USA Appeal US92
Rule 14(a), Avoiding Contact
Rule 18.2(b), Mark Room: Giving Mark-Room
Rule 18.2(e), Mark-Room: Giving Mark-Room
Rule 21, Exoneration
Rule 31, Touching a Mark
Vuja De vs. Tutto Bene

"Doubt" refers both to doubt by boats involved in or observing an incident and to doubt by the protest committee. Even when rounding a mark, a right-of-way boat must act to avoid contact when it is clear that the other boat is not keeping clear or giving mark-room.

Facts and Decision of the Protest Committee
In winds of 10-12 knots, two cruising class boats on port tack, Vuja De and Tutto Bene (Boat A and Boat B), were broad-reaching on converging courses toward a leeward mark to be left to port. Boat B, larger and faster, was overtaking A on a course that would take her inside A at the mark. Just before A reached the zone, she hailed “No overlap” and B hailed “Overlap” and “Mark-room.”

Boat B, now overlapped inside, continued to overtake A. At position 3 in the diagram, A luffed sharply into B’s path. Boat B’s bow struck A’s windward side near her stern, and the force of the impact spun A’s hull counter-clockwise so that her bow hit the mark. Both boats were damaged.

Both boats protested, A citing rules 11 (On the Same Tack, Overlapped), 14 and 18.2(b), and B rules 14 and 18.2(b). Boat A also argued that because she was rounding the mark within the mark-room to which she was entitled and therefore exonerated for any breach of rule 16.1 (Changing Course) under rule 21, rule 14 did not apply in her case. The protest committee disqualified B for breaking rules 14 and 18.2(b). After considering whether A had broken rule 14 it decided that “at the time the imminent collision became apparent to A, it was impossible for her to make any maneuver that would help avoid the collision.” Boat B appealed.

Decision of the Association Appeals Committee
The association appeals committee upheld the protest committee’s decision that B broke rules 14 and 18.2(b), but also disqualified A for breaking rule 14. Boat A appealed.

Decision of the Appeals Committee
Concerning rule 18.2(b), whether or not the boats were overlapped when A reached the zone determines its applicability. Rule 18.2(e) applies when there is doubt about that. “Doubt” refers both to doubt by boats involved in or observing an incident and to doubt by the protest committee during a hearing. In this case, the exchange of hails between the boats when the overlap status was not obvious was evidence that there was doubt as to whether B had obtained the overlap in time, and therefore it should have been presumed that she had not. Boat B failed to keep clear as required by rule 11 and to give mark-room as required by rule 18.2(b).

Since there was a collision rule 14 also applied. As the boats neared the mark, B should have anticipated that A was about to change course to round the mark, and she should have been aware that when A was rounding the mark within the mark-room to which she was entitled, she would be exonerated under rule 21(a) if she broke rule 16.1. Boat B could have avoided contact with A by taking avoiding action before A changed course, and it was “reasonably possible” (see rule 14) for her to do so. She also could have avoided sailing into a position that made it impossible for her to avoid contact after A changed course. Therefore B broke rule 14 as well as rule 11 and 18.2(b).

Boat A also was subject to rule 14. Her argument that rule 14 did not apply to her because she is exonerated from any breach of rule 16.1 is incorrect. Rule 21 does not provide for exoneration for breaking rule 14 even when the right-of-way boat is entitled to mark-room.

Somewhere between position 2 and position 3 in the diagram it became clear that B was not keeping clear of A nor giving her mark-room. However, A made no attempt to avoid contact, but instead luffed toward the mark. Her luff made contact inevitable. The protest committee concluded that A did not break rule 14, because at the moment she realized that a collision was “imminent” it was too late for her to avoid it. However, rule 14(a) refers to a different moment: it requires a right-of-way boat to act to avoid contact when “it is clear that the other boat is not keeping clear or giving room or mark-room.” Before A luffed, well before she realized the collision was imminent, she could see that B was not keeping clear nor giving mark-room. That was when rule 14 required her to act to avoid contact. Although she can be exonerated for breaking rule 16.1 when she was changing course to round the mark, she cannot be exonerated for breaking rule 14 by failing to avoid the collision.

Boat A also broke rule 31 when she touched the mark. However, rule 21(b) provides for exoneration of a boat “compelled” to break rule 31. Although A was partially responsible for the collision with B, her contact with the mark was not a necessary consequence of that collision. Boat A had no means of anticipating that a boat about to be overlapped between her and the mark might cause her to hit the mark, nor did she have any means of avoiding the mark after the collision. She therefore was compelled by B to break rule 31, so was entitled to exoneration under rule 21(b).

Boat A’s appeal is denied. She remains disqualified for breaking rule 14 but is exonerated for her breach of rule 31.

June 2006
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