Harken Derm

Cheating with electric engines

Published on April 23rd, 2019

Dear Curmudgeon: The other day I was walking in a parking lot and was nearly hit by a car. I wasn’t paying attention, totally my fault, but I never heard it coming because of its electric motor.

It got me to thinking about sailing, and how electric marine engines are being developed. What’s going to happen when that’s the norm on the race course and devious competitors are looking for an advantage? With the absence of any noise and an exhaust system, how could we tell when someone is cheating? – Playing Fair

Dear Playing Fair: Our sport is not great at anticipating problems, so this is an important question to be asking now instead of later. Per your point, it might even be hard for people onboard to know an electric engine is illegally in use while racing.

This is a current concern in our sport as keelboats run their fuel engines to charge batteries, swing canting keels, or turn winches. Properly done, the engine is in neutral but how hard is it to shift into forward? Not very hard, and when racing offshore, it can be impossible for competitors to detect.

When it comes to all forms of cheating, such as onboard actions that contradict the rules in one design classes, rating systems, or event protocol, it is only those most complicit that face a Rule 69 protest. However, if everyone on a boat is treated equally and considered complicit, it offers the best chance to either stop any occurrence or have a whistleblower reveal the action. – The Curmudgeon

Comments? Send your email to editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com

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