What is a protest

What is a protest?

Here we outline the basics behind the protest process and provide advice for what to do if you want to protest, or find out you are being protested

Unlike sports such as cricket or rugby, sailing races do not normally have umpires on the race course, instead any disagreements over rules are settled in the protest room..

A protest is a claim that another boat has broken a rule; the claim is decided in a ‘hearing’ in which all the boats involved explain what they believe took place.


The protest process is an important part of ensuring that racing is fair for all competitors. If you think another boat broke a rule you should protest; if you are protested, don’t take it personally, discovering how you may have broken a rule will help you become a better sailor.

Lodging a protest

On the water – If you believe another boat has broken a rule then you need to hail ‘Protest’ at the time of the incident, or if the other boat has sailed out of earshot you need to inform them at the first reasonable opportunity. Additionally, if your boat is 6m in length or over you need to display a red flag. It’s worth trying to remember, or if you can, note down the incident and the sail numbers of boats nearby which might serve as witnesses.

Once you come ashore, check the sailing instructions to see if there are any special procedures for lodging a protest. Unless the sailing instructions say something different, the following procedure will apply.

You must submit your protest in writing, either on a protest form or on plain paper but an email or even a text message is usually acceptable.

The sailing instructions may specify a time limit; if they don’t, the time limit is two hours after the race finishes. Your protest must be received, by the race office, before that time.

At a minimum, the written protest must include a description of the incident. This can be very brief provided it shows that a rule may have been broken (e.g. “a boat hit a mark”). If you are short of time, this is all you have to submit before the time limit, don’t miss the deadline trying to provide more information.

You must identify in writing the other boat(s) involved; you don’t have to do this before the time limit, but it must be done before the hearing.

You will also need to identify where and when the incident happened, but this does not have to be done before the hearing.

It is helpful to provide any other information requested on the protest form.

Once the protest has been submitted you will be informed of the time and place of the hearing using the procedure described in the sailing instructions; often this will be done by a notice on the official noticeboard. You need to ensure you arrive on time for the hearing, as it can start without you if you don’t show up on time.


A witness is someone that observed the incident and may be able to provide a description of what happened. They could be another boat that is racing, a member of the race committee, or a passer-by on the bank (although it helps if they have sailing knowledge!). Generally calling a crew member as a witness has limited benefit. It is your responsibility to ensure that the witness(es) you want to call come to the hearing, as the hearing may continue without them if they are not ready.

Being protested

Remember sailing is a self-policing sport. If you think you have broken a rule, you should immediately take a penalty. Unless the sailing instructions say otherwise, the penalty is usually two turns.

If you hear a hail of ‘protest’ against you and you are not sure if you have broken a rule you can protect yourself by immediately taking a penalty. If you think the other boat broke a rule you should immediately hail ‘protest’.

If, however, you get ashore and find out you are being protested, don’t panic – it’s quite a simple process. You need to follow a few key steps:

  1. Find out the date/time and location of the hearing usually by referring to the official notice board.
  2. Ask the race office for a copy of the written protest, you are entitled to time to prepare for the hearing, and ensuring you know what the incident relates to is a key part of that preparation process.
  3. Try to find any witnesses that might have seen the incident, and ensure they are aware of the date/time/location of the hearing and are available to attend.
  4. If you took a penalty for the incident, declare this if required and make sure you mention it in the hearing.

Remember also that it’s quite possible for a protest committee to decide no rule has been broken, so just being in a protest, doesn’t guarantee someone will be disqualified. Equally, in some circumstances, particularly if there has been a collision, it’s possible that both boats may have broken a rule and will be penalised.

The Protest Hearing

The protest hearing usually takes place in a separate room away from the general club area, and follows a formal process, but rest assured that the protest committee (‘PC’) will help you through the process, especially if it is your first hearing.

The following are the key steps to the process:

  1. Introductions – the PC will introduce themselves, declare any possible conflicts of interest and ask whether either the person lodging the protest (‘protestor’) and the person being protested (‘protestee’), have any objections to the members of the PC. At major events, normally an independent committee is appointed, however at more local events it’s likely that other club sailors would be asked to be on the PC. If you are unhappy with one of the members of the protest committee because you think they have a conflict of interest, for instance they are related to the other party or if you were disqualified it would improve their own score, this is the time to say so.
  2. The protestee will be asked to confirm they have had time to prepare for the hearing.
  3. The protestor will be asked to confirm how they communicated the protest to the protestee, and the PC will consider the validity of the protest. The PC may ask both sides to briefly. leave the room if they want to discuss this further. Once this has been concluded and validity confirmed the next stage of the hearing will commence.
  4. The protestor will be asked to explain what happened, it often helps if they can lay out model boats on the table to show the series of events which caused the incident.
  5. Next the protestee will be given the opportunity to give their side of the story.
  6. The PC will then allow the protestor and protestee to ask each other questions and may ask questions themselves.
  7. If there are witnesses available then they will be asked to give their evidence individually in turn, and they may also be questioned.
  8. Once all witnesses have given their evidence, then the protest committee will ask each of the protestor and protestee to ‘sum up’ – i.e. to give a short precis of their evidence and why it means the PC should find in their favour. Both parties will then be asked to leave the protest room.
  9. The PC will then review the evidence presented and ‘find the facts’ in relation to the incident, i.e. decide what actually happened. Once that has been completed, they will need to conclude what rules have been broken and what penalties apply to each boat (if any).  Note this process can take some time especially if it’s a particularly complex incident.
  10. The protestor and protestee will be invited back into the room, and the PC will read aloud the facts found, the rules that apply and the decision made.
  11. The PC will then file the decision, update the hearing schedule with the result, and inform the scorers so that any penalties can be applied.

If you believe that the PC’s procedure was wrong, or that they made an error applying the rules, or you have new evidence that was not available during the hearing, you may ask the PC to re-open the hearing. You must do this in writing, giving your reasons within 24 hours of hearing the decision (except on the last day of a series when it must be within 30 minutes).

If you are still unhappy with the result of the hearing you can lodge an appeal to the ISA following the process. Note that appeals will not change the ‘facts found’ but will only review that the process has been followed correctly, and that the protest committee has come to the correct conclusions based on those facts.