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Time to update night sailing rules

Published on June 13th, 2022

With speed differences, determining a safe crossing for dissimilar boats is a challenge, and with the performance of today’s modern boats, there is less time to make those crossing assessments. But what if this is occurring at night?

Yes, the COLREGS dictate for all boats to proceed at a safe speed for the prevailing conditions, which is great in principal but pulling back the throttle in a race is less likely. Andy Burton believes the current rule requirements need to do more to help the competitors… he explains:

While preparing my Baltic 47 Masquerade for the 2022 Newport to Bermuda Race, I’m going through various scenarios and routines for sailing her offshore. A couple of years ago I sailed the Ida Lewis Distance Race on my boat. I and several others had some very close calls with our competitors near the mark south of Block Island.

That night was as black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat and it was raining steadily. Most boats were showing only a masthead tricolor light, making it nearly impossible to estimate their proximity as they sailed toward us. The tricolor is fine when you’re not sailing in close quarters, but when boats are rounding a mark and coming back on a reciprocal course, it’s a recipe for disaster.

In our race, the conditions at the time were light so we had time to react when our man on the bow made out the other boat reflected in our lights. Can you imagine how dangerous it would have been had we had a bit of breeze? I’ve been racing sailboats and have made my living delivering boats all my life, and that night I was as scared as I’ve been on a boat. Thank heaven for a great crew!

Way back in the day, after kerosene running lights ceased to be in use, we used red, green, and white running lights, each shining a 25-watt bulb and draining our batteries quickly. It made sense to use one light and a third of the amperage to run a masthead tricolor light and economize on power usage.

But nowadays, almost all boats racing have changed to LED lights that use very little power, so battery drain is not a problem. The argument in favor of using only masthead lights no longer holds.

I think it is time for race committees sending boats out at night to mandate the use of deck-level running lights. Anything we can do to help sailboats avoid a collision is surely a good thing! There may be some who take issue with using deck level lights because of glare on pulpits. Those lights are badly mounted and should be fixed. Or wrap rails with flat black tape.

Event informationRace detailsEntry list

The 52nd running of the Newport Bermuda Race, co-organized by the Cruising Club of America (CCA) and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club (RBYC), is scheduled to begin Friday, June 17, 2022 at the entrance to the East Passage of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, with the first warning signal scheduled for 1:00 pm.

First run in 1906, the Bermuda Race is the oldest of the five great 600-nautical mile races and is preceded only by the Transatlantic Race. The 2022 fleet, currently at 192 boats, will be split among eight divisions: Double-handed, Finisterre (for cruisers), Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, Multihull, Open, Spirit of Tradition, St. David’s Lighthouse and Superyacht.

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