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Laser Starting Procedures

By Sean Bly

In the aftermath of the State Titles at Port Melbourne, there has been some commotion and questioning of some of the rules that Lasers use.  One particular rule is the starting penalties that are used for all major Laser regattas. 


Unfortunately, a few boats found out this harsh reality.  

By reading this article, hopefully you can avoid unnecessary heartbreak.


To determine which rules are being used in whatever regatta, a sailor must read the Sailing Instructions (SI).  Sailing Instructions are regatta-specific rules that apply for that regatta ONLY.  Although most sailing instructions are the same from regatta to regatta, it is important to study them every regatta in case there is a change from previous regattas.

You can always tell what rules are in effect by looking at SI 1 – Rules.


1.         RULES

1.1       The regatta will be governed by the current rules as defined in the Racing Rules of Sailing, the special regulations of the AYF, the rules and by-laws of the International Laser Class Association (ILCA), the Notice of Race (all as amended by these sailing instructions) and these Sailing Instructions.


According to this, the State Titles were governed by:-

  • Racing Rules of Sailing
  • Special Regulations of the AYF
  • Rules of the ILCA
  • Notice of Race
  • Sailing Instructions


However, the key sentence that must be read is  
(all as amended by these sailing instructions)”.

This means that all the above documents (RRS, NOR, Class Rules) can be changed and amended by the Sailing Instructions, thus changing specific rules for that regatta.  A common change that you can generally find in most SI is:- 
6.1  When flag AP is displayed ashore, ‘1 minute’ is replaced ‘with not less than 30 minutes’ in race signal AP.

However, the biggest change in the RRS made by the Sailing Instructions that can confuse even the most experienced sailors is the rules regarding starting, and in particular, starting penalties.

The RRS 29 & 30 stipulate the rules regarding recalls and penalties.  The ones that were specific to the State Titles, and to the majority of regattas are:

29.1 Individual Recall

When at a boat’s starting signal any part of her hull, crew or equipment is on the course side of the starting line or she must comply with rule 30.1, the race committee shall promptly display flag X with one sound. The flag shall be displayed until all such boats are completely on the pre-start side of the starting line or its extensions and have complied with rule 30.1 if it applies, but not later than four minutes after the starting signal or one minute before any later starting signal, whichever is earlier.


29.2 General Recall

When at the starting signal the race committee is unable to identify boats that are on the course side of the starting line or to which rule 30 applies, or there has been an error in the starting procedure, the race committee may signal a general recall (display the First Substitute with two sounds). The warning signal for a new start for the recalled class shall be made one minute after the First Substitute is removed (one sound), and the starts for any succeeding classes shall follow the new start.


30.3 Black Flag Rule

If a black flag has been displayed, no part of a boat’s hull, crew or equipment shall be in the triangle formed by the ends of the starting line and the first mark during the minute before her starting signal. If a boat breaks this rule and is identified, she shall be disqualified without a hearing, even if the race is restarted, resailed or rescheduled, but not if it is postponed or abandoned before the starting signal. If a general recall is signalled or the race is abandoned after the starting signal, the race committee shall display her sail number before the next warning signal for that race, and if the race is restarted or resailed she shall not

Now, if we look at the Sailing Instructions, then we can see some changes to the rules…
11.1   In alteration of RRS 29 the following penalty will apply to all Code Flag P starts.

“When Code Flag P has been displayed as the preparatory signal, and any part of a boat’s hull, crew or equipment is identified within the triangle formed by the ends of the starting line and the first mark during the minute before her starting signal, the boat will be disqualified from that start without a hearing.”


A boat whose number is displayed in accordance with RRS 30.3 shall leave the racing area immediately and shall not attempt to start in any subsequent re-starts of that race. A BOAT THAT FAILS TO OBSERVE THIS INSTRUCTION MAY BE DISQUALIFIED FROM ALL RACES IN THE REGATTA (Amends RRS 30.3)

The first line of the rule, we can see that RRS 29 has been changed.  This means that SI 11.1 now supersedes RRS 29.

If anyone has been involved in a big Laser start, they would know that with the amount of general recalls that used to go on, it could take up to an hour or more just to get a single start off, simply because there was no real penalty for breaking the start.
Rule 11.1 now says that if a boat is in the starting triangle in the one minute before the start, that boat shall be disqualified from the start.  This makes it very much like a black flag start. 

However, the difference between the Laser P start and the Black Flag start is that:
  • If there is a general recall, then no boats are disqualified, and all boats are allowed to restart. 
  • In a black flag, if a boat is identified as over, and there is a general recall, then that boat cannot restart.

This may seem like a harsh rule, but the point to remember is that:

If you are over the line at the start, then chances are YOU WILL GET DISQUALIFIED!!! In Summary:

  • Sailing Instructions CAN alter normal Racing Rules
  • Make sure you READ the Sailing Instructions
  • If it’s a Blue Peter start, and you are seen over the line within one minute of the start, unless there’s a general recall, you will be disqualified
  • If it’s a Black Flag start, and you are seen over the line, then you will be disqualified, regardless of whether there is a restart.