Trash Disposal: The Use of Sail Stops

Published on October 8th, 2013

The 2013-2016 edition of The Racing Rules of Sailing provided by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) includes Rule 55 (Trash Disposal), which states that:

“A competitor shall not intentionally put trash in the water.”

Recently ISAF was asked whether letting broken spinnaker sail stops (broken bits of rubber bands or wool to contain the spinnaker during hoist) fall into the water after a spinnaker set broke new Rule 55, Trash Disposal. Shortly thereafter, the same question was asked of the US Sailing Appeals Committee.

The ISAF answer and the US Sailing appeal, which says the same thing, are below.

Note that the ISAF answer suggests some language that can be used in the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions that will permit the use of sail stops. Note also there are emerging alternatives to break-away sail stops (North Sails is testing a Velcro system) for controlling spinnakers during sets that do not break Rule 55.

ISAF Racing Rules Question and Answer Service
N 003 Q&A 2013-029 (Published August 5, 2013; revised August 27 2013)

Q&A 2013-028 N002 confirms that the common practice of preparing spinnakers using elastic or wool bands at intervals to prevent them from filling during the hoist breaks rule 55 when the spinnakers are hoisted and sheeted and the bands break and end up in the water, even if the material used is bio-degradable.

What can be done to prevent boats from being protested under rule 55 each time they hoist spinnakers?

Rule 55 was introduced to support a development of sailing in a direction towards a higher level of environmental responsibility. Event organizers and officials should also comply with the basic principle in the rulebook about environmental responsibility. Simply deleting rule 55 is the opposite of that.

Boats can use different systems when hoisting a spinnaker other than elastic bands or wool (i.e. snuffers or socks). However, if the OA of an event considers it is advisable to allow the use of elastic or wool bands for reasons of safety or proper seamanship, they may change rule 55 by, for example, including in the notice of race and sailing instructions words to the effect of:

Notice of Race
RRS 55 will be changed in the sailing instructions by adding the following sentence to the rule: ‘However, discarding elastic or wool bands when setting a sail is permitted.’

Sailing Instructions
RRS 55 is changed by adding the following sentence to the rule: ‘However, discarding elastic or wool bands when setting a sail is permitted.’

Interpretation Requested by the US Sailing Offshore/Big Boats Management Committee (September 2013)

Basic Principles, Environmental Responsibility: Rule 55, Trash Disposal
Broken sail stops made of yarn or rubber bands that fall into the water are trash, even if they are biodegradable. Putting sail stops in the water breaks Rule 55. However, Rule 55 can be changed in the sailing instructions to permit their use.

Assumed Facts
Boat A stops a sail using commercially available biodegradable yarn or rubber bands. When the sail is hoisted and the stops are broken, some of them fall into the water. Boat B protests A, alleging that she broke Rule 55. In the hearing, A argues that the stops are not trash because they are biodegradable.

Did Boat A break Rule 55?

Yes. The broken sail stops that fall into the water, although biodegradable, are trash that the competitor intentionally put in the water; therefore Boat A broke Rule 55.

However, Rule 55 can be changed in the Sailing Instructions to permit putting sail stops in the water; see Rule 86.1(b). The change should also be noted in the Notice of Race; see Rule J1.2(1).

If Rule 55 is changed to permit putting sail stops in the water, then in keeping with the new Basic Principle, Environmental Responsibility, it would be appropriate to require that sail stops be biodegradable.

This decision, along with the entire US Sailing Appeals Book, can be read in its entirety at

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