The Rules Guy: How to Finish With a Shortened Course

SinC Alberti Shortened Course Diagram

July 5, 2023

By Andrew Alberti

In the last article I discussed how to finish. Things get a little more confusing if there is a shortened course. I am going to illustrate some of the scenarios. The definition of finish says, “A boat finishes when after starting, any part of her hull crosses the finishing line from the course side.” 


For the next two scenarios the course is “Start – 1- 2- 3- 1- 2- 3- 1- 2- Finish”. In the diagram the orange signal boat is in the normal position to signal shorten course. The finish line is between the mark the boats were supposed to round (mark 1) and flag S. Green finishes between position 1 and 2. 

Sometimes, often for logistical reasons, the committee sets up on the other side of the mark where the white boat is in this diagram. This moves the line to the other side of the mark. Remember that to finish, a boat must cross from the course side, that is coming from mark 3. Red finishes correctly between position 1 and 2. Green who rounds the mark leaving it to port, as she would if the course was not shortened, crosses the line at position 3, but she is not crossing from the course side, so she does not finish.


The second diagram is based on a situation that I also saw in 2022. The course was “Start – 1- 2 -3 -1- 2- 3- 1- 2 – Finish”. The wind died so the race committee moved up to close mark 1 and signalled that the course was being shortened. The wind had also shifted significantly so boats could sail directly from mark 3 to mark 1. This time however the finish boat was further up wind and further to the left of the diagram. The only way to finish from course side was to leave the mark to starboard as Blue does in the diagram.  Other boats followed the path shown by Yellow. They did not finish according to the definition of finish.


There is an exception to the rule about finishing between flag S and the mark. If the mark is a gate mark such as the leeward gate in the third diagram, rule 32.2(c) says that the finish is between the two gate marks. Purple is finishing, Grey is not. Many race committees will set up very close to one of the marks to make it obvious that there is no room. This applies at gate marks. The rules don’t define gate marks, but I would say that gate marks are a pair of marks that you have to pass in between. A windward offset mark such as 1A in this diagram is not an gate mark, even though I have heard some people describe it as one.

The final exception listed in 32.2(b) “a line the course requires boats to cross” is not one that I have seen. It would probably apply to long distance races which have a particular line that has to be crossed as part of the course.

The lesson here is that when you see flag “S” indicating a shortened course, always be careful about which side of the mark the signal boat is sitting on, it may not be the side that you expect.


Race Signals

Shorten Course

S The course has been shortened. Rule 32.2 is in effect.

Other Signals

Blue flag.

The staff displaying this flag is one end of the finishing line.

Finish A boat finishes when, after starting, any part of her hull crosses the finishing line from the course side. However, she has not finished if after crossing the finishing line she

(a) takes a penalty under rule 44.2,

(b) corrects an error in sailing the course made at the line, or

© continues to sail the course.


32.2 If the race committee signals a shortened course (displays flag S with two sounds), the finishing line shall be,

(a) at a rounding mark, between the mark and a staff displaying flag S;

(b) a line the course requires boats to cross; or

© at a gate, between the gate marks.

The shortened course shall be signalled before the first boat crosses the finishing line.


Andrew Alberti 400Andrew Alberti is an International Judge and National Umpire. He is a member of the Sail Canada Rules and Appeals Committees. Send your questions to Andrew at











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