Feature Article by Mike Turner:  Support Persons and the Racing Rules of Sailing

Feature Article by Mike Turner:
Support Persons and the Racing Rules of Sailing

By: Michael Turner, IJ

At the highest levels of every sport, there are more and more coaches and other types of support staff. Coaches, whose careers can depend on how well their athletes do, can sometimes go too far in trying to achieve that success. Similarly, parents can sometimes get a little too ‘involved’ in their child’s sports experience. Unfortunately, competitive sailing is not immune from these situations. This article is meant to advise readers about how the rules of sailing try to deal with these situations when they arise.

The latest edition of the Racing Rules of Sailing (2017 – 2020) introduced some new definitions and rule changes that affect not just the persons competing. With the new definition, Support Person, coaches, managers, team staff or anyone supporting a sailor before, during or after a competition, INCLUDING PARENTS are now included in the scope of those who are bound by the racing rules of sailing.

Now you are probably asking “How the heck can I be bound by the rules of sailing when I’m not sailing?”. A good question. A support person is obviously not going to hit a mark or cross the start line early, so what rules could they break? Most rules that affect support persons will be in the ‘sailing instructions’, the document provided to every competitor before the first race. The sailing instructions are part of the racing rules and may contain instructions specific to coaches or persons operating support boats (which may include spectator boats) such as requiring life jackets on coaches, directions on where support boats may be on or around the race course or other requirements related to the competition. These are pretty straightforward rules to comply with, however sometimes they do get broken and need to be enforced. So, make sure you read the sailing instructions before the event commences – at most events, they are posted online on the event web site the day before the event starts. Additionally, support persons must adhere to the same rules of sportsmanship that the competitors are required to observe. Under the old rules, there was very little that could be done when a support person broke one of the rules or, worse yet, behaved in an unsportsmanlike manner. The changes to the rules now make it clear that a coach, parent or other support person is bound by these rules and the competitor he or she is supporting may also be held responsible for violations of the rules by support persons.

Competitors and support persons alike should all be aware of rule 69 – Misconduct. Previously Gross Misconduct, rule 69 makes it clear that competitors and/or support persons shall not commit a breach of good manners, a breach of good sportsmanship, exhibit unethical behaviour, or exhibit conduct that may bring the sport into disrepute. This rule can cover bad behaviour anywhere near a regatta. It certainly covers bad behaviour near or toward the people running a regatta, including race committee, judges or other volunteers. Most coaches and parents are well behaved and contribute in many ways to events, however, just as a parent arguing with a hockey referee can get ejected from the arena, arguing with the race committee can lead to similar consequences. Posting a derogatory comment on social media about a protest decision or how a regatta was run is an example of a breach of good manners and could result in consequences for the person involved. If you have a question about some aspect of the competition that you do not understand, it is best to politely discuss it with the regatta organizers before making comments you may later regret.

Your next question is likely “Ok, I need to be aware of the rules – how do I do that?”. We certainly cannot expect a 10 year old Opti sailor to explain the racing rules to his or her parents, so support persons – that includes parents – must make an effort to be aware of the basic rules that affect them. Pick up a rule book, or download one (links follow this article) and have a look at the following rules:

  • Basic Principles
  • Rule 2 – Fair Sailing
  • Rule 3 – Acceptance of the Rules
  • Rule 4 – Decision to Race
  • Rule 64.4 – Decisions Concerning Support Persons
  • Rule 69.1 – Obligation not to Commit Misconduct

Another source of clarity is your local race official or coach. They should be able to answer any questions you have about these rules, if not they should be able to put you in contact with someone who can. Better yet, volunteer to help out with the next regatta. Not only will you have a great time, you will meet some great people and you may learn a few things about the complexities of putting on one of our many fine regattas.

This article is not meant to intimidate or is it indicative of an existing problem – especially here in BC. It is meant solely as a guide to everyone connected with the sport of sailing, especially youth sailing, so that we all understand our responsibilities to ensuring fair and friendly competition.

Racing Rules of Sailing – 2017-2020:  http://sailing.org/tools/documents/WorldSailingRRS20172020-[20946].pdf
BC Sailing website: www.bcsailing.bc.ca