by Steve Harris
OK… that might seem like a silly question. Of course, the hull of your boat is the “boat” part, right? Everything but the mast & sails? Maybe? Because of some (fairly significant) changes to the Racing Rules of Sailing this quadrennial, this becomes a question that needs some more specificity. And, it is important if you are to understand the RRS and how they apply to you – particularly in regards to starting and finishing.
In previous versions of the rules, both the definition of start and finish included the phrase “… any part of her hull, crew, or equipment.” As an example, if just about anything on your boat broke the plane of the starting line, you had started (properly or improperly). If, for instance, you had a crew member forward in the bow pulpit sighting the starting line and letting you know how close you were and he or she decided to look over, smile, and wave at the Race Committee (it happens), but their arm was forward of your hull and broke that plane, you would be OCS and subject to recall. Perhaps the more significant example is while finishing. The definition of finish added an additional requirement… “… any part of her hull crew or equipment in normal position…” This was more important as you couldn’t purposely do something to edge out your competitor by a couple of inches – let out a foot of spinnaker halyard, reach out over the bow, etc. – to gain an unfair advantage.
While we all sailed under these rules for many years, it was, at times, a bit confusing and given the wide variety of boat designs – sprit boats, wings on skiffs, etc. – it made for some confusion on exactly how the Race Committee should call the start and finish lines. The new definitions attempt to eliminate this confusion by simply referring to the “hull” instead and eliminating “crew and equipment.” A likely future advantage of this change is technological. More and more frequently, GPS trackers and other electronic devices are being used on racing boats and being used to track starts and finishes. The new definitions will allow for those electronic devices to be mounted to the forwardmost part of the hull and, therefore, satisfy the rule without the need to change these definitions (which, incidentally, is not permitted.)
It should also make it easier, at least more clearly defined, for race committees in calling the line. The front of the hull is easier to identify and at the same vertical location as the mark being sighted. Hopefully, close starts and finishes will become less subjective in nature.
World Sailing offers a Q&A feature on their website. Their explanation of how “hull” is defined is below. Now, just to confuse things more, I would contend that your rudder and your outboard motor also not a part of the hull – but, then, if you’re starting or finishing stern first, you probably have bigger issues to consider. 🙂