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 What rules?

So you want to play the game of sailing? Well like any other game, first of all you have to learn the rules.

It's a bit different to when you have your first game of footy, because you have watched other people play, your Dad probably told about tries, free kicks, headhigh tackles, scrums and all that other stuff, and as well as that you probably watched the footy replays on TV a few times.

But because you can't watch the sailing replays on TV, it is a bit different. Most people go out sailing and it is a long time before they start to learn the rules - and no wonder. When you first get a look at what is in the rule book it looks all so hard, but it isn't really because a lot of the rule book is about stuff that you don't need to know for most of your sailing. And if you are still not sure, then go and get an AFL rule book and see how complicated the game looks when it is all written down.

So how are you going to learn the rules if you can't watch the slow motion replays on TV? Well you can get one of your mates to explain them, but he probably hasn't read the rule book either. The best ways are to turn up to a rules night at your local club (they can be fun if you don't get an old fuddy-duddy with boring stories), or even better, buy yourself one of the many books that explain what the rules mean in plain English and have some pictures of incidents, rather than just the rule itself.

The only problem is, the rules have just changed on April 1st of this year (appropriate date isn't it?) so all the various rules books authors are busily running around trying to get their new books printed. The good news is that not that much has changed, so if you really don't know your rules and can't wait, then see if you can find someone who has a good book and borrow it.

The next important thing to do is always keep it in your sailing bag (not with all your wet stuff otherwise your Mum will yell at you). Then when you are sailing around and you have a close call and the other guy yells at you as if you just shot the Pope, what you do is:

  • Don't yell back (just yet)
  • If you have an inkling that you were in the wrong, do a 720 (read the rule book on 720's)
  • Come ashore and get out your non-soggy rule book
  • Read up on the rule and see if you can find a rule that applies
  • If you were in the wrong and you did a 720, then you are OK. Just have a chat with the other guy and just let him know you weren't out to get him (I'll take this bit for granted).
  • If you were in the wrong and didn't do a 720, then the correct thing to do is to retire from the race, even if you didn't hit the other guy. However, I have always found that an apology to the other person will quite often smooth things over, especially if it was a minor incident and it isn't a big race. However, you shouldn't take this for granted and you might even find yourself in the protest room. If this does happen, then you should really retire, although it is sometimes interesting to take it to a protest to find out what the jury thinks, especially if you are not sure. Being in a protest doesn't mean you are a bad person, or that you want to thump the other skipper - it just means that you want an independant body to give you a ruling on an incident.
  • But if you were in the right, take your rule book over to the other skipper and talk to him about it. Hopefully you will both learn something.
This is the best way to learn the rules, rather than reading or listening to someone else. As the old saying goes:
"I hear, I forget; I see, I remember; I do, I understand".

So what book to buy

Check out the books available at Boat Books in their Yacht Racing section. The book that I think is the best is the one by Eric Twinane who has three sections to his book:
  • Rules that Everyone should know
  • Rules that Most people should know
  • Rules for the experts
"Rules that Everyone should know" is a very short section, so beginners can easily pick up on what they need to know to go racing, without having to wade through a long boring book, brushing up on rules that they will never use.

What is more amazing is that in my opinion, the first section would probably get you quite comfortably through a World Championship in most classes. All the other rules would hardly every come up, if ever, in most sailors careers. So my vote would be for Eric Twinane's book. Unfortunately Eric died some time ago, but Brian Willis has been updating the book in the same fashion, and hopefully Brian will keep this up as it is an excellent way to present the rules. If you really want to read just the plain old rules, click on the menu at the left to read the rules online at the ISAF website.

And if you are feeling clever, why not try out our Brain Teaser !