boat has not broken rule 41(a).

Note, the previous rule 41 ended with this statement: “However, a boat that gains a significant advantage in the race from help received under rule 41(a) may be protested and penalized; any penalty may be less than disqualification.” This statement was deleted in the 2021-2024 RRS.



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