Rule 55

Written by Matt Knowles

Matt is the president of the Moth class and member of the US Sailing racing rules committee.

The letter was originally published on Sailing Anarchy under the thread: Nanny State about Rule 55

The Racing Rules of Sailing 2013-2016 includes a new rule, rule 55 TRASH DISPOSAL: A competitor shall not intentionally put trash in the water

Moth sailing

I want to take a crack at arguing that ISAF was on the right track with the new rule 55, which bans intentionally putting trash in the water.

I am a member of the US SAILING Racing Rules Committee, which proposed the rule to ISAF last year.  I am also the head of the US Moth Class, which recently partnered with 11th Hour Racing to improve the environmental impact and image of our class and our sport.  Let me start with this premise: sailors should not intentionally discard non-biodegradable objects (i.e., trash) in the water.  For those who don’t buy that premise, all I can say is I am glad that fewer and fewer sailors agree with you.

But for those who agree that sailors shouldn’t be intentionally throwing trash in the water, here is my argument for why this rule is a good thing.  First, there is a problem: anyone who looks carefully knows that most major regattas lead to a certain amount of trash ending up in the water, whether intentionally or not.

Second, the current solutions are inadequate.  True, in the US state and federal laws generally prohibit discharging trash.  But this isn’t the case everywhere.  More importantly, these rules are not getting the job done.  One person remarked that if rule 55 is going to be added, why not add a rule against murder on the racecourse too?  Well, we don’t have a murder problem at most regattas, but we do have a trash problem.  Unlike laws that are up to the police to enforce, the RRS are rules that each of us has a duty to enforce and self-police.  Likewise, there are a lot of federal and state laws that sailors don’t take seriously – life is too short – but by putting this rule in the RRS, the message is that environmental impact is something that our sport must take seriously if we are going to grow and thrive.

Third, this rule isn’t actually a new addition to the rule-book.  It has long been part of the standard sailing instructions listed in Appendix L – and most regattas adopted it.  Given this, ISAF decided to move it from the “default” rules of Appendix L to the main body of the rules which apply without being invoked by sailing instructions.  This just changes the default.  If you are a regatta organizer and think that having clean water to race on is less important than allowing boats to discharge rubber bands into the water to make their kite sets better, then you can delete rule 55.

Fourth, this rule is in part about image – and that’s a good thing.  Sailing faces many challenges, and one of our selling points is the fact that we don’t need to consume much carbon or produce that much trash to do what we do.  Image is important, and laws and rules do reflect values.  I think a core value of our sport is that we do what we can to protect the racecourse we sail on, and I’m glad that, for all its flaws, ISAF got this one right.

*This letter has been modified for this this blog post.  To read the original please visit