Further to ISAF issuing new interpretations of the much discussed Rule 42, Bill O'Hara former Finn sailor and member of the ISAF rule 42 working party discusses how these are affecting the Finn class.


The new interpretations came into force on 26 April 2003, less than two months ago. It is therefore a bit too early to judge their effect, but most of the feedback I have received from Finn sailors and coaches at SPA and the Finn Europeans was positive. I certainly had the impression that the extreme kinetics criticized so strongly last year have probably been confined to history.


A lot of Finn sailors are professional sportsmen. Although they are bound by the basic principle of Sportsmanship and the Rules, it is their job to sail to the limits of the rules. The problem with rule 42 was that the limit was different at nearly every major regatta. This led to confusion and frustration among the sailors and inconsistency among the judges.

The ISAF Rule 42 working party was set up to make the judging more consistent. When we met we realized the extent of the problem because we couldn't agree among ourselves on the meanings of some of the most basic words in the rule, such as 'repeated'. We all realized we would have to compromise on some of our long-held beliefs and agree and support a universal set of interpretations that would help explain rule 42.

The interpretations were published as a four-page document on 14 April. They were widely distributed by posting on the ISAF website and in paper copies. Subsequently the working party has produced a 20 minute video film on rule 42 interpretation. It is available from the ISAF on a CD diskette and can be copied freely.

We are fairly happy with the interpretations but have already identified areas that we haven't covered or that are causing confusion. With all the members of the working party active in the sport it seems unlikely that we will make any major changes before Cadiz, but a Q&A system is being set up which should provide clarity and drive future changes in the interpretations.


Our intention was not to change the game, especially a year before the Olympic Games. However, sculling at the start had become so misused it had become virtually impossible to make a legal start in a competitive fleet.

The rudder is for steering the boat and sculling, 'repeated movements of the helm', is a technique to help turn, not propel the boat. The interpretations give us a consistent way of judging if these maxims are being adhered to.

We also felt that sailors and judges had minimized the importance of the basic rule 42.1 and focused too much on rule 42.2, Prohibited Actions. Rule 42.1 prohibits any single roll, pump (except when permitted under rule 42.3(b)), body movement or tiller movement which propels the boat.

Finally we introduced the concept of traffic lights, red, green and yellow. The yellow light is important. The closer you get to the limit of the rule the more often you will be in the yellow light area and the more you are there, the likelier it becomes that judges will protest you.


The Finn Class has made class rules change rule 42. They (class rule 5.7.2) currently recommend allowing pumping, rocking and ooching, except on a beat to windward, in over 15 knots. This works really well, allowing the sailors to sail and the jury to have a rest. I think the other change (class rule 5.7.1) allowing three pumps a wave to 'promote' rather than 'initiate' surfing or planing causes problems and makes it more difficult to judge consistently.


I honestly believe it is possible to sail fast and remain inside the rule. I have sailed against and judged many great champions who sail fair. When I coach my advice is always the same: develop a style that is inside the rule because the major events will have the strictest judging. If you have some illegal techniques in your armoury you are likely to revert to them under pressure, which could end up costing you a medal.

If I give you an insight into how we judge at major events it will help you realize the futility of having a style that breaks rule 42.

The Start

We position ourselves behind the line with the three jury boats spread out along it. We focus on groups of boats that are close together because there rule 42 breaches are more likely. Two jury members work independently on each boat and if they see sculling, repeated rolling or body pumping they will protest normally without consulting with their fellow judge.

A lot of the rule 42 breaches are preceded by boats breaking a Part 2 rule, which normally results in narrowing the available space on the line. However, the jury will rarely deliver protests over Part 2 breaches because the sailors should take responsibility, but we are happy to witness at the hearing if we see the incident.

With the Finn class, sculling is the biggest offence at the start. The more violent your movements, the more likely they will attract our attention. Repeated rolling is fairly uncommon because the weight of the boat necessitates an obvious body movement when doing the second roll. Bouncing is also really obvious and is used a lot less in Finns than in Lasers therefore offenders really stand out.


We follow the fleet and particularly watch crossing boats to see if kinetic action is used to enable a boat to cross. Otherwise we are just looking for something that attracts our attention. Sailors quickly revert to their natural style when sailing upwind and if it is illegal it is highlighted by the close proximity of the other boats sailing legally.

Torquing through waves is fine, but the more violent the movements, the more likely they will exaggerate the flicking of the sail and therefore will lead to protest

We can see differences in body movements and their effect on the rig from quite a distance. So don't panic if we are close by - we are probably watching someone else.

Some sailors violently flick the sail when coming out of a roll tack, and some do a second roll after the tack is finished. These actions are illegal and obvious.


The Finn class rule (5.7.1) that allows three pumps to promote planing or surfing causes inconsistencies because it is difficult to know where one wave finishes and the next starts. This is compounded by changing the rule's word 'initiate' to 'promote'. In all other classes, once a boat starts surfing or planing, she has to stop pumping and the judges don't have to try to estimate the number of pumps on each individual wave.

Most protests are flagged when a boat makes four or more quick pumps in close succession or if she repeats an unsuccessful attempt to plane or surf.

When surfing or planing conditions clearly do not exist the Finn has a problem created by the elastic cord that pulls the boom. If the sailor repeatedly releases and trims the sail, even when done slowly, it is pumping and will be protested. The elastic on the boom facilitates that technique. Even small pulls on the mainsheet result in the end of the boom moving significantly and attracting the judges' attention.

Combining this illegal technique with body movements that make the boat roll in excess of the background rolling can be very effective, but once you enter the yellow light area your chances of being protested greatly increase.


A short reach to the finish leads to high risk sailing because the pressure of gaining or losing a place is much greater at the end of the race. As judges we focus on this area, and in tight finishes the penalty for illegal propulsion far outweighs potential gains.

Dead downwind finishes favoured by the Finn class in light airs lead to mass breaches and significant jury presence. You are entering a lottery if you get involved in the rock fest. The Finn Class should probably look at that course configuration and consider changing to an upwind finish.

Taking a Penalty

When you acknowledge your breach after being protested by the jury under Appendix N it is important that you take your penalty promptly and correctly. If you don't, you will be penalized as if you took no penalty. This is a crazy way to be disqualified so it's important when you take your penalty to keep thinking.


Understanding judges is important. Most of them are volunteers and few judge more than four weeks a year. They take their responsibilities seriously and try to ensure a fair regatta. A lot of them haven't sailed a Finn but that doesn't affect their eyesight and if they protest you it's probably because you have attracted their attention by being different from the other sailors. They see the difference first and then try to work out if your action breaks the rule. We don't find rule 42 offenders, they find us.

There is no point in screaming abuse at the jury. If a judge is offended by your comments it can lead to a rule 69 hearing, but it does make sense to find the judges after the race and find out why they protested.

Judges make mistakes but so do referees in all sports. All sailors have an obligation to engage in reasoned debate to try to improve everyone's understanding of the rule.

By taking a penalty you acknowledge your breach of the rule and forego any possibility of redress, but if you can understand why you were protested it should stop you getting future protests.


We have all sailed in regattas with very little rule 42 observance and I hope we agree it is a pointless exercise. The new interpretations and heightened interest in illegal propulsion have made things better. Finn sailors campaigning for the Olympics have a responsibility to the sport as role models to sail fair and consider the long-term health of the sport, not just the next 14 months. They can do this by working with the judges to help them do a better job.

Reproduced from FINNFARE July 2003



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