ROOM AND OPPORTUNITY – IS THERE SUCH A TERM IN THE RULE BOOK?
I had a rules question from one of our members which I thought worth sharing.
Could we have clarification on the ‘Room and Opportunity’ rule in racing please? There have been some arguments and, as usual, loudest voice wins on the day. Not great for the sport, so some guidance would be helpful.
To which I replied
Before I answer the question, please can you tell me if it applies to a specific situation and if so, please can you describe it or is it a general question in which case the information below may help.
The loudest voice is not always the one that know the rules. Often they are just bully tactics. If you study and understand the rules then you will be in a position of authority and will be able to make confident calls and respond to the bullies with silence and just protest them knowing you are in the right.
What is the definition of room. The rule book says
Room - The space a boat needs in the existing conditions, including space to comply with her obligations under the rules of Part 2 and rule 31, while manoeuvring promptly in a seamanlike way.
There is no such thing as a room and opportunity rule. The above definition refers to Room and the meeting the obligations and rules of part two and rule 31. Several possible scenarios come to mind but the key thing to understand is that the right of way boat must give room to allow the other boat to comply with its obligation, i.e. avoid contact.
Scenarios where this may apply
Boats overlapped approaching a mark on fetch reach or run.
Breaking an overlap or gaining an overlap in the zone
Boats approaching a windward mark,
Boats on same tack port rounding
Boats on same tack starboard rounding
Boats on opposite tacks
Boats approaching an obstruction.
Overtaking boats within two boat lengths
Overlapped boats sailing proper course
Boats lining up for a start
The rules are tricky and different rules apply as you go through the timeline of a scenario so they are worth studying in detail. Below are some great resources available to study. Cut and paste the links into your browser. The call book and Johns RC racing rules and tactics for radio sailing are very good and cover most scenarios. Start with the latter.
The WS call book for radio sailing which has many interesting scenarios https://www.sailing.org/tools/documents/WSCallBookforRadioSailing-%5B26938%5D.pdf
Johns RC racing rules and tactics https://sites.google.com/site/johnsrcsailingrulesandtactics/
There are many videos on Sailzing which cover tricky scenarios. Here is a link to the mark rounding videos. It taught me a lot https://sailzing.com/rule-18-2-giving-mark-room-racing-rules-of-sailing-2021-2024/
Let me know how you get on with these and send me a specific scenario if is still applicable.
This prompted the following reply:
"We have some skippers saying that room and opportunity is no longer valid as a reason for not avoiding a contact. Other skippers are saying that is is still a factor and nothing has changed in the rules (which seems right to me). Which is true? One recurring scenario is at the start line where leeward boats manoeuvre into position and then luff up. Another scenario, also at the start line, boats taking position to windward of an already 'waiting to start' boat who then cannot sheet in at the start for normal racing line." So I followed up:
Let's take a look at some of the key rules which should answer your question. Key rules are Acquiring right of way, Changing course and Avoiding contact. I copy the rules a few paragraphs down.
Room and opportunity is neither a rule nor does it form part of any rule. Room and obligation to the rules of part 2 etc. are the correct terms. The rules state the right of way boat must give the other room to keep clear and contact should be avoided at all costs.
A couple of scenarios
On a start line before the boats have started, there is no proper course. Leeward boats have right of way over windward boats however the leeward boat must manoeuvre to allow the windward boat room to keep clear. i.e. no sudden luffing. If the windward boat drifts into the leeward boat then the windward boat takes a penalty
If a boat comes charging in from behind it must keep clear of boats ahead and if it subsequently establishes right of way it must give the other boat room to keep clear.
If boats are queuing to start at the windward end of the line there is no obligation to give windward boats bearing down room at a start mark. You cannot barge in and the leeward boats close to the mark have right of way.
Here are some relevant rules.
WHEN BOATS MEET
RIGHT OF WAY
A boat has right of way over another boat when the other boat is required to keep clear of her. However, some rules in Sections B, C and D limit the actions of a right-of-way boat.
10 ON OPPOSITE TACKS
When boats are on opposite tacks, a port-tack boat shall keep clear of a starboard-tack boat.
11 ON THE SAME TACK, OVERLAPPED
When boats are on the same tack and overlapped, a windward boat shall keep clear of a leeward boat.
12 ON THE SAME TACK, NOT OVERLAPPED
When boats are on the same tack and not overlapped, a boat clear astern shall keep clear of a boat clear ahead.
13 WHILE TACKING
After a boat passes head to wind, she shall keep clear of other boats until she is on a close-hauled course. During that time rules 10, 11 and 12 do not apply. If two boats are subject to this rule at the same time, the one on the other’s port side or the one astern shall keep
SECTION B GENERAL LIMITATIONS
14 AVOIDING CONTACT
A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible. However, a right-of-way boat, or one sailing within the room or mark-room to which she is entitled, need not act to avoid contact until it is clear that the other boat is not keeping clear or giving room or mark-room.
15 ACQUIRING RIGHT OF WAY
When a boat acquires right of way, she shall initially give the other boat room to keep clear, unless she acquires right of way because of the other boat’s actions.
16 CHANGING COURSE
When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear.
The rules for when boats meet are brief but worth studying closely. The tricky bit is knowing which ones apply as the incident develops. The resources earlier in this article will help you through various scenarios.
Maybe it would be a great idea to have a rules session at your club so these and other scenarios can be discussed. If I can help in any way let me know.