same old, same old – not quite!

Well it’s that time in the Olympic Cycle once again when Word Sailing updates the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) and from January 1st 2021 we will all be dancing to the tune of RRS2021-2024 just when some of us have finally got to grips with the finer points of 2017-2020 (or not!)

So is it once again a fillip for publishers coffers or are there any meaningful amendments?

If I have missed any changes, I apologise up front and I would advise sailors to read them for themselves as it is the competitors obligation to comply with the rules relevant at the time. Some of the changes may appear to be change for change sake but on re-examination in many cases have removed opportunity for any ambiguity. 

In this first article we will look at the actual rules which are applied “at the time” on the race course and will cover the “administration” stuff in Part 2


One has to go no further than the ‘Introduction’ to find the first one, “Hails”. 

Since the year dot, the only (officially) acceptable language for making a hail has been English, protests have been thrown out at World Championship level simply because the hail was in the sailor’s own language. Now, and coming into line with the global leveling of the racial playing field, a required hail can be in a different language although English is always OK.

This means that a young sailor doesn’t have to learn a foreign language to exercise their rights on the race course if it is a regatta up to, say, national level.  However, it still has to be reasonable that the hail is understood by all boats affected. A new can of worms to be opened perhaps. Maybe World Sailing will one day recognise that ‘tone’ is often as important as the actual word and look into the overly high number of protests that are declared invalid due this technicality, but that’s just this writer’s opinion. (I assume World Sailing still allows opinions.)

A few changes in terminology also appear in the Introduction, what were previously titled ‘World Sailing Codes’ and ‘Cases and Calls’ are now labelled ‘World Sailing Regulations’ and ‘Interpretations’. 

In definitions there are few alterations which is probably a good thing as some sailors still haven’t fully learned them from 2017-2020 (or earlier). However the first one to note is that now the definition for finishing has had “after starting” inserted reminding us all that if we haven’t started we can hardly finish or hasn’t been correct in “sailing the course” . In the current rules is states the rule number (28.2) and not the words.

Marks now include any object intentionally attached to the object or vessel so no more claiming that touching a fender on the committee boat isn’t actually a mark touch. Anchor lines are still exempt however.

Mark room now includes room to round the mark without touching it,  understandable perhaps. Under “Obstruction” the rule referred to is 22 instead of 23 giving a hint of a rule change ahead.

“Proper Course” is now expanded from ‘to finish as soon as possible’ to ‘to sail the course and finish as soon as possible’. Seems a bit of words for their own sake as a boat cannot “Finish” until it has correctly sailed the course in any case but once again removing any ambiguity from the definition.

The definition of Rule  has been expanded slightly by stating that ‘World Sailing Regulations’ are considered rules rather than naming them individually and as WS Regulations can be changed at any time leaves the door open for changes and additional regulations mid cycle otherwise the same as before. In effect although the wording is different the meaning remains the same.

Then we have a brand new definition “Sail the Course” which actually defines the parameters of the good old string test with a clarification on gate marks making it clear that the gate has to be sailed through and not round.


Under sportsmanship there is an expansion of the wording from ‘when competitors break a rule they shall take a penalty’ to when a boat breaks a rule and is not exonerated she shall promptly take an appropriate penalty or action’. (Ed – Action could , for example be a scoring penalty)


Rule 2 Fair Sailing. I’m glad to see that the grey area allowing either a DSQ or a DNE for competitors found to have breached this rule has been removed. From Jan First those caught and found to be not sailing fair will have the score Disqualification Non Excludable for that race. 

For some reason Rules 3 & 4 have been flipped although it is perhaps logical that a boat decides to race (Rule 3) before agreeing to accept the rules (Rule 4) Other than the numbering change there is no difference.

Rule 5 is now for the organisers and officials specifically stating they too are governed by the rules. Gone are Rules 5,6 & 7 regarding Doping, Betting, corruption & Discipline and these areas are wrapped into Rule 6 “World Sailing Regulations which cover these areas and then some.


A sizable change to Rule 14 Avoiding Contact. Under the current rule if the contact does not cause damage or injury the right of way boat is exonerated. Under 2021-2024 the way Rule 14 is written is written, any contact is a breach of the rules. A further tightening of the concept of sailing being a non-contact sport. But wait – That element of the OLD RRS 14 has been shifted to RRS 43  as you will see in ‘Episode 2’.

Rule 16.2 Sees the removal of “after the starting signal” from the wording because a boat is not on a beat to windward until after the starting signal in any case so was unnecessary duplication of meaning. Also if the avoidance by the port tack boat is to spin round to leeward instead of sail astern, this is now covered by the changing of “sailing to pass astern” to “sailing to pass to leeward”. Once aain closing an existing loophole in the rule.

Rule 18.1 Has a line added in that 18 switches off once mark room has been given.

Rule 18.3 “Tacking in the Zone” has been changed to “Passing Head to Wind in the Zone”. Seems a strange change until one remembers that there are those who don’t always understand what a ‘tack’ is (Ed – Including some on our very own forums). Even though it is quite clear in RRS 13 No longer any need to understand the technicalities of when a boat actually tacks. It is “when she passed head to wind.

Other than that RRS 18.1 remains unchanged. 

Rule 20 “Room to Tack at an Obstruction” has a sensible new condition is added, 20.4 “Additional Requirements for Hails” When conditions are such that  a hail may not be heard (Ed – perhaps too windy or sails flogging or perhaps boats being too far apart as in Superyacht races) the boat shall (note the word SHALL) also make a signal that clearly indicates her need for room.

Moving on to the final element of “Part 2 When Boats Meet” the first and most obvious deletion is the removal of the ‘Old’ RRS 21 EXONORATION with RRS 22 moving up to RRS 21But don’t despair, Exoneration is maybe no longer RRS21 but it has been moved up to RRS43, placing it in the more logical place alongside Penalties at the time of Incident. We will look at that in Part 2.

Similarly RRS 23, Capsized, Anchored or aground; Rescuing is moved up one to RRS 22  and RRS 24 Interfering with another boat simply becomes RRS 23. No change of wording except that 22.1; 22.2 & 22,3 now become 21.1; 21.2 & 21.3. So no great changes other than of RRS 21 Exoneration becoming RRS 43 Exoneration.

I may have missed some elements (feel free to criticize, I never claim to be perfect)and in Section 2, I will be looking at the rules beyond the sailors’ interaction on the water.

Comment here.