To understand the right of way rules in Part 2 - When Boats Meet of the 1997-2000 Rules (the RRS) it is necessary to understand three fundamental concepts:   (1) "right of way" and the obligation to "keep clear" of another boat, (2) "room" for a boat to complete a particular maneuver and (3) the requirement that a boat sail a "proper course". It is important that you understand and be able to distinguish among these three fundamental concepts.

      Right of Way and Keep Clear.   As between any two boats on the race course, one boat will always be obligated to "keep clear" of the other. The boat that is obligated to "keep clear" of the other is called the giveway, burdened or keep clear boat. The other boat that she must keep clear of is said to have "right of way" over her and is called the right-of-way boat. [As shorthand I will use r-o-w to mean "right of way."] Most of the time the rule that creates the obligation to "keep clear" will be a rule of Section A (Rules 10, 11, 12 & 13), though occasionally a rule from Section C (Rule 18 or 19) or Section D (Rule 20) may impose an obligation to "keep clear" as well.

      The obligation to "keep clear" means that the giveway boat must allow the r-o-w boat to sail her course without interference from the giveway boat. In other words, the giveway boat must avoid the r-o-w boat while the r-o-w boat is sailing her course. The definition of "keep clear" helps to explain what the obligations of a giveway boat will be. See "Keep Clear" in Selected Definitions - Part 1.

      If a boat has r-o-w (because the other must "keep clear" of her) then she may generally sail whatever course she wants unless some other rule specifically imposes some other obligation on her. There are five different obligations that will restrict the actions of a r-o-w boat:

  • avoiding contact with another boat (Rule 14)
  • giving "room" (Rules 15, 16, 18 & 19)
  • sailing a "proper course" (Rules 17 & 18.4)
  • avoiding capsized, anchored, aground and rescuing boats (Rule 21)
  • avoiding interference with boats still racing or taking a penalty (Rule 22)

    Each of these rules is discussed separately elsewhere in the Guide. See Right of Way Rules.

          If a particular incident involves more than one boat it is important to remember that r-o-w involves the obligation of one boat to keep clear of another. Therefore in determining the rights of one boat versus several others you must separately consider that boat against each of the others.

          Room. There is only one definition of "room", but there are several different places in the rules where one boat is obligated to give another "room" to do something. The obligation to give "room" is actually three different obligations, relating to three different types of room, as follows:

  • room for a giveway boat to keep clear of a r-o-w boat (Rules 15 & 16)
  • room for an inside giveway boat to pass a mark or obstruction (Rule 18)
  • room for a boat to tack to avoid an obstruction (Rule 19)

          The obligation to give room should generally be considered an obligation of a r-o-w boat to give room to a giveway boat, and thus is a limitation on the rights of the r-o-w boat. While the rules do at times require that a giveway boat give room to a r-o-w boat [under Rule 19 (Room to Tack at an Obstruction)], if the giveway boat satisfies her obligation to keep clear of the r-o-w boat, she should also satisfy any obligation to give room to the r-o-w boat.

          The obligation to give "room to keep clear" under either Rule 15 (Acquiring Right of Way) or Rule 16 (Changing Course) could be said to be temporary because it will apply for a short time after a boat acquires r-o-w [Rule 15] or changes course [Rule 16]. It will only last a short time because the definition of "room" incorporates the concept that the boat entitled to room is only entitled to the space to act promptly in a seamanlike way. See "Room" in Selected Definitions - Part 2. By contrast, the obligations to give room under Rule 18 (Passing Marks and Obstructions) and Rule 19 (Room to Tack at an Obstruction) will continue to apply until the mark or obstruction has been passed [Rule 18] or the tack to avoid an obstruction completed [Rule 19]. Thus, these obligations will usually last longer than the obligations under Rules 15 and 16.

          Proper Course. At certain times on the race course a boat in a particular position relative to another boat will be required to sail a "proper course" (basically, a course the boat thinks will allow her to finish as quickly as possible). The obligation to sail a proper course can apply to both r-o-w and giveway boats, is not temporary and will continue to apply to a particular boat so long as that boat remains in the same relative relationship with the other boat. There are three different ways that a proper course limitation can be applicable:

  • may not sail above a proper course (Rule 17.1)
  • may not sail below a proper course (Rule 17.2)
  • may not pass farther from a mark or obstruction than required by a proper course (Rule 18.4)

          A r-o-w boat that is limited to a proper course continues to have r-o-w. Thus, so long as she sails a proper course for her the giveway boat must continue to keep clear of her. This is important to remember because when a r-o-w boat is restricted to a proper course it is essentially up to her to decide what her proper course is and sail it and the giveway boat must continue to keep clear as long as the course sailed by the r-o-w boat is in fact a proper one for her.

          It is also important to recognize that at any one time there can be numerous proper courses that a boat might sail and if a proper course limitation applies it will be satisfied so long as the restricted boat sails a course which is "proper" for her. See "Proper Course" in Selected Definitions - Part 2.

  • First Edition, March 1997
    Copyright © 1997 Arthur Engel, All Rights Reserved