Sailing - Rules and Regulations

Rules and Regulations

Every vessel in coastal and offshore waters is subject to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (the COLREGS). On inland waterways and lakes other similar regulations, such as CEVNI in Europe, may apply. In some sailing events, such as the Olympic Games, which are held on closed courses where no other boating is allowed, specific racing rules such as the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) may apply. Often, in club racing, specific club racing rules, perhaps based on RRS, may be superimposed onto the more general regulations such as COLREGS or CEVNI.

In general, regardless of the activity, every sailor must

  • Maintain a proper lookout at all times
  • Adjust speed to suit the conditions
  • Know whether to 'stand on' or 'give way' in any close-quarters situation.

The stand-on vessel must hold a steady course and speed but be prepared to take late avoiding action to prevent an actual collision if the other vessel does not do so in time. The give-way vessel must take early, positive and obvious avoiding action, without crossing ahead of the other vessel.(Rules 16-17)

  1. If an approaching vessel remains on a steady bearing, and the range is decreasing, then a collision is likely. (Rule 7) This can be checked with a hand-bearing compass.
  2. The sailing vessel on port tack gives way to the sailing vessel on starboard tack (Rule 12)
  3. If both sailing vessels are on the same tack, the windward boat gives way to the leeward one (Rule 12)
  4. If a vessel on port tack is unable to determine the tack of the other boat, she should be prepared to give way (Rule 12)
  5. An overtaking vessel must keep clear of the vessel being overtaken (Rule 13)
  6. Sailing vessels must give way to vessels engaged in fishing, those not under command, those restricted in their ability to manoeuvre and should avoid impeding the safe passage of a vessel constrained by her draft. (Rule 18)

The COLREGS go on to describe the lights to be shown by vessels under way at night or in restricted visibility. Specifically, for sailing boats, red and green sidelights and a white sternlight are required, although for vessels under 7 metres (23.0 ft) in length, these may be substituted by a torch or white all-round lantern. (Rules 22 & 25)

Sailors are required to be aware not only of the requirements for their own boat, but of all the other lights, shapes and flags that may be shown by other vessels, such as those fishing, towing, dredging, diving etc., as well as sound signals that may be made in restricted visibility and at close quarters, so that they can make decisions under the COLREGS in good time, should the need arise. (Rules 32 - 37)

In addition to the COLREGS, CEVNI and/or any specific racing rules that apply to a sailing boat, there are also

  • The IALA International Association of Lighthouse Authorities standards for lateral marks, lights, signals, and buoyage and rules designed to support safe navigation.
  • The SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) regulations, specifically Chapter V, which became mandatory for all leisure craft users of the sea from 1 July 2002. These regulations place the obligations for safety on the owners and operators of any boat including sailboats. They specify the safety equipment needed, the emergency procedures to be used appropriate to the boat's size and its sailing range, and requirements for passage planning with regard to weather and safety.

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