“Ask Jack” has received a lot of questions about penalties…
How does a boat get a penalty?
And how do they offload the penalty?
Let me explain…
If a boat wants to protest another boat, the helmsman hits the yellow button on his display:
Helmsman’s display and yellow protest button
This turns on the red protest light on his boat and sends the protest to the umpire booth on land.
Red light means this boat is protesting another boat.
The umpires’ LiveLine workstation lets them judge whether to penalize one of the boats. There is also an “on the water” umpire who gives additional info, (e.g. “Was the protested boat doing everything he could to keep clear?”), but the umpires in the booth make the call. In this display, Spithill has gone inside Coutts when he had no rights to go there, and was penalized.
Spithill must slow down enough to let the yellow penalty line catch up to his boat.
When a boat has a penalty, the blue light on the stern comes on, the helmsman’s display shows the penalty, and all helmsmen in the race see the Race Committee “Chatter” message announcing the penalty, on their display.
Blue light means this boat has a penalty
There are two more ways boats often get a penalty
If a boat is over the starting line early (OCS = On the Course Side of the starting line at the gun), it is penalized by the umpires.
If a boat goes outside the course limits, it is penalized by the umpires. Here’s a screen shot from the CupExperience app, showing Jimmy Spithill outside the limits in the match race final during the America’s Cup World Series in San Francisco in August 2012.
Spithill has gone outside the course limits and receives a penalty. (CupExperience App screengrab)
So, how do you offload the penalty? “Slow and go.”
Go back to the screen shot from the umpire workstation. See the yellow penalty line? LiveLine calculates and draws that line two boat lengths behind the penalized boat. The line moves forward at the boat’s normal speed for the existing wind. So the boat must slow down enough for the line “to catch up.” Then the blue light is turned off and the helmsman knows he can speed up again. But… if the boat takes more than 10 seconds to offload the penalty, the line slows down and the penalty grows! That’s why the penalty line for Spithill in the diagram above is so far behind his boat. The penalty line you see on that screen is the penalty he got for going past the course limit, and it grew because he did not slow down right away. Once he gets rid of that penalty, he will immediately get another, for going inside with no rights! I’ll explain all that in another article.
What do you think of this penalty system? How well do you understand it? Leave your comments and questions!
If you are a real rules nerd, and want to read the rule for yourself, you can download the RRS America’s Cup Edition here.