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Inferring mark contact from buoy spin or bobbing.


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Can boats be protested for touching a mark because someone thought they saw a buoy move when a boat was within a few feet of the far racing mark?

The wake of a boat could cause a buoy to bob or spin while being several feet away.

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You may only call Contact if you are sure you saw it. Yes, marks move on the bow or stern wave, so the mark moving is not conclusive. Seeing a mark spin is a better indication of contact, and is a good reason for having stripes on the mark.


John Ball

IOM CAN 307 (V8)

In my private capacity

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Buoys are free to move and can bob or spin just due to sudden wind gusts and wakes.

So would it not be better to ignore buoy movement and concentrate on visually checking if the boat actually touches the mark?

From my recollection.

It is a known effect that if a human continues to look at a stationary object it will appear to move after a short while and if you look at a moving object say a boat then you look at a stationary buoy the buoy will appear to move.

The only time I think contact should be called is if you actually see contact then you can not make false calls. Inferring seems to be open to personal bias which is bound to be very strong when the observer is a competitor.

I think you should be looking at the boat and the buoy not just the buoy. Having a buoy with stripes just seems to me encouragement to make inferrences rather than actual facts.

Anyone else agree?

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As I understand it you should only call a contact you are 100% certain happened (ie you see happen).

Other indicators like spinning buoys or loud bangs while they may confirm what you saw are on there own not enough to call a contact.

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Close but no cigar

You do not call contact with the mark if 11 is rounding it.

If 3, 21, 46, 72 or 96 is rounding you call contact even if the mark does not move .. just in case you missed the contact.

Refer to rule 902.1

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  • 1 year later...

Yes, a boat MAY be protested. The question is should the protest committee conclude that the boat broke rule 31, Touching the Mark.

PCs  apply as the standard of proof the 'balance of possibilities' - whether it is more likely than not that an allegation or claim has been established (see WS Case 122).

If the facts found are that an observer saw the mark move and inferred from that the boat touched the mark I would hope that the PC would conclude that  the allegation has been not been established on the balance of probabilities.

The issue is more acute in radio sailing as there is great pressure (under HMS) to retire rather than risk a protest hearing and possible disqualification.

Observers are appointed by the Race Committee. The Race Committee should give clear instructions that observers hail contact only when they have clearly seen the contact, not when they have other, less direct, indications.

Any protest would be initiated by the Race Committee, who should take care to ascertain what exactly the observer saw.
Finally, the PC should be aware that they should only penalise if they have clear unambiguous evidence that a boat touched a mark.


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This still comes down to the basic fact that observers and race committee are asked to comment on what they are sure they actually see. (whatever the incident)

A mark rotating at the same time as a boat goes round will usually be accompanied by a disturbance of the sails, so this gives everyone a suitable amount of certainty that the mark has been hit. If you add to this an observer who has walked up the course to be as close to the mark as possible you have a greater certainty.  A mark spinning, a boat 2m away and an observer halfway down the course is going to bring in areas of doubt.


As a competent skipper I would say that there are very few - possibly never- any incidents that happen around the race course involving me that I know nothing about, so if I think I may have hit a mark, I do a turn, If I think I hit a mark and an observer calls it, I do a turn. If I go round a mark and the observers calls it, I moan, but I do a turn. Over the course of a days/series sailing you will inevitably finish where you deserve to finish so arguing about a spinning mark is probably not going to make a difference.

Same with port/starboard, windward/leeward, overlaps, you usually know when you are in danger, and if you get called then you have to accept the medicine, thats the game we play.


Of course we could bring in video refs and clear up any doubt...🤣🤣


I think a good RO gives the skipper the opportunity to retire rather than go to protest to avoid lengthy delays, and most of the top skippers will do so if the evidence is presented by the RO i.e. the observer says that boat X hit a mark and no turn was done.

The issue with HMS is that racing often cannot continue until any protest is complete.



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