05 August 2020

When is it worth protesting?

Learning when or not to enter a protest is an important part of a young person’s racing education, so let's look at some of the considerations when deciding if it is worth protesting or not.

A fundamental point for all Topper sailors to consider is that once you enter the protest room there is always the possibility that your result might be at risk. However certain you feel about your rights under the Racing Rules, another competitor might well see it differently, they may have a witness who backs their case or the protest committee may decide you have broken a different rule. Either way there is always a chance that you may lose out, so keep that in mind whenever you decide to protest. However, if you are confident your result has been unfairly affected by the actions of another competitor(s), then you should be able to either protest or apply for redress.

Protests under Part 2 of the Racing Rules of Sailing cover when boats meet. Common examples of potential protest situations include port and starboard incidents, failing to give mark-room and a windward boat’s failing to keep clear. 

As we have previously mentioned, protesting another competitor under Part 2 of the rules always bears a risk – as well as taking up much of your evening, so the best advice is to try and avoid the situation occurring in the first place. If when approaching a mark another boat tries to force a passage without an overlap as the first boat enters the 3-boat length zone, try to dissuade them by clearly calling ‘No overlap,’ when you enter the zone. If the other boat does force their way in illegally, then immediately shout ‘Protest’ and look behind you for a witness and ask if they saw and will witness the situation.  

If the transgressor shows no signs of doing their penalty turns, speak calmly and clearly to them, that they should do their turns now, or you will protest and that you have a witness. If the other competitor is sensible they should immediately take the penalty, as with a witness your case is strong and the onus is on the boat that forced their way in to prove that they had established an overlap. 

The same tactic can be employed at the windward mark with a port tack boat that tries to duck inside a starboard tacker, forcing the starboard tacker to alter course above close-hauled. By hailing confidently and ideally with a witness to hand, you put doubt into the port tacker’s mind that maybe they were in the wrong.  By taking their penalty turns, the errant port tacker may lose a couple of places but that is a whole lot better than spending a stressful evening in the protest room and ending up with a DSQ score. 

It is noticeable in any fleet that the top sailors rarely get involved in protests, which you may say is because they are usually out near the front with less boats around to foul them. The truth is more that the experienced sailors both know the rules plus have a healthy respect for other competitors. When crossing closely on port tack you will often hear them ask the boat on starboard if they can cross, as no one wants a close tack underneath them that then forces them away from their chosen route upwind. If you are on starboard with a port tacker heading towards you and they are looking nervously at you, call clearly for them to ‘Carry on’, so that they don’t tack in front of you and slow you down. Even if you have to dip them slightly it is far better than a boat tacking too closely or worse hitting you, resulting in a shouting match and potential protest situation, all of which upsets your rhythm and concentration. 

Applying for redress.

If you feel your result has been unfairly prejudiced by an action of another competitor or an action or omission by the race committee, you have a right to apply for redress. You need to ensure your case is well presented and with all the facts to back it up. Examples of clear-cut cases might be where a port tacker collides with your boat, causing damage that prevents you continuing the race. Again you need a witness and some confirmation of the position you were in at the time.

Other examples that commonly earn redress include missing or drifting marks, but you will still need to prove you were disadvantaged compared to the rest of the fleet, who may have rounded the mark before it drifted. 

Remember, competitors cannot protest the Race Committee for an error or omission in the running of a race, but they can apply for redress if a boat’s score has by no fault of her own been made significantly worse by an improper action or omission of the race committee, protest committee or organising authority. This sort of request for redress sometimes centres around a situation where a race is run in either very light or very strong winds and where the Sailing Instructions include a ‘recommended average wind strength’. 

Typically, bigger sailors might try to get the race thrown out if they feel the race was held in conditions below the recommended windspeed in the SI’s, but in reality they have little hope. It is an unfortunate fact when races are lost from the schedule, the race committee will be under pressure to get the minimum number of races completed to make a series and often have plenty of ‘wriggle room’ if minimum windspeeds are included in the instructions. Often the wording is for an ‘average windspeed across the course’ and is generally down to the Race Officer’s interpretation. Coaches, parents or guardians that try to persuade their sailors once ashore to ‘protest’ or apply for redress are not helping the sailor to understand the rules and can be just adding stress to youngster who has already had a tough day on the water.

Another common request for redress is when a competitor is scored as being OCS or UFD and they don’t think they should have been. Every sailor should get in the habit of checking the official notice board once they come ashore, to A) to check they are not listed in any protests and B) once the results are posted that they have been scored correctly. If at this point you see an OCS or UFD score against your name and you think it is wrong, your first move should be to speak to the Race Officer and ask to review the tape recording of the start. Often this can solve the issue if you hear your number clearly called out prior to the gun, but if the race team failed to record the premature starters on tape or video, then you have more of a case for requesting redress. 

However, getting a fellow sailor who wasn’t called over to witness that you were behind them on the line doesn’t always work. At a recent Topper World Championship, one such request for redress was heard and a witness produced who confirmed they were ahead of the boat in question when the gun went. When the Race Officer came to give his evidence, he thanked the witness for confirming his position and said that on the individual recalled start there was another boat was spotted over the line that the starter couldn’t identify. As the witness had now confirmed which boat that was, they were now scored as OCS too and the protest committee refused the original request for redress! 

In big fleet races you should also get in the habit of noting the championship numbers of boats immediately in front and behind, so that you can check your result against the provisional results when coming ashore. When many boats cross the finish in a tight pack errors can occur and again the voice tape should back up the recorded results. So if you don’t feel your result is correct ask to review the tape before filing for redress. Many championships offer a scoring query service during the protest time limit period for exactly this reason.

Occasionally when a number of competitors apply for redress or protest the same incident a protest committee may decide to hold a single hearing and it may also be open to observers. World Sailing’s policy is to encourage open hearings to make the process more transparent, (Source: International Judges Manual) so be prepared that you may have to present your case to a room full of people.

So the lesson is protesting should really be your last resort. Try to avoid the situation by persuading the fouling boat to take their turns instead, or taking turns if you think you might have infringed another boat. If you do need to protest ensure that you inform the race committee on the water, (if a requirement), that the completed protest form is well presented within the time limit, your facts are correct and that you have a credible witness to back up your case.

Further reading: https://www.racingrulesofsailing.org





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