Case 54
Rule 20, Room to Tack at an Obstruction
A boat is entitled to hail for room to tack at the time when she needs to begin the process described in rule 20 to avoid the obstruction safely. A boat that hails must give the hailed boat sufficient time to respond before tacking herself. The hail must clearly convey the hailing boat’s need to tack and be sufficiently loud to be heard in the prevailing conditions. If the hailed boat does not respond, the hailing boat can repeat her hail if time permits, or avoid the obstruction and protest.
Boat A is sailing close-hauled on port tack towards an obstruction that she must tack to avoid. Boat B is sailing close-hauled one boat length to windward and one boat length astern of A. A hails B for room to tack.
Question 1
As A is approaching the obstruction, how soon is she entitled to hail for room to tack?
Answer 1
A may hail for room to tack at the time that, to avoid the obstruction safely, she needs to begin the process described in rule 20. She may hail at the moment that allows her sufficient time in the prevailing conditions to
  • hail B for room to tack, and make a second hail in the event B does not respond;
  • give B time to respond (see Answer 2 below);
  • give time for any additional boat that must respond for A to have room to tack (see Case 113); and
  • tack herself, as soon as possible thereafter, in a seamanlike manner and avoid the obstruction.
Question 2
How quickly must B respond?
Answer 2
When the boats are clearly approaching an obstruction at which A will need room to tack, B must be alert to the situation and anticipate a hail from A. Anticipation is necessary because rule 20.2(c) requires B to respond either by immediately replying ‘You tack’ or by tacking as soon as possible. If B does not immediately hail ‘You tack’, A must give B the time required for a competent, but not expert, crew to prepare for and execute her tack in a seamanlike manner as soon as possible in the prevailing conditions.
Question 3
What should A do if B does not respond to her hail?
Answer 3
Although the rule only requires one hail, if time permits it is prudent for A to repeat her hail. The lack of a response from B does not mean that A must hold her course. If needed, A should avoid the obstruction in the safest manner, which may include luffing up to head to wind or gybing. A can then protest if B has not responded as required by rule 20.2(c).
Question 4
What action by A constitutes a hail as required by rule 20?
Answer 4
Unlike rule 20.2(c), rule 20.1 does not require A to use specific words in her hail but, to meet the requirements of the rule, those words must clearly convey that A requires room to tack. The hail must be directed towards B and be as loud as is required in the prevailing conditions to be capable of being heard by B. A hail is primarily an oral signal, but in addition the hailing boat may draw attention to the hail by, for example, physical gestures, a whistle or horn signal, or, at night, light signals. If boats are required to monitor a particular radio channel while racing, the hail may also be made over that channel.
These requirements for hailing apply equally to B if she responds ‘You tack’.
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