Sunday, March 3, 2013

Protest Committees

When the regattas are sponsored here by the local clubs they bring in an international jury.

I had my first dealings with one - and my first introduction to the procedural importance of the RRS - last year when we objected to the presence of a single handed skiff in the double-handed class (we are not a naturally litigious lot, but these regattas have prize money and the winnings can be an important part of our club's income).  We handled it in an informal way and I was asked to handle it before the jury.  Naively, I thought our prior discussions with a protest committee member would suffice but I was rudely awoken to discover that our clearly correct position was thrown out for failure to timely file the protest or redress. (It was more properly a redress since we were complaining about the decision of the race committee to allow the single-hander skiff who won to participate in our class.)  At any rate, I thereafter acquainted myself with Part 5 of the RRS.

Then about a year ago I attended a seminar put on by international judges who were in town for the Volvo stopover.  The main point made at this seminar is that you MUST get the procedural things right before you have a chance to win on the merits.  This starts with saying "Protest" on the water at the time of the incident (our little boats do not require a red flag).  Other words are not enough - the word "Protest" must be clearly said.

This weekend, I was allowed to sit in on the proceedings of the international jury - from India, Greece, Belgium, Spain and France.  It was fun and instructive.  And it reinforced the importance of procedure. Yes, the rules allow the jury to waive late filings and other procedural defects, but it is an uphill fight to convince them with a good excuse.

In the proceedings I sat through, everything started with a review of the written protest - especially the time of filing.  But, even if it was late, the protestor was called in and asked if there was a good reason why it was late. Among the reasons not deemed sufficient by the jury were: washing the boat, asking a colleague to help with drafting and waiting for the coach to give advice.  It was emphasised by one member of the jury that Rule 61.2 makes it clear that not all details have to be completed before the filing of the protest.

For the decisions, of course the most important thing is to determine the facts. The jury was scrupulous about procedure at this stage. They started each matter by asking what the protestor did or said at the time of the incident - trying to determine if he/she said "Protest". In our cases everyone had done so.

Then, using little boat models and arrows for wind and tide, they asked the various parties and witnesses to show what happened.   They were careful with the youngsters to keep things from getting too heavy and they viewed the main purpose with the youngsters as a learning experience. However, even with the youngsters, they kept the procedure rigorous - first the protestor, then protestee, then witnesses. Cutting off anyone who strayed from questions asked or the subject at hand. And carefully, but firmly handling coaches - especially one who was close to trying to bully the jury.

The questions to decide were not exotic - several allegations of touching a mark, a port/starboard situation resulting in contact and an allegation that someone failed to round a mark.

A very interesting experience and I plan to become more involved in this activity.


  1. It is an eye-opening experience. Having once been responsible for running the protest committee at some junior regattas, I have to say that I think parents can be far worse than coaches. It is especially hard for a parent who doesn't sail (or at least doesn't race) to understand why all these serious grown-ups are treating her little Johnny as if he is being tried in a court of law.

  2. This was really fascinating reading. I had no idea that sailing rules and regulations were handled in such a manner - like a "real" court of law. On thinking about it, it does make sense - on an Olympic level, there can be an awful lot of money involved, in addition to a country's pride and the prestige of its sportsmen and women. It would be cool to see a bit more analysis like this.

    1. Like you, I assumed things were handled on an informal, sportsmanship basis - especially at the Club level. But, once an international jury is brought in then it is handled by the book. Which is not a bad thing - assuming the judges are decent people, it can be a good experience for all involved and even insisting on procedure is a good way to remind everyone that rules exist and need to be remembered.

  3. I actually like it when protests are handled "properly" at a club level too. Once everyone in the fleet knows that protests can and will be followed through, then rules compliance improves dramatically.

  4. A timely post for me - I was notified after racing yesterday by one of the organisers that another boat had lodged a protest against me. I'm not sure when the hearing will be, but at least I am a little clearer as to what to expect.

    1. Time limits should be stated in the Sailing Instructions. If none is stated, then the time limit to file a protest is 2 hours after last boat finishes. Normally all the information about protests, scheduled hearing times, etc is posted at the race office.

      If the protest was filed yesterday, I would think the hearing was yesterday. Technically, there are no time limits - the parties should be advised of the time and place of hearing and allowed a reasonable time to prepare. In the case of the international jury I attended, the hearings started about 15 minutes after the closing time for protests. And it makes sense to have the hearing when the parties and witnesses are available just after the race.

      Hearings can go ahead without a party, but the protest committee can also reopen if the party was unavoidably absent.

      As tedious as it is, take a look at Part 5 of the RRS.

      Best of luck with it - if, like me, you lose this one on procedural grounds it will be a good lesson for the future.

    2. We have a time limit of 1 hour after the last boat finishes. It is not unusual to hear protests days or weeks after an incident here - a protest committee has to be formed. The 'incident' took place during our Icebreaker series, but as there has never been a protest lodged before there wasn't a committee standing by.

      I am looking at it as a learning experience. I am not prepared to retire from a race when I did nothing wrong, but if I am disqualified, it isn't going to affect my series result - I have missed too many races this series playing around on bigger boats so am in the bottom half of the fleet anyway!


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