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Air sculling to clear rudder: legal or not?

Published on September 27th, 2021

The racing rules allows for fair competition, but it is a challenge to understand every scenario. To help facilitate the process, the Racing Rules of Sailing Forum offers an opportunity for experts to voice opinion, and Al Sargent posed a question regarding Rule 42 – Propulsion:

In the Laser, a common practice when there’s seaweed or kelp is to “air scull” to clear weeds from the rudder. This takes two forms:

1) Straight-line: Heel boat way over so that rudder comes out of water, then quickly scull rudder back and forth a few times so that seaweed shakes off, then flatten boat.

2) Mid-tack: In light air, heel the boat a little more than usual, and a little longer than usual, while shaking tiller to get seaweed off rudder.

Is this legal?

By my reading of rule 42.2.d, it seems likely to be acceptable:

“Sculling: Repeated movement of the helm that is either forceful or that propels the boat forward or prevents her from moving astern;”

The sculling isn’t forceful, since the rudder blade is moving through the air. It’s literally just a couple of pounds of force to move the tiller. Also, the sculling doesn’t propel the boat forward, since the rudder is out of the water. So it doesn’t meet either of the criteria of 42.2.d.

Straight-line air sculling, done once every few minutes, also doesn’t seem to meet the definition of rocking, since it’s not repeated. It’s only done once.

The World Sailing guide for Laser Rule 42 common breaches doesn’t address air sculling specifically. Obviously, you can’t come out of a tack faster than you went in, but a sailor can air scull and still comply with this requirement.

What are your thoughts?
From Ewan McEwan
Nationality: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Certifications: Regional Race Officer, International Judge, International Umpire

There is an argument that the seaweed is an ‘object’. If so, the exception under rule 42.3 (h) could be used to allow such action.

I’ve not seen the action you describe. As an occasional Laser sailor, the effective action I would take is simply clean the seaweed with my hand.
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