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Room to Tack when 3 boats hailed
The following scenario is from a recent club radio sailing race with the boats as pictured below, a short time after the start. An unusual feature of radio sailing compared to full size boat sailing is that due to the need to be near the boats, often the start line is near a shore or a dock with all boats needing to tack off in a relatively short time. We need to understand better how the room to tack rule works in such cases. Diagram at the time of hail is below.
Roughly, this is how it unfolded:
1. The first picture is at about 7 seconds after the start.
2. Due to the recent start, all sailors are standing relatively near each other on the dock.
3. The boats are approaching a dock that runs at a small angle to the wind.
4. The boats are moving at about one boat length per second.
5. The lead boat L has about 6 seconds before it would hit the dock.
6. Leeward satisfies the criteria to hail for room to tack listed in rule 20.1 – approaching an obstruction and will soon need to make a substantial course change to avoid it safely and is sailing close hauled.
7. At the time of the picture, L hails “L room to tack on ML, MW and W” (sail numbers used in the real incident). The hail met the requirements of Appendix E2.1 – was made loud enough such that those hailed could be expected to have heard it and the sail number digits were used in the hail. L used the form of hail required for Umpired Events in Addendum Q of IRSA, International Radio Sailing Association (“sail number Room to Tack”) but added the numbers of the hailed boats at the end to indicate who was being hailed.
8. At the time of hail, it is likely that a tack by L would result in a collision with ML if ML holds her course. It is likely that if W did not tack then ML would need to pass on the hail to W before she could tack and possibly to MW.
9. If ML is removed from the situation, it is likely that L would have been able to tack and avoid W and MW.
10. L states that they made the hail at this time, to give time for all the boats to respond to or pass on the hail if they felt they needed to, all of which might take some time.
11. L states that they thought all 3 hailed boats would need to avoid either L or each other and so a hail to all would be the easiest way to get all boats to tack away in an orderly manner.
12. None of the three hailed boats responded either by tacking as soon as possible or by immediately replying “you tack” or by passing on the hail.
13. L continued on course, waiting for a response and after sailing about 5 boat lengths, to about 1 boat length from the dock, did a crash tack and bear away.
14. About a second later ML and W tacked and L headed up sharply to close hauled to avoid ML.
15. About two seconds later MW tacked.
L did not protest as they thought it would be better to just discuss it after the race. L considered protesting ML, MW and W for failing to respond to the hails as required by rule 20.2. All the hailed boats claimed that they did not have to respond as they thought L could tack and avoid them in the space available. MW and W further stated that they have no obligation to respond to a hail from a boat that is two or three boats away in the line and that they are entitled to wait for a “passed on” hail from the nearest boat as provided in rule 20.3. L thought that whether a hailing boat can or cannot avoid the hailed boats without their action is not relevant to responding to a rule 20 hail and that they should just hail back “you tack” and then give room to tack and avoid, if they want to continue on their course.
Should all the hailed boats be disqualified if protested?
WS Case 113 discusses who is a hailed boat and seems to stand for the proposition that a single hail can be made to more than one boat. In that case the windward boat of 3 is a hailed boat because it heard the hail (odd as it wasn’t in the facts found and hails don’t normally need to be heard in the rules) and will have to respond before the hailer can tack. The situation at hand is different in that all the hailed boats know they are being hailed as their numbers are called. Also, there is more space in our situation in that removing the first hailed boat would allow the hailer to tack but not so in Case 113.
In WS Cases 10 and 33 hailed boats were still required to respond to a room to tack hail even though the hail was not allowed under rule 20.1. This suggests that hailed boats should respond as in rule 20.2 in all cases.