Sailing 101: Luffing Rules Before the Start

By Adam Loory.

Luffing before the starting signal is often mis-understood. Sailors should know that the rule makers give a lot of defensive and offensive powers to leeward boat on the starting line. That power comes from the following rules and definitions.

1. The definition of “Proper Course” states, “A boat has no proper course before her starting signal.” That means a right-of-way boat can alter course (within the limitations of Rule 16.1, see below), as long as she does not pass head-to-wind, because then she would be tacking.

2. Rule 11 says, “When boats are on the same tack and overlapped, the windward boat shall keep clear of the leeward boat.”

3. The definition of “Keep Clear” states, “A boat keeps clear of a right-of-way boat, (a) if the right-of-way boat can sail her course with no need to take avoiding action and, (b) when the boats are overlapped, if the right-of-way boat can also change course in both directions without immediately making contact.”

4. If a boat that was clear astern establishes an overlap to leeward, the windward boat has to keep clear and, if that means sail beyond head to wind to keep clear, it has too. The only limitations on the leeward boat are: