Principles of the rules

Principles of the rules

The principles of the rules should be understood

Now let me try to explain the rule of the road of the R.Y.A. I don't believe anybody can remember all the rules. I don't think it is necessary to try. As a fact the experts who framed the R.Y.A. rules did not intend them to be committed to memory.

The way to understand the rules is to absorb the broad principles. Remember them. Do not bother your head too much about anything else. When one is sailing a yacht race one is in the devil's own hurry, and it is no time to worry about the minute details of the rules, but one must never forget the main principles. I will therefore tell you the broad principles.


The first to remember, and the most important, is the overtaking rule. It is very short and simple: The overtaking yacht must keep out of the way of the overtaken yacht.

Now this rule like all the others only applies when there is risk of collision, and if there is no risk of collision we need not bother with it. If there is no risk of collision we need not bother about any rules of the road.

So let us first understand what the R.Y.A, means by this phrase "Risk of Collision". Suppose both yachts at the same time put their helms hard over so that each turned a complete circle. If they turned towards one another in this way so that the circles they make would intersect so that if they were navigated like that they would foul-that is the R.Y.A.'s definition of the range of risk of collision.

Any helmsman can picture this range pretty well with his eye. If the yachts are outside this range there is no risk, and rules cease to apply. If they are inside it the rule of the road must he observed.

If there is the smallest doubt risk must be deemed to exist and the rules applied. Now for our first rule, the overtaking rule.

What is an overtaking yacht?

There are three things essential to the position of an overtaking yacht.

1. She must be sailing the same or nearly the same course as the other.
2. She must have been clear astern.
3. She must have approached the other yacht from clear astern while within this zone or range of risk of collision.

I have used the expression "clear astern". I will explain that. It means when the bows or bowsprit of the boat astern is behind a line drawn square across the boom end or counter of the yacht ahead. Then one yacht is "clear astern" the other yacht is "clear ahead".

So you see exactly what is meant by an overtaking yacht. She is not, as in the Merchant Shipping Act, any vessel more than two point abaft the beam and perhaps a mile off.

No, under R.Y.A. rules she is a yacht inside this risk zone I have described, sailing in the same or nearly the same direction as the yacht ahead, and coming up upon her from behind; from clear astern.
It is the common sense idea of an overtaking yacht when both vessels are sailing in the same direction.

Now it is the duty of this overtaking vessel to keep out of the way. She must keep out of the way until she has "drawn clear".

How can she draw clear? She may do so in three ways:

Firstly, we picture her astern; next coming up and overlapping, that is as we say getting an overlap, this word overlap means whilst heading in the same direction the yachts are not clear, and then we picture her passing and drawing clear ahead when the overlap ceases.

That is the first way the overtaking yacht can draw clear. All this time she must keep out of the way. Directly she has drawn clear ahead in the manner she becomes the overtaken yacht, then the boot is on the other leg.

Secondly: the overtaking yacht may open out wide abreast right outside the zone or circle. Then the rules in regard to her cease to operate.

Thirdly: she may fall astern and the same thing happens. So much then for the overtaking boat; all the time she ranks as such she must keep out of the way. Now a word about the overtaken boat.

The R.Y.A. rules here differ in one detail from the Merchant Shipping Act, because they allow this overtaken vessel to actually deviate from her course by luffing, to prevent, or obstruct as it were, the overtaking yacht when the latter overtakes her upon the windward side. This is certainly a peculiar rule, but it is a very well-known one in racing. I say it is peculiar because it does appear to allow the overtaken yacht to make a collision. It seems to allow her, you might even say, invites her, to put her helm down and run into the other yacht !

But this is not in racing a dangerous proceeding, because you see when lufhng is allowed the yachts are sailing along the same way and the overlapping vessel has been clear astern, and she was obviously seen coming close up on the other's weather, and as she thus came up, she knew all along the boat ahead was going to luff her at
any moment. This being the case the overtaking boat is very cautious about coining up on the leading boat's weather side.

The overtaking boat is allowed by R.Y.A. rules a free passage on the lee side of the other, and the overtaken vessel must not bear away to hinder her. When the overtaking yacht chooses the leeward side the overtaken yacht must disregard her. She must sail fairly "full and by", if close-hauled. She must point honestly for her mark if the wind is free.

That is my explanation of the principle of the overtaking rule. It is as I have said the most important of all rules. After you have grasped it all the rest will seem exceedingly simple.

There are two other rules of importance which however have nothing to do with overtaking. They are quite different. They apply when yachts are not overtaking or being overtaken.

They are called the Meeting, Crossing and Converging Clauses.

Meeting, crossing and converging

If yachts are not overtaking, if they are within this zone of the range of risk of collision, they must be meeting, crossing, or converging. Now just suppose for one moment that by accident a collision did occur under the overtaking rule, it might not be, and probably would not be, a very serious one. The reader will see the yachts would be sailing the same course, and so it would be a glancing blow.

Not so, however, in meeting, crossing, or converging; it would be a deuce of a smash. Therefore one must remember this very important principle. These meeting, crossing, and converging clauses are specially intended to avoid collision. There should never be a collision under these clauses under any circumstances whatever if it can possibly be avoided. That is the most important principle and law of the R.Y.A.

Now I can explain these clauses in a few words:
1. Port tack keeps out of way of starboard tack.
2. Windward yacht keeps out of way of leeward yacht

I don't think this needs any explanation. I am not going to explain the meaning of port and starboard tack. The rule is plain. The starboard tack is sacred.

Now if I am in the leeward boat, and there is one, or any number of boats to windward of me, they have got to keep out of my way. If I am to windward of any other yacht I have got to keep out of her way. Thus I have only given the reader three rules to remember, and anybody can remember these no matter how excited he may be:

1. Overtaking yacht keep clear.
2. Port tack keep clear.
3. Windward yacht keep clear.

Those three things are the broad principles of yacht racing and must inever be forgotten.