Rules Corner: Proper Course on the Run

by Al Clapp

Tactical Situation

You are heading downwind on starboard tack away from all marks and obstructions. Another boat on starboard tack comes up on you from behind on your starboard side. Since he is to windward he gradually overtakes you as he gets into your air. You try to come up to get cleaner air, but the other skipper is shouting “steer proper course!!!” What are your rights? What can you do?


Since the overtaking boat is to windward you have rights. If the boat has gotten so close that his bow is now forward of your stern (overlapped) then rule 11 applies, he must keep clear of you. If no overlap has been established then rule 12 applies (clear astern), again he must keep clear of you.

In either situation you do not have to sail proper course. You can come to windward creating a situation where the other boat must either jibe or come up with you. In fact, you have “luffing rights” if you want. With rights comes responsibility. If you are the right-of-way boat, then you must give the other boat room to keep clear (Rule 14).

From a tactical viewpoint, the right-of-way boat is forcing the other boat to either jibe or come up to windward with her. If the other boat jibes, the overlap will be quickly broken unless you jibe with him. In that case, you are now back to rule 11/12 as in the beginning. And the whole scenario is repeated to port. By knowing the rules, and keeping the attacking boat to windward on the same tack I can defend my position.

Applicable Rules

Rule 11 On Same Tack, Overlapped
When boats are on the same tack and overlapped, a windward boat shall keep clear of a leeward boat.
Rule 12 On Same Tack, Not Overlapped
When the boats are on the same tack and not overlapped, a boat clear astern shall keep clear of a boat clear ahead.
Rule 14. Avoiding Contact
A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible. However a right-of-way boat or one entitled to room (a) need to act to avoid contact until it is clear that the other boat is not keeping clear or keeping room, and (b) shall not be penalized under this rule unless there is contact that causes damage.
Definition: Overlap
There is no overlap if both boats are clear ahead and clear astern of each other, regardless of the distance.

Similar Posts