Doug Creelman, NYC Protest Chair
Sailing is a self-policing sport; there are no referees on the water, except for special circumstances, so it is up to all of us to enforce the rules. Of course each of us, in a perfect world, would immediately and voluntarily take a penalty when we break a rule – the umpire is us, ourselves. See the Basic Principle at the top of the Rule Book.
There are at least three ways in which a skipper might violate a rule – Involuntarily, as I did once when the tiller slipped out of my hand and the boat rounded up, fouling another boat; out of lack of knowledge of the rules, for instance claiming room at a mark inappropriately; through miss-judgment, for instance thinking that you could cross a starboard tack boat when you are on port, as I have done more than once. In each of these cases we expect the boat that did not have right of way to take a penalty (turns or withdrawal) without anyone else doing anything.
Sometimes a boat is not aware of having fouled; sometimes we disagree with another boat as to the interpretation of a rule. If that happens, and you are the other boat, you should hail “protest” and fly that red flag. There are several good reasons for doing this: if you have lost ground or time, the other boat should be penalized, certainly if there is damage or injury; the other boat may not know the rule, you can advance her knowledge; or, if you wish, you are protecting the integrity of the sport. You also, by hailing immediately, can give the other boat a chance to take a penalty right there.
Protesting doesn’t hurt. Protestors are not crybabies. Sometimes people say to me, “I beat him anyway, so I won’t bother.” But think how many other boats in the race are in fact disadvantaged by that other boat remaining in the race? To make the process quick the NYC, and many regattas, have an arbitration process where most protests are settled quickly, without a full hearing. If a full hearing is needed, consider the time spent to be service to the sport, assuring that the rules are followed always.