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America's Cup- New Racing Rules - 'Jimmy, You've got Mail'

by Sail-World on 3 Mar 2011
Bowsprit Overlap is a new term introduced in the 34th America’s Cup ACEA - Photo Gilles Martin-Raget © http://photo.americascup.com/

The Racing Rules for the 34th America’s Cup have been issued following months of consultation with the entered teams to ensure spectacular racing in the next edition of sailing’s pinnacle event.

According to the media release, 'the rules have been simplified to take into account the significant investment in technology that will improve the experience of watching America’s Cup racing.

Some examples of amendments to the Racing Rules for the 34th America’s Cup:

- Simplified systems providing viewers access to the on-board communications during racing.

- Increased likelihood of the first yacht crossing the line of being the winner. This has been achieved by providing greater powers to officials to make real time decisions coupled with the reduction in the issues that are determined after the race in Protest rooms.'

First point of difference with the regular Racing Rules is that the Definitions are contained at the start of the Rules rather than the end. A comparison of the two reveals that most of the Definitions have been changed in some way, plus a few new ones have been introduced - such as a Bowsprit Overlap plus RO Comms. The latter is a new text based communication system between the boats and umpires, backed up by radio.



A new penalty system will be used, the wording of which is complex:

44.2 The penalized yacht shall take the penalty immediately except, when penalized prior to starting in which case she shall take the penalty immediately after starting.

(a) If the rule infringement occurs between yachts after one of them has started:

(i) on the same leg of the course, or
(ii) within the zone of a mark

the umpire penalty shall be:

the penalized yacht shall slow so that her position is behind a penalty line four hull lengths from the position of the other yacht(s) not penalized in the incident when they are underway.

(b) When 44.2(a) does not apply the umpire penalty shall be:

the penalized yacht shall slow so that her position is behind a penalty line two hull lengths from her position at the time of the penalty or if the penalty is awarded prior to starting, two hull lengths behind the starting line. The penalty line is then moved toward the next mark at half of a universal VMG / VMC speed based on the wind speed and course to the next mark;


Students of the Match Racing Rules will quickly see that there are no penalty turns - 270 degrees or otherwise. The penalty under these Rules is for the boat to slow under umpire instruction until she has got behind an imaginary line known as the Penalty Line.

The Penalty Line is a new term which is defined as 'a line perpendicular to the line through the marks defining the leg at a specified distance from the center of the yacht towards the mark defining the beginning of that leg.'

We all know that there are no lines drawn on the sea, much less lines that move with boats. So the assumption is that these rules are referring to a GPS driven system using screen overlays to provide the lines necessary for the umpires to make calls as to both who has broken a rule, if any, and then how the penalty will be applied.

The need for this system is born out of the reality that it is impossible to accurately umpire yacht races, from power boats, when the competitors are sailing at speeds of greater than 20 knots. The options are then to use an electronic system or helicopters.

The attraction of the electronic system is that it can be dropped onto a television screen so the viewers can see what the umpires are viewing.

To be honest there is noth new in this, The systems have been under development since 1991 by Animation Research Ltd and were used 20 years ago - but not for umpiring.

While much will be made of dropping lines over real video images without the use of animation, that assumes that theer is a camera in the optimum position to make the umpiring call - unless the umpires use a simpler version of the ARL animation system.

The advantage of the ARL system is that uses a virtual camera - so the view can be positioned in the optimum place to see the incident or quickly replay a piece of action.

The two big advantages of the ARL system are its speed of replay, and unrestricted ability to control the camera position - you can even go underwater if you wish!


Many will be familar with the use of video replays to determine various incidents in Rugby or Rugby League, and the often lenghty (two or three minutes) to select the best camera from a group of poor angles, and then make a decision - which is often that the decision is impossible to make on video and it is passed back to the on field referee.

Quite what is proposed for the 34th America's Cup is yet to be revealed.

There may be some public inkling of what will be used in the trials staged on the Hauraki Gulf in April, however don't be looking out for penalty flags being flown fro, Umpire Boats - there won't be any. Competitors will still signal their claim that a racing rule has been broken by displaying the familar yellow and red 'Y' flags - but the communication back to the boats will be by text message, displayed on board.

The penalties will be immediate.

But wouldn't it have been a whole lot simpler just to get the penalised boat to cross behind the other? Maybe but clearly the powers that be want to see more of a penalty imposed (four boat lengths), and the electronic boat tracking and virtual penalty lines are their solution.

Whether it all works for the television viewer is quite another matter.

The America's Cup Racing Rules can be found http://www.americascup.com/media/files/m1798_ISAF%20Racing%20Rules%20of%20Sailing%20AC%20Edition%20v%201_0.pdf!here.

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