Arbitration in the Racing Rules of Sailing

Arbitration (RRS Appendix T) can be a very useful and effective method to resolve a protest between two boats involving Racing Rules such as Windward/Leeward, Overlaps and Mark Roundings.

Appendix T is only one and a half pages at the end of the Racing Rules but it has an air of mystery around it! As Sailing Committees, Class Associations and Protest Committees develop a better understanding, Arbitration is regularly being added to Sailing Instructions. It has previously been referred to as Mediation but is now refined to a point that is defined clearly as Arbitration.

The role of Arbitrator is initially as a Moderator between sailors discussing an incident where they have had a tangle on the water. It is important to bring them back to the incident that has been protested if they start talking about what happened two legs earlier, at the start, or even in previous races! It is important to understand the Appendix and the two key roles of the Arbitrator to close the meeting if it doesn’t seem an outcome is likely or offer an Opinion, clearly defined in Appendix T3.

An example of Arbitration could be two boats in a mid week handicap start pursuit race reaching to a mark for a starboard rounding. They are both sailing well below the mark and before the zone. The faster boat approaching from astern becomes overlapped about a boat length below the slower boat. A crew member trimming the headsail on the leeward side of the slower boat turns to the Helm and says “They’re coming up”. The Helm looks under the boom and sings out very loudly … “SAIL YOUR PROPER COURSE” … the faster boat appears to keep coming up so the slower boat Helm shouts “PROTEST” and simultaneously displays a red flag furled on the backstay. The faster boat to leeward bears away, waits until they have sailed through below and are clear ahead, then sails up to the mark and goes around with the slower boat several boat lengths behind. No other boats catch them – they finish first and second in a twenty three boat fleet.

The skipper of the slower boat who finished second submits a Protest Form within the time limit outlining they think the faster boat to leeward broke RRS 17.

Historically the Protest Committee chair would set a time for a hearing, maybe an evening in a few days time, find another couple of club members that have completed the Australian Sailing online Protest Committee Member course and advise the two boats to have their representatives and any witnesses available …

A big advantage of Arbitration is this matter may be sorted out straight away by an Arbitrator arranging a quick meeting with parties from the two boats that were on board at the time of the incident. It may be found they agree with each other that they were sailing below the mark, the actual meaning of RRS 17 may be clarified as being for a boat to not sail above her proper course when they read the Rules carefully… and the slower Protestor boat actually being required to keep clear as windward boat under RRS 11, which they did. The Arbitrator can offer an opinion – RRS T3(b) – no boat will be penalised for breaking a rule with an outcome being – RRS T4(b) – the protestor can withdraw the protest and the Arbitrator can then act on behalf of the Protest Committee to allow the withdrawal in accordance with RRS 63.1. It’s all over and done with then and there. The Arbitrator offering an opinion is integral to the process and it is essential they understand the constraints and restrictions of Appendix T.